A Cross-Cultural History of Law in the Florida Borderlands, 1784-1845


ACLS Fellowship Program



Named Award

ACLS Oscar Handlin Fellow named award


At the turn of the nineteenth century, law in southeastern North America was a multicultural phenomenon. This project reconstructs the complex legal world of the Florida borderlands, showing how Indigenous peoples, Europeans, and people of African descent mutually created a cosmopolitan legal order in this contested region after the American Revolution. During the violent upheavals that threatened lives, livelihoods, and sovereignties, cross-cultural law and justice served as a tool that many Seminoles, Creeks, Mikasukis, Spaniards, Africans—and a few Anglo-Americans—used to settle their disputes, bolster alliances, and block US expansion into Florida. Building a plural legal order out of necessity, Florida’s inhabitants relied on multiple sources of law and competing conceptions of justice, at a time when the United States sought to expand the authority of its legal framework to control more land, commerce, and people. In the changing American South, this new order struggled to develop and replace the old, leaving concurrent legacies of dispossession, exploitation, violence, and self-determination that endure to this day.