Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Heaven's Soldiers: Free People of Color and the Spanish Legacy in Antebellum Florida

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Heaven's Soldiers: Free People of Color and the Spanish Legacy in Antebellum Florida

Article excerpt

Heaven's Soldiers: Free People of Color and the Spanish Legacy in Antebellum Florida. By Frank Marotti. Atlantic Crossings. (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2013. Pp. [xii], 233. $39.95, ISBN 978-0-8173-1784-3.)

An examination of how freedom changed for residents of African descent in East Florida is particularly instructive when assessing the legacy of Spanish colonial rule. Free blacks, a class Frank Marotti broadly defines to include those held in nominal states of bondage with the potential to obtain freedom, are at the center of Heaven's Soldiers: Free People of Color and the Spanish Legacy in Antebellum Florida. Marotti leads the reader from the Spanish colonial period through the Second Seminole War of 1835-1842 and on into the lives of descendants of the free black community after the American Civil War. The scope of the work allows Marotti to demonstrate the many adaptations free people of color made to preserve their status for decades after U.S. incursion.

Marotti identifies "four pillars of black liberty erected during Spain's rule: family ties to whites, manumission, military service, and landownership" (p. 11). Marotti argues that the decline of the free black population of East Florida was not inevitable following annexation by the United States. The first half of the book is chronologically constructed; the second half addresses each of the four pillars in individual thematic chapters.

Marotti provides a vibrant picture of the political action and legal savvy of antebellum free blacks who made use of both the cultural customs held over from Spanish rule and the American court system. …

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