Exploiting American Resources

Plunder and `improvement'

The first European images of America were images of abundance - of a terrestrial paradise with sparkling rivers, fertile plains and luxurious fruits.' Above all, there was gold, first of all in the rivers of Hispaniola,2 then in Mexico, and finally in Peru, where Atahualpa's ransom - a staggering 1,326,539 pesos of gold and 51,600 silver marks, by official, and no doubt undervalued, reckoning3 - set the seal on the image of fabulous wealth. But, as the humanist chronicler Pedro Martir de Angleria observed, `it is to the South, not the icy North, that everyone in search of fortune should turn.'4 And it was to the south that Sir Walter Raleigh duly turned in his futile quest for El Dorado.

The south - the central and southern mainland of America - offered not only the promise, and the reality, of gold and silver, but also the possibility of tapping into the labour supply and surplus production of indigenous societies which had exploited the resources of their local environments in ways that offered more points of convergence with European needs and expectations than were to be found in more northerly parts. The hunters and gatherers of the `icy North' apparently had little to offer European newcomers, other than the furs which were to become the source of a flourishing Indian-European trade. In southern New England and further down the coast, the more agricultural life-style of the native population produced a food surplus that saved the life of many a colonist in the early days of settlement. It was also a life-style that involved the stripping of forests and the clearing of fields, thus effectively doing some of the work of clearing the land that would otherwise have fallen to the settlers in this heavily forested world. But Indians who moved their village habitats in accordance with the dictates of the seasons and the fertility of the soil, and whose way of life depended on the possession of little more than a few, easily transportable household objects, seemed distinctly unpromising as a source of labour or tribute.'

It was therefore not surprising that English colonists should have felt a certain sense of bafflement on their arrival in a world in which the abundance of nature seemed to offer a standing rebuke to a sparse and - to European eyes - povertystricken, population.6 Much work was needed to `improve' the land, and there was no indication that the Indians were either willing to undertake it, or capable of doing so. On the other hand, Spaniards arriving in Mexico and Peru found teeming populations organized into polities which, for all their strangeness, functioned in relatively comprehensible ways, and which had learnt how to mobilize large labour forces for the performance of tasks that went beyond meeting basic subsistence needs. While it was not easy to come to terms with the idea that feathers, or cacao beans, might be more highly valued than gold or silver, it still remained true that these were peoples whose disciplined polities, agricultural practices, and skills in arts and crafts could be turned into valuable assets for their conquerors.

The Spaniards, slipping easily into the position of the privileged elites they had vanquished, took immediate advantage of the glittering opportunities that opened up before them. While their first response to conquest was to seize and share out the portable booty, they also moved quickly to make themselves the masters of economic and tributary systems that were still in relatively good working order in spite of the disruptions caused by the conquest. To satisfy their own overwhelming greed they were all too soon to wrench these systems out of context, especially in Peru, where they inherited forms of labour organization and redistributive systems carefully designed to provide an adequate food supply for populations living at different altitudes and in a diversity of ecological environments, rising from the sea-coasts to the high peaks of the Andes.' In effect, for the first twenty or thirty years after the conquest of Mexico and Peru, the conquerors heedlessly ran a form of plunder economy, although endowing it with a spurious respectability by the institution of the encomienda, which was supposed to carry with it certain spiritual and moral obligations, but was liable to be no more than a licence to oppress and exploit.'

If the Spanish conquerors were happy to live off the backs of the peoples they had conquered, they were also anxious to lead a life-style that conformed as closely as possible to that of the privileged classes in their native land. Their tastes and expectations had been formed in Castile, Extremadura or Andalusia, and now that riches had come their way, they were not about to abandon them. `The desire of the Spaniards to see the things of their native land in the Indies', wrote the Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, `has been so desperate and so powerful that no effort or danger has been too great to induce them to abandon the attempt to satisfy their wishes.'9 They yearned for their glasses of wine, their oranges and other familiar fruits; they wanted dogs and horses, swords and guns; they wanted the luxuries that they had possessed, or at least coveted, at home; and they wanted their traditional staples, meat and bread.

The satisfaction of these wants would entail massive changes to the economies they had inherited - changes that in turn would transform the ecologies of the lands they had settled. The civilizations of the Americas were maize-based. It was above all maize, capable of a yield of sixty or more (some chroniclers spoke of as much as 150) to every seed planted, as against a return of six to one for wheat in Early Modern Europe, that had allowed the societies of Mesoamerica and the Andes to sustain such large populations and produce an agricultural surplus.10 The Spanish settlers, however, although gradually accustoming themselves to maize tortillas," still insisted on having their wheat loaves, to which they retained an obstinate attachment throughout the colonial period. Coarse bread therefore remained the staple of poor colonists, while the better-off ate pan blanco at twice the cost.12 English settlers to the north seem to have shown a greater degree of adaptability, perhaps by force of circumstance. Indian corn became an essential part of their diet, and was considered preferable as a crop to English cereals because it was easier to grow and produced a higher yield. The New England climate proved unpropitious for wheat production, and although wheat, barley, oats and rye were beginning to be cultivated in the Chesapeake colonies in the later seventeenth century in sufficient quantities to allow for modest exports, their `chiefest Diett' consisted of maize, and not wheat.13

In the regions settled by the Spaniards, with the exception of the Caribbean islands, where all attempts to cultivate wheat proved abortive,14 large areas of land were brought under the plough for the purpose of wheat production. Since the Indians persisted in their diet of maize, the wheat-fields which began to transform the landscapes of Mexico and Peru were exclusively devoted to production for the conquerors and settlers. With land becoming abundant as the indigenous population declined, viceroys were prepared to make land grants (mercedes de sierra) to interested parties," and the growing towns and cities provided a ready market for the produce from the new landed estates.

Simultaneously, the land was transformed even more dramatically by the introduction and proliferation of European livestock - cattle, sheep, horses and goats. The appearance of this livestock, immensely damaging to Indian agriculture as the animals trampled the maize plots and ate the vegetation, provided another set of opportunities for entrepreneurially minded settlers as they took to stock raising, again with the growing domestic market in mind. A pastoral economy was developed in the viceroyalty of New Spain, where the Spanish institution of the Mesta was taken as a model for the organization of the sheep-owners.16 Horse breeding and cattle ranching provided a further stimulus to the formation of great estates - known as haciendas or estancias - especially in northern Mexico and the Peruvian sierra.17 By means of a modest system of land grants to poorer settlers, the viceregal authorities in Peru seem to have hoped to encourage the rise in the coastal regions of a class of small farmers, comparable to that which would later develop in New England and the Middle Colonies. But all too often their farmsteads or chacras proved not to be economically viable, as a result of lack of capital and limited market outlets. By the end of the sixteenth century many of them were being swallowed up by the larger landowners."

The development of commercial agriculture, cattle farming and sheep raising, together with viticulture in Chile and Peru, soon began to reduce the initially overwhelming dependence of the settlers on the home country for essential food stuffs. Until as late as 1570-80, however, Spanish agrarian products - corn, wine and oil - remained the preponderant element in transatlantic shipments from Seville.19 Somehow the settlers had to find ways of paying for these essential commodities, as well as for the luxury items - high-quality textiles and articles of clothing, metal objects, furnishings and books - for which they craved. This required the identification and development of suitable commodities to sustain an export trade.

English settlers in North America would be faced with a similar desperate search for `commodities' - for items in short supply at home that would justify the investment of capital and resources in overseas enterprise. William Wood's New England's Prospect (1634) told its own story. Where fertility was concerned, `for the natural soil, I prefer it before the country of Surrey or Middlesex, which if they were not enriched with continual manurings would be less fertile than the meanest ground in New England. Wherefore it is not impossible, nor much improbable, that upon improvements the soil may be as good in time as England.' Turning to prospects for the subsoil, Wood wrote: `For such commodities as lie underground, I cannot out of my own experience or knowledge say much ... but it is certainly reported that there is ironstone ... And though nobody dare confidently conclude, yet dare they not utterly deny, but that the Spaniards' bliss [i.e. gold] may yet lie hid in the barren mountains.' As for other possible resources, `the next commodity the land affords is good store of woods ... '20 In terms of the mother country's requirements, New Englanders were to discover that the region they had settled did not offer the most promising of prospects.

