The Ordering of Society

Hierarchy and control

Family and hierarchy were the twin pillars supporting the social structure of Early Modern Europe. The ordered family, under the control of the head of the household, patterned the state in microcosm, just as the state, under royal government, was a microcosm of the divinely ordered universe subservient to its Maker. Some in this universe were born to rule and others to obey; or, as John Winthrop expressed it in his famous sermon, A Modell of Christian Charity, said to have been preached on board the Arbella, but more probably in Southampton before the ship's departure: `in all times some must be rich, some poor, some high and eminent in power and dignity; others mean and in subjection." The doctrine of degree, transplanted to Spanish America and more recently to the English dominion of Virginia, now crossed the north Atlantic again, this time in the Arbella to Puritan New England.

Yet the New Englanders would find, as Spanish Americans and Virginians had found before them, that old European certainties and new American realities did not necessarily coincide. During the Peruvian civil wars, Hernando Pizarro, in a rousing speech to his infantry soldiers before they engaged in battle with the army of his rival, Diego de Almagro, told them that he understood, `they were saying among themselves that soldiers without horses counted for little when it came to the distribution of land; but he gave them his word that no such thought had ever crossed his mind, because good soldiers are not to be judged by their horses, but by the valour of their persons. Therefore whoever showed himself brave would be rewarded in conformity with his service; for not to possess horses was a matter of fortune, and no disparagement of their persons.'

The extent to which such words represented a dangerous subversion of traditional notions of the proper ordering of society is suggested by a passage in a sermon preached by a New England minister, William Hubbard, in 1676: `It is not then the result of time or chance, that some are mounted on horse-back, while others are left to travel on foot. That some have with the Centurion, power to command, while others are required to obey.'3 God's design was clear, and was spelled out by an early viceroy of Peru when he wrote that, `in conformity with other republics it is necessary that there should be persons of different quality, condition and estate, and that not all should be equal, just as for the good government of the human body not all members are equal.'4 Yet could this grand design be as successfully sustained in the New World as in the Old? Hernando Pizarro's words gave an early warning of the difficulties.

Throughout the colonial period there was to be a persistent tension between the traditional image of the ordered society and the social practices and arrangements arising out of the conditions of conquest and settlement. No doubt in Europe too there were wide disparities between theory and practice, especially in periods like the sixteenth century when economic change brought accelerated social mobility. But, in general, social change in Europe would be contained and absorbed by the society of orders, which would only begin to be eroded in the late eighteenth century under the double impact of the French and Industrial Revolutions.' In America, it remained an open question whether the society of orders could even survive the Atlantic crossing, and, if so, whether it could be reconstituted in ways familiar to those who came from Europe.

Not everyone, however, necessarily wished for such an outcome. In the course of the great social and religious upheavals in sixteenth-century Europe, what passed for dangerously radical and egalitarian doctrines had risen alarmingly to the surface. In the Tyrol, Michael Gaismayr had put forward proposals for a drastic reordering of society along evangelical communitarian lines,' and the Anabaptists introduced forms of communal organization in Munster which were ruthlessly suppressed by the forces of law and order in 1535. In spite of the tragedy of Munster, Anabaptists, Hutterites and other splinter religious movements managed to keep egalitarian doctrines alive,7 while the popularity of Thomas More's Utopia ensured that visions of an alternative organization of society based on community rather than hierarchy would not be lost from view With the forces of repression in the ascendant in Europe, where better to establish a more just and egalitarian society than in the New World of America?

Although Bishop Vasco de Quiroga did indeed attempt to found communities inspired by Utopia on the shores of Lake Patzcuaro in the mid-sixteenth century,' this was communal organization for the Indians, and not for European colonists. There is no indication that Spanish immigrants were infected by egalitarian or communitarian ideals. They came to better themselves - to `be worth more' (valer mas) in the language of the day - and to be worth more meant acquiring not only wealth, but also social status and honour, as understood and approved by the home societies to which many of them hoped one day to return.9 Perhaps a quarter of the 168 men who followed Francisco Pizarro at Cajamarca could lay claim to some trace of gentle birth, but not one of them was legitimately entitled to use the prefix don, still nominally reserved in Castile for those with relatively close ties of lineage to the titled nobility." Usage in the Indies, however, rapidly conferred the title of don on the leading conquistadores even before some of them received titles or offices from the crown, and within a generation the prefix was sufficiently common for the Mexican chronicler Baltasar Dorantes de Carranza to complain, no doubt with considerable exaggeration, that mere cabin boys and sailors would style themselves `don Fulano' as soon as they set foot on American soil." Status - not its abolition - was the aspiration of Spanish settlers in the Indies.

