CHAPTER TWO: THE AGE OF DISCOVERY
Carrera de Indias
Isabella and Ferdinand
Treaty of Tordesillas
Ponce de Léon
Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca
Francisco Vazquez de Coronado
What were some of the early stages of Europeans’ exploration and expansion outside of Europe?
What are some of the examples of the Columbian Exchange, and what effect(s) did this exchange have on the Americas and on Europe?
What were some of the Europeans’ successes, in terms of their goals in exploring and conquering, and what were some of their failures?
The Rise and Transformation of the Atlantic World
Al-Mas’ Udi, a Baghdad geographer in the tenth century, called it the green sea of darkness. Sailors feared to venture beyond the sight of shore. Beginning in the thirteenth century, however, the Atlantic was gradually transformed into an avenue connecting, as opposed to dividing, continents. We can generally divide this process into two stages. In the first stage, (during the late 1200s), we see European ships venturing from the Mediterranean up to Northwestern Europe, via the Atlantic. In the second stage, (during the early 1300s) we see the creation of a zone of navigation between the Azores, the Canary Islands, Iberia, and the African coast. After a Genoese galley sailed thru the Straits of Gibraltar in 1277 to Flanders, a feat facilitated by the ongoing success of the Reconquista in Iberia, Italian states started using this route as an alternative to the age-old land and water route to England, France, and Flanders (cross over the Alps mountain range, then cross over the rivers Rhone, Seine, and Rhine).
Trade and Trading Partners
In part, these changes in where Europeans could sail was based on improved technology: the caravel ship developed by the Portuguese and Spanish. This new boat’s small size is astonishing by modern standards with onboard living space ranging from 150 to 180 square meters, which equaled about 1.5 square meters per crewman. This did not improve much over the next three centuries; an English author noted in the eighteenth century that “being in a ship was like being in jail with less room and a good chance of drowning!” Yet the ability to sail farther and faster, and to carry more cargo along the way, did not necessarily cause the Europeans to strike out on the high seas as they did. Indeed, the Age of Discovery was in large part a series of expeditions to improve upon existing trade routes, patterns, and access to goods. That is, many of these explorers and sailors did not simply voyage because they were curious (although many may have been so); rather, these adventures were aimed at making money.
In the mid-fourteenth century, Genoese ships opened new sailing and trading routes. One explorer, Lanzorotto Malocello, sailed south along the African coast and discovered one of the Canary Islands. In the subsequent century, other explorers found other Atlantic islands. The colonization of these islands fell largely to the Portuguese, who settled and exploited the Madeiras, the Azores, and the Cape Verde Islands from 1420s to the 1460s. The Canary Islands became a territory of the Kingdom of Castile. Of course, these attempts to improve sailing and trading abilities for European kingdoms cannot be understood in the absence of the larger regional picture.
In North Africa, Muslim cities were not set off from the countryside as independent polities, instead they organized using ‘horizontal solidarity,’ meaning that each city contained quarters that housed groups separated by ethnic, religious, or occupational distinctions, and these groups had counterparts in towns and villages outside the main city. Intermarrying elites dominated each regional unit with these elites made up of landowners, merchants, government officials, leadership of craft guilds, and religious leaders of mosques and the ulamas. What does this have to do with trade and exploration? Overland caravan routes connected the regions and common interests among regional elites bound the regions together, and this was how Europeans (before the Age of Exploration) conducted business with peoples in this region.
There were also trans-Saharan trade routes from West Africa to the north and to the east. These were strategically important to not only North Africa, but also to the Near East and Europe. The gold mines of Bambuk and Buré supplied two-thirds of the gold in circulation in Europe during the Middle Ages. A cycle of stability, then revolt against elites’ control of trade, then stability was brilliantly described by Ibn Khaldun (a Berber author). Indeed, control of trade transfer points proved key to the political development of West Africa. The earliest great power, Aukar (Ghana [title of king], Soninke tribe), which developed before 800 AD, centered on the market centers of the north grasslands of upper Niger and Senegal controlled the gold trade from Bambuk and other places. It then traded for needed commodities with Muslim Morocco. This kingdom fell to Mauritanian Berbers (Al-Maurabitun) in the 11th century who then controlled the trade. The Malinke tribe (formerly a dependent state of Ghana) arose in the 13th century to seize control and establish the Kangaba (Mali) Kingdom. In 14th century, this kingdom declined, and the Songhay took control with capital at Gao. Morocco invaded in 15th century and African states formed along the southern periphery of this area. This competition and instability would later be an important background factor when Europeans arrived to do business with African kingdoms on a larger scale.
In East Africa, there was also a general instability but here it took the forms of migration, in addition to warfare. There were two streams of migration from the area of modern Cameroons. The first stream moved eastward through the Sudan area, to take advantage of the potential for grain production, animal husbandry, and iron production, all around 2000 BC. By 1000 BC, these Bantu-speaking peoples reached the Great Rift Valley area of Tanzania and Kenya. Circa 500 BC, the migration moved southward and crossed Lake Victoria, then spread the Transvaal, southwest into Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Angola. The second stream of migration went south along the coast and rivers to the mouth of the Congo. Not herdsmen, these Neolithic cultivators eventually met the iron-age peoples of the first stream around 1 AD in northern Angola. The combined peoples then, circa 500 AD moved east into Zambia and Zaire and began to build states. In the process they forced Khoisan-speaking pastoralists like the Khoi-Khoi (Hotentot) and San (Bushmen of the Kalihari) into the desert southwest. Eventually, these Bantu-speakers became part of the trade system with Near East and Asia by 10th century. They exported slaves, iron, ivory, rhinoceros horn, amber, and leopard skins to India and China. Chinese sources, as early as the 7th century, mention slaves from Zenj (Africa) and by 1119 the Canton elites owned black slaves.
We surveyed China very briefly in the last chapter, but we should remind ourselves that China was also hugely important to understanding this time. “The Heavenly Kingdom” (as China referred to itself) under the T’ang Dynasty (618-906 AD) saw its trade and exchange grow with India. Buddhism also took off in popularity at this time in China. During the Sung Dynasty (900-1279), a great expansion of trade took place southward into East Asia and the Pacific. Under the Mongols who ruled China from 1280 to 1367, China became connected to the West with the re-opening of the Silk Road that saw Muslim, Christian, and Jewish merchants travel over land (that is, cross the Asian continent from west to east), to come to China. The final decline, and then overturning of the Mongol Yoke, in 1367 by the Ming, broke both the long-standing and newer connections between China and the world. This is when China entered a period of self-imposed isolation and exclusion from the wider world.
Early European Efforts
Portugal and the African coast:
In 1415, Portuguese forces attacked and seized Centa at the mouth of the Strait of Gibraltar (on the Moroccan side). This attack, part of the Reconquista against the Moors, also enabled Portuguese nobles to gain reputation and knighthood, both in seizing the city and its continual defense. One of these men, was the 21-year old son of King João I, Prince Henry (1394-1460), known since the 19th century as “the Navigator” for his contribution to Portuguese expansion. In 1455-1456, the Roman Catholic Church, in the person of the Pope, granted Portugal a monopoly on the navigation southward and eastward to the Indies, the legendary lands of spice and untold wealth.
At first, this permission was of limited utility, as Portuguese ships, like everyone else in their day, had to navigate by the stars. When out of sight of the coast, this was the only alternative in navigating the Atlantic. A navigator calculated the altitude of the Pole star, which indicated how far south from the north pole one had gone, and once having found the right altitude, they sailed east or west until reaching land. This presented difficulties for the Portuguese off West Africa since the Pole Star disappeared over the horizon at latitude 9 degrees. The other obvious option was to measure the position of the sun but until late in the 15th century there was no accurate way to do so. The invention of the astrolabe in 1497 changed that. The inventor, Abraham Zacuto, a Jewish astronomer in Portugal, had earlier developed a calendar that gave the sun’s declination for the day. Together these two allowed the accurate measurement of the latitude and opened more potential for overseas navigation and exploration.
