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Spanish Mexico / Kingdom of New Spain (1519 - 1821)

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Viceroyalty of New Spain
Virreinato de Nueva España
Colony of Castile and Spain
Flag Coat of arms
Plus Ultra
"Further Beyond"
Marcha Real
"Royal March"

Himno de Riego
"Anthem of Riego"
A map of the countries under the supervision and appellate jurisdiction of the Viceroy of New Spain, at the Spanish imperial zenith in 1795
Capital Mexico City
Languages Spanish, French, Nahuatl, Mayan, Indigenous languages, Tagalog
Religion Roman Catholicism
Government Viceroyalty
 -  1535–1556 Charles I (first)
 -  1813–1821 Ferdinand VII (last)
 -  1535–1550 Antonio de Mendoza (first)
 -  1821 Juan O'Donojú Political chief superior (not viceroy)
Legislature Council of the Indies
Historical era Colonial era
 -  Conquest of Mexico 1519–1521
 -  Viceroyalty created 1519
 -  New Granada estab.,
   including Panama
27 May 1717
 -  Treaty of San Ildefonso 1 October 1800
 -  Adams-Onís Treaty 22 February 1819
 -  Trienio Liberal abolished the viceroyalty of New Spain 31 May 1820
 -  Mexican War of Independence and Central American Independence 1810 - 1821
 -  1519 est. 20 million 
 -  1810 est. 5 to 6.5 million 
Currency Spanish colonial real
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Governorate of Cuba
Aztec Triple Alliance
Kingdom of Tzintzuntzan
Maya Civilization
Louisiana (New France)
Indigenous peoples of the Americas
Kingdom of Tondo
Rajahnate of Cebu
Kingdom of Maynila
Spanish West Indies
Spanish East Indies
Louisiana (New France)
Florida Territory
Oregon Country
First Mexican Empire
Today part of

New Spain (Spanish: Nueva España) was a Spanish territory that came into existence in 1522, the year following 1521's Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire; the Viceroyalty of New Spain (Spanish: Virreinato de Nueva España), was created as the Royal administration of New Spain. It took in Mexico, Spanish Central America, Spain's Caribbean colonies, and parts of the Gulf Coast of North America, primarily La Florida. The Viceroyalty existed until independence was won by Mexico in 1821. The monarch of New Spain was also the King of Castile, and his highest appointed minister who was resident in Mexico was the Viceroy, who lived in Mexico City.[1][2]

In 1521, Hernán Cortés named the territory he conquered from the Aztecs "New Spain" (Nueva España). The Viceroyalty of New Spain was founded 14 years later (1535) with the appointment of the first viceroy, Don Antonio de Mendoza. The extent of the territory overseen by the viceroy was the northern half of the (global) Spanish Empire in the Western Hemisphere, plus the Philippine Islands. The Viceroyalty of New Spain maintained its territorial integrity until 1821, 300 years after the Spanish Conquest of the Aztec Empire in 1521. It developed highly regional divisions, which reflect the impact of climate, topography, the presence or absence of dense indigenous populations, and the presence or absence of mineral resources. The areas of central and southern Mexico had dense indigenous populations with complex social, political and economic organization. The northern area of Mexico, a region of nomadic and semi-nomadic indigenous populations, was not generally conducive to dense settlements, but the discovery of silver in Zacatecas in the 1540s drew settlement there to exploit the mines. Silver mining became the motor of not only the economy of New Spain, but vastly enriched Spain, and transformed the global economy. New Spain was the New World terminus of the Philippine trade, making the viceroyalty a vital link between Spain's New World empire and its Asian empire.

Kingdom of New Spain and its relationship to the crown[edit]

The Kingdom of New Spain was established following the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire in 1521 as a New World kingdom dependent the crown of Castile, since the initial funds for exploration came from Queen Isabella of Castile.[3][4] Although New Spain was a dependency of Castile, it was a kingdom itself not a colony, but subject to the monarch of Castile.[5] The monarch had sweeping power in the overseas territories,

The king possessed not only the sovereign right but the property rights; he was the absolute proprietor, the sole political head of his American dominions. Every privilege and position, economic political, or religious came from him. It was on this basis that the conquest, occupation, and government of the [Spanish] New World was achieved.[6]

The Viceroyalty of New Spain was established in 1535 in the Kingdom of New Spain, it was the first New World viceroyalty and one of only two in the Spanish empire until the eighteenth-century Bourbon Reforms.

Territorial extent of the overseas Spanish Empire[edit]

Main article: Spanish Empire

The Spanish Empire comprised the territories in the north overseas 'Septentrion', from North America and the Caribbean, to the Philippines.[7][8][9][10]

At its greatest extent, the Spanish crown claimed on the mainland of the Americas, much of North America south of Canada, that is: all of present-day Mexico and Central America except Panama; most of the United States west of the Mississippi River, plus the Floridas.

To the west of the continent, New Spain also included the Spanish East Indies (the Philippine Islands, the Mariana Islands, the Caroline Islands, parts of Taiwan, and parts of the Moluccas) To the east of the continent, it included the Spanish West Indies (Cuba, Hispaniola (comprising the modern states of Haiti and the Dominican Republic), Puerto Rico, Jamaica, the Cayman Islands, Trinidad, and the Bay Islands).

Until the eighteenth century, when Spain saw its claims in North America threatened by other European powers, much of what are called the Spanish borderlands, territory now part of the United States, was not occupied by many Spanish settlers and were considered more marginal to Spanish interests than the most densely populated and lucrative areas of central Mexico. On the mainland, the administrative units included Las Californias, that is, the Baja California peninsula, still part of Mexico and divided into Baja California Norte and Sur; Alta California (present-day Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah, western Colorado, and south Wyoming); Louisiana (including the western Mississippi river basin and the Missouri River basin); Nueva Extremadura (the present-day states of Coahuila and Texas), and Santa Fe de Nuevo México (parts of Texas and New Mexico).[11]


Conquest era (1521–1535)[edit]

The Caribbean islands and early Spanish explorations around the circum-Caribbean region had until 1521 not been of major political, strategic, or financial importance until the conquest of the Aztec Empire. However, important precedents of exploration, conquest, and settlement and crown rule had been initially worked out in the Caribbean, which had a lasting impact on subsequent regions, including Mexico and Peru.[12] The indigenous societies of Mesoamerica brought under Spanish control were of unprecedented complexity and wealth from what they had encountered in the Caribbean. This indigenous complexity and wealth now controlled by conquerors presented both an important opportunity and a potential threat to the power of the Crown of Castile, since the conquerors were acting independent of effective crown control. The societies could provide the conquistadors, especially Hernán Cortés, a base from which the conquerors could become autonomous, or even independent, of the Crown. As a result the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain, Charles V created the Council of the Indies[13] in 1524 as the crown entity to oversee the crown's interests in the New World. Since the time of the Catholic Monarchs, central Iberia was governed through councils appointed by the monarch with particular jurisdictions. Thus, the creation of the Council of the Indies became another—but extremely important—advisory body to the monarch.

The crown created first mainland high court or Audiencia in 1527 to regain control of the administration of New Spain from Hernán Cortés, who as the premier conqueror of the Aztec empire, was ruling in the name of the king but without crown oversight or control. An earlier Audiencia had been established in Santo Domingo in 1526 to deal with the Caribbean settlements. That Audiencia, housed in the Casa Reales in Santo Domingo, was charged with encouraging further exploration and settlements with the authority granted it by the crown. Management by the Audiencia, which was expected to make executive decisions as a body, proved unwieldy. Therefore in 1535, King Charles V named Don Antonio de Mendoza as the first Viceroy of New Spain.

After the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire in 1532 opened up the vast territories of South America to further conquests, the Crown established an independent Viceroyalty of Peru there in 1540.

Establishment of Spanish cities in the early sixteenth century[edit]

"Vázquez de Coronado Sets Out to the North" (1540) by Frederic Remington, oil on canvas, 1905

Even before the establishment of the viceroyalty of New Spain, conquerors in central Mexico founded new Spanish cities and embarked on further conquests, a pattern that had been established in the Caribbean.[14] In central Mexico, the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan was transformed into the main settlement of the territory, so the history of Mexico City is of huge importance to the whole colonial enterprise. Spaniards founded new settlements in Puebla de los Angeles (founded 1531) at the midway point between the Mexico City (founded 1521-24) and the Caribbean port of Veracruz (1519). Colima (1524), Antequera (1526, now Oaxaca City) and Guadalajara (1532) were all new Spanish settlements. North of Mexico City, the city of Querétaro was founded (ca. 1531) in what was called the Bajío, a major zone of commercial agriculture. Guadalajara was founded northwest of Mexico City (1531–42) and became the dominant Spanish settlement in the region. West of Mexico City the settlement of Valladolid (Michoacan) was founded (1529–41). In the densely indigenous South, as noted Antequera (1526) became the center of Spanish settlement in Oaxaca; Santiago de Guatemala was founded in 1524; and in Yucatán, Mérida (1542) was founded inland, with Campeche founded as a small, Caribbean port in 1541. There was sea trade between Campeche and Veracruz.[15] During the first twenty years, before the establishment of the viceroyalty, some of the important cities of the colonial era that remain important today were founded. The discovery of silver in Zacatecas in the far north was a transformative event. The settlement of Zacatecas was founded in 1547 deep in the territory of the nomadic and fierce Chichimeca, whose resistance to Spanish presence was the protracted conflict of the Chichimeca War.[16][17]

Later expansion of Spanish control on the mainland[edit]

During the 16th century, many Spanish cities were established in North and Central America. Spain attempted to establish missions in what is now the southern United States including Georgia and South Carolina between 1568 and 1587. These efforts were mainly successful in the region of present-day Florida, where the city of St. Augustine was founded in 1565, the oldest European city in the United States.

Upon his arrival, Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza vigorously took to the duties entrusted to him by the King and encouraged the exploration of Spain's new mainland territories. He commissioned the expeditions of Francisco Vásquez de Coronado into the present day American Southwest in 1540–1542. The Viceroy commissioned Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo in the first Spanish exploration up the Pacific Ocean along the western coast of the Las Californias Province in 1542–1543. He sailed above present day Baja California (Vieja California), to what he called 'New California' (Nueva California), becoming the first European to see present day California, United States. The Viceroy also sent Ruy López de Villalobos to the Spanish East Indies in 1542–1543. As these new territories became controlled, they were brought under the purview of the Viceroy of New Spain.

Regions of colonial Mexico, centers and peripheries[edit]

In the colonial period, basic patterns of regional development emerged and strengthened [18] European settlement and institutional life was built on the Mesoamerican heartland of the Aztec Empire in Central Mexico. The South (Oaxaca, Michoacan, Yucatán, and Central America) was also in the region of dense indigenous settlement of Mesoamerica, but in the absence of exploitable resources of interest to Europeans, the South attracted few Europeans, while the indigenous presence remained strong. The North was outside region of complex indigenous populations, but with the discovery of silver in the region of nomadic and hostile northern indigenous groups, the Spanish sought to conquer or pacify those peoples in order to exploit the mines and develop enterprises to supply them. Since much of northern New Spain attracted few Europeans and had a sparse indigenous population, the Spanish crown and later the Republic of Mexico did not effectively exert sovereignty of the region, leaving it vulnerable to the expansionism of the United States in the nineteenth century.

Regional characteristics of colonial Mexico have been the focus of considerable scholarship within the vast scholarship on centers and peripheries.[19][20] For those based in vice-regal capital of Mexico City itself, anywhere else was the “provinces”. Even in modern era, “Mexico” for many refers solely to Mexico City this pejorative view of anywhere but the capital is a hopeless backwater.[21] “Fuera de México, todo es Cuauhtitlán,” [“outside of Mexico City, it’s all Podunk.”][22][23] that is, poor, marginal, and backward, in short, the periphery. The picture is far more complex, however, so that while the capital is enormously important as the center of power of various kinds (institutional, economic, social), the provinces played a significant role in colonial Mexico. Regions (provinces) developed and thrived to the extent that they were sites of economic production and tied into networks of trade. “Spanish society in the Indies was import-export oriented at the very base and in every aspect,” and the development of many regional economies was usually centered on support of that export sector.[24]

Central region[edit]

Mexico City, Capital of the Viceroyalty[edit]

Main article: History of Mexico City

The center of the Central region is Mexico City, so the history of Mexico City itself is extremely important to the development of New Spain as a whole. It was the seat of the Viceroyalty of New Spain, the Archdiocese of the Catholic Church, the Holy Office of the Inquisition, the merchants' guild (consulado), and the most elite families in the Kingdom of New Spain. Mexico City was the single-most populous city, not just in New Spain, but in the entire Western Hemisphere, with a high concentration of mixed-race castas. It was the hub of New Spain, the center of the center.