If egalitarian notions were to take root in America, this was more likely to occur in the British than the Spanish settlements, because the natural carrier for such notions was Protestant sectarianism. The leaders of the Puritan emigration to New England were well aware of this, and were haunted by the memory of Munster and fears of levelling.12 John Winthrop and his colleagues were concerned that reports of any levelling tendencies or communal experiments would discredit their fledgling Bay Colony in the eyes of its supporters in the home country, and were quick to stamp on the first signs of social or religious subversion. The unorthodox religious opinions of Anne Hutchinson, with their subversive message that God revealed Himself directly to the elect, were all the more dangerous because she was not only a woman but a woman of standing, as the wife of a substantial Lincolnshire merchant, with whom she had arrived in Boston, along with their eleven children, in 1634. The social esteem she enjoyed among the Boston women who gathered in her home for inspirational meetings compounded the challenge that her antinomian teachings presented to the Puritan clerical establishment. Subjected to a civil trial before the Massachusetts Bay General Court, and then to a trial by the Boston church, she was expelled from the colony in 1638.13

The proximity of a neighbouring settlement established on the principle of liberty of conscience - Roger Williams's new colony of Rhode island, where Anne Hutchinson took refuge - inevitably added to the fears of the Massachusetts ministers. Rhode Island appeared to exemplify the breakdown of all social cohesion which in their eyes followed ineluctably from insistence on spiritual equality and the absence of ministerial control, and the colony was deliberately excluded from the Confederation of New England set up in 1643 for regional defence.14 Worse still, the English Civil War opened a religious Pandora's box, releasing into the world a host of a crazed notions with dangerously radical intent. Winthrop noted in his journal for 1645 how the Anabaptists `began to increase very fast through the Country here, and much more in England, where they had gathered diverse Churches, and taught openly ..."s Although Cromwell might suppress the Levellers, the damage had been done.

The effect of strict religious control in Massachusetts was simply to encourage settlers and new immigrants to settle in colonies more tolerant of dissenting opinions - not only Rhode island, but also Maryland, which was openly accepting of toleration, and Virginia, where the Anglican establishment continued to be weak. Quakers began arriving in America in the 1650s, bringing with them notions and practices which seemed to represent a direct assault on the established foundations of family discipline, codes of honour and a society based on rank. How could society continue to function if hats were not doffed? Yet Quakers came to develop their own form of family discipline, even if it was one that conferred more authority on women in the household than was conventionally acceptable. When William Penn founded his colony of Pennsylvania in 1681, it became clear that spiritual egalitarianism was not after all incompatible with the demands of social hierarchy.16

In the early years of colonization the principal threat to a family-based society grounded in hierarchy and deference came, not from egalitarian doctrines imported from Europe, nor even from the notions of religious dissent that were beginning to permeate the Protestant world of the British colonies, but from the raw facts of life, death and patterns of immigration in the new societies. Of all the societies, British and Spanish, that established themselves in the New World of America, only that of New England managed in the early stages of settlement to replicate something approaching the family structure of the society from which the colonists were drawn. With nearly half its immigrants women, and a preponderance of immigrants travelling in family groups," there was a good chance from the beginning that the accepted forms of family life could be reconstituted with reasonable fidelity in the relatively benign climatic environment of New England. The early settlers, however, saw things differently, and parents were deeply concerned that their children would succumb to the savagery of the forest world that surrounded them unless Christian and civilized values were inculcated from an early age by rigorous schooling.18

In the Chesapeake, with its overwhelmingly male immigration and its mortality rate of perhaps 40 per cent within two years of arrival,19 the establishment of Old World patterns of family life came much more slowly and would be infinitely harder to achieve. Spanish America was affected by similar problems of acute gender imbalance among white settlers until the later years of the sixteenth century. The Spanish crown, concerned to promote stability in the settler community and prevent destitution in Spain, ordered that wives left behind in Spain should join their husbands in the Indies, and that unmarried men should find themselves wives.20 The settlement of the Indies, however, would leave a trail of broken marriages, together with many prosecutions for bigamy.21

The early stages of settlement of British and Spanish America were therefore marked by the development of household structures which responded more to the dictates of demography and environment than to cultural differences. The northeastern colonies of British America were a world on their own - a world of essentially nuclear families, with high survival rates for children (fig. 14), and an average life expectancy of around seventy for those who reached adulthood. With land relatively abundant, and an inheritance pattern in which the house or farm was left to only one son, siblings were expected to leave the family home on marriage and set up on their own. The result was a community of separate households tied together by the relationships of an extended family network.22 Servants were integrated into the family households, which were run on firmly patriarchal lines, and the status of wives, as in England, was strictly subordinate, although colonial conditions seem to have produced a certain flexibility, at least in practice, where their legal and property rights were concerned .21