We have spoken earlier about the difficulties of finding one, singular, cause for big historical events such as this one (the Age of Discovery). When it comes to explaining the motivations for why Portugal would strike out as they did, the same problems of explanation reappear. As outlined above, economic motivations (improving trade, improving access to tradable goods, making lots of money) were very influential. At the same time, however, religion played a very important part of this story. The Portuguese, like the Spanish, were determined to carry a Holy War into the heart of Islam. The seizure of Centa was part of this as well as a search for a new way India and the search for the legendary Christian kingdom of Prester John in Africa. Technology, too, can tell part of the story but we again must be careful not to ascribe it too much agency or power. That is, just because the Portuguese had a better ship, does not mean they had to go seize control over new lands and exploit them, but the newer ships made it easier to take this decision.
In terms of ships, initially, up to the 15th century, Europeans were limited to coastal cabotage navigation using the barge (barca) or the balinger (barinel), ancient cargo vessels used in the Mediterranean of around 50 to 200 tons. These boats were fragile, with only one mast with a fixed square sails that could not overcome the navigational difficulties of Southward oceanic exploration, as the strong winds, shoals and strong ocean currents easily overwhelmed their abilities.
The caravel was developed in about 1450, based on existing fishing boats under the sponsorship of Prince Henry the Navigator of Portugal and soon became the preferred vessel for Portuguese explorers. Its name may derive from an ancient boat type known as carabus in Latin and καραβος in Greek, later Arabized to qārib, indicating some continuity of its carvel build through the ages. They were agile and easier to navigate, with a tonnage of 50 to 160 tons and 1 to 3 masts, with lateen triangular sails allowing beating. Being smaller and having a shallow keel, the caravel could sail upriver in shallow coastal waters. With the lateen sails attached, it was highly maneuverable and could sail much nearer the wind, while with the square Atlantic-type sails attached, it was very fast. Its economy, speed, agility, and power made it esteemed as the best sailing vessel of its time. The limited capacity for cargo and crew were their main drawbacks but did not hinder its success. The exploration done with caravels made possible the spice trade of the Portuguese and the Spanish. However, for the trade itself, the caravel was later replaced by the larger nau which was more profitable for trading. The caravel was one of the pinnacle ships in Iberian Ship Development from 1400-1600.
Due to its lighter weight and thus higher speed, the caravel was a boon to sailors. Early caravels generally carried two or three masts with lateen sails, while later types had four masts. Early caravels usually had an overall length of 15 to 30 m, displaced around 50 tons, a high length-to-beam ratio of around 3.5:1, and narrow ellipsoidal frame (unlike the circular frame of the nau), making them very fast and maneuverable but with somewhat low capacity. Towards the end of the 15th century, the caravel was occasionally modified by giving it the same rig as a carrack with a foresail, square mainsail and lateen mizzen, but not the carrack's high forecastle or much of a sternpalace, which would make it unweatherly. In this form it was sometimes known as caravela redonda (a bulging square sail is said to be round, redonda, in the Iberian tradition).
It was in such ships that Christopher Columbus set out on his expedition in 1492; Santa Maria was a ~100 ton carrack (same as the nau) which served as the flagship, and Pinta and Niña were smaller caravels of around 15-20 m with a beam of 6 m and displacing around 60-75 tons. In the first half of the 16th century, the Portuguese created a specialized fighting ship also called caravela redonda to act as an escort in Brazil and in the East Indies route. It had a foremast with square sails and three other masts with a lateen each, for a total of 4 masts. The hull was galleon-shaped, and some experts consider this vessel a forerunner of the fighting galleon. The Portuguese Man o' War was named after this curious type of fighting ship which was in use until the 17th century.
Asia and trade
The Portuguese were able to access fabulous wealth with their caravels. These included spices from India, Ceylon, Java, and the Moluccas, as well as silk and porcelain from China. Trade in these items blossomed after the end of the Crusades owing to the rule of the Great Khans of the Yuan dynasty starting in 1272 which allowed European traders to bypass Muslim merchants. This all came to an end with the arrival of plague in 1347, the fall of the Mongol empire in 1368 and the expansion of the Ottoman Empire. Bypassing the Ottomans now called for a radical solution: rounding Africa, a continent whose shape and size was still a mystery to Europeans.
This is not to say that Africa was unknown to Europeans. During the Middle Ages, camel caravans carried gold dust from rivers and streams south of the Sahara across the desert to North Africa where, it was transshipped to Spain and other parts of Europe. In 1324-1325 the King of Mali made a pilgrimage to Mecca carrying so much gold that Europeans were astonished. When the gold arrived in Egypt it caused the price of gold, increasingly Europe’s currency, to fall by 12 percent. As for the Portuguese, their presence off West Africa caused a diversion of the traditional gold trade to the coast. The gold mostly originated in the mines of Bambuk on the upper Senegal River and Bouré on the upper Niger. Later the more southern Akan gold fields, dominated by the Akan tribe of present-day Ghana and Ivory Coast, became the main source of the gold trade. (See above.) A trading nation called the Wangara controlled the gold flow from the market town of Jenne (Mali). Their slaves carried salt from the Western Sahara, as well as cloth, brass, and copper by headload to the gold fields where it was bartered for gold dust.
To tap into this trade, the Portuguese established the fort of São Jorge da Mina, or Elmina (modern Ghana), in 1482, on the southern fringe of the Akan country. The castle soon became a major gold-gathering station. The Portuguese quickly learned that their silks, woolens, and linens were not in high demand, so they began to market textiles from North Africa. Before long, a far more lucrative trade developed: slaves could be traded for gold. Gold remained the major export item of West Africa until the end of the 1600s when it was finally surpassed by slaves. In terms of exploration and trade, there were several notable achievements in quick succession: Bartolomeu Diaz rounded the Cape of Good Hope in 1487; Vasco De Gama rounded the Cape and sails onward to India in 1498. (He returned to Portugal with a cargo worth sixty times the cost of the trip.) Pedro Ãlvarez Cabral got blown off course and accidentally discovered Brazil in 1500. (Eventually Cabral) went on to India and returned a rich man.) Christopher Columbus was, then, just one explorer among many. Columbus was an Italian from Genoa (a powerful trading city in northwestern Italy). Venice and Genoa were at war and after Venice won, Genoa declined as a trading state. This is the background for why Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) first approached João II of Portugal, who turned him down, then goes to the Spanish court of Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon. With three ships and 88 men, he departed Andalusia on August 3, 1492 and reached the Bahamas on October 12, thirty-nine days after leaving the waypoint at the Canary Islands.
New understanding of civilization
Beginning with the discovery of the Canary Islands in 1339, the encounter with natives of newly discovered lands induced the Europeans to formulate a new criterion for civility. The old dichotomy between Christians and others was replaced by concepts that contrasted sophisticated civilizations with what these Europeans saw as primitive, “savage” peoples. Although the Ottoman Empire and the civilization of Japan and China followed erroneous beliefs (in these Europeans’ eye), they were clearly superior to the natives of Brazil and the hunter-gathers Columbus found in the West Indies. These indigenous peoples were considered irrational beings, not too far removed from animals. They lived, according to a French commentator, “sans roi, sans loi, sans foi,” (without king, without law, without faith). Even the Aztecs and the Incas, with their advanced civilizations were sometimes placed in the same category. In particular, Europeans began to associate the new understanding of “civility” with features such as literacy and education, personal self-discipline, respect for law, settlement in permanent communities, especially towns, and the use of money.
The European Enlightenment (see below) did not take a favorable attitude toward non-European peoples for the most part, despite the movement’s emphasis on questioning assumptions and making arguments based on evidence, not assertion. The natives of Africa and the Americas lived through their senses, whereas “civilized” peoples had acquired abstract reasoning skills, or so Enlightenment philosophes claimed. Some saw these people as “noble savages” living in a Golden Age of simplicity and innocence. French writer Michel de Montaigne advanced probably the most balanced view in the late 16th century, when he painted the world as an amalgam of different nations, all with their own customs and beliefs. Differences, he thought, were relative, based on the observer’s perceptions and biases.
