A Concise Natural History of East and West Florida. By Bernard Romans. Edited and with an introduction by Kathryn E. Holland Braund. (Tuscaloosa and London: University of Alabama Press, c. 1999. Pp. xiv, 442. $44.95, ISBN 0-8173-0876-8.)
Kathryn Braund here provides Bernard Romans with an asset lacking since the publication of his book, namely, credibility. Romans was accused of exaggeration and falsehood by his contemporaries and therefore has been doubted by historians. But now Braund's careful editing sorts out fact from opinion. The factual information is essential to an understanding of the Gulf frontier on the eve of the American Revolution. Romans' s opinions, however, remain bizarre.
Bernard Romans was a supremely self-confident individual who went from one failure to another. He was born around 1720 in the Netherlands, came to America in 1757, and served as a surveyor in Georgia. Romans worked under the brilliant but cantankerous William G. De Brahm, who neglected to pay him, drew maps for John Stuart without getting credit, proposed establishing a garden in West Florida to Dr. Alexander Garden, who pronounced him an incompetent, and volunteered to lead an expedition across America, Asia, and Europe to Lord Dartmouth, who ignored the offer. Almost like a fictional character, Romans had a knack of being where the action was during the Revolution. He was in Boston when the Tea Party occurred. …