Introduction. Worlds Overseas

`On how much better the land seems from the sea than the sea from the land!" The Spanish official who crossed the Atlantic in 1573 can hardly have been alone in his sentiments. After anything up to twelve weeks tossing on the high seas, the European emigrants - more than 1.5 million of them between 1500 and 1780s2 - who stumbled uncertainly onto American soil must have felt in the first instance an overwhelming sense of relief. `We were sure', wrote Maria Diaz from Mexico City in 1577 to her daughter in Seville, `that we were going to perish at sea, because the storm was so strong that the ship's mast snapped. Yet in spite of all these travails, God was pleased to bring us to port ...'3 Some fifty years later Thomas Shepard, a Puritan minister emigrating to New England, wrote after surviving a tempest: `This deliverance was so great that I then did think if ever the Lord did bring me to shore again I should live like one come and risen from the dead. '4

Differences of creed and of national origin paled before the universality of experience that brought emigrants three thousand miles or more from their European homelands to a new and strange world on the farther shores of the Atlantic. Fear and relief, apprehension and hope, were sentiments that knew no cultural boundaries. The motives of emigrants were various - to work (or alternatively not to work), to escape an old society or build a new one, to acquire riches, or, as early colonists in New England expressed it, to secure a 'competen- cie's - but they all faced the same challenge of moving from the known to the unknown, and of coming to terms with an alien environment that would demand of them numerous adjustments and a range of new responses.

Yet, to a greater or lesser degree, those reponses would be shaped by a home culture whose formative influence could never be entirely escaped, even by those who were most consciously rejecting it for a new life beyond the seas. Emigrants to the New World brought with them too much cultural baggage for it to be lightly discarded in their new American environment. It was, in any event, only by reference to the familiar that they could make some sense of the unfamiliar that lay all around them.6 They therefore constructed for themselves new societies which, even when different in intent from those they left behind them in Europe, unmistakably replicated many of the most characteristic features of metropolitan societies as they knew - or imagined - them at the time of their departure.

It is not therefore surprising that David Hume, in his essay Of National Characters, should have asserted that `the same set of manners will follow a nation, and adhere to them over the whole globe, as well as the same laws and languages. The Spanish, English, French and Dutch colonies, are all distinguishable even between the tropics." Nature, as he saw it, could never extinguish nurture. Yet contemporaries with first-hand experience of the new colonial societies in process of formation on the other side of the Atlantic were in no doubt that they deviated in important respects from their mother countries. While eighteenthcentury European observers might explain the differences by reference to a process of degeneration that was allegedly inherent in the American environment" for them at least the fact of deviation was not in itself in dispute. Nature as well as nurture had formed the new colonial worlds.

In practice, the colonization of the Americas, like all colonization, consisted of a continuous interplay between imported attitudes and skills, and often intractable local conditions which might well impose themselves to the extent of demanding from the colonists responses that differed markedly from metropolitan norms. The result was the creation of colonial societies which, while 'distinguishable' from each other, to use Hume's formulation, were also distinguishable from the metropolitan communities from which they had sprung. New Spain was clearly not old Spain, nor was New England old England.

Attempts have been made to explain the differences between imperial metropolis and peripheral colony in terms both of the push of the old and the pull of the new In an influential work published in 1964 Louis Hartz depicted the new overseas societies as `fragments of the larger whole of Europe struck off in the course of the revolution which brought the west into the modern world'. Having spun off at a given moment from their metropolitan societies of origin, they evinced the `immobilities of fragmentation', and were programmed for ever not only by the place but also by the time of their origin.9 Their salient characteristics were those of their home societies at the moment of their conception, and when the home societies moved on to new stages of development, their colonial offshoots were caught in a time-warp from which they were unable to break free.

Hartz's immobile colonial societies were the antithesis of the innovative colonial societies that Frederick Jackson Turner and his followers saw as emerging in response to `frontier' conditions.1° A frontier, they argued, stimulated invention and a rugged individualism, and was the most important element in the formation of a distinctively `American' character. In this hypothesis, both widely accepted and widely criticized," `American' was synonymous with `North American'. The universality of frontiers, however, made the hypothesis readily extendable to other parts of the globe. If such a phenomenon as a `frontier spirit' exists, there seems in principle no good reason why it should not be found in those regions of the New World settled by the Spaniards and the Portuguese as well as by the British.'2 This realization lay behind the famous plea made in 1932 by Herbert Bolton, the historian of the American borderlands, for historians to write an `epic of Greater America' - an enterprise that would take as fundamental the premise that the Americas shared a common history.13