In the Chesapeake and the Antilles, and throughout Spanish America, there was a much greater initial fluidity in social and household arrangements than there was in New England. With white women in short supply, and with such a large proportion of the Chesapeake population consisting of young male indentured servants who would need time to accumulate sufficient capital to establish a household, men married late, if they married at all. In southern Maryland, even in the second half of the seventeenth century, over a quarter of male testators died unmarried.24 Illegitimacy rates in the Chesapeake were correspondingly high, with female servants particularly at risk, and when couples did marry the marriage was likely to be cut short by the early death of one or other of the partners. Second marriages were frequent, with widows enjoying a relative latitude for manoeuvre, while the many children who lost one or both parents moved into a world in which they were dependent for their support, and such education as they received, on an extended network of relatives, friends and neighbours.25 There was a sharp contrast, therefore, between New England, with its tight parental control and its inherent tendency to generational conflict, and the shifting kaleidoscopic world of sexual and family relationships in the southern colonies.26

A similar looseness of arrangements prevailed in the Spanish colonial world, especially in the early stages of settlement. Here, too, illegitimacy rates were very high, largely as a consequence of illicit unions between Spanish men and Indian women. As a result, the word mestizo became virtually synonymous with `illegit- imate'.27 The early absorption of many of these mestizo children, and especially the boys, into the father's household28 could be no more than a palliative to the growing problem of how to integrate the mestizos into Spanish American colonial society. A comparable problem was to be presented in the British Caribbean islands and the southern mainland colonies by the mulatto children resulting from illicit unions between the colonists and black women drawn from the rapidly growing African labour force. Here the problem would be brutally solved by their largely automatic incorporation into the ranks of the slaves. The plantation complex could conceal a multitude of sins, although, as a group, the Caribbean planters may have shown a higher degree of paternal responsibility than their fellow planters on the mainland, perhaps influenced by the very smallness of the white minority in a largely black population.29

No doubt the haciendas that developed in the American viceroyalties created just as many opportunities as the British plantations for sexual profligacy and abuse; and the growing inequalities of Spanish American colonial society and the absence of effective religious or social control over Spanish-Indian sexual liaisons meant that, even with the reduction of the gender imbalance in the Hispanic community as more female immigrants arrived from Spain, the numbers of mestizo children continued to increase. Spanish American society, however, developed an important instrument for the preservation of social cohesion, in the form of compadrazgo, or co-godparenthood. This form of ritual kinship, although important as a method of social bonding in Andalusia, took on a new and vigorous life in the initially atomized world of colonial America. By creating a relationship of mutual trust and reciprocity between the godparents themselves, as well as between the godparents and their godchildren, it could bridge both social and racial divides, blurring the dividing lines and adding a useful integrating element to societies that were all too prone to fragmentation. 30

If godparenthood acted as a stronger force for social cohesion in Spanish than in British America, both worlds placed a heavy reliance on the power relationships inherent in patriarchal authority - husbands over wives, seniors over juniors, masters over servants - to maintain the family household as the basic unit of society and to hold the forces of social dissolution in check. The members of the Virginia Assembly showed themselves as keen as the New England ministers to assert and reinforce the authority of the master of the household, and to ensure that he fulfilled his responsibilities in disciplining, instructing and watching over the conduct and morals of those entrusted to his charge.31 The English common law that was adopted, and where necessary adapted, by the colonial societies, provided scope for this, not least by placing so much economic power in the hands of husbands and fathers. Wives were financially dependent on husbands; widows, although entitled to something like a third of their husband's real and personal estate, could find, at least in much of New England, that their right was not absolute; and the distribution of property among the children was dependent on the decision of the father, unless he died intestate.32

Castilian law, too, as embodied in the Siete Partidas, made strong provision, especially in the fourth Partida, for parental, and particularly paternal, authority, known as patria potestas, which went further than its equivalent in the AngloAmerican world by giving parents legal authority over their adult children until the time of their marriage.33 But both law and custom in Castile favoured women in ways that the English common law did not. Daughters inherited equally with sons a mandatory share of the estate, known as the legitima, and widows took back on the deaths of their husbands not only their dowries, and the sum known as the arras or bridewealth which the husband promised on marriage, but also half any property gains made jointly by the spouses.34 In the control and division of assets, therefore, peninsular society possessed a tradition of equity between the sexes, even if this was tempered in the sixteenth century by the growing recourse of wealthy families to the use of primogeniture and entail (mayorazgo) to counter the inherent tendency in a partible inheritance system towards the fragmentation of the family estate.

