Tampa before the Civil War

Article excerpt

Tampa Before the Civil War. By Canter Brown Jr. Tampa Bay History Center Reference Library Series, No. 8. (Tampa, Fla: University of Tampa Press, 1999. Pp. [x], 197. $25.00, ISBN 1-879852-64-0.)

Canter Brown Jr., currently based at the Tampa Bay History Center, is a prolific scholar. By "prolific," I mean not only that he writes many books but also that he writes many good books. Having produced a history of a southern subregion in Florida's Peace River Frontier (Orlando: University of Central Florida Press, 1991) and a well-received biography in Ossian Bingley Hart: Florida's Loyalist Reconstruction Governor (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1997), he has now turned his efforts to a series of short surveys of various aspects of the Tampa Bay region's history. Like most of Florida, Tampa and the surrounding region remains a lacuna in southern historiography. No doubt Brown has a whole series of stock answers--which I have no intention of anticipating here--for the inevitable question, "Was Florida really part of the antebellum South?" But even within the historiography of Florida, Tampa often takes second fiddle to the more-studied settlements of the east coast. The labor struggles of late nineteenth-century cigar workers and the racist excesses of soldiers passing through the town in 1898 are the main foci of the scholarly literature on Tampa. The post-1821, pre-Civil War era remains little known.

Brown demonstrates that the area was at the center of Florida's major pre-Civil War crisis, the period surrounding the Second Seminole War. Even before the war, however, soldiers were the bread and butter of the early settlements around Fort Brooke. This military installation on the site of present-day Tampa attracted civilians eager to profit through swindling the local Indians, selling strong liquor or commercial sex to a captive population of unhappy soldiers, or extending frontier land speculation into the peninsula's vast interior. …