Yet Bolton's plea never evoked the response for which he hoped.14 The sheer scale of the proposed enterprise was no doubt too daunting, and caution was reinforced by scepticism as over-arching explanations like the frontier hypothesis failed to stand the test of investigation on the ground. Dialogue between historians of the different Americas had never been close, and it was still further reduced as a generation of historians of British North America examined in microscopic detail aspects of the history of individual colonies, or - increasingly - of one or other of the local communities of which these colonies were composed. The growing parochialism, which left the historian of colonial Virginia barely within hailing distance of the historian of New England, and consigned the Middle Colonies (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware) to a middle that had no outer edges, offered little chance of a serious exchange of ideas between historians of British America and those of other parts of the continent. Simultaneously the historians of Iberian America - the Mexicanists, the Brazilianists and the Andeanists - pursued their separate paths, with all too little reference to each other's findings. Where the history of the Americas was concerned, professionalization and atomization moved in tandem.

An `epic of Greater America' becomes more elusive with each new monograph and every passing year. In spite of this, there has been a growing realization that certain aspects of local experience in any one part of the Americas can be fully appreciated only if set into a wider context, whether pan-American or Atlantic in its scope. This view has had a strong influence on the study of slavery," and is currently giving a new impetus to discussions of the process of European migration to the New World.16 Implicitly or explicitly such discussions involve an element of comparison, and comparative history may prove a useful device for helping to reassemble the fragmented history of the Americas into a new and more coherent pattern.

An outsider to American history, the great classical historian Sir Ronald Syme observed in a brief comparative survey of colonial elites that `the Spanish and English colonies afford obvious contrasts', and he found an `engaging topic of speculation' in their `divergent fortunes'.17 These `obvious contrasts' inspired a suggestive, if flawed, attempt in the 1970s to pursue them at some length. James Lang, after examining the two empires in turn in his Conquest and Commerce. Spain and England in the Americas,18 defined Spain's empire in America as an `empire of conquest', and Britain's as an `empire of commerce', a distinction that can be traced back to the eighteenth century. More recently, Claudio Veliz has sought the cultural origins of the divergence between British and Hispanic America in a comparison between two mythical animals - a Spanish baroque hedgehog and a Gothic fox. The comparison, while ingenious, is not, however, persuasive.19

Comparative history is - or should be - concerned with similarities as well as differences '20 and a comparison of the history and culture of large and complicated political organisms that culminates in a series of sharp dichotomies is unlikely to do justice to the complexities of the past. By the same token, an insistence on similarity at the expense of difference is liable to be equally reductionist, since it tends to conceal diversity beneath a factitious unity. A comparative approach to the history of colonization requires the identification in equal measure of the points of similarity and contrast, and an attempt at explanation and analysis that does justice to both. Given the number of colonizing powers, however, and the multiplicity of the societies they established in the Americas, a sustained comparison embracing the entire New World is likely to defy the efforts of any individual historian. None the less, a more limited undertaking, which is confined, like the present one, to two European empires in the Americas, may suggest at least something of the possibilities, and the problems, inherent in a comparative approach.

In reality, even a comparison reduced to two empires proves to be far from straightforward. `British America' and, still more, `Spanish America' were large and diverse entities embracing on the one hand isolated Caribbean islands and, on the other, mainland territories, many of them remote from one another, and sharply differentiated by climate and geography. The climate of Virginia is not that of New England, nor is the topography of Mexico that of Peru. These differing regions, too, had their own distinctive pasts. When the first Europeans arrived, they found an America peopled in different ways, and at very different levels of density. Acts of war and settlement involved European intrusions into the space of existing indigenous societies; and even if Europeans chose to subsume the members of these societies under the convenient name of `Indian', their peoples differed among themselves at least as much as did the sixteenth-century inhabitants of England and Castile.

Variables of time existed too, as well as variables of place. As colonies grew and developed, so they changed. So also did the metropolitan societies that had given birth to them. In so far as the colonies were not isolated and self-contained units, but remained linked in innumerable ways to the imperial metropolis, they were not immune to the changes in values and customs that were occurring at home. Newcomers would continue to arrive from the mother country, bringing with them new attitudes and life-styles that permeated the societies in which they took up residence. Equally, books and luxury items imported from Europe would introduce new ideas and tastes. News, too, circulated with growing speed and frequency around an Atlantic world that was shrinking as communications improved.