The mayorazgo duly crossed the Atlantic to Spanish America, as Adam Smith noted with disapproval. `In the Spanish and Portugueze colonies,' he wrote, `what is called the right of Majorazzo takes place in the succession of all those great estates to which any title of honour is annexed.' He admitted that outside Pennsylvania and New England, `the right of primogeniture takes place, as in the law of England. But in all the English colonies the tenure of the lands, which are all held by free socage, facilitates alienation, and the grantee of any extensive tract of land, generally finds it for his interest to alienate, as fast as he can, the greater part of it, reserving only a small quit-rent.' To Smith, the conclusions were obvious. A lively land market reduced the price of land and encouraged its cultivation. `The labour of the English colonies, therefore, being more employed in the improvement and cultivation of land, is likely to afford a greater and more valuable produce' than that of Iberian and French America, `which, by the engrossing of land, is more or less diverted to other employments'.35

Smith's information, however, was not entirely accurate, and his contrasts were too starkly drawn. While the church and the religious orders had extensive holdings of land in mortmain, thus restricting the unfettered circulation of landed property, entails developed relatively slowly in Spanish America. Some fifty entails had been established in the viceroyalty of New Spain by the 1620s,36 and although with the passage of time the mayorazgo became more frequent among wealthy families, it never acquired the prominence it enjoyed among the upper and middle ranks of society in the Iberian peninsula itself. By the end of the colonial period something of the order of a thousand entails had been founded in New Spain, most of them fairly modest in scale. They seem to have been more prevalent here than in other parts of Spanish America, but in the important agricultural district of Leon in northern Mexico, for instance, there is no record of any estate being entailed, and under the system of partible inheritance estates changed hands by sale in almost every generation.37

In its desire to prevent the growth of an American aristocracy, the Spanish crown seems to have been careful not to concede too many licences to found may- orazgos. The inheritance laws, however, offered an alternative device which gave some of the advantages of an entail without the trouble and costs. This was the mejora, by which a parent could favour a particular child by increasing his or her share of the inheritance. The device was much favoured by the merchant elite of seventeenth-century Mexico, enabling them to ensure the perpetuation of the linaje - the lineage - by arranging for a substantial proportion of the family assets to pass intact from one generation to the next.38

Both the mejora and the entail were at least nominally gender-blind in the Hispanic world. In a society where the mother's surname as well as the father's was transmitted to the children, and might indeed be taken in preference to it, the transfer of property through a daughter was perfectly acceptable. While parents in British America no doubt did their best to ensure that their daughters were well settled,39 the fact that the family name was transmitted in British society through the male bloodline naturally tended to favour male heirs. Although rigorous primogeniture appears never to have been particularly popular in British America, the custom of primogeniture and entail seems to have grown stronger in the Chesapeake colonies over time, and was the rule in all cases of intestacy. In Virginia, in particular, the great landed families of the eighteenth century, keen to take the English aristocracy as their model, tied up their estates with entails on a positively English scale, with the result that three-quarters of the land in the Tidewater counties was entailed by the time of the Revolution.40 Here at least the contrast with the Spanish colonial world was nothing like as sharp as Adam Smith suggested.

The relative abundance of land in the British mainland colonies meant that it was often possible for a father to leave the bulk of his property to one son, in the knowledge that enough remained for his siblings to gain a livelihood.41 Yet if American space and American resources offered wider individual opportunities to those who in Europe would normally have found themselves cramped by the operation of inheritance laws, the lineal family, transmitting its name and property from one generation to the next, was central to the social and economic life of British America, as it was to that of Hispanic America.

Within the family, paternal authority was nominally supreme, although in practice many households were headed by widows, who became responsible on their husband's death for supervision of the estate and the transmission of the family property. Early remarriage, which was to be expected where substantial property was involved or where women were in short supply, was liable to limit the period when women held the family assets in their hands. There were also variations in law and practice between the different colonial societies which could have significant consequences for the degree of control enjoyed by women. In general, it would seem that this was greater in the seventeenth-century Chesapeake than it was in New England'42 and greater still in Spanish America because of the distinctive legal identity and extensive property rights accorded women under Spanish inheritance laws. Spanish colonial widows could manage their husband's estates without first having to secure permission from the authorities, as was required in British America. They could also control the distribution of resources among the children, and could exercise the patria potestas, in the form of legal guardianship, over children who, under Spanish law, remained minors until the age of twenty-five .41 Consequently, the wealthy widow was, and remained, an exceptionally powerful figure in the Hispanic colonial world. In Peru, whose richest woman in the immediate post-conquest period, Dona Maria Escobar, held three encomiendas, women still held sixty encomiendas as late as 1583.44

With women sometimes wielding power, if only on a temporary basis, the colonial family, like the European, was not invariably patriarchal, although settlers looked askance at the matrilineal organization of some of the Indian societies which they saw around them.45 Parental authority in one form or another, however, was paramount. Yet this authority had its limits where the choice of marriage partners for children was concerned. Whereas the Protestant churches for the most part sought to reinforce the authority of parents, the Church of Rome, after much discussion at the Council of Trent, came down against mandatory parental consent, thus leaving the ultimate choice of partner to the children themselves. While many Catholic societies chose to defy or ignore this Tridentine legislation, it was strongly endorsed by the majority of theologians and moralists in Spain, where it accorded both with prevailing practice and with cultural values that traditionally insisted on the priority of individual consent.46

The Anglican church distanced itself from the approach taken by the Protestant churches on the continent, and, like the church in Spain, gave priority to the wishes of the children over those of their parents.47 It struggled, however, although with only very limited success, to persuade couples to solemnize their unions in a church ceremony. The widespread popular willingness to accept as binding the informal arrangements that surrounded so many of these unions made it difficult for parents to assert their authority. The colonial settlements of English America, anxious to maintain social cohesion, sought to tighten up on the practice that prevailed in the home country, but they did so in ways that reflected the differing social structures of the settlements themselves. Where New England legislation was particularly concerned to insist on the need for the prior consent of parents to the marriage of their children, legislators in the Chesapeake colonies were more interested in securing the rights of masters to approve or veto the marriage of indentured servants in their charge. A combination of legislation and insistence on marriage in church would, it was hoped, bring the problem of `secret marriages' between servants under contro1.41

The lack of success of these efforts at control is suggested by illegitimacy rates in the Chesapeake that were perhaps two or three times as high as the rates in England.49 In Puritan New England, on the other hand, the prevailing religious and moral values, combined with close community control, made the rates of illegitimacy and pre-nuptial pregnancy low both by English standards and by those of the other colonies.50 In the Hispanic world - both in the peninsula itself and in the colonies - illegitimacy rates were exceptionally high by European standards, with illegitimate births to Spanish women in one parish of Mexico City between 1640 and 1700 fluctuating at around 33 per cent.51

The explanation of such high illegitimacy rates in a Hispanic society which placed a special premium on sexual virtue in women still has to be found. Some of it must lie in the freedom given to children to choose their own partners, as also in the high value placed by society on verbal promises of marriage - the so-called palabras de consentimiento. Some of the taint of dishonour was removed if an unmarried woman gave birth after receiving such a promise; and under Spanish law the eventual marriage of the partners, so long as they were single, automatically legitimized any children born out of wedlock.52 Since the honour code which infused Hispanic society was effectively designed to preserve the appearance of sexual virtue even after virtue itself had been lost, the unmarried woman who lost her virginity might well escape social censure, since friends and relatives would join in a conspiracy of silence. The church, for its part, was always anxious to legitimize unions when both partners were free, in spite of possible disparity in their social - and even occasionally racial - status.53 Parents were often driven to acquiesce, however reluctantly, in such unequal marriages, in recognition of the binding force of verbal promises and of the social importance of preserving a daughter's reputation. Where parents remained recalcitrant but the couple themselves were determined to marry, church courts almost invariably pronounced in the couple's favour.54

If, as seems likely, these social conventions created an environment that did something to reduce the stigma of birth out of wedlock, the ecclesiastical and secular authorities alike became increasingly concerned by the large number of illegitimate births in colonial society, especially since so many of these births were of children of mixed race. In 1625 the viceroy of New Spain placed a ban on the legitimization of children born to couples who were not married,55 but it is doubtful whether this measure had much effect other than to aggravate the problems already faced by the illegitimate children themselves. The church in the Spanish Indies, too, gradually began to move in the direction of giving increased weight to parental consent, although major legislative change came only towards the end of the colonial period. The growing assertion of state power over the church in Bourbon Spain was to have important consequences for matrimonial legislation in the Indies as well as in Spain itself. In 1776 Charles III issued a pragmatic which required parental consent in the selection of a marriage partner for all those under the age of twenty-five, while at the same time jurisdiction over matrimonial disputes was removed from the church courts to the civil courts. Two years later the new legislation was extended to the Indies, although with the stipulation that the necessity for parental consent applied only to the marriages of `Spaniards', and not to those of blacks, mestizos, mulattoes and others of mixed race.56

While, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries at least, a combination of the law, social conventions and the attitudes of the church tended, in certain important areas, to weaken parental control in the Spanish American household, there were many informal ways of bringing pressure to bear on children's choices - ways that necessarily escape the historical record. Disinheritance, which was sanctioned by the Partidas, was a possible option, although there is no evidence that it was much used.57 The manipulation of dowries, however, was a useful instrument of parental control.58 Dowries in seventeenth-century New Spain might run to as high as 25,000 pesos, but Hispanic parents also enjoyed an option not open to their British American equivalents, the placing of daughters in convents, at a cost of a mere 3,000. Not surprisingly, the cities of Spanish America abounded in convents.59 For all the initial fluidity that was only to be expected of societies in process of establishing themselves, the patriarchal family had its own ways of reasserting its control in the superficially more open environment of America.

Although the family gradually overcame such impediments as gender imbalance, high mortality rates and the startling availability of land, to reconstitute itself as the central unit of the new American societies, these societies themselves were unable to replicate in full the hierarchical ordering of the European societies from which they derived. This, however, was not for want of trying. Coming from a world in which an undifferentiated society was normally regarded as an invitation to anarchy, early settlers of Spanish and British America alike were anxious to see their own fledgling societies approximating as soon as possible to the orderly hierarchical societies they had known in their homelands.60

Yet if, in the new environment of America, ownership of a horse, as Hernando Pizarro conceded, was purely fortuitous rather than a natural consequence of birth and degree, troubling questions presented themselves about the criteria that should be adopted for the ordering of these new societies. Deference could most obviously be paid, or at least demanded, where deference was due - to the sixteen undoubted hidalgos among Cortes's 530 men, or the 36 gentlemen among the first 105 planters of Virginia.61 Yet very quickly the waters became muddied, as the normal indicators of status in Europe lost much of their resonance, especially in a setting in which there was a large subservient population of non-whites. In 1594 Juan Cabeza de Vaca, a resident of Mexico City, wrote to his sister in Spain urging her and other relatives to come and join him. `In this land', he wrote, `they do not know what hunger is ... and so poor people are much better off here than in Spain, because they always give the commands and never have to work personally, and they always ride on horseback.'62 No doubt the picture he painted was excessively rosy, although an account of life in early seventeenth-century Lima gives a similar impression: `everyone boasts of great nobility, there is nobody who does not claim to be a caballero, and they all go about the city on horseback except for a few who are very poor.'63

The social implications of this state of affairs were all too clear. Who was in command if all could give commands? At the top of a hierarchically ordered society there should have been a titled aristocracy. But the titled nobility itself did not participate in the conquest of Spanish America, and the crown, in its determination to prevent the development of a New World aristocracy, was for a long time to be extremely sparing in the granting of American titles. It was reluctant even to elevate the conquistadores to the status of hidalgos in reward for their services, and it was only after much agitation among the conquerors and their heirs, who saw themselves being displaced in the granting of offices and favours by new arrivals from Spain, that Charles V agreed in 1543 that those who had actually participated in the conquest of Mexico should be classed as `first and principal conquistadores', and by virtue of this should be entitled to preferential treatment.64

If the first conquerors, many of them transformed into encomenderos, constituted at least an embryonic `natural aristocracy' of Spanish America, it proved to be an aristocracy that had great difficulty in staying the course. Attrition rates, as a result of death or return to Spain, were high. Only 45 per cent of the encomiendas granted in New Spain are known to have stayed in the family line beyond the first recipient,65 and the initial `natural aristocracy' would require continuous replenishment by later arrivals who possessed the money or the connections to acquire land and encomiendas, or to marry the widow or the daughter of an encomendero or `first conquistador'. The same was true of Virginia, where the death rate was devastatingly high among the first settler gentlemen.

