Archive | May, 2023

Review of Andrew Jackson and Pensacola, ed. by James R. McGovern

24 May

America’s bicentennial celebration in the 1970s spurred an incredible amount of scholarship across the nation showcasing the rich history of many places that saw the anniversary as an opportunity to celebrate their unique heritage. I recently—at long last—finally got around to reading a slim and long out of print volume on a special aspect of the history of Pensacola produced in 1974 which I picked up at a used book store some while back. Andrew Jackson and Pensacola, edited by University of West Florida professor James R. McGovern, features several diverse articles exploring the frequently overlooked important connection between the president and the Gulf Coast city.

The book features reprints of articles which originally appeared in various historical journals, a few original pieces, and reproductions of several original letters as well as listings of the mayors of Pensacola and the governors of Florida from the colonial to the early American eras. While not a comprehensive narrative, it is still a valuable collection of important references on its topic. Jackson spent time in Pensacola on three occasions, each time bringing the small coastal community to the forefront of national attention. He captured the place while under Spanish ownership two times—once during the War of 1812 (1814) when he wanted to stop the British from being able to utilize the place as a launching point for an attack on New Orleans, and again during the First Seminole War (1818) as a part of his effort to bring order to what was then the southern boundary of the United States. Owing to the extralegal nature of both of these offensives, Jackson and Pensacola were placed in the national political spotlight. Jackson’s third appearance in town was much more planned, the occasion being his term as the first governor of the Florida Territory. In the summer of 1821 he journeyed to the place to take ownership of the former Spanish colony and to establish an American government there. Unhappy with the location and the nature of the assignment, however, he left for home as soon as he had finished what he viewed as his essential tasks.

The book provides overviews of these episodes as well as points out local landmarks associated with the long-ago era of Jackson’s visits. One of the last essays in the brief book explores the political legacy of Jackson in Pensacola, a not insignificant consideration in Florida history owing to the fact that the associates he installed in office—the author refers to them as “cronies”—ended up controlling territorial government until statehood. Admittedly, this is not a book the general reader will be interested in. If you do have an interest on Jackson’s connection with Florida, though, you will definitely want to know about this rare volume.


Review of Mississippi Gulf Coast, by Timothy Isbell

9 May

Anyone who has ever visited the Mississippi Gulf Coast knows it is a unique and attractive place. Consisting of pristine beaches and a series of small towns nestled between New Orleans and Mobile, it has an identity all its own. Its primary cities—Bay St. Louis, Pass Christian, Long Beach, Gulfport, Biloxi, D’Iberville, Ocean Springs, Gautier, Pascagoula, and Moss Point—share a special bond that gives this circa sixty-mile long stretch of waterfront an unusual sense of community. In Mississippi Gulf Coast, a coffee-table style book loaded with compelling photographs, author Timothy Isbell attempts to capture the essence of this scenic section of the Magnolia State in words and images.

Isbell is a freelance photojournalist whose previous publications include Gettysburg: Sentinels of StoneShiloh and Corinth: Sentinels of Stone; and Vicksburg: Sentinels of Stone. His interest in the past and ability as a professional photographer are both on display in Mississippi Gulf Coast. The book features brief overviews of the various eras and key stories in the region’s history, including the adventures of the colonial era, the drama of the Civil War, the centrality of the fishing industry and tourism to the local economy, and a range of other topics from World War II ship production to contemporary Mardi Gras celebrations.

The book is essentially a fast-moving introduction to the area, with a rather cursory narrative that, while not comprehensive, is nonetheless informative. The key features of the book are the more than 200 professional photographs thoughtfully composed and artfully arranged so as to present a visual depiction of the place. These range from sunsets and beach scenes to imagery of iconic structures and community festivals. Even if it is not an in-depth history, this visually captivating book is sure to be a keepsake for anyone interested in this iconic region.