Similarly, changing ideas and priorities at the centre of empire were reflected in changes in imperial policy, so that the third or fourth generation of settlers might well find itself operating within an imperial framework in which the assumptions and responses of the founding fathers had lost much of their former relevance. This in turn forced changes. There were obvious continuities between the America of the first English settlers and the British America of the mideighteenth century, but there were important discontinuities as well - discontinuities brought about by external and internal change alike. The `immobilities of fragmentation' detected by Louis Hartz were therefore relative at best. British and Spanish America, as the two units of comparison, did not remain static but changed over time.

It still remains plausible, however, that the moment of 'fragmentation'- of the founding of a colony - constituted a defining moment for the self-imagining, and consequently for the emerging character, of these overseas societies. Yet, if so, there are obvious difficulties in comparing communities founded at very different historical moments. Spain's first colonies in America were effectively established in the opening decades of the sixteenth century; England's in the opening decades of the seventeenth. The profound changes that occurred in European civilization with the coming of the Reformation inevitably had an impact not only on the metropolitan societies but also on colonizing policies and the colonizing process itself. A British colonization of North America undertaken at the same time as Spain's colonization of Central and South America would have been very different in character from the kind of colonization that occurred after a century that saw the establishment of Protestantism as the official faith in England, a notable reinforcement of the place of parliament in English national life, and changing European ideas about the proper ordering of states and their economies.

The effect of this time-lag is to inject a further complication into any process of comparison which seeks to assess the relative weight of nature and nurture in the development of British and Spanish territories overseas. The Spaniards were the pioneers in the settlement of America, and the English, arriving later, had the Spanish example before their eyes. While they might, or might not, avoid the mistakes made by the Spaniards, they were at least in a position to formulate their policies and procedures in the light of Spanish experience, and adjust them accordingly. The comparison, therefore, is not between two self-contained cultural worlds, but between cultural worlds that were well aware of each other's presence, and were not above borrowing each other's ideas when this suited their needs. If Spanish ideas of empire influenced the English in the sixteenth century, the Spaniards repaid the compliment by attempting to adopt British notions of empire in the eighteenth. Similar processes, too, could occur in the colonial societies themselves. Without the example of the British colonies before them, would the Spanish colonies have thought the previously unthinkable and declared their independence in the early nineteenth century?

When account is taken of all the variables introduced by place, time, and the effects of mutual interaction, any sustained comparison of the colonial worlds of Britain and Spain in America is bound to be imperfect. The movements involved in writing comparative history are not unlike those involved in playing the accordion. The two societies under comparison are pushed together, but only to be pulled apart again. Resemblances prove after all to be not as close as they look at first sight; differences are discovered which at first lay concealed. Comparison is therefore a constantly fluctuating process, which may well seem on closer inspection to offer less than it promises. This should not in itself, however, be sufficient to rule the attempt out of court. Even imperfect comparisons can help to shake historians out of their provincialisms, by provoking new questions and offering new perspectives. It is my hope that this book will do exactly that.

In my view the past is too complex, and too endlessly fascinating in its infinite variety, to be reduced to simple formulae. I have therefore rejected any attempt to squeeze different aspects of the histories of British and Spanish America into neat compartments that would allow their similarities and differences to be listed and offset. Rather, by constantly comparing, juxtaposing and interweaving the two stories, I have sought to reassemble a fragmented history, and display the development of these two great New World civilizations over the course of three centuries, in the hope that a light focused on one of them at a given moment will simultaneously cast a secondary beam over the history of the other.

Inevitably the attempt to write the history of large parts of a hemisphere over such a broad stretch of time means that much has been left out. While well aware that some of the most exciting scholarship in recent years has been devoted to the topic of African slavery in the Atlantic world and to the recovery of the past of the indigenous peoples of America, my principal focus has been the development of the settler societies and their relationship with their mother countries. This, I hope, will give some coherence to the story. I have, however, always tried to bear in mind that the developing colonial societies were shaped by the constant interaction of European and non-European peoples, and hope to have been able to suggest why, at particular times and in particular places, the interaction occurred as it did. Yet even in placing the prime emphasis on the settler communities, I was still forced to paint with a broad brush. The confinement of my story to Spanish, rather than Iberian, America means the almost total exclusion of the Portuguese settlement of Brazil, except for glancing references to the sixty-year period, from 1580 to 1640, when it formed part of Spain's global monarchy. In discussing British North America I have tried to allow some space to the Middle Colonies, the source of so much historical attention in recent years, but plead guilty to what will no doubt be regarded by many as excessive attention to New England and Virginia. I must also plead guilty, in writing of British and Spanish America alike, to devoting far more attention to the mainland colonies than to the Caribbean islands. Hard choices are inevitable in a work that ranges so widely over time and space.