Even in New England, where there was a much better chance than in the Chesapeake colonies or the Antilles of perpetuating the family line, the social order looked deficient and truncated by English standards. Few settlers had English titles, but painstaking efforts were made to retain such titular honours as existed. Deference was, and continued to be, a characteristic of New England life, but as time went on the niceties of English usage began to disappear, and Gent., at first a relatively rare indicator of social rank, came into wider use in the later years of the seventeenth century as an indicator less of rank than of personal virtue.66 New England, with its emphasis on a spiritual calling, was particularly propitious ground for waging a successful fight against the notion that honour was defined by lineage - a fight that was being fought right across Early Modern Europe. `Pardon me', wrote Cotton Mather in 1701, `if I say, any Honest Mechanicks really are more Honourable than Idle and Useless Men of Honour. Every man ordinarily should be able to say, I have something wherein I am occupied for the good of other men.'67

Hierarchies, then, if they were to be re-created, were likely to develop in ways that would differentiate them from those of the mother country. Too few members of the upper ranks of either Castilian or English society settled in the New World to allow of any simple replication, and New World conditions themselves, by offering unexpected opportunities for wealth and advancement to many who had little chance of either in the homelands they had left, created the potential for a social fluidity surprising to those accustomed to the more rigid hierarchical structures of Europe.

This fluidity found its counterpart in the eager pursuit of status symbols which would help to maintain distinctions of rank in societies where the dividing lines were all too easily blurred. The holding of public office conferred an obvious cachet, and the same was true of military command. In seventeenth-century British America, always on the alert against an Indian attack, military titles became a popular form of deferential address, just as the lure of a military title would induce many a young Spanish American creole to join the ranks when the militias were placed on a more regular footing in the eighteenth century.68 At least the trappings of hierarchy remained pervasive in the British colonies until the coming of the Revolution, even if the notion was being hollowed out from within. In Virginia in the middle years of the eighteenth century a young clergyman recorded his alarmed reaction to the arrival of his patron: `When I viewed him riding up, I never beheld such a display of pride in any man.... arising from his deportment, attitude and jesture; he rode a lofty elegant horse ...'69 In the plantation society of the southern regions of British America, as in the hacienda society of rural Spanish America, the man on horseback still held the upper hand.

Social antagonism and emerging elites

For all the arrogance of his power, the developing character of life in America none the less raised a continuing question over how long the man on horseback would remain firmly seated in his saddle. Inequality abounded in the colonial societies of America, and where inequality abounded, so also did resentment. Settlers who had come to the New World to improve their lot were unlikely to resign themselves uncomplainingly to a life of subordination when open spaces and new opportunities beckoned. Freshly arrived indentured servants were understandably desperate to throw off the shackles of servitude. In British America in particular there was an anti-deferential counter-current, born both of Old World religious and ideological inheritance and New World circumstance. This countercurrent ran in parallel with the trend to the emergence and consolidation of elites. But in Spanish America, too, as oligarchies tightened their hold, the dispossessed and the disadvantaged found ways to make their voices heard.

In 1675, the year that saw the opening of King Philip's War between Algonquian-speaking Indians and the New England colonists, hostilities also erupted between Susquehanna Indians and aggressive and insecure frontiersmen in the Virginia-Maryland border region. The former governor of Virginia, Sir William Berkeley (fig. 17), who had been restored to the governorship on the return of Charles II from exile, was unsympathetic to the frontiersmen and had no wish to see the colony involved in a full-scale Indian war. The backcountry settlers, however, had other ideas. Many of them poor planters, they wanted land, and they wanted protection from Indian attacks. With Berkeley refusing to mobilize the colony's resources in their support, they had to rely on themselves and their muskets. But they needed a leader. They found him in the 28-year-old Nathaniel Bacon.

Cambridge-educated, quick-witted and plausible, Bacon - a member of the well-connected East Anglian family of that name - had been packed off to Virginia by his father in the previous year after the exposure of his involvement in a swindle. Although taken up by Berkeley, who appointed him to the Virginia council within a few months of his arrival on the grounds that he was a gentleman of quality, he fell out with his patron after Indians murdered his overseer on his James River estate. A group of armed volunteers, determined to settle accounts with the Indians, turned to him for leadership with shouts of `A Bacon! A Bacon!', and in defiance of the governor's orders he led an expedition of reprisal, which ended in the butchering of numerous Indians. Berkeley responded by declaring him a rebel.70

Although the two men subsequently patched up their differences, relations remained tense, and the meeting of the Virginia assembly at Jamestown in June 1676 provided the occasion for a showdown. Berkeley was deeply unpopular in the colony that he had governed for too long. There were innumerable complaints of his allegedly pro-Indian policies and of the oppressive burden of taxation imposed during his long tenure of the governorship, and there were many who resented the way in which he and his friends dominated the political life of the colony. The frontier settlers, exasperated by the failure of the government to assist them against the Indians, saw their salvation in Bacon, who marched on Jamestown on 23 June at the head of 400 armed men.