In the initial stages of their colonization of the mainland the Spaniards would fare considerably better. Their first instinct, having looted what they could, was to go for commodities which required the minimum of processing or development: placer gold, in the first instance, but also pearls, first found by Columbus off the Cumana coast of Venezuela, and acquired by barter from the natives until pearl fisheries based on the island of Cubagua began to be systematically devel- oped.21 Dyestuffs, too, were in much demand at home. In 1526 the first shipment from Mexico of cochineal, the source of a red dye greatly superior to the traditional `Venetian scarlet', marked the beginnings of what was to become a highly profitable transatlantic trade.22 This was followed later in the century by the development in central America of indigo as an export crop, although indigo production, unlike that of cochineal, required mechanical processing.23 Other indigenous crops, too, began to find a European market, and most notably cacao. Early settlers in New Spain acquired from the indigenous population a taste for chocolate, and it was to meet the needs of the growing Mexican market that settlers in the Izalcos region of northern central America, desperate to find some rapid source of wealth, began producing cacao in the middle decades of the century.24 Boom was followed by collapse, but by the end of the sixteenth century New Spain in turn was exporting cacao to metropolitan Spain, where Mexican chocolate became an addiction among the elite and a cause for grave moral concern among those of tender conscience.25

There were profits to be made, too, from exports based on Old World transplants to the Indies - hides and skins from the livestock now roaming Spain's Caribbean islands and the mainland colonies, and sugar, originally brought by Columbus to Hispaniola on his second voyage. Hides and sugar, indeed, were to become the mainstay of Hispaniola's economy as the tide of colonization moved on to the mainland, leaving the island half-abandoned and desolate, with its indigenous population dying out. In the 1520s wealthy encomenderos with a stake in Hispaniola's future began to invest in sugar mills, with the help and encouragement of royal officials. This marked the modest beginnings of a plantation economy in the Spanish Antilles which in 1558, at its peak, produced 60,000 arrobas of sugar for export to Seville, before it was outpriced on the Iberian markets by sugar produced more cheaply in other parts of the Americas .21 Within a few years of the conquest of Mexico sugar production moved to the mainland when Hernan Cortes established sugar mills at Tuxtla and Cuernavaca. Most of this sugar was for export, and the Cortes plantations survived, with fluctuating fortunes, throughout the colonial period.27

Throughout the Spanish American world, therefore, plunder began to give way to development as easy booty became a diminishing asset, and it began to dawn on the conquerors and early immigrants that they were unlikely in the immediate future to be returning to their homeland laden with American riches. Their outlook was no doubt different from that of those early settlers of New England who had come in search of an alternative home, and, in William Wood's words, `look not so much at abundance as at competency'.21 Many of these were content with a step-by-step development of arable farming and animal husbandry on their modest farmsteads, although from the earliest days New England had its entrepreneurs like John Pynchon, who threw himself into commercial and industrial enterprises and dominated the economic and political life of his native town of Springfield, Massachusetts, founded in 1636 by his father, William.29 In both instances, however, the sheer pressure to survive forced the immigrants to think in terms of the best ways to develop local resources and exploit the opportunities provided by the growth of the settler communities.

A continent that to European eyes appeared unimproved, or undeveloped, offered immense possibilities to the resourceful, and to those willing to take risks. But conditions tended to favour those who already had resources at their disposal, in the form of capital or labour, or both. Their privileged position made it possible for them to advance credit, or to engage personally in new ventures, like the textile workshops (obrajes) that began to be established in the viceroyalties of New Spain and Peru.30 After the initial investment of Spanish and European capital in the colonization of the Spanish Caribbean, further development in the Spanish American world had to depend largely on local capital and resources. A substantial, if erratic, supply of gold, and the flow of Indian tribute and labour that followed the defeat of the pre-Columbian empires, made the first stages of capital formation easier in Spanish than in British America. Merchants, encomenderos and royal officials with access to these sources of wealth were especially well placed to take advantage of the new opportunities presented by the need to refashion the New World to meet Old World requirements.

It was, however, the discovery in the 1540s of the great silver deposits of northern Mexico and the Andes that dramatically altered the prospects of Spain's American possessions, and transformed them into far more than mere appendages to Europe's trading networks. Although the first silver strikes in New Spain were made within a decade of the conquest, the decisive event was the finding in 1546 of silver ores on the northern plateau at Zacatecas, to be followed by discoveries of further deposits in the same region in the following decades.31 Already in the previous year Spaniards in Peru had come across the extraordinary silver mountain of Potosi in the eastern range of the Andes. As a result of these spectacular discoveries, silver took the place of the dwindling supply of looted gold as the most valuable mineral resource of Spain's empire in America.32

Although subsoil rights in Spain and its overseas territories belonged to the crown,33 the imposition of a state monopoly on the development of mining in the New World was out of the question. The crown needed silver urgently, and if new deposits were to be found and effectively exploited, this could only be achieved through private enterprise. The crown was therefore ready to grant prospecting and mining rights, in the form of what came to be a permanent concession, to those who came forward to request them. Those who received the concession were obligated in return to hand over to treasury officials a proportion - commonly a diezmo, or tenth - of all the silver they mined.34 It was this waiving by the crown of its subsoil rights that made possible the rapid development of the mining economies of New Spain and Peru, although at a high price in terms of deception and fraud.

The beginnings of large-scale silver production in the two American viceroyalties had a galvanizing impact on their economies and societies, and one that would spread outwards in a ripple effect to other parts of Spanish America where precious metals were sought but not often found. There was an immediate stimulus to mining technology and production techniques, first of all in New Spain, where, as against the Andes, there was little by way of a native metallurgical tradition to which the Spaniards could resort. The most important technical advance came in New Spain in the 1550s when the process of drawing silver from the ore by the use of an amalgam of mercury was pioneered. There was a delay of some twenty years before the amalgamation process was transferred to the Andes, probably because Spanish entrepreneurs in Potosi were happy to cut costs and win quick profits by leaving it to Indian miners to follow their old and well-tried techniques.35 When the new refining procedure was eventually introduced, it made possible spectacular increases in silver production - increases facilitated by the fortunate discovery in 1563 at Huancavelica, in the mountains south-east of Lima, of mercury deposits that would provide a partial alternative to the mercury that had to be shipped across the Atlantic from the Spanish mines at Almaden."

The introduction of large-scale mining operations required a concentration of capital and technical expertise, bringing to the mining areas speculators and merchants from Spain and other parts of the Indies who would advance goods and credit to the miners, and receive raw silver in return. The rush to find new reserves of silver was the principal dynamic behind the creation of new settlements and towns in northern Mexico, while Potosi, located 13,000 feet above sea level in the rarefied air of the Andes, grew into one of the largest cities of the western world, with a combined indigenous and Spanish population exceeding 100,000 by the start of the seventeenth century (fig. 12).37 The development of large centres of population acted in turn as a stimulus to agriculture and livestock farming, with food and supplies being drawn from an ever wider radius as the population grew Potosi was eventually drawing on a catchment area that extended from the Pacific coast of Chile - a source of fish, grapes and sugar - to Paraguay and the province of Buenos Aires, from which it obtained the cattle and sheep needed to keep it provisioned with meat.38

The production and minting of silver introduced at least a partial monetary economy to expanding areas of Spanish America. The conquerors and settlers of Mexico needed a means of exchange in a land where cacao beans, bales of cloth and various other artefacts had served as currency before they appeared on the scene. The coin supply from Spain was fitful and inadequate, and, after growing agitation, a mint was established in Mexico City in 1536. This was authorized to strike silver and copper coins, although minting of the latter ceased in 1565 when it was found that the Indians were misusing them.39 A second mint in the Americas was founded in Lima in 1565, and then transferred to Potosi, where in 1574 the Casa de Moneda, situated on the south side of the Plaza Mayor, began striking the silver coins that would soon be circling the globe.41

Very soon after its introduction, Indians began to use specie in Mexican markets alongside their cacao beans.41 The growing familiarity of the indigenous population with coins and complex financial transactions played an important part in the inexorable process by which the Spaniards would realize their aim of drawing it into a monetary economy. `Giving them their own lands and money in payment for their work,' wrote a Spanish judge in Peru in 1567, `so that they can purchase for themselves locally produced sheep, and cattle from Spain and other items for themselves, they will become interested in working, and by this means civility will begin to get into them.'42 The chink of coins would herald the coming of `civilization' to the Andes.

The absence of silver mines in the areas of English settlement left the British colonies at an obvious disadvantage in providing settlers with specie as a circulating medium. From the 1620s tobacco became the common currency of the Chesapeake, even if accounts were kept in pounds, shillings and pence.43 A mint was set up in Massachusetts in 1652 but was closed some thirty years later, following the imposition of the Dominion of New England.44 Thereafter, colonial English America would have no mints. The gold and silver coins that circulated in the colonies were Spanish and Portuguese, with the Spanish silver piece of eight (the dollar) considered the most reliable coin because of its milled edges.45 These silver pieces filtered in to the American mainland through contraband trade and exchanges with the Spanish Caribbean islands, and there were never enough to meet the demand. As a result, local shortages of gold and silver coins remained a persistent problem throughout the colonial period, with individual colonies seeking to attract the coins in circulation by giving them a higher value than their neighbours. With specie draining away to England to pay for British imports, barter and commodities continued to be used for many local transactions, although by the end of the seventeenth century paper money, in the form of bills of credit, was becoming increasingly common as a medium of exchange, and would do much to limit the consequences of a money-short economy.46

Thanks to its mines, Spanish America naturally developed a more monetized colonial market. Yet, for all the abundance of silver, it too tended to suffer from serious currency deficits as pieces of eight became a global currency. A royal order of 1556 that half of all the silver minted in Mexico City should be retained for use in New Spain inevitably failed to prevent the clandestine export of silver coins. Where these were insufficient for local transactions, traders would often have recourse to unminted bullion, in spite of the crown's efforts to put an end to a practice which defrauded it of revenue.47 There were great opportunities for personal enrichment, both open and clandestine, in these silver-rich societies, and leading merchants in Mexico City and Lima, after accumulating large stocks of silver, found it expedient and profitable to deploy their reserves to finance local enterprise. Throughout the colonial period credit played a central part in the financial and commercial life of Spanish America. In the absence of formal banking institutions the gap was filled by merchants, who, together with the church, became the principal source of loans.48

Since sixteenth-century Europe possessed an insatiable thirst for silver, which it needed both for its own transactions and to balance its chronic trade deficit with Asia, its outflow from the Indies was a foregone conclusion. Even if anything from a quarter to a half would remain in the viceroyalties'49 whether in the form of coins, unminted silver or artefacts - altar frontals and candlesticks in the churches, caskets and tableware in the houses of the wealthy - Mexican and Peruvian silver propelled the Spanish Indies inexorably towards integration into the developing economies of Europe. From the mid-sixteenth century, Spanish America became pre-eminently a silver-based empire, furnishing successive Spanish rulers with a significant proportion - 20 to 25 per cent - of their revenues, while providing a stream of bullion which helped to lubricate Europe's economic activities and enabled the colonial societies to acquire from Europe the commodities they were unwilling or unable to produce locally.5o

Spain's empire of the Indies therefore became heavily dependent for its export trade to Europe on a single staple which accounted for 80 to 90 per cent of the value of its annual exports to Seville in the final decades of the sixteenth century and the opening decades of the seventeenths' A similar dependence on a single staple export trade would be characteristic of the economies of other colonial societies in the Americas in the early stages of development, although New Spain and Peru would be unique in their development of an extractive economy until gold was struck in large quantities in eighteenth-century Brazil. Outside the silver-producing regions, it was a question of finding and developing a suitable crop for large-scale export. While New England and the Middle Colonies failed to achieve this, the story would be very different in the Caribbean islands and the Chesapeake colonies. Both regions were to provide fertile soil for one or other of the two crops that were to prove most in demand in overseas markets - sugar and tobacco. To these would be added rice and indigo as the Lower South (the Carolinas and Georgia) was developed in the eighteenth century In Spanish American cacao would become an increasingly strong export staple over the course of the seventeenth century, to the particular benefit of the planters of Caracas in what had until then been a relatively marginalized Venezuela .12

The realization that the soil was suitable for the cultivation of tobacco and that the home country would pay a good price for the `weede' proved to be the salvation of the Jamestown colony. Extensive cultivation got under way in Virginia in the 1620s, and would spread in the 1630s and 1640s to the newly founded colony of Maryland. As tobacco exports grew, so also did the population - from 2,500 in Virginia in 1630 to a total of 23,000 for the two colonies in 1650, and up to 100,000 by the end of the century.53 Tobacco cultivation came to dominate the life of the Chesapeake region, shaping its dispersed settlement patterns along the waterways, and the character of its labour supply.

Sugar had a comparable transforming effect on the economy and the prospects of the island of Barbados, which was annexed in 1625 by a passing British captain, and then colonized as a commercial venture sponsored by a London syndicate until Charles I granted its proprietorship, along with that of the Leeward Islands, to the Earl of Carlisle.54 The original sponsors had planned to develop the island as a tobacco colony, but the crop proved disappointing, and the struggling planters were saved by the discovery that the soil was ideal for the cultivation of sugar. In the 1640s and 1650s, as the techniques of cane production were imported from Portuguese Brazil, Barbados's sugar production shot up, with spectacular consequences for immigration rates and for the price of land and foodstuffs.55

The export of sugar, supplemented by that of cotton, made Barbados easily the richest English possession in the Americas in the second half of the seventeenth century (fig. 10). While its population was little more than half that of Virginia, the value of its exports was almost 50 per cent more.56 Like the silver of Mexico and Peru, the sugar of Barbados created a febrile prosperity, encouraging those who benefited from the production and export of a commodity in high demand in Europe to make the most of their good fortune and indulge in a life-style consonant with their newly acquired affluence. But, as the relatively simple life-style of the Chesapeake tobacco planters in the later seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries makes clear, there were other possible reactions to the potential riches of a natural resource .57 A sense of the fragility created by dependence on a single export staple in fluctuating markets could provoke diametrically different responses, ranging from lavish spending and conspicuous consumption to a prudential approach in the face of an uncertain future in an impermanent world.

Many considerations would enter into the fashioning of these diverse responses - inherited cultural traditions, the nature of the resource, and the relationship of the elite to its production and marketing. One way or another, however, the overwhelming dependence on a single resource inevitably shaped the perceptions, attitudes and behaviour of the emerging elites in colonial societies wherever it occurred. Their lives, and with them the character of their societies as a whole, would revolve around the fluctuations in the production of, and demand for, their staple commodity. These fluctuations would be dictated both by local and European conditions, and by the continuing provision of an adequate labour supply at a realistic cost.

Labour supply

The labour systems developed in Spanish and British America for the production of their staple commodities were heavily conditioned by the degree to which they were populated by Indians capable of being put to productive work by the colonists. The Spaniards were exceptionally fortunate in that their silverproducing regions lay either within, or relatively close to, densely populated regions of indigenous settlement. This made it possible, by one device or another, to recruit a native labour force for working in the mines. The first areas of English settlement lacked any such advantage. In the absence of a densely settled and usable local population, the settlers and their sponsors were forced to come up with other solutions to the problem of providing a continuing labour supply for growing and processing their staple crop.

The challenge confronting the Spanish colonists and colonial authorities was how to mobilize the potentially vast indigenous labour force without infringing too blatantly the letter of the law. Ferdinand and Isabella had laid down the fundamental principle that the indigenous inhabitants in the new overseas territories of the Crown of Castile were vassals of the crown, and, as such, were not to be enslaved. `What power of mine does the admiral hold to give my vassals to anyone?' asked Isabella in 1498 on being told that Columbus had allowed every returning settler from Hispaniola to bring a slave back to Spain. All the slaves were forthwith to be freed.58 There were, however, exceptions, and the conquerors and early settlers were quick to exploit them. In 1503 Isabella permitted the enslavement of man-eating Caribs, `because of the crimes they have committed against my subjects'S9 - a provision that effectively gave carte blanche to the Hispaniola settlers to engage in slave-raids on the neighbouring islands. They could also resort to the rules of `just war', as developed in medieval Christendom, by which infidels who persisted in resisting Christian forces and fell into their hands could legitimately be enslaved. In the circumstances surrounding Spanish expansion into America, this provision was open to obvious abuse. It was in the hope of curbing this abuse, and laying down the ground rules for establishing whether the Spaniards were justified in launching an attack, that the device of reading aloud the requerimiento to bemused Indians had been devised.60

As Las Casas and others were quick to point out, the conquerors and first settlers made a mockery of the requerimiento,61 which in effect became a sanction for committing illegalities under the guise of legitimacy. The Caribbean islands, and the heavily populated central American mainland region between Mexico and Panama, became a vast catchment area in which Spanish raiders seized Indians for enslavement, using specious arguments of `just war' as their pretext, and salving their consciences by pointing to the existence of slavery among the Indians themselves. The new slaves were then transported to regions where labour was needed - New Spain, Guatemala and, increasingly, Panama and Peru.62