Veracruz to Mexico City[edit]

The areas from the capital east to the port of Veracruz saw significant regional development along this main transportation route. Alexander von Humboldt called this area “Mesa de Anahuac” which can be defined as the adjacent valleys of Puebla, Mexico, and Toluca, enclosed by high mountains, along with their connections to the ports of Gulf Coast port of Veracruz and the Pacific port of Acapulco, where over half the population of New Spain lived.[25] These valleys were linked trunk lines, that is main routes, facilitating the movement of vital goods and people to get to key areas.[26] But the difficulty of transit of people and goods, even in this relatively richly endowed region of Mexico in the absence of rivers and level terrain should not be discounted as a major challenge to the economy of New Spain. This challenge of transit persisted during the post-independence years until the late nineteenth-century construction of railroads. In the colonial era and up until railroads were built in key areas, mule trains were the main mode of transporting goods. Mules were used since unpaved roads and mountainous terrain could not generally accommodate carts.

In the late eighteenth century the crown devoted some resources to the study and remedy the problem of poor roads. The Camino Real (royal road) between the port of Veracruz and the capital had some short sections paved and bridges constructed. The construction was done despite protests from some Indian villages when the infrastructure improvements, which sometimes included rerouting the road through communal lands. The Spanish crown finally decided that road improvement was in the interests of the state for military purposes, as well as for fomenting commerce, agriculture, and industry, but the lack of state involvement in the development of physical infrastructure was to have lasting effects constraining development until the late nineteenth century.[27][28] Despite some improvements, the roads still made transit difficult, particularly for heavy military equipment.

Although the crown’s plans for both the Toluca and Veracruz portions of the king’s highway were ambitious, the actual results saw improvements only for a localized network.[29] Even where infrastructure was improved, transit on the Veracruz-Puebla main road had other obstacles, with wolves attacking mule trains, killing animals, and rendering some sacks of foodstuffs unsellable because they were smeared with blood.[30] The north-south Acapulco route remained a mule track through mountainous terrain.

Veracruz, port city and province[edit]

Veracruz was the first Spanish settlement founded in what became New Spain, but it endured as the only viable Gulf Coast port, the enduring gateway for Spain to New Spain. But the difficult topography around the port itself affected not only local development, but also had an impact on New Spain as a whole. Going from the port to the central plateau entailed a daunting 2000 meter climb from the narrow tropical coastal plain in over just a hundred kilometers. The narrow, slippery road in the mountain mists was treacherous for mule trains, and in some cases mules were hoisted by ropes. Many tumbled with their cargo to their deaths.[31] Given these transport constraints, only high value low bulk goods continued to be shipped in the transatlantic trade. It stimulated local production of foodstuffs, rough textiles, and other products for a mass market. Although New Spain produced considerable sugar and wheat, these were consumed exclusively in the colony even though there was demand elsewhere. Philadelphia not New Spain supplied Cuba with wheat.[32]

The Caribbean port of Veracruz was small, with its hot, pestilential climate not a draw for permanent settlers. Its population never topped 10,000.[33] Many Spanish merchants much preferred living in the pleasant highland town of Jalapa (1,500 m). For a brief period (1722–76) the town of Jalapa became even more important than Veracruz when it was granted the right to hold the royal trade fair for New Spain, serving as the entrepot for goods from Asia via Manila Galleon through the port of Acapulco and European goods via the flota (convoy) from the Spanish port of Cádiz.[34] Spaniards also settled in the temperate area of Orizaba, east of the Citlaltepetl volcano. Orizaba varied considerably in elevation 800m-5700m (the latter the summit of the Citlaltepetl volcano), but “most of the inhabited part is temperate.” [35] Some Spaniards lived in semitropical Córdoba, which was founded as a villa in 1618, to serve as a Spanish base against runaway slave (cimarrón) predations on mule trains traveling the route from the port to the capital. Some cimarron settlements sought autonomy, such as one led by Yanga, with whom the crown concluded a treaty leading to the recognition of a largely black town, San Lorenzo de los Negros de Cerralvo, now called the municipality of Yanga.[36]

European diseases immediately affected the multiethnic Indian populations in the Veracruz area and for that reason Spaniards imported black slaves as either an alternative to indigenous labor or its complete replacement in the event of a repetition of the Caribbean die-off. A few Spaniards acquired prime agricultural lands left vacant by the indigenous demographic disaster. Portions of the province could support sugar cultivation and as early as the 1530s sugar production was underway. New Spain’s first viceroy, Don Antonio de Mendoza established an hacienda on lands taken from Orizaba.[37]

Indians resisted cultivating sugarcane themselves, preferring to tend their subsistence crops. As in the Caribbean, black slave labor became crucial to the development of sugar estates. During the period 1580-1640 when Spain and Portugal were ruled by the same monarch and Portuguese slave traders had access to Spanish markets, African slaves were imported in large numbers to New Spain and many of them remained in the region of Veracruz. But even when that connection was broken and prices rose, black slaves remained an important component of Córdoba’s labor sector even after 1700. Rural estates in Córdoba depended on African slave labor, who were 20% of the population there, a far greater proportion than any other area of New Spain, and greater than even nearby Jalapa.[38]

In 1765 the crown created a monopoly on tobacco, which had a direct impact on agriculture and manufacturing the Veracruz region. Tobacco was a valuable, high demand product. Men, women, and even children smoked, something commented on by foreign travelers and depicted in eighteenth-century casta paintings.[39] The crown calculated that tobacco could produce a steady stream of tax revenues by supplying the huge Mexican demand, so the crown limited zones of tobacco cultivation. It also established a small number of manufactories of finished products, and licensed distribution outlets (estanquillos).[40] The crown also set up warehouses to store up to a year’s worth of supplies, including paper for cigarettes, for the manufactories.[41] With the establishment of the monopoly, crown revenues increased and there is evidence that despite high prices and expanding rates of poverty, tobacco consumption rose while at the same time general consumption fell.[42]

In 1787 during the Bourbon Reforms Veracruz became an intendancy a new administrative unit.

Valley of Puebla[edit]

Founded in 1531 as a Spanish settlement, Puebla de los Angeles quickly rose to the status of Mexico’s second-most important city. Its location on the main route between the viceregal capital and the port of Veracruz, in a fertile basin with a dense indigenous population, largely not held in encomienda, made Puebla a destination for many later arriving Spaniards. If there had been significant mineral wealth in Puebla, it could have been even more prominent a center for New Spain, but its first century established its importance. In 1786 it became the capital of an intendancy of the same name.[43]

It became the seat of the richest diocese in New Spain in its first century, with the seat of the first diocese, formerly in Tlaxcala, moved there in 1543.[44] Bishop Juan de Palafox asserted the income from the diocese of Puebla as being twice that of the archbishopic of Mexico, due to the tithe income derived from agriculture.[45] In its first hundred years, Puebla was prosperous from wheat farming and other agriculture, as the ample tithe income indicates, plus manufacturing woolen cloth for the domestic market. Merchants, manufacturers, and artisans were important to the city's economic fortunes, but its early prosperity was followed by stagnation and decline in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.[46]

The foundation of the town of Puebla was a pragmatic social experiment to settle Spanish immigrants without encomiendas to pursue farming and industry.[47] Puebla was privileged in a number of ways, starting with its status as a Spanish settlement not founded on existing indigenous city-state, but with a significant indigenous population. It was located in a fertile basin on a temperate plateau in the nexus of the key trade triangle of Veracruz–Mexico City–Antequera (Oaxaca). Although there were no encomiendas in Puebla itself, encomenderos with nearby labor grants settled in Puebla. And despite its foundation as a Spanish city, sixteenth-century Puebla had Indians resident in the central core.[48]

Administratively Puebla was far enough away from Mexico City (approximately 100 miles) so as not to be under its direct influence. Puebla's Spanish town council (cabildo) had considerable autonomy and was not dominated by encomenderos. The administrative structure of Puebla "may be seen as a subtle expression of royal absolutism, the granting of extensive privileges to a town of commoners, amounting almost to republican self-government, in order to curtail the potential authority of encomenderos and the religious orders, as well as to counterbalance the power of the viceregal capital."[49]

The "golden century" from its founding in 1531 until the early 1600s saw Puebla's agricultural sector flourish, with small-scale Spanish farmers plowing the land for the first time, planting wheat and vaulting Puebla to importance as New Spain's breadbasket, a role assumed by the Bajío (including Querétaro) in the seventeenth century, and Guadalajara in the eighteenth.[50] Puebla's wheat production was the initial element of its prosperity, but it emerged as a manufacturing and commercial center, "serving as the inland port of Mexico's Atlantic trade."[51] Economically, the city received exemptions from the alcabala (sales tax) and almojarifazgo (import/export duties) for its first century (1531–1630), which helped promote commerce.

Puebla built a significant manufacturing sector, mainly in textile production in workshops (obrajes), supplying New Spain and markets as far away as Guatemala and Peru. Transatlantic ties between a particular Spanish town, Brihuega, and Puebla demonstrate the close connection between the two settlements. The take-off for Puebla's manufacturing sector did not simply coincide with immigration from Brihuega, but was crucial to "shaping and driving Puebla's economic development, especially in the manufacturing sector."[52] Brihuega immigrants not only came to Mexico with expertise in textile production, but the transplanted briocenses provided capital to create large-scale obrajes. Although obrajes in Brihuega were small-scale enterprises, quite a number of them in Puebla employed up to 100 workers. Supplies of wool, water for fulling mills, and labor (free indigenous, incarcerated Indians, black slaves) were available. Although much of Puebla's textile output was rough cloth, it also produced higher quality dyed cloth with cochineal from Oaxaca and indigo from Guatemala.[53] But by the eighteenth century, Querétaro had displaced Puebla as the mainstay of woolen textile production.[54]

In 1787, Puebla became an intendancy as part of the new administrative structuring of the Bourbon Reforms.

Valley of Mexico[edit]

Mexico City dominated the Valley of Mexico, but the valley continued to have dense indigenous populations challenged by growing, increasingly dense Spanish settlement. The Valley of Mexico had many former Indian city-states that became Indian towns in the colonial era. These towns continued to be ruled by indigenous elites under the Spanish crown, with an indigenous governor and a town councils.[55][56] These Indian towns close to the capital were the most desirable ones for encomenderos to hold and for the friars to evangelize.

The capital was provisioned by the indigenous towns and its labor was available for enterprises that ultimately created a colonial economy. The gradual drying up of the central lake system created more dry land for farming, but the sixteenth-century population declines allowed Spaniards to expand their acquisition of land. One region that retained strong Indian land holding was the southern fresh water area, which important suppliers of fresh produce to the capital. The area was characterized by intensely cultivated chinampas, man-made extensions of cultivable land into the lake system. These chinampa towns retained a strong indigenous character and Indians continued to hold the majority of that land, despite its closeness to the Spanish capital. A key example is Xochimilco.[57][58][59]

Texcoco in the pre-conquest period had been one of the three members of the Aztec Triple Alliance and the cultural center of the empire fell on hard times in the colonial period as an economic backwater. Spaniards with any ambition or connections would be lured by the closeness of Mexico City, so that the Spanish presence was minimal and marginal.[60]

Tlaxcala, the major ally of the Spanish against the Aztecs of Tenochtitlan, also became something of a backwater, but like Puebla it did not come under the control of Spanish encomenderos. No elite Spaniards settled there, but like many other Indian towns in the Valley of Mexico, it had an assortment of small-scale merchants, artisans, farmers and ranchers, and textile workshops (obrajes).[61]

The North[edit]

Since portions of northern New Spain became part of the United States' Southwest region, there has been considerable scholarship on the Spanish borderlands in the north. The motor of the Spanish colonial economy was the extraction of silver. In Bolivia, it was from the single rich mountain of Potosí; but in New Spain, there were two major mining sites, one in Zacatecas, the other in Guanajuato.

