Scots Traders and Spanish Law in East Florida
in Serge Dauchy, Heikki Pihlajamäki, Albrecht Cordes and Dave De Ruysscher, eds., Colonial Adventures: Commercial Law and Practice in the Making 51-83 (Leiden: Brill, Forthcoming)
50 Pages Posted: 21 Apr 2020 Last revised: 17 Aug 2020
Date Written: 2020
This chapter describes commercial litigation in 1802 threatening Panton Leslie’s trading post at Picolata, East Florida, and the firm’s very existence in the province. It reveals the legal sophistication and institutional limits of local actors in a small northern outpost of the Spanish empire. The parties considered and argued about the proper interpretation of royal orders, governors’ edicts, official correspondence, and other documents that shaped the dispute. Concerning commercial legal culture, the issues debated in the pleadings centered on Panton Leslie’s compliance with its unique trade status as delineated in a series of royal orders and agreements. Despite their remoteness from imperial economic and commercial centers, the parties did not play fast and loose with the legal sources or arguments. The dispute reveals that the nature of commercial enterprise within empires was not simply one of economic benefit. Trading companies were woven into the political fabric of imperial administration. In this context, Sánchez argued that for Spain to coexists with native populations and eventually to have Indian populations join its polity, the foreign trading house of Panton Leslie had to be removed as an intermediary between them. This extensive legal battle also has some explanatory benefit on the shift of Panton Leslie away from trade to debt collection and property management in the early years of the nineteenth century. William Panton died in 1801 and Bowles’s attacks against Panton Leslie had significantly disrupted its ability to trade profitably. This suit must be added to these causes of the firm’s shift from Indian trade to debt collection and land management. The case surely absorbed time and resources. It also created an atmosphere of uncertainty under which the firm would have to operate. Every shipment and every transaction after the case would be subject to the greatest and most jealous scrutiny by at least a portion of Saint Augustine’s population. Panton Leslie’s success was a hollow victory.
Keywords: Forida, East Florida, Saint Augustine, Spanish Empire, Commercial Law, Picolata, Panton Leslie & Co., colonial Florida, colonial law, derecho indiano
JEL Classification: K00, K10, N81, N86, N96
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation