Episode 319: Ada Ferrer, Cuba, An Early American History

One of the Caribbean islands that Christopher Columbus stopped at during his 1492-voyage was an alligator-shaped island that sits at the mouth of the Gulf of Mexico in between the Yucatán and Florida peninsulas. This is, of course, the island of Cuba.

What do we know about early Cuba, the island the Spanish described as the “Key to the Indies?” What kind of relationship and exchange did early Cuba have with British North America and the early United States?

Ada Ferrer, a Professor of History at New York University and author of Cuba: An American History, joins us to investigate the early history of Cuba.

This episode is supported by an American Rescue Plan grant to the Omohundro Institute from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

About the Show

Ben Franklin’s World is a podcast about early American history.

It is a show for people who love history and for those who want to know more about the historical people and events that have impacted and shaped our present-day world.

Ben Franklin’s World is a production of the Omohundro Institute.

Episode Summary

Ada Ferrer, the Julius Silver Professor of History and Latin American and Caribbean Studies at New York University, joins us to investigate the early history of Cuba with details from her book, Cuba: An American History.

During our investigation, Ada reveals what Cuba was like before the arrival of Christopher Columbus and the Spanish. Why the Spanish and other European empires consider Cuba to be the “Key to the Indies.” And, details about early Cuba’s relationship with British North America and the early United States, including details about Cuba’s role in the American Revolution.

What You’ll Discover

  • Cuba before European arrival
  • Taíno people and how they lived pre-contact
  • Legacy and survival of the Taíno people
  • Contact between the Taíno people of Cuba & Christopher Columbus
  • How we know what we know about the first encounter
  • Taíno relationship with water and water travel
  • Why the Spanish established a colony in Cuba
  • Indigenous slavery and Cuba
  • African slavery and Spanish colonization
  • Cuba’s place in the Atlantic World economy
  • Pirate attack on Havana, 1555
  • Fortification of Havana
  • The British capture of Cuba in 1762
  • Legacies of the British presence in Cuba
  • Cuban support for the American Revolution
  • Cuba in the Age of Revolutions
  • Relations between Cuba and the early United States
  • Ideas that Cuba might join the United States as 3 states

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In your opinion, what might have happened if Cuba had joined the United States as a state during the 19th century? How might the histories of both Cuba and the United States be different?

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