The region farther north of the main mining zones attracted few Spanish settlers. Where there were settled indigenous populations, such as in the present-day state of New Mexico and in coastal regions of Baja and Alta California, indigenous culture retained considerable integrity.

The Bajío, Mexico’s Breadbasket[edit]

The Bajío, a rich, fertile lowland just north of central Mexico, was nonetheless a frontier region between the densely populated plateaus and valleys of Mexico’s center and south and the harsh northern desert controlled by nomadic Chichimeca. Devoid of settled indigenous populations in the early sixteenth century, the Bajío did not initially attract Spaniards, who were much more interested in exploiting labor and collecting tribute whenever possible. The region did not have indigenous populations that practiced subsistence agriculture. The Bajío developed in the colonial period as a region of commercial agriculture.

The discovery of mining deposits in Zacatecas and Guanajuato in the mid-sixteenth century and later in San Luis Potosí stimulated the Bajío’s development to supply the mines with food and livestock. A network of Spanish towns was established in this region of commercial agriculture, with Querétaro also becoming a center of textile production. Although there were no dense indigenous populations or network of settlements, Indians migrated to the Bajío to work as resident employees on the region’s haciendas and ranchos or rented land (terrasguerros). From diverse cultural backgrounds and with no sustaining indigenous communities, these indios were quickly hispanized, but largely remained at the bottom of the economic hierarchy.[62] Although Indians migrated willingly to the region, they did so in such small numbers that labor shortages prompted Spanish hacendados to provide incentives to attract workers, especially in the initial boom period of the early seventeenth century. Land owners lent workers money, which could be seen as a perpetual indebtedness, but it can be seen not as coercing Indians to stay but a way estate owners sweetened their terms of employment, beyond their basic wage labor.[63][64] For example, in 1775 the Spanish administrator of a San Luis Potosí estate “had to scour both Mexico City and the northern towns to find enough blue French linen to satisfy the resident employees.”[65] Other types of goods they received on credit were textiles, hats, shoes, candles, meat, beans, and a guaranteed ration of maize. However, where labor was more abundant or market conditions depressed, estate owners paid lower wages. The more sparsely populated northern Bajío tended to pay higher wages than the southern Bajío, which was increasingly integrated in the economy of central Mexico.[66] The credit-based employment system often privileged those holding higher ranked positions on the estate (supervisors, craftsmen, other specialists) who were mostly white, and the estates did not demand repayment.[67]

In the late colonial period, renting complemented estate employment for many non-Indians in more central areas of the Bajío with access to markets. As with hacendados, renters produced for the commercial market. While these Bajío renters could prosper in good times and achieved a level of independence, drought and other disasters made their choice more risky than beneficial.[68]

Many renters retained ties to the estates, diversifying their household’s sources of income and level of economic security. In San Luis Potosí, rentals were fewer and estate employment the norm. After a number of years of drought and bad harvests in the first decade of the nineteenth century Hidalgo’s 1810 grito appealed more in the Bajío than in San Luis Potosí. In the Bajío estate owners were evicting tenants in favor of renters better able to pay more for land, there was a disruption of previous patterns of mutual benefit between estate owners and renters.[69]

Spanish Borderlands[edit]

Areas of northern Mexico were incorporated into the United States in the mid-nineteenth century, following Texas independence and the Mexican–American War (1846–48) and generally known as the "Spanish Borderlands".[70][71] Scholars in the United States have extensively studied this northern region, which became the states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California.[72][73][74][75] During the period of Spanish rule, this area was sparsely populated even by indigenous peoples.[76]

The Presidios (forts), pueblos (civilian towns) and the misiones (missions) were the three major agencies employed by the Spanish crown to extend its borders and consolidate its colonial holdings in these territories.

Missions and the Northern Frontier[edit]

The town of Albuquerque (present day Albuquerque, New Mexico) was founded in 1706. The Mexican towns of: Paso del Norte (present day Ciudad Juárez) founded in 1667; Santiago de la Monclova in 1689; Panzacola, Tejas in 1681; and San Francisco de Cuéllar (present day city of Chihuahua) in 1709. From 1687, Father Eusebio Francisco Kino, with funding from the Marqués de Villapuente, founded over twenty missions in the Sonoran Desert (in present day Sonora and Arizona). From 1697, Jesuits established eighteen missions throughout the Baja California Peninsula. Between 1687 and 1700 several Missions were founded in Trinidad, but only four survived as Amerindian villages throughout the 18th century. In 1691, explorers and missionaries visited the interior of Texas and came upon a river and Amerindian settlement on June 13, the feast day of St. Anthony, and named the location and river San Antonio in his honor.

Indian Wedding and Flying Pole, circa 1690

New Mexico[edit]

During the term of viceroy Don Luis de Velasco, marqués de Salinas the crown gained control over many of the semi-nomadic Chichimeca indigenous tribes of northern México in 1591 for a while. This allowed expansion into the 'Province of New Mexico' or Provincia de Nuevo México. In 1595, Don Juan de Oñate, son of one the key figures in the silver remining region of Zacatecas, received official permission from the viceroy to explore and conquer New Mexico. As was the pattern of such expeditions, the leader assumed the greatest risk but would reap the largest rewards, so that Oñate would become capitán general of New Mexico and had the authority to distribute rewards to those in the expedition.[77] Oñate pioneered 'The Royal Road of the Interior Land' or El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro between Mexico City and the Tewa village of Ohkay Owingeh, or San Juan Pueblo. He also founded the Spanish settlement of San Gabriel de Yungue-Ouinge on the Rio Grande near the Native American Pueblo, located just north of the present day city of Española, New Mexico.[78]

By naming the region "New Mexico", the Spanish likely hoped to incorporate a region as rich as Mexico had proven to be. However, while New Mexico had a settled indigenous population, there were no silver mines, little arable land, and few other resources to exploit that would merit large scale colonization. Oñate resigned as governor in 1607 and left New Mexico, having spent much of his personal wealth on the enterprise.[79]

In 1610, Pedro de Peralta, a later governor of the Province of New Mexico, established the settlement of Santa Fe near the southern end of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range. Missions were established to convert the locals, and manage the agricultural industry. The territory's indigenous population resented the Spanish prohibition of their traditional religion, and the encomienda system of forced labor. The unrest led to the Pueblo Revolt in 1680, forcing the Spanish to retreat to Paso del Norte (modern-day Ciudad Juárez.) After the return of the Spanish in 1692, the final resolution included a marked reduction of Spanish efforts to eradicate native culture and religion, the issuing of substantial communal land grants to each Pueblo, and a public defender of their rights and for their legal cases in Spanish courts. In 1776 the Province came under the new Provincias Internas jurisdiction. In the late 18th century the Spanish land grant encouraged the settlement by individuals of large land parcels outside Mission and Pueblo boundaries, many of which became ranchos.[80]


In 1602, Sebastián Vizcaíno, the first Spanish presence in the 'New California' (Nueva California) region of the frontier Las Californias province since Cabrillo in 1542, sailed as far north up the Pacific Coast as present-day Oregon, and named California coastal features from San Diego to as far north as the Bay of Monterrey.

Not until the eighteenth century was California of much interest to the Spanish crown, since it had no known rich mineral deposits or indigenous populations sufficiently organized to render tribute and do labor for Spaniards. The discovery of huge deposits of gold in the Sierra Nevada foothills did not come until after the U.S. had incorporated California following the Mexican–American War (1846–48).

By the middle of the 1700s, the Catholic order of Jesuits had established a number of missions on the Baja (lower) California peninsula. Then, in 1767, King Charles III ordered all Jesuits expelled from all Spanish possessions, including New Spain.[81] New Spain's Visitador General José de Gálvez replaced them with the Dominican Order in Baja California, and the Franciscans were chosen to establish new northern missions in Alta (upper) California.

In 1768, Gálvez received the following orders: "Occupy and fortify San Diego and Monterey for God and the King of Spain." The Spanish colonization there, with far fewer known natural resources and less cultural development than Mexico or Peru, was to combine establishing a presence for defense of the territory with a perceived responsibility to convert the indigenous people to Christianity.

The method used to "occupy and fortify" was the established Spanish colonial system: missions (misiones, between 1769 and 1833 twenty-one missions were established) aimed at converting the indigenes to Christianity, forts (presidios, four total) to protect the missionaries, and secular municipalities (pueblos, three total). Due to the region's great distance from supplies and support in México, the system had to be largely self-sufficient. As a result, the colonial population of California remained small, widely scattered and near the coast.

In 1776, the north-western frontier areas came under the administration of the new 'Commandancy General of the Internal Provinces of the North' (Provincias Internas), designed to streamline administration and invigorate growth. The crown created two new provincial governments from the former Las Californias in 1804; the southern peninsula became Baja California, and the ill-defined northern mainland frontier area became Alta California.

Once missions and protective presidios were established in an area, large land grants encouraged settlement and establishment of California ranchos. The Spanish system of land grants was not very successful, however, because the grants were merely royal concessions—not actual land ownership. Under later Mexican rule, land grants conveyed ownership, and were more successful at promoting settlement.

Rancho activities centered on cattle-raising; many grantees emulated the Dons of Spain, with cattle, horses and sheep the source of wealth. The work was usually done by Native Americans, sometimes displaced and/or relocated from their villages. Native-born descendants of the resident Spanish-heritage rancho grantees, soldiers, servants, merchants, craftsmen and others became the Californios. Many of the less-affluent men took native wives, and many daughters married later English, French and American settlers.

After the Mexican War of Independence (1821) and subsequent secularization ("disestablishment") of the missions (1834), Mexican land grant transactions increased the spread of the rancho system. The land grants and ranchos established mapping and land-ownership patterns that are still recognizable in present day California and New Mexico.[82]

The South[edit]


The Yucatán peninsula can be seen as a cul-de-sac,[83] and it does indeed have unique features, but it also has strong similarities to other areas in the South. The Yucatán peninsula extends into the Gulf of Mexico and was connected to Caribbean trade routes and Mexico City, far more than some other southern regions, such as Oaxaca.[84] There was three main Spanish settlements, the inland city of Mérida, where Spanish civil and religious officials had their headquarters and where the many Spaniards in the province lived. The villa of Campeche was the peninsula's port, the key gateway for the whole region. A merchant group developed and expanded dramatically as trade flourished during the seventeenth century.[85] Although that period was once characterized as New Spain's "century of depression", for Yucatán this was certainly not the case, with sustained growth from the early seventeenth century to the end of the colonial period.[86]

With dense indigenous Maya populations, Yucatán's encomienda system was established early and persisted far longer than in central Mexico, since fewer Spaniards migrated to the region than in the center.[87] Although Yucatán was a more peripheral area to the colony, since it lacked rich mining areas and no agricultural or other export product, it did have complex of Spanish settlement, with a whole range of social types in the main settlements of Mérida and the villas of Campeche and Valladolid.[88] There was an important sector of mixed-race castas, some of whom were fully at home in both the indigenous and Hispanic worlds. Blacks were an important component of Yucatecan society.[89] The largest population in the province was indigenous Maya, who lived in their communities, but which were in contact with the Hispanic sphere via labor demands and commerce.[90]

In Yucatán Spanish rule was largely indirect, allowing these communities considerable political and cultural autonomy. The Maya community, the cah, was the means by which indigenous cultural integrity was maintained. In the economic sphere, unlike many other regions and ethnic groups in Mesoamerica, the Yucatec Maya did not have a pre-conquest network of regular markets to exchange different types of food and craft goods. Perhaps because the peninsula was uniform in its ecosystem local niche production did not develop.[91] Production of cotton textiles, largely by Maya women, helped pay households’ tribute obligations, but basic crops were the basis of the economy. The cah retained considerable land under the control of religious brotherhoods or confraternities (cofradías), the device by which Maya communities avoided colonial officials, the clergy, or even indigenous rulers (gobernadores) from diverting of community revenues in their cajas de comunidad (literally community-owned chests that had locks and keys). Cofradías were traditionally lay pious organizations and burial societies, but in Yucatán they became significant holders of land, a source of revenue for pious purposes kept under cah control. "[I]n Yucatán the cofradía in its modified form was the community."[92] Local Spanish clergy had no reason to object to the arrangement since much of the revenue went for payment for masses or other spiritual matters controlled by the priest.