Under Charles V, the crown sought to limit the abuses by further legislation. This culminated in a decree of 1542, subsequently incorporated into the New Laws later that same year, ordering that nobody in future should enslave Indians, `even if they are taken in just war'. Indians were neither to be purchased nor otherwise acquired, but were to be treated, as the New Laws put it, `like our vassals of the crown of Castile, since that is what they are'.63 The founding in 1543 of a new court, the Audiencia de los Confines (later to become the Audiencia of Guatemala), brought some improvement, but the decline of Indian enslavement in central America after the middle years of the century was largely caused by the extinction of much of the potential slave population. Elsewhere, enslavement continued wherever royal authority was weak or officials were willing to turn a blind eye. This was particularly true of the lawless border areas on the fringes of empire, like Chile and New Mexico, whose conqueror and first governor, Juan de Orate, razed the village of Acoma in 1599 and sentenced adult captives to two decades of personal servitude. The leading families of seventeenth-century New Mexico would all have their Indian bondsmen and women, many of whom were in reality slaves.64

In the principal regions of Spain's American empire, however, the prohibition of Indian slavery made it necessary to devise alternative methods of recruiting indigenous labour. Initially this was achieved through the encomienda system, which was supplemented, and in some regions gradually replaced as a source of labour, by the repartimiento, or short-term allocation of Indians by royal officials to non-encomenderos for different forms of compulsory service .6- In the middle years of the sixteenth century, when vast new reserves of labour were needed for working the newly discovered silver deposits, the sharp fall in the size of the indigenous population was already beginning to undermine the foundations of the encomienda system. In the eyes of the colonial authorities silver production came to take precedence over all other requirements, including those of the encomenderos. As an early viceroy of Peru put it, `if there are no mines, there is no Peru.'66 Although the crown remained reluctant to reverse its policies and sanction a system of forced Indian labour, its local officials were driven by necessity to devise their own strategies, which they tailored to meet local circumstances.

In Peru, Don Francisco de Toledo, who arrived as viceroy in 1569, oversaw the elaboration of a forced labour system based on a combination of Inca precedent and recently developed Spanish practice. Using as their model the mita employed by the Incas for public works, the Spaniards arranged for the provision of a continuous labour supply for the Potosi mines by means of a rota system, under which one-seventh of the adult male Indians from a wide catchment area in the Andean highlands were drafted for a year's labour in Potosi. The mitayos, although miserably remunerated, were accorded basic rates of pay. Towards the end of the sixteenth century their labour was increasingly supplemented by that of voluntary workers, known as mingas, who were drawn to Potosi by the prospect of the wages that were offered.67 Their presence brought the system closer to that employed in New Spain, where the mines were located too far away from the large sedentary population of central Mexico to make a forced labour system feasible. Instead, Zacatecas and the other mines made use of migrant Indians who were lured to the north by the offer of salaried labour. Gradually but inexorably, in both New Spain and Peru, the indigenous population, considered to be congenitally idle by the Spaniards - themselves generally regarded as something of an authority on the subject - was being sucked into a European-style wage economy.

The prime solution to the labour problem in Spanish America, therefore, was found in a combination of forced and `voluntary' indigenous labour. As the indigenous population shrank, however, it was increasingly incapable of meeting the numerous demands imposed upon it. Since it was unthinkable that settlers and their descendants should engage in menial labour, the only remaining option - unless the Spanish crown was prepared, as it was not, to open its American territories to immigrants from other European states - was to import a coerced labour force from overseas. The richest and most accessible source of supply was black Africa.61

Precedents were well established. At the beginning of the sixteenth century the Iberian peninsula - especially Andalusia and Portugal - possessed a substantial population of Moorish and African slaves, working both in the fields and in domestic service. It was therefore a logical extension of current Iberian practice for Ferdinand to authorize the despatch in 1510 of fifty slaves to work in the Hispaniola gold mines. In 1518 his successor, Charles, not yet elected to the Imperial title, granted one of the members of his Flemish entourage, Laurent de Gorrevod, an eight-year licence, which he then sold for 25,000 ducats to the Genoese bankers, to import black slaves into the Indies.69 Hitherto, the slaves sent to the New World had mostly been drawn from the peninsula, and were therefore Spanish-speaking, as were the black servants or slaves who crossed the Atlantic with the conquistadores, and made a valuable contribution to expeditions of discovery and conquest.70 They were also Christian converts, since the crown was not prepared to run the risk of having its overseas territories infiltrated by Islam.71 Following the grant to Gorrevod, the traffic in slaves to the Indies acquired a new dimension. The prohibition on the introduction of Muslims into America remained at least nominally in place, but with the granting of the first of the asientos or contracts issued under a monopoly system for the regulation of the Atlantic slave trade, the way was open for slaves to be transported direct from Africa to the Indies, without necessarily experiencing a period of acculturation on Iberian soil.

In the years up to 1550, some 15,000 African slaves were officially recorded as arriving in the Spanish Indies, and a further 36,300 between 1550 and 1595,72 but the real numbers, swollen by a growing contraband trade, must have been substantially larger. In the six years following the introduction in 1595 of a new monopoly contract between the Spanish crown and a Portuguese merchant, Pedro Gomes Reinel, who ran the Angola slave trade, there was a sudden massive upsurge in the number of Africans shipped to Spanish America. The 80,500 transported in those five years may have pushed the total for the sixteenth century to 150,000, excluding the further 50,000 taken to Brazil.73

The dominance of the Atlantic slave trade achieved by Portuguese merchants in the last quarter of the sixteenth century at the expense of their Genoese rivals followed logically from the establishment of Portuguese trading bases down the coast of West Africa during the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, and the rise to pre-eminence of Lisbon as the slave trade capital of the western world.74 The Portuguese acquired a further advantage following the union of the crowns of Castile and Portugal in 1580. As the subjects of Philip II they were now well positioned to negotiate profitable deals in Madrid, and they seized their opportunity. In the years during which they held the monopoly contract, between 1595 and 1640, Portuguese merchants shipped between 250,000 and 300,000 Africans into Spanish America, thousands of them clandestinely through the port city of Buenos Aires, refounded by the Spaniards in 1580.75 From here they were sent on to Peru, where their labour was needed to supplement that of the Indians in the mines and the fields. Other ports of entry were Santo Domingo, Havana, Vera Cruz and, above all, Cartagena, which received more than half the total number of slaves legally shipped to Spanish America between 1549 and 1640.76

By the early seventeenth century, therefore, the mechanisms of an international Atlantic slave trade had been firmly established. Sir William Alexander, in his An Encouragement to Colonies of 1624, would castigate the shipping of slaves from Angola and other parts of Africa to the Spanish Indies as `an unnatural mer- chandise',77 but in principle the way was open for the English in America to follow suit. Whether they did so would depend on their own labour requirements and the consideration of relative costs.

Spain's empire of the Indies offered numerous examples of the large variety of ways in which African slaves could be employed. Once on the mainland, they were first established in substantial numbers in the capitals of the two viceroyalties, Mexico City and Lima. Although slavery would soon spread to the countryside, urban slavery was to be a continuing feature of life in a society in which African slaves would come to constitute anything between 10 and 25 per cent of the populations of major cities like Lima, Mexico City, Quito, Cartagena and Santa Fe de Bogota.78 Large numbers of Africans, both slave and free, were employed as household servants; others became skilled craftsmen, at a time when artisans of Spanish origin proved unable to keep pace with the growth in demand.79 Many arrived from Spain in the entourage of officials and other Spanish dignitaries.80 Once in the Indies, the presence of such retainers enhanced the prestige of their masters, both Spanish and creole, as they travelled by coach through the streets or took the evening air. `The gentlemen', wrote the English renegade, Thomas Gage, when describing Mexico City in 1625, `have their train of blackamoor slaves, some a dozen, some half a dozen, waiting on them, in brave and gallant liveries, heavy with gold and silver lace, with silk stockings on their black legs, and roses on their feet, and swords by their sides."'

