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Catalysts of Assimilation: The Role of Franciscan Missionaries in the Colonial System of Spanish Florida

Despite repeated military attempts to establish and maintain a Spanish colonial presence among and adjacent to indigenous groups in the Southeastern United States, it was actually Franciscan missionaries who successfully spearheaded the assimilation of many tens of thousands of Native Americans into the expanding colonial system of Spanish Florida during the late 16th and 17th centuries. Acting from within local chiefly jurisdictions which had requested or accepted their presence, for the most part these Franciscan friars effectively served as cultural brokers, not only fomenting the religious conversion process to Catholicism, but also facilitating and ameliorating the process of political and economic assimilation into the new multi-ethnic colonial society based in St. Augustine. Though rampant demographic collapse and external slave raiding ultimately doomed the mission system by the early 18th century, Franciscan missionaries played a pivotal role during the transformative colonial era in Florida.

John E. Worth, University of West Florida