A limiting factor in Yucatán's economy was the poorness of the limestone soil, which could only support crops for two to three years with land cleared through slash and burn (swidden) agriculture. Access to water was a limiting factor on agriculture, with the limestone escarpment giving way in water filled sinkholes (cenotes), but rivers and streams were generally absent on the peninsula. Individuals had rights to land so long as they cleared and tilled them and when the soil was exhausted, they repeated the process. In general Indians lived in a dispersed pattern, which Spanish congregación or forced resettlement attempted to alter. Collective labor cultivated the confraternities' lands, which included raising the traditional maize, beans, and cotton. But confraternities also later pursued cattle ranching, as well as mule and horse breeding, depending on the local situation. There is evidence that cofradías in southern Campeche were involved in interregional trade in cacao as well as cattle ranching.[93] Although generally the revenues from crops and animals were devoted to expenses in the spiritual sphere, cofradías' cattle were used for direct aid to community members during droughts, stabilizing the community’s food supply.[94]

In the seventeenth century, patterns shifted in Yucatán and Tabasco, as the English took territory the Spanish claimed but did not control, especially what became British Honduras (now Belize), where they cut dyewood and in Laguna de Términos (Isla del Carmen) where they cut logwood. In 1716–17 viceroy of New Spain organized a sufficient ships to expel the foreigners, where the crown subsequently built a fortress at Isla del Carmen.[95] But the British held onto their territory in the eastern portion of the peninsula into the twentieth century. In the nineteenth century, the enclave supplied guns to the rebellious Maya in the Caste War of Yucatan.[96]

Valley of Oaxaca[edit]

Since Oaxaca was lacking in mineral deposits and it had an abundant sedentary indigenous population, its development was notable for the lack of European or mixed-race population, lack of large-scale Spanish haciendas, and the survival of indigenous communities. These communities retained their land, indigenous languages, and distinct ethnic identities. Antequera (now Oaxaca City) was a Spanish settlement founded in 1529, but the rest of Oaxaca consisted of indigenous towns. Despite its remoteness from Mexico City "throughout the colonial era, Oaxaca was one of Mexico's most prosperous provinces." [97][98] In the eighteenth century, the value of crown offices (alcalde mayor or corregidor) were the highest for two Oaxaca jurisdictions, with Jicayan and Villa Alta each worth 7,500 pesos, Cuicatlan-Papalotipac, 4,500; Teposcolula and Chichicapa each 4,200 pesos.[99]

The most important commodity for Oaxaca was cochineal red dye. Cochineal's commodity chain is an interesting one, with indigenous peasants in the remote areas of Oaxaca ultimately linked to Amsterdam and London commodity exchanges and the European production of luxury cloth.[100] The most extensive scholarly work on Oaxaca's eighteenth-century economy deals with the nexus between the local crown officials (alcaldes mayores), merchant investors (aviadores), the repartimiento (forced labor), and indigenous products, particularly cochineal. The rich, color-fast red dye produced from insects, was harvested from nopal cacti. Cochineal was a high value, low volume product that became the second most valuable Mexican export after silver. Although it could be produced elsewhere in central and southern Mexico, its main region of production was Oaxaca. For the indigenous in Oaxaca, cochineal was the only one "with which the [tributaries] maintain themselves and pay their debts" but it also had other advantages for them.[101] Producing cochineal was time-consuming labor, but it was not particularly difficult and could be done by the elderly, women, and children.[102] It was also important to households and communities because it initially did not require the indigenous to displace their existing crops or migrate elsewhere.[103]

Although the repartimiento has historically been seen as an imposition on the indigenous, forcing them into economic relations they would rather have avoided and maintained by force,[104] recent work on eighteenth-century Oaxaca analyzes the nexus of crown officials (the alcaldes mayores) and Spanish merchants, and indigenous via the repartimiento. cash loaned by local crown officials (the alcalde mayor and his teniente), usually to individual Indians but sometimes to communities, in exchange for a fixed amount of a good (cochineal or cotton mantles) at a later date. Indigenous elites were an integral part of the repartimiento, often being recipients of large extensions of credit. As authority figures in their community, they were in a good position to collect on the debt, the most risky part of the business from the Spanish point of view.


The Isthmus of Tehuantepec region of Oaxaca was important for its short transit between the Gulf Coast and the Pacific, facilitating both overland and sea trade. The province of Tehuantepec was the Pacific side of the isthmus and the headwaters of the Coatzacoalcos River.[105] Hernán Cortés acquired strategically located holdings entailed in the Marquesado including Huatulco,[106] once the main Pacific Coast port before Acapulco replaced it in 1563.

Gold mining was an early draw for Spaniards, who directed indigenous labor to its extraction, but did not continue beyond the mid-sixteenth century. Over the long run, ranching and commerce were the most important economic activities, with the settlement of Tehuantepec becoming the hub. The region's history can be divided into three distinct periods, an initial period of engagement with Spanish colonial rule to 1563, during which there was a working relationship with the Zapotec ruling line and the establishment of Cortés's economic enterprises. This early period came to a close with the death of the last native king in 1562 and the escheatment of Cortés's Tehuantepec encomiendas to the crown in 1563. The second period of approximately a century (1563–1660) saw the decline of the indigenous entailed estate (cacicazgo) and indigenous political power and development of the colonial economy and imposition of Spanish political and religious structures. The final period is the maturation of these structures (1660–1750). The 1660 rebellion can be a dividing line between the two later periods.[107]

The Villa of Tehuantepec, the largest settlement on the isthmus, was an important prehispanic Zapotec trade and religious center, which was not under the jurisdiction of the Aztecs.[108] The early colonial history of Tehuantepec and the larger province was dominated by Cortés and the Marquesado, but the crown realized the importance of the area and concluded an agreement in 1563 with the second Marqués by which the crown took control of the Tehuantepec encomienda. The Marquesado continued to have major private holdings in the province. The Villa of Tehuantepec became a center of Spanish and mixed-race settlement, crown administration, and trade.

The Cortés haciendas in Tehuantepec were key components of the province's economy, and they were directly linked to other Marquesado enterprises in greater Mexico in an integrated fashion.[109] The Dominicans also had significant holdings in Tehuantepec, but there has been little research on these. However important the Marquesado and the Dominican enterprises were, there were also other economic players in the region, including individual Spaniards as well as existing indigenous communities. Ranching emerged as the dominant rural enterprise in most of Tehuantepec with a ranching boom in the period 1580–1640. Since Tehuantepec experienced significant indigenous population loss in the sixteenth century conforming to the general pattern, ranching made possible for Spaniards to thrive in Tehuantepec because ranching was not dependent on significant amounts of indigenous labor.[110]

The most detailed economic records for the region are of the Marquesado's ranching haciendas, which produced draft animals (horses, mules, burros, and oxen) and sheep and goats, for meat and wool. Cattle ranching for meat, tallow, and leather were also important. Tallow for candles used in churches and residences and leather used in a variety of ways (saddles, other tack, boots, furniture, machinery) were significant items in the larger colonial economy, finding markets well beyond Tehuantepec. Since the Marquesado operated as an integrated enterprise, draft animals were used in other holdings for transport, agriculture, and mining in Oaxaca, Morelos, Toluca, and Mexico City as well as sold. Raised in Tehuantepec, the animals were driven to other Marquesado holdings for use and distribution.[111]

Although colonial population decline affected the indigenous in Tehuantepec, their communities remained important in the colonial era and remain distinctly Indian to the current era. There were differences in the three distinct linguistic and ethnic groups in colonial Tehuantepec, the Zapotec, the Zoque, and the Huave. The Zapotecs concluded an alliance with the Spaniards at contact, and they had already expanded their territory into Zoque and Huave regions.

Under Spanish rule, the Zapotecs not only survived, but flourished, unlike the other two. They continued to pursue agriculture, some of it irrigated, which was not disrupted by the growing ranching economy. Generally Zapotec elites protected their communities from Spanish incursions and community cohesion remained strong as shown in members' performance of regular community service for social ends. Zapotec elites engaged in the market economy early on, which undermined to an extent the bonds between commoners and elites who colluded with the Spanish. In contrast to the Zapotecs, the Zoque generally declined as a group during the ranching boom, with interloping animals eating their maize crops. Zoque response was to take up being vaqueros themselves. They had access to the trade to Guatemala. Of the three indigenous groups, the Huave were the most isolated from the Spanish ranching economy and labor demands.[112] With little arable or grazing land, they exploited the lagoons of the Pacific coast, using shore and beach resources. They traded dried shrimp and fish, as well as purple dye from shells to Oaxaca, likely acquiring foodstuffs that they were unable to cultivate themselves.[113]

Not well documented is the number of African slaves and their descendants, who were artisans in urban areas and did hard manual labor in rural areas.[114] In a pattern recognizable elsewhere, coastal populations were mainly African, including an unknown number of cimarrón (runaway slave) settlements, while inland indigenous communities were more prominent. On the Cortés haciendas, blacks and mulattoes were essential to the profitability of the enterprises.[115]

In general, Tehuantepec was not a site of major historical events, but in 1660–61 there was a significant rebellion stemming from increased repartimiento Spanish demands.[116]

Route from Philippines to Acapulco, México

Expansion to the Philippine Islands and the Manila trade[edit]

Seeking to develop trade between the East Indies and the Americas across the Pacific Ocean, Miguel López de Legazpi established the first Spanish settlement in the Philippine Islands in 1565, which became the town of San Miguel (present-day Cebu City). Andrés de Urdaneta discovered an efficient sailing route from the Philippine Islands to Mexico which took advantage of the Kuroshio Current. In 1571, the city of Manila became the capital of the Spanish East Indies, with trade soon beginning via the Manila-Acapulco Galleons. The Manila-Acapulco trade route shipped products such as silk, spices, silver, porcelain and gold to the Americas from Asia. The importance of the Philippines to the Spanish empire can be seen by its creation as a separate Captaincy-General.[117]

Products brought from East Asia were sent to Acapulco then overland to Veracruz México, and then shipped to Spain aboard the West Indies Fleets. Later they were traded across Europe.

Spanish defense against attacks on shipping[edit]

Main article: Spanish treasure fleet

The Spanish crown created a system of convoys of ships (called the flota) to prevent attacks by European privateers. Some isolated attacks on these shipments took place in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea by British and Dutch pirates and privateers. One such act of piracy was led by Francis Drake in 1586, and another by Thomas Cavendish in 1587. In one episode, the cities of Huatulco (Oaxaca) and Barra de Navidad in Jalisco Province of México were sacked. However, these maritime routes, both across the Pacific and the Atlantic were successful in the defensive and logistical role they played in the history of the Spanish Empire. For over three centuries the Spanish Navy escorted the galleon convoys which sailed around the world.

Don Lope Díez de Armendáriz, born in Quito, Ecuador, was the first Viceroy of New Spain who was born in the 'New World'. He formed the 'Navy of Barlovento' (Armada de Barlovento), based in Veracruz, to patrol coastal regions and protect the harbors, port towns, and trade ships from pirates and privateers.

New Spain after the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819 (not including the island territories of the Pacific Ocean).
New Spain 1800 (not including the island territories of the Pacific Ocean).
Spanish Caribbean Islands in the American Viceroyalties in 1600.
Territories of the different colonial powers in 1800. Spanish holdings are in yellow.

Philippines and associated Spanish Pacific possessions[edit]

Nao Victoria, where Magellan touched Philippines.
Route followed by the expedition of Miguel López de Legazpi in the Philippine archipelago.