The historian James Lockhart argued that the Europeans and the more developed societies of the Americas judged one another using criterion dictated by their own cultural frameworks. The many similarities between their respective societies in terms of agriculture, religious organization, taxation, and social hierarchy fooled them into believing that principles and practices on either side were essentially identical. This process allowed both parties to hold onto traditional values and conceptions, their dialogue of the deaf avoiding close examination of each other. Much of this is ironic, and not in a good way, when, the Mediterranean area during the era of Philip II, was a place, according to Patterson, where, from the viewpoint of human oppression, was “a vortex of horror for mankind.” As Braudel described it, the Europeans simply behaved in the New World as they had in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic islands, with customary patterns of piracy, banditry, plunder, cruelty, and slavery.
Slavery: Background and the African Dimension
The dissonance in African and European identities, without which there would have been no African slavery in the Americas, had at its root very little to do with economics. Scholarly failure to recognize the reasons for the rise and fall of direct coercion in migration is because cultural values can be easily hidden by economic superstructure. Conceptions of morality lie behind legislative enactments that send convicts into exile. Communally held conceptions of self and others determine not only who will become slaves but also where they will be sent and how they will be treated. Constructions of gender, as central to the human psyche as standards of right and wrong, and identity (at the level of both individual and society) are also central to patterns of migrations.
With that being said, we can think of the great migration of Europeans (but also Africans) to North America as responses to both push and pull. Religion played a large part in pushing people out of Europe. Huguenots, Puritans, Mennonites, Quakers, Anabaptists, and others were religious minorities in their countries, and were in some cases pressured to leave while in other cases, felt drawn to the opportunity to practice their faith freely in a new land. Economic factors could similarly play both sides, pushing the desperately poor to undertake indentured servitude in some cases, drawing the resourceful to undertake business enterprises in the new colonies. In this case, the appeal of “unoccupied” or “virgin” land, available easily and cheaply, was particularly captivating. This promise of land related directly to the issue of servitude. Before 1700, a majority of Europeans coming to North America were male and characterized by their contemporaries as the “underemployed, frustrated, fearful” ones who hoped to endure pain and deprivation in exchange for freedom and land (if they survived).
Conditions were in fact precarious. The French colony on St, Christopher in 1627 saw famine and disease kill 350 of the 550 settlers. An English colonist ship to Barbados in 1638 lost 80 of the 350 on the ship to disease before arrival. A French royal official in 1681 estimated that of the 600 engagés that arrived in the French West Indies in the previous few years, fewer than 50 survived their three-year contracts. A German colonist ship to British North America in 1752 lost 181 of 200 to disease before arrival. Interestingly, between 1683 and 1783, British North America saw roughly equal numbers (100,000 each) of immigrants from the British Isles and from the German states. The regular cross-ocean traffic in people and goods was thus able to create a single Atlantic labor market.
60-second Quiz #1: What were some of the early stages of Europeans’ exploration and expansion outside of Europe? Which of the following statements is NOT true?
Portugal was one of the earliest European states to explore the seas beyond European shores.
Spain was one of the earliest European states to explore the seas beyond European shores.
Europeans explored the coasts of Africa and India only after they explored the Americas
Europeans explored the coasts of Africa and India at about the same time as they explored the Americas
The World of Trade and Production
Evolving ships and technology:
This cross-ocean traffic was made possible by continued improvements in ship design and sailing ability. The galleon was an ocean-going ship type which evolved from the carrack in the second half of 16th century. A lowering of the forecastle and elongation of the hull gave galleons an unprecedented level of stability in the water, and reduced wind resistance at the front, leading to a faster, more maneuverable vessel. The galleon differed from the older types primarily by being longer, lower and narrower, with a square tuck stern instead of a round tuck, and by having a snout or head projecting forward from the bows below the level of the forecastle. In Portugal at least, carracks were usually very large ships for their time (often over 1000 tons), while galleons were mostly under 500 tons, although the Manila galleons were to reach up to 2000 tons. With the introduction of the galleon in Portuguese India Armadas over the course of the late 1520s and the 1530s, carracks gradually began to be less armed and became almost exclusively cargo ships (which is why the Portuguese Carracks were pushed to such large sizes), leaving any fighting to be done to the galleons.
One of the largest and most famous of Portuguese galleons was the São João Baptista (nicknamed Botafogo, 'spitfire'), a 1,000-ton galleon built in 1534, said to have carried 366 guns. Carracks also tended to be lightly armed and used for transporting cargo in all the fleets of other Western European states, while galleons were purpose-built warships, and were stronger, more heavily armed, and also cheaper to build (5 galleons could cost around the same as 3 carracks) and were therefore a much better investment for use as warships or transports. There are nationalist disputes about its origins and development, but each Atlantic sea power-built types suited to their needs, while constantly learning from their rivals. It was the Basque captain and naval architect, Álvaro de Bazán, who designed the definitive model of the galleon in the 1550s.
The galleon was powered entirely by wind, using sails carried on three or four masts, with a lateen sail continuing to be used on the last (usually third and fourth) masts. They were used in both military and trade applications, most famously in the Spanish treasure fleet, and the Manila Galleons. They helped fuel the new world exploration by providing a means for transport of goods between the new world and the Iberian Peninsula. They were the driving force behind much 15th and 16th century exploration. In fact, galleons were so versatile that a single vessel may have been refitted for wartime and peacetime roles several times during its lifespan. The galleon was the prototype of all square-rigged ships with three or more masts for over two and a half centuries, including the later full rigged ship.
The principal warships of the opposing English and Spanish fleets in the 1588 confrontation of the Spanish Armada were galleons, with the modified English "race built" galleons developed by John Hawkins proving decisive, while the capacious Spanish galleons, designed primarily as transports, showed great endurance in the battles and in the great storms on the voyage home; most survived the ordeal. Galleons were constructed from oak (for the keel), pine (for the masts) and various hardwoods for hull and decking. Hulls were usually carvel-built. The expenses involved in galleon construction were enormous. Hundreds of expert tradesmen (including carpenters, pitch-melters, blacksmiths, coopers, shipwrights, etc.) worked day and night for months before a galleon was seaworthy. To cover the expense, galleons were often funded by groups of wealthy businessmen who pooled resources for a new ship. Therefore, most galleons were originally consigned for trade, although those captured by rival states were usually put into military service. The most common gun used aboard a galleon was the demi-culverin, although gun sizes up to demi-cannon were possible.
The most distinguishing features of the galleon include the long beak, the lateen-rigged mizzenmasts, and the square gallery at the stern off the captain's cabin. In larger galleons, a fourth mast was added, usually a lateen-rigged mizzen, called the bonaventure mizzen. Because of the long periods often spent at sea and poor conditions on board, many of the crew sometimes perished during the voyage; therefore advanced rigging systems were developed so that the vessel could be sailed home by an active sailing crew a fraction of the size aboard at departure. The galleon continued to be used into the 18th century, by which time purpose-built vessels such as the fluyt, the brig and the full rigged ship, both as a trading vessel and ship of the line, rendered it obsolete for trade and warfare respectively. The oldest known scale drawings in England are in a manuscript called "Fragments of Ancient Shipwrightry" made in about 1586 by Mathew Baker, a master-shipwright. This manuscript, held at the Pepysian Library, Magdalene College, Cambridge, provides an authentic reference for the size and shape of typical English galleons built during this period. Based on these plans, the Science Museum, London has built a 1:48 scale model ship that is an exemplar of galleons of this era.
Spanish America and the “silver revolution”
The flow of American silver from North American mines to Spanish coffers facilitated the 16th century shift of Europe’s economic axis from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic. By the 18th century 70% of all precious metals were exported into Spain and Western Europe. They were then re-exported to the Baltic, Middle East, and Far East. Thanks to the Manila Galleon, which sailed from Acapulco to Manila (1573-1811), Mexican silver became a prime medium of exchange in China.
Silver production and guarding the flow
From the 16th to the 18th centuries, production of silver from the Spanish-controlled mines in Potosi (Bolivia) doubles twice over. The massive scale of silver cargoes being sent to Spain necessitated a fleet of treasure ships to transport and escort ships to guard the treasure vessels (the Carrera de Indias). There were two annual convoys of treasure sent back to Spain. The first left around July 1 for Veracruz and arrived in September. This fleet was comprised of dozens of ships escorted by two galleons, vessels of 500-800 tons, square-rigged, and well-armed. The fleet hibernated for the winter, avoiding the storm season. It sailed back around end of May, early June, stopped in Havana, reached Spain in September. The second fleet was called the Tierra Firme/galeones, escorted by six to twelve armed galleons, which left Seville in May/June and arrived via Cartegena de Indias on the Isthmus of Panama around August. It returned the following summer.