In the Caribbean islands, and later in New Spain, slaves were employed in the cultivation of sugar cane. The five hundred contracted by Cortes in 1542 to work on his Mexican sugar estates82 were the harbingers of the thousands upon thousands whose backs would bear the burden of working the plantation economies of the Caribbean islands and mainland America in a later age. While extensively employed on the haciendas of encomenderos, African slaves were also drafted into the textile workshops of New Spain and Peru to supplement the native workforce of sweated Indian labour. In the lowlands of New Granada, they replaced a dwindling indigenous population as members of labour gangs panning for gold in the rivers and creeks.83

There was also a growing and unsatisfied demand for enslaved or free black labour in the mines of northern Mexico as Indian workers succumbed to European diseases. By the end of the sixteenth century, blacks and mulattoes (the offspring of Spanish men and African women) had become indispensable to the mining economy of New Spain: as the saying went in Zacatecas, `bad to have them, but much worse not to have them.'84 But expense remained a problem. It was more costly to employ imported African labour than indigenous Indian labour in the mines. In the silver workings of Potosi, for which an indigenous work-force, habituated to working at such an altitude, could be mobilized from the surrounding regions, the relative labour costs proved an overwhelming deterrent to royal officials anxious to relieve the exploitation of Indians by abandoning the mita.85 In other areas of economic activity in Peru, however, black slaves and their descendants came to play a vital role, especially in Lima and the coastal zone, where the Indian population decreased faster than it did in the highlands. They not only supplied a large part of the urban artisan labour force, but they also worked on the irrigated plots that sprang up round the towns. They tended the livestock on the large estates and drove the ox and mule carts on which the transportation system introduced by the Spaniards into America depended.86

African labour, therefore, whether slave or free, made a decisive contribution to economic activity in Spanish America, although it varied in scale and character from region to region. The greatest concentrations of Africans were to be found in the tropical and sub-tropical zones - the Antilles, the coastal regions of the two viceroyalties, and in New Granada and Venezuela.87 The sheer numbers of those of African descent in the two viceroyalties as a whole - in 1640 some 150,000 in New Spain and 30,000 in Peru, of whom 20,000 lived in Lima88 - suggest something of their indispensability to the functioning of the colonial economy, although the silver production on which the fortunes of Spain's empire of the Indies ultimately turned would have been impossible without the toil of the Indians working in the mines of New Spain and Peru.

In British America inadequate numbers, unsuitability for the kind of systematic labour expected by Europeans, and deep distrust - who in Virginia would be willing to take Indians into domestic service after the terrible events of 1622? - all played their part in preventing the early English settlers from systematically building up an indigenous work-force on the Spanish model. The Maryland settlers found that male Indians, unwilling to accept the routine of daily labour in the fields, simply disappeared into the interior when the summer months approached.89 Had it been worth while, institutionalized forms of compulsory Indian labour service would no doubt have been developed in the English settlements, as in the Spanish, although it is hard to know whether they would have assumed the character of outright slavery.

It would have been awkward for the Jamestown settlers to defy Virginia Company policy by enslaving an indigenous people who were to be brought to the faith,90 although, in the absence of a strong religious lobby and a concerned crown, it seems unlikely that scruple would for long have prevailed over necessity. During the course of the seventeenth century, in the absence of any imperial policy on slavery like that developed for Spanish America, individual colonies made occasional moves in the direction of Indian enslavement. They resorted, too, as in New England following King Philip's War, to the pretext of `just war' to turn Indians into slaves, and displayed no scruples about purchasing Indians taken captive by some rival tribe. South Carolina, indeed, between the time of its foundation in 1670 and the end of the Yamasee War in 1713, made the Indian slave trade a major business, in defiance of the objections of its lords proprietors. Its white inhabitants indulged, like those of Spanish border societies, in raids deliberately conducted to enslave Indians, and engaged in the large-scale exchange of European goods for Indians made captive by fellow Indians. While some of these slaves were kept in Carolina itself - there were 1,400 of them in the colony in 1708 - many more were exported, primarily to the West Indies plantations, although they were also sold to the northern colonies for domestic service. As many as 30,000 to 50,000 may have been enslaved over the course of the colony's first fifty years, before the supply trickled away.9'

Yet there were deterrents, both practical and legal, to Indian enslavement as a long-term solution to the shortage of labour in British America. Outside the West Indies it was too easy for slaves to abscond when Indian country was so near at hand. They could also be a dangerous presence. In the early eighteenth century the northern colonies, worried about the impact on their own Indians of slaves imported from South Carolina, imposed an import ban. Yet at the same time New Englanders were forcing growing numbers of their own native population into involuntary servitude. Changes to legal codes led to an expanded sentencing of Indian men and women into labour service for criminal activities and debt. Once indentured, they were liable to be bought and sold, and their children placed in forced apprenticeships on terms less advantageous than those enjoyed by white apprentices. By the middle of the century bound Indian workers, suffering from the imposed stigma of racial inferiority, were to be found throughout the region in substantial numbers.92

The whole question of slavery, however, was fraught with legal ambiguities, and some Indians at least managed to secure redress in the courts. The word `slave' had no meaning in English law when the first settlers moved across the Atlantic, even though slavery did make a brief appearance in Protector Somerset's abortive Vagrancy Act of 1547.93 Yet while slavery itself was unknown to English law, English society was well accustomed to various degrees of unfreedom, ranging from villeinage, or serfdom, to indentured service. It was to indentured white servants from the British Isles that the colonies first turned in their search for additional sources of labour, and it was as indentured servants that the majority of white emigrants crossed the Atlantic in the seventeenth century.94 But, as many of them were to find on arrival, the conditions under which they were forced to work their four- or five-year stints made them, in their own eyes, little better than slaves. In one revealing incident, when a Spanish expedition attacked English settlers on Nevis in 1629, servants in the militia threw away their arms crying `Liberty, joyfull Liberty', preferring collaboration with the Spaniards to subjection to tyrannical English masters.95

A shortage of white indentured servants, combined with difficulties in managing men and women whose only thought was to finish their period of service and strike out on their own, encouraged English settlers, both in the Caribbean and on the southern mainland, to turn to the most obvious remaining source of labour - imported Africans. Bermuda, granted to the Virginia Company in 1612 and run by the Bermuda Company from 1615, imported its first blacks in 1616. In its first half-century, however, Bermuda's economy was not heavily dependent on black slave labour.96 The story was very different in the short-lived colony of Providence Island. However reluctant Puritan investors may have been to jeopardize the establishment of a godly community by filling it with slaves, relatively accessible sources of supply made it considerably cheaper to import blacks than white indentured servants to cultivate the tobacco crop. Considerations of godliness therefore lost out to harsh financial realities. By 1641, when its eleven-year existence was abruptly terminated, the Providence Island colony had become an authentically slave society - the first such society in British America.97

Elsewhere, the turn to slavery was slower. If godly arguments proved stronger in New England than on Providence Island, this may have been because the combination of a good supply of immigrants with high survival and reproductive rates, the absence of a staple crop, and the widespread use of family labour, all reduced the necessity for importing slaves. Africans therefore never constituted more than 3 per cent of New England's population.98 Virginia began importing African slaves soon after Bermuda. In 1619 John Rolfe reported the purchase of `20. and odd Negroes' from a Dutch man-of-war - an early indication of the important part that Dutch carriers and traders would play in the seventeenthcentury Atlantic economy" It was only at the end of the seventeenth century, however, that the Chesapeake colonies began to turn massively to African slaves to meet their labour requirements, and to look directly to Africa rather than the West Indies as their source of supply. Before then they had relied heavily on indentured labour, and white servants worked side by side with blacks, both slave and free, in the tobacco fields. The situation began to change in the 1680s, at a moment when a decline in the supply of indentured servants from the British Isles coincided with a fall in the cost of importing slaves. By 1710, 20 per cent of Virginia's population were slaves.100

It was Barbados in the 1640s and 1650s that would provide the model and set the trend. As sugar became the staple crop, the drawbacks of dependence on indentured labour became increasingly clear to the planters. Not only did white servants often prove unruly and rebellious when they found themselves condemned to effective servitude on the sugar plantations, but they were naturally reluctant to continue as wage-earners when their period of indenture expired. Some of the Barbados planters had seen African slave gangs at work in Brazil, and began to realize that African labour, even if initially more expensive, offered longterm advantages, since slaves would provide life-long service and could be more cheaply clothed and fed. Best of all, their condition as bondsmen made them absolute servants of their masters, as no white man could be.10' As the demand for sugar soared, and with it the pressure to produce, so too did the numbers of imported blacks. By 1660 there were as many blacks as whites on the island - perhaps 20,000 of each race - and by the end of the century Barbados, along with its companion slave societies of Jamaica and the Leewards, had absorbed 250,000 slaves from Africa.102

Condemned by the `curse of Ham' and set apart from the beginning by the colour of their skin, blacks stood little chance in societies which had as yet no developed code of law relating to slavery, and which, with little or no Indian labour available, were otherwise overwhelmingly white. As Virginia's House of Burgesses realized in the wake of Bacon's rebellion in 1676, it was in the interests of masters to prevent the development of an alliance between aggrieved indentured servants and slaves by drawing a sharper dividing line between them in terms of legal status, a process already under way before the rebellion began.103 Gradually the legal shackles were tightened round the Africans, and British America moved inexorably towards the establishment of chattel slavery.