In the colonial era of 1521, the navigator Ferdinand Magellan in the service of Spain reached the Philippine archipelago and took legal possession of the islands under the Spanish throne, but without leaving a single Spaniard either on the islands that was worth the colonization of Spain. Although it was known that the indigenous population was peaceful[citation needed] and also wanted to take the power of Portugal in the East Indies, Hernán Cortés sent three ships bound for Asia, which sailed from Zihuatanejo in 1527. En route two of them were wrecked and the third arrived, but did not return for not finding the return current.[citation needed] Then in 1541, López de Villalobos was sent by Viceroy Don Antonio de Mendoza to lead an expedition to the East Indies in search of new trade routes. His expedition departed from Puerto de Navidad in 1542 aboard four ships.[citation needed]

In 1543 the fleet hit the southern coast of the island of Luzon (Philippines), which explored the coast and made contact with the natives of the archipelago. From there they set further east to reach the island of Leyte and was named "Philippines" in honor of King Philip II. Because of hunger and a ship that was ruined by a boating accident, the expedition was a disaster and had to go to seek refuge in the Moluccas, Portuguese rule, and after some skirmishes were taken prisoners. Villalobos died in prison in 1544 on the island of Amboina. The rest of the crew managed to escape and return to New Spain, where told the stories to Viceroy, and so was considered part of New Spain the Captaincy General of the Philippines.

The attempt at colonization of the Philippines did not end there. The Viceroy Luis de Velasco commissioned Miguel López de Legazpi put to sea on a new expedition. He sailed from Puerto de Navidad, New Galicia (now Jalisco) on 21 November 1564 and in the voyage won Guam, Saavedra Islands (Marshall Islands) and the Mariana Islands (climbing there), and landed Samar on 27 April 1565. Also expanded the Spanish rule to multiple locations on the island of Taiwan, the Moluccas (fortress of Tidore) and North Borneo (now Sabah area). Cleverly, López de Legazpi avoided harassing the inhabitants of the islands, and found no resistance to explore. Because of the scarcity of products, Legazpi was forced to move from island to island and expanded the domains there. The move was easy, because in the islands, as in Mexico, the clans were rivaled, and Legazpi established bonds of friendship that easily allowed to move from island to island, up to the time the first Spanish settlements: the town of the Villa del Santísimo Nombre de Jesús and Villa de San Miguel (now Cebu City).

The conquest of the Philippines, named in honor of King Philip II, by Miguel López de Legazpi in 1565 made it possible for first time to visit New Spanish lands the Philippines Galleon. Over time, this route would be the main link that would join Spain's possessions in America with its strongholds in Asia. In that year, Philip II ruled, in England Elizabeth I ruled, were met eighteen years of death of the principal Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés, and the Jesuit Hernando Menéndez de Avilés founded the first missions in St. Augustine, Florida. One of the main places where were stored the goods brought from Eastern was New Orleans, in the coast of Gulf of Mexico and was won by Andrew Jackson in 1815, coinciding with the rebellion for independence in New Spain. The routes were established for more than two centuries. However, the route from Asia to Acapulco, where they used to unload the goods, were full of risks, disease and pirate attacks in Australia. The products handled were silk, spices, and gold. The route was the way to link the internal trade of the overseas possessions of Spain, but also were transmitted liberal ideas to the American colonies, as in the Philippines had more freedom of expression. The last galleon reached Mexico in 1813, just days before making port at the hands of José María Morelos.

Military action[edit]

Immersed in a low intensity war with England (mostly over the Spanish ports and trade routes harassed by English pirates), the defenses of Veracruz and San Juan de Ulúa, Jamaica, Cuba and Florida were strengthened. Santiago de Cuba (1662), St. Augustine Spanish Florida (1665) or Campeche 1678 were sacked by the English. The Tarahumara Indians were in revolt in the mountains of Chihuahua for several years. In 1670 Chichimecas invaded Durango, and the governor, Francisco González, abandoned its defense. In 1680, 25,000 previously subjugated Indians in 24 pueblos of New Mexico rose against the Spanish and killed all the Europeans they encountered. In 1685, after a revolt of the Chamorros, the Marianas islands were incorporated to the Captaincy General of the Philippines. In 1695, this time with the English help, the viceroy Gaspar de la Cerda attacked the French who had established a base on the island of Española.

Early in the Queen Anne's War, in 1702, the English captured and burned the Spanish town St. Augustine, Florida. However, the English were unable to take the main fortress (presidio) of St. Augustine, resulting in the campaign being condemned by the English as a failure. The Spanish maintained St. Augustine and Pensacola for more than a century after the war, but their mission system in Florida was destroyed and the Apalachee tribe was decimated in what became known as the Apalachee Massacre of 1704. Also in 1704 the viceroy Francisco Fernández de la Cueva suppressed a rebellion of the Pima Indians in Nueva Vizcaya.

Diego Osorio de Escobar y Llamas reformed the postal service and the marketing of mercury. In 1701 under the Duke of Alburquerque the 'Court of the Agreement' (Tribunal de la Acordada), an organization of volunteers, similar to the 'Holy Brotherhood' (Hermandad), intended to capture and quickly try bandits, was founded.

The Bourbon reforms (1713–1806)[edit]

Main article: Bourbon Reforms
Possessions made during Acts of the Visit of the Royal Commissioners 1767 and 1768, Reynosa, Tamaulipas

The new Bourbon kings did not split the Viceroyalty of New Spain into smaller administrative units as they did with the Viceroyalty of Peru. The first innovation, in 1776, was by José de Gálvez, the new Minister of the Indies (1775–1787), establishing the northern Commandancy General of the Provincias Internas known as the Provincias Internas (Commandancy General of the Internal Provinces of the North, (Spanish: Comandancia y Capitanía General de las Provincias Internas). He appointed Teodoro de Croix (nephew of the former viceroy) as the first Commander General of the Provincias Internas, independent of the Viceroy of New Spain, to provide better administration for the northern frontier provinces. They included Nueva Vizcaya, Nuevo Santander, Sonora y Sinaloa, Las Californias, Coahuila y Tejas (Coahuila and Texas), and Nuevo México.

The Spanish Bourbons monarchs' prime innovation introduction of intendancies, an institution emulating that of Bourbon France. They were first introduced on a large scale in New Spain, by the Minister of the Indies José de Gálvez, in the 1770s, who originally envisioned that they would replace the viceregal system (viceroyalty) altogether. With broad powers over tax collection and the public treasury and with a mandate to help foster economic growth over their districts, intendants encroached on the traditional powers of viceroys, governors and local officials, such as the corregidores, which were phased out as intendancies were established. The Crown saw the intendants as a check on these other officers. Over time accommodations were made. For example, after a period of experimentation in which an independent intendant was assigned to Mexico City, the office was thereafter given to the same person who simultaneously held the post of viceroy. Nevertheless, the creation of scores of autonomous intendancies throughout the Viceroyalty, created a great deal of decentralization, and in the Captaincy General of Guatemala, in particular, the intendancy laid the groundwork for the future independent nations of the 19th century.

In 1780, Minister of the Indies José de Gálvez sent a royal dispatch to Teodoro de Croix, Commandant General of the Internal Provinces of New Spain (Provincias Internas), asking all subjects to donate money to help the American Revolution. Millions of pesos were given.

The focus on the economy (and the revenues it provided to the royal coffers) was also extended to society at large. Economic associations were promoted, such as the Economic Society of Friends of the Country Governor-General José Basco y Vargas established in the Philippines in 1781. Similar "Friends of the Country" economic societies were established throughout the Spanish world, including Cuba and Guatemala.[118]

A secondary feature of the Bourbon Reforms was that it was an attempt to end the significant amount of local control that had crept into the bureaucracy under the Habsburgs, especially through the sale of offices. The Bourbons sought a return to the monarchical ideal of having outsiders, who in theory should be disinterested, staff the higher echelons of regional government. In practice this meant that there was a concerted effort to appoint mostly peninsulares, usually military men with long records of service (as opposed to the Habsburg preference for prelates), who were willing to move around the global empire. The intendancies were one new office that could be staffed with peninsulares, but throughout the 18th century significant gains were made in the numbers of governors-captain generals, audiencia judges and bishops, in addition to other posts, who were Spanish-born.

18th century military conflicts[edit]

18th-century lancer in colonial Mexico

The first century that saw the Bourbons on the Spanish throne coincided with series of global conflicts that pitted primarily France against Great Britain. Spain as an ally of Bourbon France was drawn into these conflicts. In fact part of the motivation for the Bourbon Reforms was the perceived need to prepare the empire administratively, economically and militarily for what was the next expected war. The Seven Years' War proved to be catalyst for most of the reforms in the overseas possessions, just like the War of the Spanish Succession had been for the reforms on the Peninsula.

In 1720, the Villasur expedition from Santa Fe met and attempted to parley with French- allied Pawnee in what is now Nebraska. Negotiations were unsuccessful, and a battle ensued; the Spanish were badly defeated, with only thirteen managing to return to New Mexico. Although this was a small engagement, it is significant in that it was the deepest penetration of the Spanish into the Great Plains, establishing the limit to Spanish expansion and influence there.

The War of Jenkin's Ear broke out in 1739 between the Spanish and British and was confined to the Caribbean and Georgia. The major action in the War of Jenkins' Ear was a major amphibious attack launched by the British under Admiral Edward Vernon in March 1741 against Cartagena de Indias, one of Spain's major gold-trading ports in the Caribbean (today Colombia). Although this episode is largely forgotten, it ended in a decisive victory for Spain, who managed to prolong its control of the Caribbean and indeed secure the Spanish Main until the 19th century.

Following the French and Indian War/Seven Years' War, the British troops invaded and captured the Spanish cities of Havana in Cuba and Manila in the Philippines in 1762. The Treaty of Paris (1763) gave Spain control over the Louisiana part of New France including New Orleans, creating a Spanish empire that stretched from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean; but Spain also ceded Florida to Great Britain in order to regain Cuba, which the British occupied during the war. Louisiana settlers, hoping to restore the territory to France, in the bloodless Rebellion of 1768 forced the Louisiana Governor Antonio de Ulloa to flee to Spain. The rebellion was crushed in 1769 by the next governor Alejandro O'Reilly, who executed five of the conspirators. The Louisiana territory was to be administered by superiors in Cuba with a governor on site in New Orleans.

The 21 northern missions in present-day California (U.S.) were established along California's El Camino Real from 1769. In an effort to exclude Britain and Russia from the eastern Pacific, King Charles III of Spain sent forth from Mexico a number of expeditions to the Pacific Northwest between 1774 and 1793. Spain's long-held claims and navigation rights were strengthened and a settlement and fort were built in Nootka Sound, Alaska.

A Spanish army defeats British soldiers in the Battle of Pensacola in 1781. In 1783 the Treaty of Paris returns all of Florida to Spain for the return of the Bahamas.

Spain entered the American Revolutionary War as an ally of France in June 1779, a renewal of the Bourbon Family Compact. In 1781, a Spanish expedition during the American Revolutionary War left St. Louis, Missouri (then under Spanish control) and reached as far as Fort St. Joseph at Niles, Michigan where they captured the fort while the British were away. On 8 May 1782, Count Bernardo de Gálvez, the Spanish governor of Louisiana, captured the British naval base at New Providence in the Bahamas. On the Gulf Coast, the military actions of Gálvez led to Spain's re-acquisition of East and West Florida in the peace settlement, as well as controlling the mouth of the Mississippi River after the war — which would prove to be a major source of tension between Spain and the United States in the years to come.

From Frank Bond, "Louisiana" and the Louisiana Purchase.
Government Printing Office, 1912 Map No. 4.

In the second Treaty of Paris (1783), which ended the American Revolution, Britain ceded its two Florida colonies back to Spain to regain the Bahamas, which Spain had been occupying during the war. Spain then had control over the Mississippi River south of 32°30' north latitude, and, in what is known as the Spanish Conspiracy, hoped to gain greater control of Louisiana and all of the west. These hopes ended when Spain was pressured into signing Pinckney's Treaty in 1795. France reacquired 'Louisiana' from Spain in the secret Treaty of San Ildefonso in 1800. The United States bought the territory from France in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803.