The location of the silver mines determined the routes. The Veracruz fleet serviced the Mexican mines and the one to Cartagena the great silver mines at Potosí (Bolivia). Other exports included hides, wool, dyewood, indigos, and cochineal. Imports from Spain included wine, textiles, grain, paper, candles, ironware, and mercury. The fleets and trade proved vulnerable to foreign attacks, nature, and difficulties with scheduling (nature being the #1 enemy). For example, in 1563, seven ships were wrecked and driven ashore at Nombré de Dios, five sank in the Bay of Campeche, and fifteen in Cádiz harbor. There were undoubtedly flaws in the system: the convoys were slow and unwieldy, merchant postponement that created large gaps in supply and demand, the transport of silver from Potosí from the highlands to the coast by mule train was a complex affair. Seville exerted a monopoly of the trade, the Torre del Oro acting as the central receiving point for the bullion.
Unable to control the mines, foreigners cooperated with the Iberians and soon dominated the trade. They had the necessary capital and products the New World wanted. French, Genoese, Flemish, English, and Dutch traders all had a stake in the carrera. The locus in Spain shifted to Cadiz and foreign hulls broke the monopoly. In 1713, the Treaty of Utrecht formalized British access to the trade.
The Hispanic Background and the Conquest of America.
To see what brought the Spanish to the New World and how their experiences in Europe influenced the conquest and colonization of the new world, let us now turn our attention to the European background.
In 711, the Moors, the Muslim inhabitants of North and West Africa, invaded Portugal and Spain and captured most of that territory. The Moors made tremendous contributions with agricultural techniques and new crops, brought paper and glass, which had never been seen in Europe, and brought their artwork, metalwork, pottery, and silk with them. They also supported education and built colleges and libraries. The Muslim heritage shaped the cultural development of Spain largely for the better. Muslim conquerors generally allowed the Christians to continue to practice their ways, assuming they would pay a tax. In later centuries Muslims discriminated against Christians and Jews, increased taxes and took their lands. This gave incentive to the Reconquest, a long period of occasional skirmishes between Christian and Muslim forces over who would control Spain and Portugal.
Portugal defeated the Moors and got its independence in 1249, but Spanish attempts to oust the Moors took much longer. In fact, for decades at a time, resistance was almost nonexistent. The Reconquest proceeded in fits and starts. Muslim rule was unstable; they were torn by political and religious disagreements, and were weakened by it, but it took the Spanish more than seven hundred years to regain control. Castile, the northern part of Spain, where the Muslim control was the weakest, led the movement against the Moors. Gradually, over time, two kingdoms of Spain emerged, Castile and Aragon. Castile was an area of vast farms. As the Spanish pushed the Muslims to the South, the King would give the captured lands to the nobles, the Church, and the military conquerors. Castile became a very wealthy region. Another part of Spain that fought against the Moors was Aragon (which includes present-day Barcelona. It was more of an area of industry and commerce, rather than land and farms.
Isabella and Ferdinand
In 1469, Isabella of Castile married Ferdinand of Aragon. In 1474, Isabella’s brother died, and she claimed she was the rightful heir to the throne; within a few years it had been settled, and she was the queen. At the same time, Ferdinand of Aragon’s father died, and he became king of Aragon, so the process of Spanish unification began. Isabella and Ferdinand made several reforms. Ferdinand and Isabella had to restore order to Spain, which was disrupted by violence and chaos, and made a series of reforms to assert their power and to gain the allegiance of the people. They reduced the power of the nobility--made the crown more involved in the business of the nobility. They reduced the power of the Church--secured from the Pope the right to appoint all Church officials and to collect a third of all the church’s income, and appointed crown officials to public offices in the towns. They also tried to reform the corruption of the church.
They sought to promote religious uniformity; by torturing and expelling Jews and conversos (people who appeared to be Catholic but were practicing Jews in secret), they united Spain under Catholicism. The Inquisition, a state-controlled Castilian tribunal, authorized by papal bull in 1478, that soon extended throughout Spain, had the task of enforcing uniformity of religious practice. It was originally intended to investigate the sincerity of Conversos, especially those in the clergy, who had been accused of being crypto-Jews. Tomas de Torquemada, a descendant of conversos, was the most effective and notorious of the Inquisition's prosecutors. They made reforms to town government. They made a series of economic reforms, too, that promoted shipping and trade. The result was that Spain became more prosperous than ever. They founded new schools and universities, providing a group of educated people to take the new government positions.
The experience of the Reconquest
The Reconquest provided the Spanish with three traits that would help them in their future exploits in the Americas, the first of which was a sense of military values and military tradition. A second trait was the lure of land, plunder, and other rewards. The conquistadors of the Americas would be among the poorest Spaniards, so they had a lot to gain in the process. In the case of the Americas, the king would give the captured land to the nobles, the Church, and (most especially) the conquerors. A final trait the Spanish got from the Reconquest was a heightened sense of religious mission and superiority. The Reconquest deepened religious feeling and the sense of championing their Catholic faith out on the edge of Christendom. We might even call this a sense of crusading, or even of Catholic pride. Now that the country was more successful and more under control, Ferdinand and Isabella turned their attention to completing the Reconquest and to driving the Moors out completely. In January 1492, the Spanish defeated the Moors. Spanish forces captured Grenada, the last remaining stronghold of Muslim rule in the South of Spain.
This victory had tremendous consequences for the history of the Spanish empire and shaped the Spanish experience in the New World. Ferdinand and Isabella had united Aragon and Castile, had checked the power of the nobility, the church, and the towns, defeated the Moors, and asserted their control over all of Spain. The Spanish economy was booming, and its educational system was terrific. Spain had emerged as a world power by 1492. With the Moors defeated and their country peaceful and prosperous, Ferdinand and Isabella could now turn their attention to foreign conquest.
The Spanish had defeated the Moors, and in 1492, Isabella agreed to support the expedition of Christopher Columbus, an Italian sea captain who became convinced that there was a shorter way to reach the Asian spice trade than going around Africa. Columbus finally convinced Isabella to fund his expedition; he would seek to go across the Atlantic Ocean, rather than around the African Coast. We all know the story of Columbus; in October 1492, his fleet made landfall at the Bahamas, and during the next dozen years, four expeditions explored the Caribbean and brought a few thousand fortune seekers. The colonization and exploitation of the Indigenous people had begun.
The Columbian Exchange
Today, we will pause briefly to consider the biological consequences of the Conquest and then will look at the colonial economy, African slavery, government, church, and society in the Spanish New World. Alfred Crosby noted that “the most important changes brought on by the Columbian voyages were biological in nature.”
European: American: The Indians were different from the rest of mankind in that they had lived in complete isolation from the rest of the European population for many thousands of years, which weakened their immunity to diseases. Diseases were foreign to the Indians and killed them in vast numbers. Smallpox was the first to arrive—probably on Cortes’ ships and transmitted from Pizarro’s men to Indian messengers to the Inca—it hit the Inca cities before the Spanish even arrived. Measles, the chicken pox, and typhus—these were other examples. The entire population of the Caribbean was almost wiped out in 50 years and the rest of Latin America was hit hard too. Within ten years, half of the population was dead, and within 50 years, 90 percent of the original number was dead.
Syphilis appeared to have been exchanged from the Old World to the New; in other words, the Indians gave the Spanish syphilis. It was brought back to Europe, and there is no evidence of it in precolonial skeletons. It spread fast through Europe and by 1515 into Africa, the Middle East, Asia, China, and India.
Europeans transported American seeds like the potato, and established sugar, wheat, and olive plantations and vineyards. The addition of Latin America’s maize, beans, potatoes, squash, and manioc complimented European diets. America’s plants made a huge contribution to Europe.