This chattel slavery would make possible the development of plantation economies on the British American mainland whose nearest Iberian equivalent was to be found not in the territories settled by the Spaniards but in Portuguese Brazil.104 In principle, the Spanish Caribbean islands - Hispaniola, Cuba, Puerto Rico and Jamaica - might have seemed to offer the same potential in the sixteenth century for the development of monocultures based on slave labour as that which was to be realized in the British island of Barbados in the seventeenth century, or indeed in Spain's own possession of Cuba in the later eighteenth. But, after the early years of plunder and ruthless exploitation were over, the Spanish Caribbean became something of an economic backwater. The more ambitious settlers moved on in search of richer prizes on the mainland, and with their departure the white population of the islands stagnated or declined. The sugar estates of Hispaniola and Cuba, although enjoying some initial successes, found it increasingly hard to compete with the sugar produced in New Spain and Brazil. It was cheaper and easier to concentrate on the less labour-intensive activity of cattle herding and ranching to meet the steady demand in Spain for hides. Moreover, the consequences for Spanish American economic life of the primacy of silver mining in the mainland viceroyalties extended to the Caribbean. As Havana became the port of departure for the annual silver fleets, it was understandable that islanders should lose their enthusiasm for the development of local products for export. There were quicker profits, illicit as well licit, to be made out of Havana's growth as the emporium of a transatlantic trade that was now attracting the predatory interest of Spain's European rivals.'05

It was Brazil, not the Spanish Caribbean, that offered the first, and most spectacular, example of the enormous wealth to be made from large-scale plantations worked by black slave labour. Serious colonization had begun only in the 1540s after the Portuguese had become alarmed by reports of French designs on the vast region that had nominally come into their possession after its accidental discovery by Pedro Alvares Cabral on his expedition to India in 1500. Initially appreciated for their brazilwood trees, which produced a highly prized reddish-purple dye, the coastal regions of the Brazilian north-east, thinly settled by Portuguese colonists, turned out to be well suited to the growing of sugar cane. As the Portuguese crown moved in the years leading up to the union with Spain in 1580 to establish a tighter grasp over its promising new territory, it also began to take a close interest in the creation of a sugar industry. The Tupinamba Indians failed to live up to expectations as a work-force for the new plantations, whether as chattel slaves or as European-style wage-labourers, and large numbers were wiped out by European diseases. With the European demand for sugar expanding, the response to the labour shortage was the same as it was in the Spanish Indies. From the 1560s growing numbers of African slaves were imported to supplement or replace an unsatisfactory and diminishing Indian work-force, and by the end of the century Brazil, now dependent on African labour, had become the world's largest supplier of sugar.'°6

The production techniques responsible for Brazil's spectacular success in growing and exporting sugar could not be kept secret indefinitely. When the Dutch West India Company seized Pernambuco from the Portuguese in the 1630s, the information fell into the hands of their Protestant rivals; and when the settlers chased the Dutch out of Brazil in the course of the decade following Portugal's recovery of independence from Spain in 1640, Sephardic Jews anxious to escape the attention of the Portuguese Inquisition fled Pernambuco for the Antilles, where they instructed the islanders in Brazilian production and processing techniques.107 With Dutch merchants happy to provide the settlers of Barbados with African slaves, the necessary ingredients were at hand for the dramatic expansion of the slave-based sugar plantations of the British Caribbean.

As Virginian tobacco growers came to imitate the example of the Barbadian sugar producers, so the English word `plantation' became more narrowly and specifically defined.108 When the Reverend John Cotton preached a sermon in 1630 on the departure of Winthrop's fleet for New England, he chose as his text a passage from the book of Samuel: `Moreover, I will appoint a place for my people Israel, and I will plant them."09 The Irish `plantations' of the sixteenth century were essentially plantations of people, which would flourish in the right soil, and offer scope for infinite possibilities. Sir Philip Sidney, as an Irish planter, could write that he had `contrived' a `plantation' that would be `an emporium for the confluence of all nations that love or profess any kind of virtue or com- merce'.110 But, a hundred years later, the developments of the intervening century had begun to accustom people to think of `plantation' as an overseas settlement producing a cash crop for export, and as an emporium for the confluence of nations that professed the least virtuous of all kinds of commerce - the commerce in slaves.

The conditions of that commerce, as it was developed by the Portuguese and then appropriated by the Dutch and the English, were uniformly barbaric, although the ministrations of members of the religious orders at the ports of entry in the Iberian world did something to mitigate the sufferings of the sick and dying as they sought the salvation of their souls. If the seventeenth-century Anglo-American world had its equivalent of the Jesuit Fray Pedro Claver, who embraced the slaves on their arrival in Cartagena and even went down into the stinking holds of the slave-ships," his deeds remain unsung. For those who survived the ordeal of the Atlantic crossing, and subsequently of exposure to the unfamiliar disease environment of the New World, prospects were bleak. Their fate was described in vivid and moving words by Claver's colleague and fellow Jesuit, Alonso de Sandoval, in a work first published in Seville in 1627. Denouncing the treatment to which the new arrivals were subjected, he described how they would be made to work in the mines `from sunrise to sunset, and also long stretches of the night', or, if they were bought as house-slaves, would be treated with such inhumanity that `they would be better off as beasts'."2

Yet, for all the horrors of their situation, African slaves in Spain's American possessions seem to have enjoyed more room for manoeuvre and more opportunities for advancement than their counterparts in British America. Uprooted and far from home, they were regarded as representing less of a potential security threat than the indigenous population. This meant that Spanish settlers tended to use them as overseers or auxiliaries in dealing with the Indian work-force, thus raising them a rung on the increasingly complicated ladder of social and ethnic hierarchy. 113 The settlers' confidence was frequently misplaced, and marauding bands of cimarrones, or fugitive slaves, sometimes operating in collusion with local Indians, became a danger to Spanish settlements, especially in the Caribbean and Panama. 114 Yet the ambiguous status of slaves placed among a population itself subjected to a form of servitude offered opportunities that the shrewd and the fortunate could turn to their advantage.

Paradoxically, slaves in Spanish America also benefited from the fact that peninsular Spain, unlike England, possessed a long experience of slavery. This had led to the development of a code of law and practice which, at least juridically, tended to mitigate the lot of the slave. On the grounds that `all the laws of the world have always favoured liberty',i"' the thirteenth-century code of the Siete Partidas laid down certain conditions governing the treatment of slaves. These included the right to marry, even against the wishes of their masters, and a limited right to hold property. The code also opened the way to possible manumission, either by the master or by the state.

The transfer of slavery to the Spanish Indies inevitably brought departures from peninsular practice.' 16 In the vast areas under Spanish rule it was not easy to enforce the more generous provisions of the Siete Partidas, even when there was a will to do so, and the lot of the slave inevitably varied from region to region and from master to master. Yet the rules relating to marriage, manumission and the holding of property allowed slaves some latitude, and urban slaves in particular quickly became adept at exploiting the rivalries between the different institutions of control, together with the openings offered by the law. In principle, as Christians, they enjoyed the protection of the church and the canon law, and as vassals of the crown could seek redress from royal justice. No doubt many were in no position to take advantage of these possibilities, but the numerous cases that came before the courts in New Spain suggest that, in common with members of the indigenous population, they soon learnt to play the game by Spanish rules. 117 As they battled to establish their rights to marriage or their entitlement to freedom, they managed, with the help of church and crown, to erode the claims of masters to hold them as mere chattels and dispose of their bodies as they wished.

Since children took their mother's and not their father's status, zambos - the offspring of African slave fathers and Indian mothers - were free-born, although in practice this might mean little more than exchanging one wretched lifeprospect for another, since they now became subject to the tribute and labour demands imposed on the Indian population. Legally, however, their status was superior to that of the slave, and although the colonial authorities frowned on the growing number of Afro-Indian unions, the crown refused to break with a custom which favoured a libertarian trend."' Slavery, after all, ran counter to natural law, and natural law exercised a powerful hold over the Hispanic imagination.