New Spain claimed the entire west coast of North America and therefore considered the Russian fur trading activity in Alaska, which began in the middle to late 18th century, an encroachment and threat. Likewise, the exploration of the northwest coast by James Cook of the British Navy and the subsequent fur trading activities by British ships was considered an invasion of Spanish territory. To protect and strengthen its claim, New Spain sent a number of expeditions to the Pacific Northwest between 1774 and 1793. In 1789 a naval outpost called Santa Cruz de Nuca (or just Nuca) was established at Friendly Cove in Nootka Sound (now Yuquot), Vancouver Island. It was protected by an artillery land battery called Fort San Miguel. Santa Cruz de Nuca was the northernmost establishment of New Spain. It was the first colony in British Columbia and the only Spanish settlement in what is now Canada. Santa Cruz de Nuca remained under the control of New Spain until 1795, when it was abandoned under the terms of the third Nootka Convention. Another outpost, intended to replace Santa Cruz de Nuca, was partially built at Neah Bay on the southern side of the Strait of Juan de Fuca in what is now the U.S. state of Washington. Neah Bay was known as Bahía de Núñez Gaona in New Spain, and the outpost there was referred to as "Fuca". It was abandoned, partially finished, in 1792. Its personnel, livestock, cannons, and ammunition were transferred to Nuca.[119]

Spanish territorial claims in the West Coast of North America, 18th century

In 1789, at Santa Cruz de Nuca, a conflict occurred between the Spanish naval officer Esteban José Martínez and the British merchant James Colnett, triggering the Nootka Crisis, which grew into an international incident and the threat of war between Britain and Spain. The first Nootka Convention averted the war but left many specific issues unresolved. Both sides sought to define a northern boundary for New Spain. At Nootka Sound, the diplomatic representative of New Spain, Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra, proposed a boundary at the Strait of Juan de Fuca, but the British representative, George Vancouver refused to accept any boundary north of San Francisco. No agreement could be reached and the northern boundary of New Spain remained unspecified until the Adams–Onís Treaty with the United States (1819). That treaty also ceded Spanish Florida to the United States.

End of the Viceroyalty (1806–1821)[edit]

The Third Treaty of San Ildefonso ceded to France the vast territory that Napoleon then sold to the United States, known as the Louisiana Purchase (1803). Spanish Florida followed in 1819.

In the 1821 Declaration of Independence of the Mexican Empire, both Mexico and Central America declared their independence after three centuries of Spanish rule and formed the First Mexican Empire, although Central America quickly rejected the union. After priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla's 1810 Grito de Dolores (call for independence), the insurgent army began an eleven-year war. At first, the Criollo class fought against the rebels. But in 1820, a military coup in Spain forced Ferdinand VII to accept the authority of the liberal Spanish Constitution. The specter of liberalism that could undermine the authority and autonomy of the Roman Catholic Church made the Church hierarchy in New Spain view independence in a different light. In an independent nation, the Church anticipated retaining its power. Royalist military officer Agustin de Iturbide proposed uniting with the insurgents with whom he had battled, and gained the alliance of Vicente Guerrero, leader of the insurgents in a region now bearing his name. Royal government collapsed in New Spain and the Army of the Three Guarantees marched triumphantly into Mexico City in 1821.

The new Mexican Empire offered the crown to Ferdinand VII or to a member of the Spanish royal family that he would designate. After the refusal of the Spanish monarchy to recognize the independence of Mexico, the ejército Trigarante (Army of the Three Guarantees), led by Agustin de Iturbide and Vincente Guerrero, cut all political and economic ties with Spain and crowned Agustin I as emperor of Mexico. Central America was originally planned to be part of the Mexican Empire; but it seceded peacefully in 1823, forming the United Provinces of Central America under the Constitution of 1824.

This left only Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Spanish East Indies (including the Philippines and Guam) in the Spanish empire, until their loss to the United States in the Spanish–American War (1898).

Political organization[edit]

The Viceroyalty of New Spain united many regions and provinces of the Spanish Empire throughout half a world. These included on the North American mainland, central Mexico, Nueva Extremadura, Nueva Galicia, the Californias, Nueva Vizcaya, Nuevo Reyno de León, Texas and Nuevo Santander, as well as the Captaincy General of Guatemala. In the Caribbean it included Cuba, Santo Domingo, most of the Venezuelan mainland and the other islands in the Caribbean controlled by the Spanish. In Asia, the Viceroyalty ruled the Captaincy General of the Philippines, which covered all of the Spanish territories in the Asia-Pacific region. The outpost at Nootka Sound, on Vancouver Island, was considered part of the province of California.

Therefore, the Viceroyalty's former territories included what is now the present day countries of Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Belize, Costa Rica; the United States regions of California, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Puerto Rico, Guam, Mariana Islands, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Florida; a portion of the Canadian province of British Columbia; the Caribbean nations of Cuba, the Dominican Republic, the island of Hispaniola, Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda; the Asia-Pacific nations of the Philippine Islands, Palau and Caroline Islands.

The Viceroyalty was administered by a viceroy residing in Mexico City and appointed by the Spanish monarch, who had administrative oversight of all of these regions, although most matters were handled by the local governmental bodies, which ruled the various regions of the viceroyalty. First among these were the audiencias, which were primarily superior tribunals, but which also had administrative and legislative functions. Each of these was responsible to the Viceroy of New Spain in administrative matters (though not in judicial ones), but they also answered directly to the Council of the Indies. Audiencia districts further incorporated the older, smaller divisions known as governorates (gobernaciones, roughly equivalent to provinces), which had been originally established by conquistador-governors known as adelantados. Provinces, which were under military threat, were grouped into captaincies general, such as the Captaincies General of the Philippines (established 1574) and Guatemala (established in 1609) mentioned above, which were joint military and political commands with a certain level of autonomy. (The viceroy was captain-general of those provinces that remained directly under his command).

At the local level there were over two hundred districts, in both Indian and Spanish areas, which were headed by either a corregidor (also known as an alcalde mayor) or a cabildo (town council), both of which had judicial and administrative powers. In the late 18th century the Bourbon dynasty began phasing out the corregidores and introduced intendants, whose broad fiscal powers cut into the authority of the viceroys, governors and cabildos. Despite their late creation, these intendancies had such an impact in the formation of regional identity that they became the basis for the nations of Central America and the first Mexican states after independence.


The high courts or audiencias were established in major areas of Spanish settlement. In New Spain the high court was established in 1527, prior to the establishment of the viceroyalty. The First Audiencia was headed by Hernán Cortés's rival Nuño de Guzmán, who used the court to deprive Cortés of power and property. The First Audiencia was dissolved and the Second Audiencia established.[120]

Audiencias with dates of creation:

1. Santo Domingo (1511, effective 1526, predated the Viceroyalty)
2. Mexico (1527, predated the Viceroyalty)
3. Panama (1st one, 1538–1543)
4. Guatemala (1543)
5. Guadalajara (1548)
6. Manila (1583)

Autonomous captaincies general[edit]

With dates of creation:

1. Santo Domingo (1535)

2. Philippines (1574)

3. Puerto Rico (1580)

4. Cuba (1607)
- which included Spanish Florida, or La Florida, in North America

5. Guatemala (1609)

6. Yucatán (1617)

7. Commandancy General of the Provincias Internas (1776) (Analogous to a dependent captaincy general.)


As part of the sweeping eighteenth-century administrative and economic changes known as the Bourbon Reforms, the Spanish crown created new administrative units called intendancies. In New Spain, these units generally corresponded to the regions or provinces that had developed earlier in the Center, South, and North. In turn, many of the intendancy boundaries became Mexican state boundaries after independence.

Year of Creation[121][122] Intendancy
1764 Havana (Presumably, the West Florida intendancy fits here.)
1766 New Orleans
1784 Puerto Rico
1786 Mexico
San Salvador
Puerto Príncipe (separated from the Intendancy of Havana)
Santiago de Cuba (separated from the Intendency of Havana)
1787 Guanajuato
San Luis Potosí
1789 Mérida


In the era of the conquest, order to pay off the debts incurred by the conquistadors and their companies, the new Spanish governors awarded their men grants of native tribute and labor, known as encomiendas. In New Spain these grants were modeled after the tribute and corvee labor that the Mexica rulers had demanded from native communities. This system came to signify the oppression and exploitation of natives, although its originators may not have set out with such intent. In short order the upper echelons of patrons and priests in the society lived off the work of the lower classes. Due to some horrifying instances of abuse against the indigenous peoples, Bishop Bartolomé de las Casas suggested bringing black slaves to replace them. Fray Bartolomé later repented when he saw the even worse treatment given to the black slaves.

In Peru, the other discovery that perpetuated this system of forced labor was the enormously rich single silver mine discovered at Potosí. But in New Spain, with the exception of silver mines worked in the Aztec period at Taxco, southwest of Tenochtitlan, the colonial mining region was outside the area of dense indigenous settlement. Labor for the mines in the north of Mexico were worked by black slave labor and indigenous wage labor, not draft labor.[123] Indigenous who were drawn to the mining areas were from different regions of the center of Mexico, with a few from the north itself. With such diversity they did not have a common ethnic identity or language and rapidly assimilated to Hispanic culture. Although mining was difficult and dangerous, the wages were good, which is what drew the indigenous labor.[124]

The Viceroyalty of New Spain was the principal source of income for Spain among the Spanish colonies, with important mining centers like Zacatecas, Guanajuato, San Luis Potosí and Hidalgo. Cacao and indigo were also important exports for the New Spain, but was used through rather the vice royalties rather than contact with European countries due to piracy, and smuggling.[125] The indigo industry in particular also helped to temporarily unite communities throughout the Kingdom of Guatemala due to the smuggling.[126]

There were two major ports in New Spain, Veracruz the viceroyalty's principal port on the Atlantic, and Acapulco on the Pacific, terminus of the Manila Galleon. In the Philippines Manila near the South China Sea was the main port. The ports were fundamental for overseas trade, stretching a trade route from Asia, through the Manila Galleon to the Spanish mainland.

These were ships that made voyages from the Philippines to Mexico, whose goods were then transported overland from Acapulco to Veracruz and later reshipped from Veracruz to Cádiz in Spain. So then, the ships that set sail from Veracruz were generally loaded with merchandise from the East Indies originating from the commercial centers of the Philippines, plus the precious metals and natural resources of Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. During the 16th century, Spain held the equivalent of US$1.5 trillion (1990 terms) in gold and silver received from New Spain.

However, these resources did not translate into development for the Metropolis (mother country) due to Spanish Roman Catholic Monarchy's frequent preoccupation with European wars (enormous amounts of this wealth were spent hiring mercenaries to fight the Protestant Reformation), as well as the incessant decrease in overseas transportation caused by assaults from companies of British buccaneers, Dutch corsairs and pirates of various origin. These companies were initially financed by, at first, by the Amsterdam stock market, the first in history and whose origin is owed precisely to the need for funds to finance pirate expeditions, as later by the London market. The above is what some authors call the "historical process of the transfer of wealth from the south to the north."


The role of epidemics[edit]

Spanish settlers brought to the American continent smallpox, typhoid fever, and other diseases. Most of the Spanish settlers had developed an immunity to these diseases from childhood, but the indigenous peoples lacked the needed antibodies since these diseases were totally alien to the native population at the time. There were at least three, separate, major epidemics that decimated the population: smallpox (1520 to 1521), measles (1545 to 1548) and typhus (1576 to 1581). In the course of the 16th century, the native population in Mexico went from an estimated pre-Columbian population of 8 to 20 million to less than two million. Therefore, at the start of the 17th century, continental New Spain was a depopulated country with abandoned cities and maize fields. These diseases would not have a similar impact in the Philippines because the diseases are already present in the country since pre-Hispanic Filipinos had contact with other foreign nationalities before the arrival of the Spaniards.

The role of interracial mixing[edit]

Main article: Casta
Español and Mulata with their Morisco children.

Following the Spanish conquests, new ethnic groups were created, primary among them the Mestizo. The Mestizo population emerged as a result of the Spanish colonizers having children with indigenous women, both within and outside of wedlock, which brought about the mixing of both cultures. Many of the Spanish colonists were men with no wives and took partners from the indigenous population.

Initially, if a child was born in wedlock, the child was considered, and raised as, a member of the prominent parent's ethnicity. (See Hyperdescent and Hypodescent.) Because of this, the term "Mestizo" was associated with illegitimacy. Mestizos do not appear in large numbers in official censuses until the second half of the 17th century, when a sizable and stable community of mixed-race people with no claims to being either Indian or Spanish appeared, although, of course, a large population of biological Mestizos had already existed for over a century in Mexico.