Such a work necessarily depends very largely on the writings of others. There is now an immense literature on the history of the colonial societies of British and Spanish America alike, and I have had to pick my way through the publications of a large number of specialists, summarizing their findings as best I could in the relatively limited space at my disposal, and seeking to find a point of resolution between conflicting interpretations that neither distorts the conclusions of others, nor privileges those that fit most easily into a comparative framework. To all these works, and many others not cited in the notes or bibliography, I am deeply indebted, even when - and perhaps especially when - I disagree with them.

The idea for this book first came to me at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, at a moment when I felt that the time had come to move away from the history of Habsbsurg Spain and Europe, and take a harder look at Spain's interaction with its overseas possessions. As I had by then spent almost seventeen years in the United States, there seemed to me a certain logic in looking at colonial Spanish America in a context that would span the Atlantic and allow me to draw parallels between the American experiences of Spaniards and Britons. I am deeply indebted to colleagues and visiting members at the Institute who encouraged and assisted my first steps towards a survey of the two colonial empires, and also to friends and colleagues in the History Department of Princeton University. In particular I owe a debt of gratitude of Professors Stephen Innes and William B. Taylor, both of them former visiting members of the Institute, who invited me to the University of Virginia in 1989 to try out some of my early ideas in a series of seminars.

My return to England in 1990 to the Regius Chair of Modern History in Oxford meant that I largely had to put the project to one side for seven years, but I am grateful for a series of lecture invitations that enabled me to keep the idea alive and to develop some of the themes that have found a place in this book. Among these were the Becker Lectures at Cornell University in 1992, the Stenton Lecture at the University of Reading in 1993, and in 1994 the Radcliffe Lectures at the University of Warwick, a pioneer in the development of Comparative American studies in this country under the expert guidance of Professors Alistair Hennessy and Anthony McFarlane. I have also at various times benefited from careful and perceptive criticisms of individual lectures or articles by colleagues on both sides of the Atlantic, including Timothy Breen, Nicholas Canny, Jack Greene, John Murrin, Mary Beth Norton, Anthony Pagden and Michael Zuckerman. Josep Fradera of the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, and Manuel Lucena Giraldo of the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas in Madrid have been generous with their suggestions and advice on recent publications.

In Oxford itself, I learnt much from two of my graduate students, Kenneth Mills and Cayetana Alvarez de Toledo, working respectively on the histories of colonial Peru and New Spain. Retirement allowed me at last to settle down to the writing of the book, a task made much easier by the accessibility of the splendid Vere Harmsworth Library in Oxford's new Rothermere American Institute. As the work approached completion the visiting Harmsworth Professor of American History at Oxford for 2003-4, Professor Richard Beeman of the University of Pennsylvania, very generously offered to read through my draft text. I am enormously grateful to him for the close scrutiny he gave it, and for his numerous suggestions for its improvement, which I have done my best to follow

Edmund Morgan and David Weber commented generously on the text when it had reached its nearly final form, and I have also benefited from the comments of Jonathan Brown and Peter Bakewell on individual sections. At a late stage in the proceedings Philip Morgan devoted much time and thought to preparing a detailed list of suggestions and further references. While it was impossible to follow them all up in the time available to me, his suggestions have enriched the book, and have enabled me to see in a new light some of the questions I have sought to address.

In the final stages of the preparation of the book I am much indebted to SarahJane White, who gave generously of her time to put the bibliography into shape. I am grateful, too, to Bernard Dod and Rosamund Howe for their copy-editing, to Meg Davis for preparing the index and to Julia Ruxton for her indefatigable efforts in tracking down and securing the illustrations I suggested. At Yale University Press Robert Baldock has taken a close personal interest in the progress of the work, and has been consistently supportive, resourceful and encouraging. I am deeply grateful to him and his team, and in particular to Candida Brazil and Stephen Kent, for all they have done to move the book speedily and efficiently through the various stages of production and to ensure its emergence in such a handsome form. Fortunate the author who can count on such support.

 

Note on the Text

Spelling, punctuation and capitalization of English and Spanish texts of the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries have normally been modernized, except in a number of instances where it seemed desirable to retain them in their original form.

The names of Spanish monarchs have been anglicized, with the exception of Charles II of Spain, who appears as Carlos II in order to avoid confusion with the contemporaneous Charles II of England.

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