Before the Europeans arrived, there were no pack animals—no horses, donkeys, etc., and few dogs. Spanish domesticated animals arrived in large numbers, pigs and cattle thrived, and the horse changed Indian society. Sheep eventually became as popular with the Indians as llamas and alpacas. But animals were not a total success—as donkeys and mules and camels never caught on and unwanted rats and insects—stowaways on ships—made unwelcome guests.
Many Indians eventually took up an equestrian life by the 1700s—and the Indians of the Great Plains, the Apache, Comanche, Cherokee, those of American Westerns, before the Spanish, they had no horses. The horse enriched their life, their hunting, and helped them to resist the advance of whites for a time.
60-second Quiz #2: What are some of the examples of the Columbian Exchange, and what effect(s) did this exchange have on the Americas and on Europe? Which statement is not true?
Europeans encountered potatoes, maize, and beans for the first time
Native Americans encountered horses, donkeys, and sheep for the first time
Europeans encountered typhus, measles, and smallpox for the first time
Native Americans encountered typhus, measles, and smallpox for the first time
At first, the Crown granted tracts of land to the conquerors and military officers called encomiendas. These were massive plantations. The landowner owned the land and had the right to all the indigenous people in the area to work the land. He had to provide for their religious instruction and protection (though often did not). He paid a portion of his profits from the plantation to the crown. The encomienda system did not quite work, because the indigenous population continued to decline. In areas that lacked precious metals or were agricultural productivity was low, the encomiendas continued. But in other places, the crown reined in the massive power of the encomenderos.
Father Bartolome de las Casas influenced the crown to end the enslavement of Indians. He became an advocate of African slavery, but later came to regret this decision. After 1550, the Spanish tried a new system, the repartimiento (also known as the mita in South America). Under this system, all adult male indigenous had to work a certain amount of the year on Spanish mines, workshops, farms, ranches, etc. They received a piddly wage; it was basically slavery, and anyone trying to resist the work was physically punished or imprisoned. Life was especially bad in Peru.
In the Andes, the system of yanaconas was used. The indigenous were taken out of their communities and forced to serve the Spanish as personal servants. The problem with the repartimiento was that it was unreliable—it did not deliver a steady labor force, nor did landowners get a trained group of workers who knew what they were doing, stayed on the job for a while, and wanted to be there. So, mine owners and hacendados often relied on another system--wage labor. Where labor was scarce, still other indigenous worked to pay off their debts, called debt servitude. Debt servitude was common in clothing and craft sweatshops. Convict labor, forcing prisoners to work or Coerced labor—where people were tricked to work by promises of alcohol, or various other scams or even kidnapped and forced to work.
In Spanish America, black slavery existed too. Blacks had even less rights than the indigenous, and probably had it worse. At no time in the history of colonial Spain were blacks ever more than 10% of the total population, but in some areas, they made up the majority. Following Columbus’ discovery, Portugal complained to the Pope that Spanish exploration and expansion would be a threat to the Portuguese activities already. The Spanish and the Portuguese, using the Pope as a mediator, signed the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494, which drew a line through the Atlantic Ocean, giving the Caribbean and anything else the Spanish had not discovered yet and no one even knew was there: all of Mexico and South America. On the other side of that line lay Africa, the islands off the African Coast, and Brazil (which had not yet been discovered.
Columbus made several return trips, convinced that somewhere he would find Asian spices. He explored a great deal of the Greater and Lesser Antilles. He thought there must be some river or small sea that would take him to India, but never found it. Finally, he returned to Europe and died a bitter man in 1506. As Caribbean settlement and colonization took place, with the settlement of the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic, and by the 1510s, Cuba, Spain failed to find great wealth in any of those places. But as they explored further, they learned that more might be out there. Disillusioned by the dream of easy access to the riches of the East, Spain turned to the task of extending its American conquests and to the exploitation of the human and natural resources of the New World.
The Conquest of the Aztecs
Hernan Cortés was born in Castile in 1485, the son of a military captain of modest means. Much to his parents delight he went to law school, but soon changed. He grew restless, quit law school, returned home, and found himself frustrated by life in his small hometown. He planned to go on a military expedition to Italy, but illness prevented it. By this time, approximately the year 1500, Columbus had returned from his third voyage to the Americas, and Cortes determined to sail to the Dominican Republic, but as the story goes, he suffered a freak injury while hurriedly escaping from the bedroom of a married woman of Medellin prevented him from making the journey. Instead, he spent the next year wandering the country, probably spending most of his time in the heady atmosphere of Spain's southern ports, listening to the tales of those returning from the Indies, who told of discovery and conquest, gold, Indians and strange unknown lands.
Finally, in 1503, Cortés at last arrived in Hispaniola, registered as a citizen, and became a gentleman farmer. He was well-liked, and the governor gave him a bunch of Indian slaves. In 1506 he took part in the conquest of Hispaniola and Cuba and got a large estate of land and Indian slaves for his effort. He played an active role in the conquest of Cuba, in 1511, and continued to build a reputation as a bold and brave leader. He became mayor of the capital of Cuba, and within just a few years, he became quite wealthy; with many slaves, cattle, and mining profits. There was a rivalry between Cortes and the Cuban governor; Cortes apparently had a relationship with Velazquez’s sister-in law.
For fifteen years, Cortes had become an increasingly rich man, but once again, he was restless. In February 1519, after receiving vague reports of a wealthy civilization in Mexico, Velásquez sent Cortes to explore the area, but not to take military action. Ignoring these orders, Cortes arrived in Veracruz, Mexico with about 400 men and 16 horses. Unhappiness and unrest among his force caused Cortez to burn the ships in which the Spaniards had arrived, thus ensuring conquest as the only means of long-term survival. At this time, Cortes had a bit of luck—he found a Spaniard named Aguilar who had been shipwrecked a few years before and had lived among the Mayan-speaking people.
The Spanish, having taken control of the coast, began their trek inland. After two weeks of fighting, the Tlaxcalans surrendered. As enemies of the Aztecs, they agreed to help the Spanish and several thousand Tlaxcalans joined the Spanish force. Together, they reached the Aztec village of Choula, and slaughtered several thousand citizens. During the siege, the Spanish took with them a woman named Malinche; she spoke both Mayan and Nahuatl (the Aztec language), and thus, through the Spaniard, Cortes could talk to Malinche.
The Aztec Emperor Montezuma II was troubled by the reports concerning the invaders. A very religious man, Montezuma believed that Cortes was the Aztec God Quetzalcoatl. In Aztec religion, many years ago, their God had been forced out of Mexico, and had promised to return in that exact year. A series of evil omens had foretold of calamities to come. A fiery comet crossed the sky. The temple of Huitzilopochtli, the god of war, burst into flames. The Lake of Mexico boiled and rose, flooding into houses.
Montezuma realized that Cortes was no God—he did not act like an Aztec and that was a sure give away. Hoping that a sizeable gift would make the Spaniards go away, he presented Cortez with gold and jewels. Unfortunately for Moctezuma, his gift had the reverse effect. Not only did the gift fail to achieve its intended purpose, but it served to incite the Spaniards' greed. Cortez captured Montezuma and held him hostage, hoping: to gain wealth from a large ransom, and to prevent an Aztec attack.
While Cortez was exploring and conquering the Aztecs, his past actions began to catch up with him. Governor Velásquez of Cuba, not at all pleased that Cortez disobeyed orders and had departed, commissioned a force to find Cortez and arrest him. Sometime around April 1520, Cortez was informed that the arresting party had landed in Mexico. Realizing that he would be found sooner or later, he gathered his forces and set out to meet the expedition. He left no more than 200 men in Tenochtitlan, and appointed Pedro de Alvarado to lead them in his absence. Cortez's struggle with the arresting party was brief: his forces entered the expedition's camp at night and captured the leader. After that, most of the remaining party members were quite willing to join Cortez, their decision swayed by tales of gold mountains that they had heard on Cuba.
When Cortez returned to Tenochtitlan, he walked right into a revolt. In Cortez's absence, Pedro de Alvarado, the man Cortez had left behind to keep order, treated the Aztecs very cruelly. The boiling point was reached when de Alvarado massacred hundreds of Aztecs at a religious ceremony, called the Night of Sorrows, because he was afraid a revolt might ensue. The Aztecs did revolt, and with the Spanish desperately outnumbered, out of food and water, Cortés forced Montezuma to try and pacify to people from the rooftop, but the emperor was forced to retreat under a hail of stones and arrows.