The Spanish conquest also brought the migration of people of African descent to the many regions of the Viceroyalty. Some came as free blacks, but vast majority came because of the introduction of African slavery. As the native population was decimated by epidemics and forced labor, black slaves were imported. Mixes with Europeans and indigenous peoples also occurred, resulting in the creation of new racial categories such as Mulattos and Zambos to account for these offspring. As with the term Mestizo, these other terms were associated with illegitimacy, since a majority—though not all—of these people were born outside of wedlock.

Mestizo and India with their Coyote children.

Eventually a caste system was created to describe the various mixes and to assign them a different social level. In theory, each different mix had a name and different sets of privileges or prohibitions. In reality, mixed-race people were able to negotiate various racial and ethnic identities (often several ones at different points in their lives) depending on the family ties and wealth they had. In its general outline, the system reflected reality. The upper echelons of government were staffed by Spaniards born in Spain (peninsulares), the middle and lower levels of government and other higher paying jobs were held by Criollos (Criollos were "Spaniards" born in the Americas, or—as permitted by the casta system—"Spaniards" with some Amerindian or even other ancestry.[127]) The best lands were owned by Peninsulares and Criollos, with Native communities for the most part relegated to marginal lands. Mestizos and Mulattos held artisanal positions and unskilled laborers were either more mixed people, such as Zambos, recently freed slaves or Natives who had left their communities and settled in areas with large Hispanic populations. Native populations tended to have their own legally recognized communities (the repúblicas de indios) with their own social and economic hierarchies. This rough sketch must be complicated by the fact that not only did exceptions exist, but also that all these "racial" categories represented social conventions, as demonstrated by the fact that many persons were assigned a caste based on hyperdescent or hypodescent.

Even if mixes were common, the white population tried to keep their higher status, and were largely successful in doing so. With Mexican and Central American independence, the caste system and slavery were theoretically abolished. However, it can be argued that the Criollos simply replaced the Peninsulares in terms of power. Thus, for example, in modern Mexico, while Mestizos no longer have a separate legal status from other groups, they comprise approximately 65% of the population.[128] White people, who also no longer have a special legal status, are thought to be about 9–18% of the population,.[128] In modern Mexico, "Mestizo" has become more a cultural term, since Indigenous people who abandon their traditional ways are considered Mestizos. Also, most Afro-Mexicans prefer to be considered Mestizo, since they identify closely with this group. (See also, Demographics of Mexico.)

The population of New Spain in 1810[edit]

Population estimates from the first decade of the 19th century varied between 6,122,354 as calculated by Francisco Navarro y Noriega in 1810,[129] to 6.5 million as figured by Alexander von Humboldt in 1808.[130] Navarro y Noriega figured that half of his estimate constituted indigenous peoples. More recent data suggests that the actual population of New Spain in 1810 was closer to 5 or 5.5 million individuals.[131]


Because the Roman Catholic Church had played such an important role in the Reconquista (Christian reconquest) of the Iberian peninsula from the Moors, the Church in essence became another arm of the Spanish government. The Spanish Crown granted it a large role in the administration of the state, and this practice became even more pronounced in the New World, where prelates often assumed the role of government officials. In addition to the Church's explicit political role, the Catholic faith became a central part of Spanish identity after the conquest of last Muslim kingdom in the peninsula, the Emirate of Granada, and the expulsion of all Jews who did not convert to Christianity.

Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza and Tlaxcalan Indians battle with the Caxcanes

The conquistadors brought with them many missionaries to promulgate the Catholic religion. Amerindians were taught the Roman Catholic religion and the language of Spain. Initially, the missionaries hoped to create a large body of Amerindian priests, but this did not come to be. Moreover, efforts were made to keep the Amerindian cultural aspects which did not violate the Catholic traditions. As an example, most Spanish priests committed themselves to learn the most important Amerindian languages (especially during the 16th century) and wrote grammars so that the missionaries could learn the languages and preach in them. This was similarly practiced by the French colonists.

At first, conversion seemed to be happening rapidly. The missionaries soon found that most of the natives had simply adopted "the god of the heavens", as they called the Christian god,[citation needed] as just another one of their many gods[citation needed]. While they often held the Christian god to be an important deity because it was the god of the victorious conquerors, they did not see the need to abandon their old beliefs. As a result, a second wave of missionaries began an effort to completely erase the old beliefs, which they associated with the ritualized human sacrifice found in many of the native religions, eventually putting an end to this practice common before the arrival of the Spaniards. In the process many artifacts of pre-Columbian Mesoamerican culture were destroyed. Hundreds of thousands of native codices were burned, native priests and teachers were persecuted, and the temples and statues of the old gods were torn down. Even some foods associated with the native religions, like amaranth, were forbidden.

Many clerics, such as Bartolomé de las Casas, also tried to protect the natives from de facto and actual enslavement to the settlers, and obtained from the Crown decrees and promises to protect native Mesoamericans, most notably the New Laws. Unfortunately, the royal government was too far to fully enforce them, and many abuses against the natives, even among the clergy, continued. Eventually, the Crown declared the natives to be legal minors and placed under the guardianship of the Crown, which was responsible for their indoctrination. It was this status that barred the native population from the priesthood. During the following centuries, under Spanish rule, a new culture developed that combined the customs and traditions of the indigenous peoples with that of Catholic Spain. Numerous churches and other buildings were constructed by native labor in the Spanish style, and cities were named after various saints or religious topics such as San Luis Potosí (after Saint Louis) and Vera Cruz (the True Cross).

The Spanish Inquisition, and its New Spanish counterpart, the Mexican Inquisition, continued to operate in the viceroyalty until Mexico declared its independence. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the Inquisition worked with the viceregal government to block the diffusion of liberal ideas during the Enlightenment and the revolutionary republican and democratic ideas of the United States War of Independence and the French Revolution.


The Viceroyalty of New Spain was one of the principal centers of European cultural expansion in the Americas. The viceroyalty was the basis for a racial and cultural mosaic of the Spanish American colonial period.

The first printing press in the New World was brought to Mexico in 1539, by printer Juan Pablos (Giovanni Paoli). The first book printed in Mexico was entitled La escala espiritual de San Juan Clímaco. In 1568, Bernal Díaz del Castillo finished La Historia Verdadera de la Conquista de la Nueva España. Figures such as Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz and Juan Ruiz de Alarcón stand out as some of the viceroyalty's most notable contributors to Spanish Literature. In 1693, Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora published El Mercurio Volante, the first newspaper in New Spain.

