The Journal of San Diego History
Fall 1973, Volume 19, Number 4
Cover: Morning on the Bay by Alfred Mitchell


David J. Weber, Book Review Editor

Spanish Military Weapons in Colonial America, 1700 – 1821. By Sidney B. Brinckerhoff and Pierce A. Chamberlain. Harrisburg, Pa.: Stackpole Books, 1972. Bibliography. Glossary. Illustrations. Index. 159 pages $14.95.

Reviewed by Donald Chipman, Professor of History at North Texas State University. Professor Chipman is the author of Nuño de Gutman and the Province of Pánuco in New Spain, 1518–1533 (1967) and several articles on Colonial Mexico.

A reviewer is fortunate when it is his pleasure to review and then keep a handsome and expensive volume such as this one. He is doubly fortunate when the book is solidly researched and well organized by professional scholars with the credentials of Sidney Brinkerhoff and Pierce Chamberlain. Both men are associated with the Arizona Historical Society as Director and Curator, respectively; both are Princeton University graduates; and in the case of Brinckerhoff his work, with Odie Faulk, Lancers for the King(1965) is a valued contribution to our understanding of the presidial defenses of Northern New Spain in the late eighteenth century.

The title of this book perhaps suggests that its contents are as relevant to the colonial history of the United States as they are to the history of New Spain. And in the Foreword, Harold L. Peterson, Chief Curator of the National Park Service, incorporates this work under the broad mantle of Bicentennial contributions to the American Revolution. The authors, on the other hand, do not dwell on this tenuous classification. They properly point out that Spain reached her zenith as a colonial power in the eighteenth century. However, at the end of the Seven Years’ War, it was Spain alone who faced the British in North America. The French Bourbons, who had ascended the throne of Spain in 1700, found it necessary during the enlightened reign of Charles III (1759-1788) to reorganize defenses in America against increasing British pressure. Among the military and administrative reforms which they instituted was the creation of a new viceroyalty, the Commandancy General of the Interior Provinces (1776) and the foundations of a colonial militia. Both Spanish regular army units and the militia were increasingly equipped with French weapons and accouterments as opposed to the German, Austrian, and Spanish military hardware which had characterized the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The significance of this book, then, lies in its superb plates that identify and classify eighteenth and early nineteenth century firearms, swords, polearms, knives, bayonets, cannon, and their accessories. The task of assembling 274 black and white photographs of military weapons of this period was far more difficult than might be supposed. As the authors point out, “very few specimens of 18th century weapons have survived.” Accordingly, it was necessary to do extensive archival work in both Spain and Mexico, rather than simply catalogue and describe pieces from private collections or museums in the United States. Invaluable assistance in the preparation of plates for this book was lent by the Servicio, Histórico Militar and the Museo de Ejército, both in Madrid.

The volume under consideration is a part of Stackpole Books’ rather extensive series on arms, armor, and accouterments. It should be an especially attractive and valuable reference work for military historians and buffs, collectors, and museum curators. The approach here, as Brinckerhoff and Chamberlain acknowledge, is introductory to the subject of Spanish colonial military history. It is also encyclopedic rather than analytical or interpretive. A glossary of technical terms for Spanish military weapons and equipment in the late colonial era is particularly useful to both scholars and collectors.