In the fighting that followed, more than 600 Spanish conquistadors and several thousand Tlaxcalans were killed. The Spanish retreated. Meanwhile, a terrible smallpox epidemic swept through Tenochtitlan, killing a vast number of people. A year later, with reinforcements, Cortes returned, to finish off the job. The early stage of the siege saw the surrender of towns all around the lake. It must have been plain that Tenochtitlán was doomed. The Aztec leadership was divided, but they would not surrender. Cortes and his allies fought their way through the city, house by house. Gradually, the southern part of the island fell to the Spanish, and the defenders held out in the Northern half.
When a guiding omen confirmed that defeat was inevitable, the Aztec leaders gathered to discuss what to do, how best to surrender, and what to offer as tribute to the Spanish. Cuahtemoc was led to Cortés. Cortés reportedly looked at Cuahtemoc and then patted him on the head, an apparently demeaning gesture. The Aztecs finally surrendered, and over the next few years, Cortés forced Cuahtemoc to produce gold for him; the cruelty was, however, that most of the Aztecs’ gold had already passed into Spanish hands. In 1525, convinced that Cuahtemoc was plotting against him, Cortes had Cuahtemoc executed for treason. Cuahtemoc stands as a hero against foreign oppression, and is a national legend to this day, because he never gave up in defeat.
From there, the process of conquest extended in all directions, and the Spanish conquered the old Aztec empire and renamed it the Kingdom of New Spain. Because of his conquests and all the gold and jewels he had collected, Cortés was very popular back home in Spain. King Charles I of Spain appointed Cortés governor and captain general of the newly conquered territory. Cortés began the construction of Mexico City on the Aztec ruins and brought many Spaniards over to live there. It soon became the most important European city in North America. He managed the founding of new cities and appointed men to extend Spanish rule to all of Mexico, which was renamed New Spain. Cortés also supported efforts to convert Indians to Christianity and sponsored new explorations.
The Conquest of the Inca
Francisco Pizarro was also a son of an infantry officer and was the second cousin of Cortes. We know almost nothing about his early years, other than he was illiterate. He sailed to the new World about the same time as Cortes, but he was about 30 at the time, looking perhaps for a new start in life. He too was active in the conquest of the Caribbean, and later accompanied Vasco Nuñez de Balboa to explore Panama. It was this expedition that crossed Panama and discovered the Pacific Ocean. Soon afterward, Pizarro became a cattle farmer in Panama.
In the 1520s, the Spanish began to explore the Pacific Coast, and learned of a gold-rich territory that lay to the South, and word spread of the riches of the Inca Empire. Encouraged by the news of the Spanish success in Mexico, over the next dozen years, with the blessing of the governor of Panama, Pizarro made several failed attempts to find the Incan Empire.
After two failed attempts, Pizarro learned that his funding was cut off, so in the late-1520s, he personally sailed to Spain, received permission from the Crown to try again to find the Incan Empire, recruited a number of family members and adventure seekers to join him, and returned to Panama to prepare. Joining him would be Hernando de Soto.
Once he arrived on the outskirts of the Incan Empire, Pizarro learned that the Incas were engaged in a civil war, and they were suffering from a smallpox epidemic. In fact, the powerful Inca Emperor, Huayna Capac, and his heir had died. Two remaining sons had then laid claim to the throne, and Incan elites had allowed each to rule part of the Empire. Huascar ruled Peru, the traditional Inca heartland, and Atahualpa ruled Ecuador and Colombia. He also had support of his father’s army. The two half-brothers were embroiled in a civil war, and just prior to Pizarro’s arrival, Atahualpa’s army had defeated Huascar’s, and had executed Huascar.
The arrival of Pizarro was at first viewed as little more than a curiosity by the Incas, who did not recognize the danger posed by Spanish steel weaponry and horse cavalry. Pizarro had just 180 men, one cannon, and only 27 horses. When the Spanish met Atahualpa, a Spanish priest called upon the Inca to renounce their Gods. Atahualpa asked Friar Vincente what authority he had for his belief, and the friar told him it was all written in the book he was holding—that the book speak to him. The Inca then said, “Give me the book so that it can speak to me.” Atahuallpa held the book next to his ear trying to listen to its pages. At last he asked: "Why doesn't the book say anything to me?" And he threw it on to the ground with a haughty and disdainful gesture. Father Vicente shouted that the Indians were against the Christian faith and gave the order to attack. The Spanish emerged with their guns from the porticoes around the square and fired into the massed crowds of unarmed people.
Soon, they set a trap and successfully captured Atahualpa, who assumed that the Spanish simply intended to raid the empire. He thus offered them a ransom of 13,420 pounds of gold and 26,000 pounds of silver in exchange for his release. Pizarro accepted and promised to release Atahualpa. During his imprisonment, Atahualpa learned some Spanish and enjoyed playing Chess. However, when the ransom was delivered, Pizarro's partners suggested that Atahualpa be executed, fearing that the Inca leader could still rally the support of his demoralized armies. Eventually Pizarro was convinced of Atahualpa's threat to their position and had him executed in August 1533.
Pizarro next set his sights on the looting of Cuzco, the Inca capital. Pizarro appointed Huáscar's brother, Manco, as nominal ruler of the Inca Empire. He then marched to Cuzco where, with the help of Huáscar's surviving supporters, he met and defeated what remained of Atahualpa's forces. Despite admiring the Inca capital of Cuzco, Pizarro observed it was too far up in the mountains and far from the sea to serve as the Spanish capital of Peru. He thus founded the city of Lima in Peru's central coast on January 18, 1535. In 1535, having consolidated his control, Pizarro established a new capital city now known as Lima. With a puppet leader, the Inca were ineffective to mount any organized resistance, but some parts of the empire, did hold out against Spanish rule. Unfortunately for the Inca, they had too few European weapons and lacked a unified approach. Only after twenty-five years of violence, could the Spanish say they had established order and had conquered the Inca.
Today, Pizarro, like Cortes, is hated by Peruvians. He is vilified for having ordered Atahualpa's death despite his paid ransom of filling a room with gold and two with silver which was later split among all of Pizarro's closest associates. Over time, a famous statue of Pizarro in Lima has gradually been moved to less and less noticeable locations.
How did it happen?
How did small groups of Spaniards conquer the Aztecs and the Inca? They were settled people, with cities and villages. One advantage the Spanish had was that they formed alliances with the enemies of the Aztecs and Inca – the Tlaxcalans and Huascar supporters. Another advantage was surely the Spanish firearms and cannons, which gave the Spanish a military advantage that the Aztecs and Inca, armed with bows and arrows, wooden lances and darts, and clubs, had never seen. Additionally, horses, never seen in Latin America, helped the Spanish, as did the armor worn by the Spanish fighters on horseback. Also, very important were diseases, especially smallpox, which decimated the indigenous populations. Finally, there were different cultural understandings—the Aztecs and Inca custom was to notify their enemies that a war would take place; the Spanish used surprise attacks and treachery, but the Indians did not. We should also note the role of internal division—the Aztec and Incan empires had factions that turned against them and helped the Spanish. In the case of the Inca civil war, the empire lacked unity. And, because Pizarro’s men were divided, the Inca nearly won BACK their empire!
While the Spanish conquered the Caribbean easily, and subdued the Aztecs and the Inca, and exploited their wealth and resources immediately afterward, not all Spanish activity in Latin America was a success. The Spanish did not always find wealth and did not always plant colonies everywhere they went. As we will now see, there were several failures in early Latin America.
Ponce de Leon
Ponce de Léon conquered the island of Puerto Rico; he then discovered Florida, explored its coast, and made a failed attempt to start a settlement there. There were legends going around of a Fountain of Youth. Someone who drank from this fountain was said to be cured of all his illnesses and to retain his youth. Ponce de Léon may well have hoped to find this fountain. He landed on the west coast and attempted to establish a colony on Sanibel Island (in the Naples/Fort Myers area). However, the colony soon suffered from Indian attacks, and had to be abandoned. Ponce de Léon himself had been mortally wounded, and he died shortly after arrival back in Havana (Cuba), in July 1521.