Not surprisingly, therefore, manumission was more easily obtained in Spanish than in British America, where various possible avenues to freedom would come to be blocked one by one. The British American colonies increasingly restricted the master's power to free his slaves, whereas in general the territories of the Spanish crown were free of such restraints.119 In Spanish America it was not uncommon for masters - particularly in their last wills and testaments - to grant freedom to their slaves, especially female slaves and the sick and elderly, although this can also be seen as a device that enabled them to avoid the expense of continuing maintenance.120 It was possible, too, for slaves who met the appropriate criteria to win their freedom in the courts, something which seems to have been more difficult to achieve in North America, at least outside New England, although there were always variations between colony and colony and between statute and practice. 121 The majority of manumitted slaves in the Spanish territories, however, appear to have gained their freedom by purchasing it with monies saved from earnings on the side.122

With a constant trickle of manumissions adding to the pool of free Africans already settled in the Indies, the free black population grew rapidly, especially in the cities, and already in early seventeenth-century New Spain the free African urban labour force was beginning to outnumber that of slaves.123 Jointly with artisan slaves owned by artisan masters, free Africans and mulattoes set up confraternities - nineteen in Lima alone in the early seventeenth century124 - and established an uneasy foothold for themselves in a Hispanic American colonial world reluctantly prepared to accept their presence within its stratified society. British America, too, had its free blacks, but as slavery tightened its grip on the southern mainland colonies, the environment in which they lived became progressively less congenial. The advent of the plantation was accompanied by a deepening social and racial degradation, which affected them all.121

Transatlantic economies

The exploitation of the New World's resources by European settlers, drawing - as circumstances suggested and new opportunities presented themselves - on their own labour, that of the indigenous population, and imported African slaves, was based on the recognition of reciprocal needs. Europe needed, or believed that it needed, the products of America, with gold and silver at the top of the list. The colonists needed European commodities that, for one reason or another, they could not supply for themselves. Until sound growth rates were established, they also needed a constant replenishment of people. The interaction of these mutual necessities promoted the rapid development of transatlantic commercial networks, in conformity with patterns dictated in the first instance by the winds and currents of the Atlantic, but also by metropolitan practices and requirements, and by their adjustment to local American conditions.

Through a combination of intuition and seafaring skills Columbus discovered the transatlantic route that would become the norm for the first and most elaborate of the commercial networks linking Europe and America - that between Andalusia and the tropical America of the Caribbean. Taking maximum advantage of the prevailing winds, the route described an elliptical arc, with the outgoing ships from Andalusia making the crossing after stopping over at the Canaries, and returning by more northerly latitudes by way of the Florida Strait and the Azores. If all went well, the outward passage, from Seville's port of San Lucar de Barrameda to Portobelo on the isthmus of Panama, could be done in something like 91 days, while the return journey, always much slower, would take some 128.126 Sailing times were shorter for the London-Jamestown route, although not as short as might appear from Captain Seagull's understandably over-enthusiastic response to the question `How far is it thither?', put by one of his drinking companions in Chapman's Eastward Ho: `Some six weeks' sail, no more, with any indifferent good wind'. The average was in fact 55 days, although the return journey could be done in 40 (see map 2, p. 50).127

The natural laws governing navigation in the age of sail carried with them certain ineluctable consequences, prescribing ideal times, routes and seasons for sailing, and giving preference to certain points of departure at the expense of others. If Andalusia - in effect Seville and its port complex of San Lucar and Cadiz - acquired a monopoly of transatlantic sailings at an early stage of Spain's overseas expansion, this was not simply the result of bureaucratic machinations or human caprice. If sailings had taken place instead from Spain's northern coast, sailing times would have been 20 per cent longer, and the voyage would have cost 25 per cent more.128 The Andalusian monopoly would in time become the object of bitter criticism, but it is a reflection of these unpalatable logistical facts that when in 1529 sailings to the Indies were authorized for a whole string of ports, ranging from Bilbao in the north to Cartagena on the east coast of Spain, little use seems to have been made of the authorization, which became a dead letter long before it was formally revoked in 1573.129

There was therefore a geographical logic to the early selection of Seville as the organizing centre for Spain's Atlantic trade, with the creation in 1503 of the Casa de la Contratacion - the House of Trade - to supervise sailings to the Indies. As an inland port Seville had serious shortcomings, which would become increasingly apparent as the Guadalquivir silted up and river navigation grew hazardous. Yet as a city in the royal domain in an Andalusia pocketed with large seigneurial enclaves, and as the busy metropolis of a rich agricultural hinterland well capable of provisioning the Indies fleets, Seville's case for selection was overwhelming, on both political and economic grounds.

In founding the Casa de la Contratacion Ferdinand and Isabella had in their minds the example of the Casa da India in Lisbon, with which the Portuguese crown sought to regulate and control Portugal's lucrative Asian trade. In the circumstances of the early sixteenth century such a regulatory approach appeared entirely logical, on grounds both of national security and narrower state interests. The secrets of transatlantic navigation had to be guarded, and foreigners excluded from trade with, and emigration to, the Indies, if Castile's new overseas possessions were not to fall into the hands of its rivals and the fruits of its enterprise be lost. After its long struggle to uphold its own prerogatives at home the crown was also extremely anxious that its authority, and with it the possibility of potentially great financial benefits, should not be unnecessarily jeopardized by allowing uncontrolled access of its own subjects to its transatlantic possessions. Those benefits soon became apparent. As increasing quantities of American gold and silver began to be shipped home, there was clearly an unanswerable case for channelling shipments from the Indies through a single port of entry where bullion could be properly registered and the remittances for the crown be set aside under lock and key.

Seville's monopoly, therefore, born of logic and convenience, and responding well to the political and international needs of the early sixteenth century, was very quickly reinforced by the security requirements of a transatlantic trade in which silver was so overwhelmingly the most valuable commodity shipped back from the Indies. These same requirements, too, came to determine the distinctive structure of the Indies trade - the Carrera de Indias - as it developed over the course of the sixteenth century. To counter the growing threat from privateers, armed escorts had to be provided. Isolated sailings were too expensive to protect and too vulnerable to attack, and an incipient convoy system attained its definitive form in 1564 when two separate fleets were organized - the flota, leaving in April or May for Vera Cruz in New Spain, and the galeones sailing in August for the isthmus of Panama, with the combined fleets returning to Spain the following autumn, after meeting up in Havana. This would become the annual pattern for Spanish transatlantic crossings.

Unless periodically pruned back, however, monopolies tend to grow. In 1543 the merchants of Seville were incorporated into a Consulado, or Merchant Guild, which came to exercise a growing dominance over the Indies trade as the century progressed. By the end of the century the trade was enveloped in a closely meshed web of commercial and financial interests linking a dominant group of merchants in the Consulado with royal bankers, officials of the Casa de la Contratacion, and ministers and officials of the Council of the Indies. These various interest groups, enjoying the support of the municipal authorities of Seville, would fight tenaciously to preserve the monopoly, and resist any initiative that might threaten to subvert it.13o

While the perpetuation of the monopoly introduced rigidities that would make it difficult for the Spanish transatlantic system to adapt to the evolving requirements of the colonial societies, the Sevillian mercantile-financial complex never possessed a complete stranglehold over the colonial trade. Foreign merchants, beginning with the Genoese, found innumerable ways of infiltrating the system; smuggling and contraband became endemic; and the slave trade, even if channelled through Seville, was in the hands of Portuguese merchants, who had their own separate networks, and exploited the system for their own private ends.131 Members of Sevillian mercantile families, like the Almonte,132 moving to and fro between Spain and America, would share business with local merchants in New Spain, Panama or Peru. By the later sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries this new breed of American merchants was becoming rich and powerful enough for its members to act as independent participants in the Spanish Atlantic trading system, and influence Seville in their turn.133

The business houses of Seville were anyhow overstretched, and large areas of commercial activity in the New World lay beyond their reach. While European imports into the Americas fell within Seville's monopoly and had to be consumed in the province to which they were consigned, there was, as a rule, no restriction on inter-regional trades in colonial produce. Venezuela, for instance, enjoyed a lively trade with neighbouring regions, and from the 1620s was exporting large consignments of cacao to Mexico.134 Throughout the sixteenth century there was also an unrestricted trade between the Pacific coast ports of New Spain and Peru. This was finally ended by the crown in 1631, in a bid to curb the consequences of a trans-Pacific trade that had developed in the 1570s between the Mexican port of Acapulco and Manila in the Philippines, and was draining off to China large quantities of American silver that had been destined for Seville.13'

The regulation of trade in the name of national interest and through the mechanism of privilege and monopoly rights was a standard weapon in the armoury of Early Modern European states, which operated in an environment where the correlation of bullion, prosperity and power was regarded as axiomatic. Considerations of profit and power were as dominant in the formulation of economic policy in Tudor and Stuart England as they were in that of Habsburg Spain, with mercantile interests looking to the crown to devise strategies for the protection and enhancement of trade, and the crown in turn looking to the merchant community to provide it with a continuous flow of revenue from its overseas activities. It was on the basis of just such a mutual accommodation that Seville acquired and preserved its monopoly, while the crown collected its dues.

