For almost two centuries following Columbus's discovery of America, Spain held undisputed mastery in the Gulf of Mexico, an exclusive Spanish sea into which few foreigners dared venture. In 1682, that mastery was challenged by the French explorer La Salle, reaching the Gulf from Canada via the Mississippi River. La Salle's encroachment served on the Spaniards a twofold notice: exploration of the northern Gulf region had been too long neglected, and claims to unoccupied territory would not be honored. There followed eighty years of territorial rivalry during which Spain and France alternated from symbiotic alliance to actual warfare. The French presence served repeatedly as a spur to Spanish exploration and settlement of the coastal region from Tampico to peninsular Florida. France, meanwhile, sought expansion on either side of its Mississippi wedge, deftly driven between the Spanish claims east and west, until a third rival, the English, terminated the French tenure in America.
The French Thorn--sequel to Weddle's Spanish Sea--is more than a history of exploration rivalry. In artful prose the author recreates the drama and pathos of La Salle; the vitality of Iberville and Escandon; and the dash and daring of Saint-Denis. He takes the reader on venturesome sea voyages in wooden ships; across the coastal plains with colorful Spanish entradas; and up pristine rivers with the French voyageurs.
Reproductions of twenty French and Spanish maps from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries enhance Weddle's information. Well-documented and readable, The French Thorn will appeal to anyone interested in this time and place in history, from the formal historian to the exploration enthusiast.
Robert Weddle, an independent scholar living near Bonham, Texas, has ten other books to his credit, eight of which deal with Spanish or French colonial history. He is the author of Spanish Sea: The Gulf of Mexico in North American Discovery, 1500-1685; editor of La Salle, the Mississipi, and the Gulf: Three Primary Documents; and co-author of Mapping Texas and the Gulf Coast: The Contributions of St. Denis, Olivan, and Le Maire, all published by Texas A&M University Press.