Cabeza de Vaca
The journey of Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca remains one of the most amazing feats of exploration in the Americas. Cabeza de Vaca was a lowly soldier on an exploratory mission in Florida in 1528. The expedition started out in Tampa Bay, and its leader made several poor decisions; the group had run-ins with Indians, suffered from numerous diseases and starvation, and ultimately, decided to build some rafts and set sail, hoping to return to Cuba. It did not work; they instead got blown to Texas, and over four years, wandered South, hoping to find some Spanish outpost in Mexico. Apparently, they bumped into some Spaniards on a slave-trading mission in Northern Mexico. There were only four survivors and a few Indian guides.
Appalled by the Spanish treatment of Indians, in 1537 Cabeza de Vaca returned to Spain to publish an account of his experiences and to urge a more generous policy upon the crown. He served as a Mexican territorial governor, but was soon accused of corruption, perhaps for his enlightened conduct toward Indians. He returned to Spain and was convicted; a 1552 pardon allowed him to become a judge in Seville, Spain, a position which he occupied until his death in 1556 or 1557.
Francisco Vazquez de Coronado
Hearing a rumor of seven cities of gold, the Spanish sent Francisco Vazquez de Coronado, the governor of Northern Mexico, on an expedition to go and find the seven golden cities and take all their gold. With 335 Spanish, 1,300 Indian allies, Franciscan monks, and several slaves, the expedition set out in 1540. Coronado kept pushing his men further; he discovered the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico and was greatly disappointed by the lack of wealth he found there. He went to Arizona and met the Zuni and Hopi Indians; the expedition found the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River and explored the region. After traveling through North Texas and as far as Kansas, and not finding any wealth at all, in 1542, Coronado was ordered back to Mexico because his troops were needed to put down an Indian rebellion.
Coronado retired to Mexico City soon after. Popular culture (namely Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) references a Cross of Coronado. According to the film, this gold cross, discovered in a Utah cave system, was given to Coronado by Hernan Cortes in 1520. It is unclear if any such item ever existed. By the end of the movie, Indiana Jones has rescued the cross and returned it to its rightful place: a museum.
Similar disappointments followed in South America; for example, attempts to find a lost city of gold in the South American heartland in the 1540s resulted in the discovery of the Amazon River, but the death of most of the men on the expedition, and no wealth was discovered. In any case, by 1550, the Era of Conquest was complete. The Spanish had explored most of Latin America, and had located, conquered, and begun to exploit all the great civilizations and sources of wealth that they could find.
A Closer look at slavery in New Spain:
African slavery had a long tradition in Spain, first arriving with the Muslims in the 700s, and were found in Spanish cities as domestic servants, laundry persons, stable attendants, butlers, and even musicians and dancers. Thus, the pattern for slavery was already in place, and many of these Spanish slaves came to the New World with the conquerors as personal servants.
The first African slave brought to New Spain was Juan Cortes, a slave who accompanied the conquistador Hernan Cortes on the Aztec conquest. The indigenous Americans were apparently captivated by him because they had never seen an African. Some of the other early African arrivals participated in the defeat of Tenochtitlan, and Cabeza de Vaca, the Spaniard who wandered across the gulf coast states, through Texas and into Mexico—one of his three surviving compatriots was an African slave. These early slaves were personal servants, taken from West Africa, to Seville, Spain, and then to the colonies. The Spanish did not capture slaves directly; they hired out the work to Portuguese sea captains.
Historians have argued that Latin American slaves were treated better than North American slaves because they received some rights and some protection under Spanish law. This is indeed true. The Catholic Church made freedom possible, insisted that masters baptize their slaves and allow them to marry, and protected families against separation. In the more “hostile” environment of British and American slave systems, opposition to manumission and denial of opportunities were the main features. The ecclesiastical court and the Church policed slaves just as much as the masters did, and the Church and the courts protected slaves from their masters. Slaves could take their master to court, and many times, won. This would be unheard of in North America or in the British possessions. Charles III passed a slave code in 1777 which forbade masters to force a slave to marry yet also forbade them to allow a slave to marry someone from another plantation. Urban slaves that married had a right to be able to live together, even if they had different masters. Usually, there would be an arrangement worked out between the masters or between the masters and the slaves. African Americans lived as one of the following: plantation slaves, urban slaves, mining slaves, and free persons.
However, slavery did not develop its plantation character until later in the colonial period—until about 1750 and after, African slavery was mainly rural. African plantation slavery became the norm along the Gulf Coast of Mexico and in the Caribbean, Venezuela, and Colombia, where they produced chocolate, sugar, tobacco, and cotton. On the Pacific Coastal plains, Africans worked mainly as ranchers and cowboys on large farms.
Many African slaves worked in central Mexico and Peru in the mines. But the defining characteristic of slavery in New Spain was that most slaves were concentrated in urban areas. Urban slaves made up about 20% of the population of Mexican cities. African slaves served the wealthy in several ways: they cooked, cleaned, groomed, and saddled horses, ran errands, supplied companionship, and served as butlers and handymen. The ownership of African slaves was a badge of prestige, and in the early years were extremely expensive.
Herman Bennett’s Africans in Colonial Mexico argues that New Spain contained the second-largest population of enslaved Africans and the largest number of free blacks in America; by the end of the colonial period, because the opportunities to be freed or to purchase their own freedom were better in Spanish colonies than in other European colonies, free blacks represented 10% of the total population. Even in an atmosphere that subjected them to humiliation and forced work, free Africans achieved great distinction. The best example is Martin de Porres, who became St. Martin de Porres, the first African American Saint; he became a Dominican Priest in Lima in the early 1600s and established an orphanage and children’s hospital, a shelter for abandoned animals. Many free slaves were also employed as cowboys and ranchers, and even as bodyguards.
The Colonial Economy
After 1550, as the indigenous population declined and the crown’s legislation became more restrictive, the Spanish developed commercial agriculture and livestock raising. The animals that Spain had introduced as part of the Columbian exchange—chickens, mules, horses, cattle, pigs, and sheep, provided protein and profit, but also wreaked environmental damage. On vast farms stolen from the Indians, these animals fed the urban centers like Mexico City, Lima, and Cartagena.
Other sources of profit included sugar production, wine and olives, tobacco, cacao (chocolate), indigo, and dye. Silver mining offered the #1 source of revenue, with most of it coming from the Potosi mine in Peru and from Zacatecas and Guanajuato in Mexico. Colombia and Chile were the sources of some gold mining. Crafts included pottery, clothing, soap, leather, produced by indigenous communities under convict labor or coerced servitude. Trade was highly regulated by the Spanish government. Colonists were forced to ship out of central ports, protected by military escorts, and subject to all sorts of restrictions. English pirates posed a threat to Spain’s empire, and smuggling also posed a threat. People sold to Dutch or French traders illegally.
Initially, the conquistadors had sweeping political powers, but after 1550, they were reined in by the crown. The Crown created an elaborate bureaucracy, or government system. There was a lot of corruption in this system, since political offices were sold to the highest bidder, and officials were always looking for kickbacks and bribes.
Council of the Indies-a board of advisors in charge of making laws and administering the colonies
Viceroys—strove to curb the power of the encomenderos and to promote economic growth; initially, New Spain—Mexico and central America and Peru—South America (Andes). Later, these viceroyalties split-in the 1700s, New Grenada (Panama, Colombia, Venezuela), and Rio de la Plata (Argentina and Paraguay)
Audiencias—in charge of smaller areas, they were advisors to the viceroy and appeals court judges. Great delay and indecision. Made tours of inspection—form a good basis of source material for history
Corregidor/alcalde mayor—either appointed by the viceroy or the crown to preside over Spanish towns or Indian towns.
town councils (cabildos/ayuntamientos). Councilmen could be appointed or elected; they supervised markets, dealt with land issues and taxation, elected alcaldes. Mainly consisted of American-born businessmen.
Escribianos (paid for their jobs, appointed by the crown)—clerks, police officers, tax collectors, special judges.
