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"Bartering Hunger for Nakedness": The Frontier Exchange Economy of Spanish Colonial Texas

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Scholars of Spanish colonial Texas history have typically described the province as an impoverished economic backwater. With limited access to markets, according to this view, Hispanic residents barely scraped out a living. A close reading of a variety of archival documents and archaeological reports, however, reveals that a robust dual economy based on different systems of trade emerged in the province during the eighteenth century. A legal system of trade connected San Antonio with Mexico City, and with regional markets in Saltillo, Nueva Viscaya, and Coahuila. Extralegal trade among Hispanic and indigenous inhabitants in east Texas, and French traders and residents in Louisiana, tapped into the trans-Atlantic economy and the desire for European goods. This dissertation extends Daniel Usner, Jr.’s concept of a frontier exchange economy in the lower Mississippi Valley to the extralegal trade that took place in the Texas-Louisiana borderlands, and deepens understanding of the significance of extralegal trade in the broader Spanish American colonial world. By examining economic transactions within the mission system, trade conducted by governors, and exchanges carried out by people across the social spectrum, this study offers a new understanding of the ways in which institutions and individuals were able to support their livelihoods, while the Spanish Crown underfunded the military and ecclesiastical administration of Texas. The importance of the frontier exchange economy is further underscored by the fact that during the early nineteenth century, local insurrectionists and royalists alike viewed open, legal trade across the Texas-Louisiana border as strategic to their respective causes. The bloody aftermath of the rebellions in Texas, together with demographic change and Mexico’s nationalist policies following independence, disrupted the dual economies and eventually enmeshed the province in new tensions between market and state.

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This item is under embargo until October 21, 2024.