How refugees have the power to change the society they join

By Alejandra Dubcovsky
Published December 23, 2016

In the late 17th century, small bands of refugees began making their way into Spanish Florida. At first, they arrived in small numbers, carrying little more than the clothes on their backs, and without generating much interest. The material demands they might place on the Spanish state were at best modest. Yet these refugees and their experience in Spanish Florida would raise nettlesome political questions. Refugees have a special power to unsettle political communities, one that far outstrips their claim on practical resources.

The refugees to Spanish North America came from all over what is now Florida and Georgia, and headed primarily to St Augustine, the region’s Spanish hub. By 1700, St Augustine was more than a century old, and had endured starvation, invasions, slaving, disease, pirates and isolation. Refugees were not in any unequivocal way its most obviously dangerous challenge. But that would soon change.

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