Sunday, January 20, 2013

Sobel Wiki: Disunited Empire Disloyalists

This week's featured article at the Sobel Wiki is another one of the really core articles: the State of Jefferson. As I've noted before, For Want of a Nail can be seen as a whole series of events from our history going the other way, starting with the subtitular Battle of Saratoga. The founding of Jefferson in 1782 is the next in line after Burgoyne's victory. In our own history, the American victory in the Revolutionary War led to thousands of Loyalists emigrating to Nova Scotia and Quebec, thereby creating the bilingual Canada that serves as a Loyalist counterpart to the United States of America. In the Sobel Timeline, the American defeat in the war leads to thousands of Patriots emigrating to Spanish Texas, thereby creating the bilingual Mexico that serves as a Patriot counterpart to the Confederation of North America.

One of Noel Maurer's biggest complaints about Nail was that Sobel just didn't know enough about Mexico to create a plausible alternate version of it. Sobel's description of Spanish Texas in the early 1780s is a pretty good illustration of this. Sobel speaks of Texas* having three main areas of Spanish settlement, which was true. Then he names them: San Antonio, Espiritu Santo, and San Xavier. San Antonio is right on the money, but Espiritu Santo? There was a settlement about a hundred miles down the San Antonio River from San Antonio, and it was partly based on a mission called Nuestra Señora de la Bahía del Espíritu Santo de Zúñiga that was founded in 1722, but that settlement was called La Bahía, not Espíritu Santo. And San Xavier? There were several short-lived missions named after St. Francis Xavier, but they had all been abandoned by 1782. The third chief settlement in Spanish Texas at the time was called Nacogdoches.

Now, I know they didn't have the internet back in 1971, but Sobel was a college professor with all the resources of Hofstra University at his command. How hard would it have been for him to find a book on Spanish Texas and get the names right?

*One of Sobel's little jokes in Nail is that he invariably refers to Texas as Jefferson, the name given to it by its American settlers. Sobel was messing with Texas!


Anonymous said...

Did Sobel even know Spanish? There's a suspicious paucity of words/phrases in that language, it seems to me.

DaveMB said...

Given the "Arroyo de Quatros Hombres" on page 132, I would think not. In For All Nails I blamed this not at all Spanish name on alt-Sobel's use of a survey map made by the orthographically challenged USM officer Zachary Taylor.

Noel Maurer said...

The easiest explanation is to take the real one: lousy editing of alt-Sobel's book.