Architects Pedro Martínez Vázquez and Lorenzo Rodriguez produced some fantastically extravagant and visually frenetic architecture known as Mexican Churrigueresque in the capital, Ocotlan, Puebla or remote silver-mining towns. Composers including Manuel de Zumaya, Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla, and Antonio de Salazar were active from the early 1500s through the Baroque period of music.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Clarence Haring, The Spanish Empire in America. New York: Oxford University Press 1947.
  2. ^ Ida Altman et al. The Early History of Greater Mexico. Pearson 2003.
  3. ^ Clarence Haring, The Spanish Empire in America. New York: Oxford University Press 1947, 7, 105.
  4. ^ Peggy K. Liss, Mexico Under Spain: Society and the Origins of Nationality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press 1975, p. 33.
  5. ^ Haring, The Spanish Empire in America, p. 7
  6. ^ Clarence Haring, The Spanish Empire in America. New York: Oxford University Press 1947, p. 7.
  7. ^ LANIC: Colección Juan Bautista Muñoz. Archivo de la Real Academia de la Historia – España. (in Spanish)
  8. ^ Selections from the National Library of Spain: Conquista del Reino de Nueva Galicia en la América Septrentrional..., Texas, Sonora, Sinaloa, con noticias de la California. (Conquest of the Kingdom of New Galicia in North America..., Texas, Sonora, Sinaloa, with news of California). (in Spanish)
  9. ^ Cervantes Virtual: Historia de la conquista de México (in Spanish)
  10. ^ Worldcat: Historia de la conquista de México, poblacion y progresos de la América Septentrional, conocida por el nombre de Nueva España (in Spanish)
  11. ^ "Viceroyalty of New Spain (historical territory, Mexico) - Encyclopedia Britannica". Retrieved 2013-07-08. 
  12. ^ James Lockhart and Stuart Schwartz, Early Latin America. New York: Cambridge University Press 1983, pp. 61-85
  13. ^ The Spanish called their overseas empire "the Indies" until the end of its empire, a remnant of Columbus's assertion that he had reached the Far East, rather than a New World.
  14. ^ James Lockhart and Stuart Schwartz, Early Latin America. New York: Cambridge University Press 1983, pp.61-71.
  15. ^ Lockhart and Schwartz, Early Latin America p. 86, map. 4.
  16. ^ James Lockhart and Stuart Schwartz, Early Latin America, New York: Cambridge University Press 1983, pp. 86-92
  17. ^ Ida Altman et al. The Early History of Greater Mexico, Pearson 2003: pp. 65-66.
  18. ^ James Lockhart and Ida Altman, eds. Provinces of Early Mexico, Los Angeles: UCLA Latin American Center 1976.
  19. ^ James Lockhart and Ida Altman, eds. The Provinces of Early Mexico, Los Angeles, UCLA Latin American Center 1976.
  20. ^ Eric Van Young, “Are Regions Good to Think?” in Eric Van Young, ed. ‘’Mexico’s Regions’’. Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies, UCSD 1992.
  21. ^ Carlos Monsivaís 1992. “’Just Over That Hill’”: Notes on Centralism and Regional Cultures” in Eric Van Young, ed. Mexico’s Regions. Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies, UCSD, pp. 247-254.
  22. ^ Eric Van Young, “Are Regions Good to Think?” in Eric Van Young, ed. Mexico’s Regions. San Diego: Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies, UCSD, p. 3 n.3.
  23. ^ Eric Van Young, “Introduction to the 25th Anniversary Edition” in Hacienda and Market in Eighteenth-Century Mexico, 2nd edition. 2006 p. xxviii.
  24. ^ James Lockhart, “Introduction”, The Provinces of Early Mexico, Los Angeles: UCLA Latin American Center 1976.
  25. ^ Arij Ouweneel, Shadows over Anahuac: An Ecological Interpretation of Crisis and Development in Central Mexcio, 1730-1800, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press 1997, map 2 p. 6; p. 288 .
  26. ^ James Lockhart “Trunk lines and feeder lines: The Spanish Reaction to American Resources”, in James Lockhart, Of Things of the Indies: Essays Old and New in Early Latin American History, Stanford: Stanford University Press 1991
  27. ^ Bruce A. Castleman, Building the King’s Highway: Labor, Society, and Family on Mexico’s Caminos Reales 1757-1804. Tucson: University of Arizona Press 2005 p. 10
  28. ^ John H. Coatsworth, “Economic and Institutional Trajectories in Nineteenth-Century Latin America,” in Latin America and the World Economy since 1800, John H. Coatsworth and Alan M. Taylor, eds. Cambridge, MA: David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, Harvard University, 1998, p. 34.
  29. ^ Castleman, ibid. 31
  30. ^ Ouweneel, ibid. p.90
  31. ^ Ouweneel, ibid. p.68
  32. ^ Ouweneel, p. 67 quoting Alexander von Humboldt.
  33. ^ Patrick J. Carroll, Blacks in Colonial Veracruz: Race, Ethnicity, and Regional Development. Austin: University of Texas Press 1991, p.3.
  34. ^ Patrick Carroll, “Black Laborers and Their Experience in Colonial Jalapa” in Elsa Cecilia Frost et al., El trabajo y los trabajadores, Mexico: El Colegio de Mexico and Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1979, p. 124.
  35. ^ Peter Gerhard, The Historical Geography of New Spain, 2nd edition, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press 1993, p. 205.
  36. ^ Gerhard ibid., 83-85.
  37. ^ Gerhard, ibid. 206.
  38. ^ Patrick J. Carroll, Blacks in Colonial Veracruz, Austin: University of Texas Press 1979, p. 93.
  39. ^ Ouweneel, ibid. pp. 188-89.
  40. ^ Susan Deans-Smith, Bureaucrats, Planters, and Workers: The Making of the Tobacco Monopoly in Bourbon Mexico, Austin: University of Texas Press 1992. This is the definitive study of the tobacco monopoly.
  41. ^ Deans-Smith, ibid. p. 106.
  42. ^ Deans-Smith, ibid. p. 157.
  43. ^ Peter Gerhard, The Historical Geography of New Spain, 2nd edition. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press 1993, pp. 220–224.
  44. ^ Charles Gibson, Tlaxcala in the Sixteenth Century, New Haven: Yale University Press 1952, pp. 55–56.
  45. ^ Jonathan I. Israel. Race, Class, and Politics in Colonial Mexico, New York: Oxford University Press 1975, p. 219.
  46. ^ Guy P.C. Thomson, Puebla de Los Angeles: Industry and Society in a Mexican City, 1700–1850. Westview Press 1989, p. 16.
  47. ^ Julia Hirshberg, "Social Experiments in New Spain: A Prosopographical Study of the Early Settlement at Puebla de Los Angeles, 1531–1534", Hispanic American Historical Review vol. 59, 1979, pp. 1–33.
  48. ^ Hirshberg, ibid.
  49. ^ Thomson, ibid. p. 6.
  50. ^ Thomson, ibid. p. 12.
  51. ^ Guy P.C. Thomson, Puebla de los Angeles: Industry and Society in a Mexican City, 1700–1850. Westview Press 1989, citing Pierre Chaunu Seville et l’Atlantique 1504–1650, Pt. 2, vol. VIII 1959, 714.
  52. ^ Ida Altman, Transatlantic Ties in the Spanish Empire: Brihuega, Spain & Puebla, Mexico, 1560–1620. Stanford University Press 2000, 51.
  53. ^ Altman, ibid. p. 62.
  54. ^ Richard Salvucci, Textiles and Capitalism in Mexico: An Economic History of the Obraje, Princeton: Princeton University Press 1987, p. 80.
  55. ^ Charles Gibson, ‘’The Aztecs Under Spanish Rule: A History of the Indians of the Valley of Mexico, 1519-1810’’, Stanford: Stanford University Press 1964.
  56. ^ James Lockhart, ‘’The Nahuas After the Conquest: A Social and Cultural History of the Indians of Mexico, Sixteenth Through Eighteenth Centuries’’, Stanford: University of Stanford Press 1992.
  57. ^ Charles Gibson, ‘’Aztecs Unders Spanish Rule’’, Stanford: Stanford University Press 1964, p. 409.
  58. ^ S.L. Cline, “A Cacicazgo in the Seventeenth Century: The Case of Xochimilco” in ‘’Land and Politics in the Valley of Mexico’’, H.R. Harvey, ed. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press 1991, pp. 265-274.
  59. ^ Teresa Rojas Rabiela, “Ecological and Agricultural Changes in the Chinampas of Xochimilco-Chalco,” in ‘’Land and Politics in the Valley of Mexico’’, H.R. Harvey, ed. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press 1991, pp. 275-290.
  60. ^ Leslie Lewis, “In Mexico City’s Shadow: Some Aspects of Economic Activity and Social Processes in Texcoco, 1570-1620”, in ‘’The Provinces of Early Mexico’’, James Lockhart and Ida Altman, eds. Los Angeles: UCLA Latin American Center Publications 1976, pp. 125-136
  61. ^ David M. Szewczyk, “New Elements in the Society of Tlaxcala, 1519-1618”, in ‘’The Provinces of Early Mexico’’, James Lockhart and Ida Altman, eds. Los Angeles: UCLA Latin American Center Publications 1976, pp. 137-154.
  62. ^ John Tutino, 1986. ‘’From Insurrection to Revolution: Social Bases of Agrarian Violence 1750-1940’’, Princeton: Princeton University Press 1986, pp. 52-54.
  63. ^ D. A. Brading, ‘’Haciendas and Ranchos in the Mexican Bajío: León 1700-1860’’, New York: Cambridge University Press 1978, 76-77.
  64. ^ John Tutino, “Life and Labor on North Mexican Haciendas,” in Elsa Cecilia Frost et al. eds., ‘’El trabajo y los trabajadores en la historia de México’’. El Colegio de México y University of Arizona Press 1979, pp. 339-378.
  65. ^ John Tutino, “Life and Labor Life and Labor on North Mexican Haciendas,” in Elsa Cecilia Frost et al. eds., ‘’El trabajo y los trabajadores en la historia de México’’. El Colegio de México y University of Arizona Press 1979, pp. 354.
  66. ^ Tutino, “Life and Labor,” ibid. p. 364.
  67. ^ Tutino, ibid. p. 363.
  68. ^ Tutino, ibid. p. 366.
  69. ^ Tutino, ibid. p. 364
  70. ^ John Francis Bannon, The Spanish Borderlands Frontier: 1513-1821 Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press 1974.
  71. ^ David. J. Weber, ed. The Idea of the Spanish Borderlands New York: Garland Publishers 1991
  72. ^ Herbert Eugene Bolton, ed. Spanish Explorations in the Southwest, 1542-1706 New York: Barnes and Noble, 1956
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  78. ^ Joseph P. Sanchez and Robert L. Spude, New Mexico: A History (2013) ch 2-3
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  80. ^ Gonzales, Phillip B. "Struggle for survival: the Hispanic land grants of New Mexico, 1848-2001." Agricultural History (2003) 77#2: 293-324.
  81. ^ David J. Weber (1992). The Spanish Frontier in North America. Yale UP. p. 242. ISBN 0300059175. 
  82. ^ Robinson, William Wilcox. Land in California: the story of mission lands, ranchos, squatters, mining claims, railroad grants, land scrip and homesteads Univ of California Press, 1979.
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  84. ^ Marta Espejo Ponce Hunt, "The Processes of the Development of Yucatan, 1600–1700", in Ida Altman and James Lockhart, The Provinces of Early Mexico: Variants of Spanish American Regional Evolution, Los Angeles: UCLA Latin American Center 1976, pp. 59–60.
  85. ^ Hunt, ibid., 38–42.
  86. ^ Hunt, ibid. pp. 39, 59–60.
  87. ^ Hunt, ibid. pp. 50–51.
  88. ^ Hunt, ibid. p. 33–51
  89. ^ Matthew Restall,The Black Middle: Africans, Mayas, and Spaniards in Colonial Yucatan, Stanford: Stanford University Press 2009.
  90. ^ Hunt, ibid., pp. 42–46.
  91. ^ Matthew Restall, The Maya World: Yucatec Culture and Society, 1550–1850. Stanford: Stanford University Press, p. 185.
  92. ^ Nancy Farriss, Maya Society under Colonial Rule: The Collective Enterprise of Survival, Princeton: Princeton University Press 1984, p. 266. Emphasis in the original.
  93. ^ Farriss, ibid. p. 267
  94. ^ Farriss ibid. p. 270
  95. ^ Gerhard, ibid. pp. 50–52
  96. ^ Nelson Reed, The Caste War of Yucatan, Stanford: Stanford University Press 1964.
  97. ^ Jeremy Baskes, Indians, Merchants, and Markets: A Reinterpretation of the Repartimiento and Spanish-Indian Economic Relations in Colonial Oaxaca 1750–1821. Stanford University Press 2000, 186.
  98. ^ Brian R. Hamnett says that "José de Gálvez considered Oaxaca one of New Spain's richest provinces." Politics and Trade in Southern Mexico 1750–1821. Cambridge University Press 1971, 40.
  99. ^ The crown sold public offices, with their purchasers expecting to quickly recoup the costs. For a complete chart, see Hamnett, ibid., p.16.
  100. ^ Carlos Marichal, "Mexican Cochineal and the European Demand for American Dyes, 1550–1850", in From Silver to Cocaine: Latin American Commodity Chains and the Building of the World Economy, 1500–2000, Steven Topik, Carlos Marichal, and Zephyr Frank, eds. Durham: Duke University Press 2006, pp. 76–92.
  101. ^ Baskes, ibid. p. 185. He suggests the crown restricted its production to Oaxaca until 1819, which likely contributed to artificially high prices.
  102. ^ John Chance, Conquest of the Sierra: Spaniards and Indians in Colonial Oaxaca, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press 1989, 121.
  103. ^ Baskes, ibid. pp. 18–19.
  104. ^ For instance, Chance ibid. pp. 121–22.
  105. ^ Peter Gerhard, The Historical Geography of New Spain, 2nd edition. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, p. 264.
  106. ^ The crown did not wish to have the main west coast port in private hands and an agreement was worked out with Cortés heir, Don Martín Cortés, to relinquish the Tehuantepec encomienda. Gerhard ibid., 265.
  107. ^ Judith Francis Zeitlin, Cultural Politics in Colonial Tehuantepec: Community and State among the Isthmus Zapotec, 1500–1750. Stanford: Stanford University Press 2005, xiv-xv.
  108. ^ Peter Gerhard, The Historical Geography of New Spain, 2nd edition, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, p. 264.
  109. ^ Lolita Gutiérrez Brockington, The Leverage of Labor: Managing the Cortés Haciendas of Tehuantepec, 1588–1688. Durham: Duke University Press 1989.
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  111. ^ Gutierrez Brockington, ibid. p. 9
  112. ^ Zeitlin, "Ranchers and Indians," ibid., p. 55.
  113. ^ Zeitlin, "Ranchers and Indians," ibid.
  114. ^ Gutierrez Brockington ibid., p. 15.
  115. ^ Gutierrez Brockington, ibid. p. 16.
  116. ^ Zeitlin, Cultural Politics in Colonial Tehuantepec, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005, esp. chapter 5.
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  121. ^ Harding, C. H., The Spanish Empire in America. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1947), 133–135
  122. ^ Lombardi, Cathryn L., John V. Lombardi and K. Lynn Stoner, Latin American History: A Teaching Atlas. (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1983), 50. ISBN 0-299-09714-5
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  124. ^ Altman et al., ibid. p. 172.
  125. ^ Foster, Lynn V. (2000). A Brief History of Central America.. New York: Facts On File, Inc. ISBN 0-8160-3962-3. pp. 101-103
  126. ^ Foster 2000, pp. 101-103.
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Further reading[edit]

  • Altman, Ida and James Lockhart, eds. The Provinces of Early Mexico (UCLA Latin American Center 1976)
  • Altman, Ida, Sarah Cline, and Javier Pescador, The Early History of Greater Mexico (Pearson 2003)
  • Bakewell, P.J. A History of Latin America (Oxford U.P., 1997)
  • Bethell, Leslie, ed. The Cambridge History of Latin America (Vols. 1–2. Cambridge UP, 1984)
  • Cañeque, Alejandro. "The Political and Institutional History of Colonial Spanish America" History Compass (April 2013) 114 pp 280–291, DOI: 10.1111/hic3.12043
  • Collier, Simon. From Cortes to Castro: An Introduction to the History of Latin America, 1492–1973 (1974)
  • Gibson, Charles. The Aztecs Under Spanish Rule: A History of the Indians of the Valley of Mexico, 1519-1810. (Stanford University Press 1964).
  • Haring, Clarence Henry. The Spanish Empire in America (Oxford UP, 1947)
  • Liss, Peggy K. Mexico under Spain. 1521–1556 (1975)
  • Lockhart, James. Spanish Peru, 1532–1560: A Colonial Society (University of Wisconsin Press 1974)
  • Lockhart, James. The Nahuas After the Conquest (Stanford University Press)
  • Lockhart, James, and Stuart B. Schwartz. Early Latin America (1984)
  • Muldoon, James. The Americas in The Spanish World Order (1994)
  • Parry, J.H. The Spanish Seaborne Empire (1974)
  • Parry, J.H. The Spanish Theory of Empire in the Sixteenth Century (1974)
  • Stein, Barbara H., and Stanley J. Stein. Crisis in an Atlantic Empire: Spain and New Spain, 1808-1810 (Johns Hopkins University Press; 2014) 808 pages.
  • Weber, David J. (1992). The Spanish Frontier in North America. Yale UP. ISBN 0300059175. 

External links[edit]