Colonial border control : reconsidering migrants and the making of New Spain's northern borderlands, 1714-1820




Villarreal, Christina Marie

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This report explores how residents of the Louisiana-Texas borderland defined and maintained the northeastern frontier of New Spain in the long eighteenth century. Utilizing colonial correspondence, royal decrees, and petitions, this study considers how subaltern historical actors--runaways, deserters, and foreigners--affected the geographic reality of Spanish sovereignty in the American Gulf Coast. Their movements across imperial borders illuminate the elusiveness of those borderlines and suggest alternate boundaries separating Spain's American territory from that of her rivals. In their responses to royal questionnaires, soldiers garrisoned at the easternmost presidios of Los Adaes and Nacogdoches based their perceptions of New Spain's geopolitical limits on the actions of border crossers. The actions of religious and political leaders, as well as the official protocol regarding runaway slaves and deserting soldiers, served as the evidence frontiersmen used to identify the location of the northern borderland. The tenuous status of the periphery led to flexibility in imperial control. Rather than enforce Spanish laws from the top-down, Texas officials relied on the knowledge and understanding of local dwellers to protect an ill-defined boundary in ways that both challenged royal law while maintaining distinct elements of colonial border control.




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