Such a tight system of control, however, would have been difficult, if not impossible, to introduce into the trading activities of the English Atlantic world, especially in the early stages of transatlantic colonization. The North Atlantic maritime routes moved to a different rhythm from that of the Spanish Atlantic, and the products shipped home imposed different imperatives. The first routes were navigated high up in northern waters as English, French and Basque fishermen arrived to exploit the international fishing grounds off the Newfoundland coast. The English Atlantic was at its narrowest between the British Isles and Newfoundland, but the inhospitable nature of the country was not conducive to extensive settlement, while the nature of the trade - conducted from English outports in the most perishable of commodities - hardly lent itself to close regula- tion.136 Further north, in the remote and icy region of Hudson Bay, settlement was an even less attractive prospect, but furs, unlike fish, were a staple that lent itself to company exploitation, and in the late seventeenth century, as the trade expanded, were to provide the basis for the lucrative monopoly granted by Charles II to Hudson's Bay Company.

Two main routes existed for trade and communication between the British Isles and the principal colonies of British settlement, running from New England to the Caribbean. The more northerly of the two, cold and foggy, involved a fiveweek westward crossing and a three-week return crossing by way of the Newfoundland Banks. The more southerly route, hot and humid, went by way of Madeira, the Azores and Barbados, eight weeks' sailing time to and from England; but more direct passages, avoiding the need for a West Indies landfall, were sought and found as the tobacco trade with the Chesapeake developed. 117 The variety of routes, leading to a variety of settlements yielding a very diverse range of produce, made it difficult to think in terms of a Spanish-style system of fixed annual sailings in convoy. But, as the staple trades developed, so also did the need to reduce the risks of potentially heavy losses at the hand of pirates or enemy vessels. It was the French wars of the later seventeenth century which forced the English to follow the Spanish example, at least in part. During the years of war, regular sailing dates had to be arranged for the sugar and tobacco fleets, so that they could proceed in armed convoy with protection provided by the state. In determining these dates, the interests of London merchants prevailed over those of the outports.138

To achieve such a Spanish-style level of organization and defence, however, required a combination of circumstance, capacity and commitment which simply did not exist during the first half-century of English overseas settlement. Although Charles I cherished a vision of a well-ordered empire with all its component parts moving in majestic unison,139 the process of overseas colonization during his reign remained obstinately haphazard. While Virginia was transformed in 1625 into a colony under direct royal government, the granting elsewhere of colonial charters to corporate and individual proprietors for the planting of new settlements ruled out the possibility of establishing uniform royal control. Similarly, Charles might announce his intention to take over the tobacco trade,140 but he had no means of enforcing his wishes. The state simply lacked the resources and apparatus to impose firm central direction on overseas trading and colonizing ventures that were characterized by fierce competition between rival interest groups in London and the outports, and an overwhelming urge for shortterm gain at the expense of long-term planning. But the state's failure may well have been the essential precondition for the eventual success of England's overseas enterprise, which depended on the mobilization of the widest possible range of financial and human resources - a mobilization that would have been very difficult to achieve through royal directives. The very inability of Charles's government to impose such directives left room for the free play of enterprise. This in turn made it possible to experiment with differing forms of `improvement' in settlements that resembled each other only in the absence of the three elements - precious metals, an adequate supply of local labour, and immediately accessible staple commodities of uncontested importance to the national economy - of which one at least was commonly regarded by mercantilist thinkers as essential for their long-term survival.

Although publicists made the case for English overseas colonization in terms of draining off surplus population and opening new markets for home manufactures, the apparent inability of the settlements to produce local commodities that would complement the weaknesses of the home economy made it difficult to devise a coherent economic strategy for them along sound mercantilist lines. One or two tropical islands and a scattering of coastal settlements offering what seemed very limited possibilities of advantage to the mother country hardly looked like the foundations of a British empire in America comparable in value to that of Spain. By the middle years of the seventeenth century, however, Barbados sugar and Virginia tobacco were beginning to suggest that these remote American outposts might after all be turned to good account. Yet Cromwell's Western Design of 1655, with Hispaniola as its target, testified to the continuing hold exercised over the English imagination by the Spanish silver empire.

While the Western Design proved a disappointment for which the acquisition of Jamaica appeared to offer little by way of compensation, it was at once a testimony to recent achievements and a portent of things to come. This was the first time that the British state had organized a transatlantic military operation in pursuit of imperial interests.141 As such, it was evidence both of the resurgence of state power under Cromwellian rule, and of a new determination on the part of the state to use that power for the promotion of economic as well as strategic ends. The Western Design can be seen as part of a larger national design, in which the state sought to realize the nation's potential, and that of its overseas settlements, in order to maximize power in its great international struggle against England's rivals - the Spanish, the French and the Dutch.

The construction of a powerful navy after 1649 was critical to the success of this grand design, as also was the Navigation Act of 1651, which was equally intended to strengthen the nation's power at sea.142 The unexpected success of the English fleet in the first Anglo-Dutch war of 1652-4 demonstrated beyond a doubt that England now possessed a formidable capacity for maritime and colonial expansion.141 It would be for the restored monarchy of Charles II, in the years after 1660, to build on the foundations laid by the Republic by introducing its own Navigation Acts of 1660 and 1663, and setting up in 1660 a Council for Trade and Plantations.

Compared with the Spaniards, the British state was slow in developing a coherent approach to the exploitation of American resources, and in seeking to impose its own regulatory control over the movements of transatlantic trade. The creation of the Casa de la Contratacion came only a decade after Columbus's return from his first voyage, while almost half a century elapsed between the founding of Jamestown and the first effective measures taken by the British crown to ensure that overseas trade was directly regulated by state power. Partly this was a reflection of the nature of the resources themselves. The early discovery of gold in the Spanish Caribbean introduced an urgency into the establishment of some form of state control which was not felt in a British Atlantic world that seemed to offer little more than fish, furs, timber and a few bales of tobacco. Partly, too, it was a reflection of the inability of the English crown under the Tudors and early Stuarts to develop a significant bureaucratic apparatus - something that would have been much more feasible if a regular supply of New World bullion had been flowing into its coffers. Private initiatives, reinforced by charters and monopoly grants, therefore became the order of the day in the development of England's overseas possessions. As the state grew stronger in the middle years of the seventeenth century, it could begin to challenge these monopolies, whereas the Seville monopoly, dependent on a complicated collusion of mutually reinforcing state and mercantile interests, proved impervious to reform.

Both imperial powers, however, were operating over the course of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries within the same set of assumptions about the proper relationship of overseas settlements to the mother country. This was to be a relationship in which the interests of the settlements were ruthlessly subordinated to those of an imperial metropolis bent on identifying and developing in its transatlantic possessions those economic assets that most nearly complemented its needs. The supply of those assets would then be controlled and regulated in ways that would bring fiscal benefits to the state and maximize national power in a world of bitter international rivalries - rivalries that already, from the mid-sixteenth century, were extending to the Americas as the Atlantic was transformed into a European lake.

Certainly there might well be disagreements about which assets were most greatly to be prized. By the mid-seventeenth century silver was becoming more than a little tarnished. Observers noted how all the silver of America had failed to bring prosperity to Spain, although there were still bullionists, like George Gardyner, who saw the principal aim of English commerce as to bring as much silver and gold into the country as possible, while carrying as little as possible out. For him, `the trade of America is prejudicial, very dishonest, and highly dishonourable to our Nation.' 144 By 1651, however, such views were becoming more than a little eccentric, and overseas empire, even if it lacked gold and silver, was coming to be seen as an indispensable appendage to every self-respecting state. The problem, as perceived from the centre of empire, was how best to manage overseas possessions in such a way as to yield the maximum benefits to the mother country. The challenge of constructing an effective imperial framework had long exercised Spanish minds. In the age of Cromwell and the restored Stuarts it would also begin to exercise the minds of those who cherished the vision of an empowered British state.

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