In isolated regions, crown authority was very weak, and great landowners were absolute. Colonial laws were not enforced.
The Roman Catholic Church had great power. The Crown had the right of patronato real (royal patronage), meaning that they could appoint bishops and other high-ranking church officials, obviously they chose people loyal to the Crown, or who might be willing to send a portion of the church’s profits and donations to the Crown.
From 1569-1650, the Spanish launched an organized system to root out, torture, and convict heretics, anyone who did not practice and believe in Catholicism. Especially active in the cities of Lima and Mexico City, there were priests or government officials who would target Jews and conversos, even the indigenous, and would try to force them to confess that they were not true Catholics. If they got a confession, even if bogus, the person would escape with some punishment. If the person refused to confess, they might be tortured, and even killed. This was to try to promote religious unity, and to unite people under a common Spanish culture.
From the earliest days of the conquest, thousands of friars (priests and monks), had made the trip to the New World and spread out trying to convert the natives, and also set up building plantations and various businesses to try to cash in on the economic potential of the New World. These groups included the Franciscans, Dominicans, Augustinians, and Jesuits.
They reflected a range of opinions towards the indigenous, and how they viewed them differed; sometimes, like Bartolome de las Casas, they defended the indigenous, other times they too exploited and mistreated them in the name of Christianity. In the first fifty years or so, the friars were especially harsh; they forced natives to destroy all relicts of paganism, all idols, temples, etc. The Spanish attempted to convert and civilize indigenous groups by relocating them into sedentary villages, forced them to renounce their traditional religious practices, and to adopt Christianity, required them to give up polygyny, and forbade intertribal warfare. The introduction of Christianity dealt a serious blow to the cultural identity of the indigenous people throughout New Spain and South America. In their dealings with the Tepehuans and the Maya, friars refused to let the indigenous people retain aspects of their traditional religion and with “extreme, uncheckable brutality” desecrated Mayan skulls (used for ancestor worship), and destroyed any cultural ties that linked the indigenous to their past.
After 1570 they were more accepting of indigenous culture. For the most part, their missionary efforts, and their attempts to Christianize and Spanish-ize the natives were largely unsuccessful. They were divided amongst themselves, competing for status within the church, and for wealth, with all their business ventures.
Successes and failures:
They had their most success with more-settled people-sedentary groups, did especially well in Paraguay with the Guaraní, but had their least success on the Mexican/American frontier with the Apaches and the Comanches, who continually attacked, and with the Pueblo Indians in modern-day New Mexico, who in 1680 launched a massive revolt. The friars set up several kinds of communities:
Basically Indian towns where Indians were brought and forced to settle, and taught Christianity and Spanish culture—the best known examples are the chain of missions along the California Coast, which the Spanish set up in the late-colonial period such as San Diego, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, etc.
These were military forts where Indians lived.
In 1767, the Spanish Crown expelled the Jesuits from all Spanish colonies by royal decree. The Jesuits and the Bourbons had clashed because the Bourbons thought the Jesuits were trying to interfere with politics, and they had become too powerful and prosperous; basically the Jesuits were outspoken and were becoming a threat to the Crown. With the Jesuits gone, the Indians in Peru especially, lost a valuable advocate, and as we will see in the future, this led to some problems in Peru between the Crown and the indigenous.
Social status depended upon one’s race. The Spanish valued limpieza de sangre, or purity of blood. The whiter you were the more status you had, unless you were rich, and then people might look the other way when a darker skinned person married a lighter skinned one.
At the top of the social status ladder:
Europeans—divided amongst themselves based on their Spanish hometowns and whether they were creole (born in the colonies) or peninsulares (born in Spain)
Castas—mixed race people and poor whites—who worked a variety of occupations, from ranching to shopkeeping, to military service.
Indigenas—the Indians. Their population rebounded by the 1600s, as they acclimated to diseases and as they were treated a little better.
On the top—kurakas, descendants of indigenous rulers served as intermediaries/ambassadors to whites. They exploited their own people because they were forced to collect tribute payments. They were often in tension with their communities. Were they indigenous or were they Spanish? Were they sell-outs or were they going for the opportunity?
Craftsmen—there were several skilled Indian workers in the cities, and in smaller areas, these people might be leatherworkers, pottery makers, etc. The wealthier male Indian elites often served on indigenous town councils.
The indigenous community resisted acculturation, tried to preserve its land, culture, songs and dance, speech, and customs, and religion. Sometimes, religious cults or religious clubs formed, called cofradías.
Blacks occupied the bottom of the social ladder, and the majority of these were slaves. In Cuba, the Caribbean, Mexico, Brazil, Venezuela, and Peru. Brought from Africa by force, cut off from family and friends, they were uprooted and forced to adapt to a harsh new reality. Male, young, and from a variety of homelands, they struggled in the new World. Some were freed, but if so, they had to pay a tax basically on their freedom.
Male dominated society
Arranged marriages and a sexual double-standard (though often overlooked) meant that men were sexually promiscuous and beat their wives. At the same time, only men could own property. Independence and opportunity for women was rare; only as nuns could women really be free from male dominance. Indigenous women had more economic independence than white women, since they were involved in craft-making and selling at the marketplace; jobs that were seen as beneath white women, yet they were able to do these jobs and get away from men, basically.
The Conquest of Brazil
Remember, the Portuguese had completed the Reconquest in 1249, and so Portugal looked to expand its economy and its wealth. They set up slave plantations on nearby islands and became known for their ship building and navigational knowledge. Prince Henry began the Portuguese era of exploration and conquest in 1420, and throughout the 1400s, Portuguese ships explored further: down the western coast of Africa. Along the way, they discovered the islands off the coast, and set up small trading posts all along the African Atlantic coast.
In 1497-1499, in search of a sea route to Asian spices, Vasco da Gama sailed around Africa to India, and returned with pepper and cinnamon. Immediately afterward, a new fleet under Pedro Cabral was sent to return to India, but it got blown off course. Cabral and his men accidentally stumbled across Brazil in 1500. This vast land, still to be explored, would be theirs under the Treaty of Tordesillas. They spent nine or ten days there before continuing on to India, a journey filled with shipwrecks, bad weather, fighting with Muslim traders, and various other disasters; the fleet returned in 1501 with reports of their discovery, and soon afterward Portuguese and French trading ships arrived on the Brazilian Coast.
There was no violent conquest; there were probably about four million indigenous people in Brazil; they were curious, friendly, and able to defend themselves. But in the early years, the Portuguese did not look to conquer, to plunder, to find gold. As a result of smallpox, measles, tuberculosis, typhoid, dysentery, and the flu, the indigenous population plummeted rapidly, and spread to the interior, decimating the population. Less population density to begin with; it would be easy when thirty years later, the Portuguese would begin to colonize Brazil.
60-second Quiz #3: What were some of the Europeans’ successes, in terms of their goals in exploring and conquering, and what were some of their failures?
Cortes successfully conquered the Aztec people
Pizzaro successfully conquered the Incan people
Leon was unable to successfully conquer the indigenous peoples in Florida
Coronado successfully found vast amounts of gold and other riches in what is now the south-western portion of the United States.
Key to 60-second quizzes:
C. With their new ships and new navigational tools, Europeans had already moved beyond the Mediterranean and were simultaneously attempting to circumnavigate Africa while searching for a westward (and faster) route to the “Indies” (eastern- and south pacific).
C. Europeans brought these diseases with them to the Americas, but the Native Americans appear to have given syphilis to the Europeans.
D. Coronado’s expedition was a failure in terms of his search for treasure.
Primary Source Exercise
After you have read the primary source listed above (as well as Chapter 2), answer the following questions, based on what you have learned so far:
What do you think is important to know about the author of this text? What can you learn from the words written on the page? What can you infer or piece together from the background information in the textbook chapter? Why is this important?
What was the author’s goal in writing this text? To whom did he or she address it? What purpose did it serve? Can you point to one or more examples to support this analysis?
What, if any, hidden assumptions can you detect in this text? That is, can you find word choices, phrasing, innuendo, or other examples of the author’s (explicit or implicit) bias with regard to the subject matter? Does this bias (or these assumptions) affect how you understand and react to the author’s words? Why or why not?