As Berkeley fled, Bacon gathered widespread support for his defiance of the governor. Many gentry and burgesses, as well as the populace at large, wanted a reform of government, together with a campaign against the Indians that would make the border areas secure. Yet, for all his cleverness and charisma as a leader, Bacon found it increasingly difficult to control the more hot-headed of his followers. As lawlessness spread, the rebels put Jamestown to the torch, and sacked Berkeley's own plantation, Green Spring. Then suddenly, at the end of October, Bacon died of dysentery. With the unexpected death of its leader, the rebellion faltered and collapsed. When three royal commissioners, accompanied by a regiment of redcoats, reached Virginia from England in February 1677, they were horrified to find that a vengeful Berkeley had already carried out a string of executions on his own initiative. In April, Colonel Herbert Jeffreys, the commissioner in command of the regiment of English troops, ordered Berkeley to surrender his powers. Shortly afterwards the humiliated ex-governor sailed for home, where he died before he could put his case to the king.

Bacon's intentions remain controversial, although his primary concern seems to have been to persuade the king to sanction fundamental reforms in the colony's government rather than make a bid for Virginian independence, as his enemies alleged.71 But beneath the political disaffection lay a deep social resentment, as Bacon's `Manifesto' makes clear: `... Let us trace these men in Authority and Favour to whose hands the dispensation of the Countries wealth has been committed; let us observe the sudden Rise of their Estates compared with the Quality in which they first entered this Country Or the Reputation they have held here amongst wise and discerning men, And let us see wither [whether] their extractions and Education have not bin vile, And by what pretence of learning and vertue they could [enter] soe soon into Imployments of so great Trust and consequence ... '72 Bacon, although himself a newcomer to Virginia and the immediate recipient of favours from the governor, was lashing out against a new elite.

During the middle decades of the century a new ruling class had indeed been emerging to replace the vanished group of gentlemen who constituted the first leaders of the colony but had failed to transmit their leadership to a second generation. Along with thousands of indentured servants, a fresh wave of emigration beginning in the 1640s had brought to the Chesapeake disinherited cavaliers and younger sons of landed families from the losing side in the Civil War, many of them encouraged to emigrate by Sir William Berkeley, himself a prominent social figure whom Charles had selected for the governorship of Virginia in 1642. The new influx of immigrants also contained men of mercantile and business origins, like William Byrd, many of them connected by marriage with the landed gentry of southern and eastern England, and already possessing financial interests in the Chesapeake. These men formed part of a growing business community that spanned the Atlantic, and could call on substantial funds as they sought to establish themselves in colonial life. It was out of this group, reinforced in the early years of the Restoration by a further influx of younger sons of gentry families, who went on to marry into planter families surviving from the first generation of settlers, that the new elite was forged.73

This elite, acquiring and extending tobacco plantations, and taking over the management of local government, may well have been tainted by its associations with mercantile wealth, but it hardly looks as if it was composed of men of `vile' extraction and education, who so aroused Bacon's wrath. There were few, if any, former indentured servants in its ranks. Possibilities certainly existed, although more in Maryland than Virginia, for indentured servants - originally for the most part unskilled and illiterate rural labourers or artisans - to acquire land after securing their freedom, but most of those who succeeded in doing so became at best modest independent planters, and many sank back into poverty as tobacco prices began to fall sharply in the 1660s.74 The effect of economic depression was to harden the social divisions and fuel the resentments on which Bacon capitalized as he embarked on his rebellion. The bulk of his army was made up of discontented free men `that had but lately crept out of the condition of Servants' .71

While Bacon's attack was partly directed against that section of the new elite which was monopolizing local office, it had as its particular target a group who themselves were the object of hostility from these same local office-holders - the ruling clique of the governor and his council. The friends and relatives of Governor Berkeley, many of them drawn from the ranks of the new elite and benefiting from his patronage, had come to constitute a hated oligarchy, which was held responsible for corrupt practices and high taxation at a time of war with the Indians and widespread economic distress. Essentially this was a revolt for the restoration of good government and fundamental English rights rather than for the subversion of the social order, although increasingly extreme measures adopted by Bacon during the course of the rebellion, including the freeing of servants and black slaves recruited into his army, eventually cost him the support of most of his planter allies.76

The report delivered by the commissioners to Charles II placed the blame for the rebellion squarely on the misgovernment of Berkeley and his ruling clique. Their judgment gave the king and the Privy Council the opportunity they had long been awaiting to attempt some restructuring of Virginia's administration in ways that would ensure greater royal control. In particular, the assembly was induced to grant the king in perpetuity an export duty on tobacco to help defray the costs of government." In future, Virginia's elite would need to tread more cautiously, showing a greater sensitivity on the one hand to pressures emanating from Whitehall, and on the other to the wishes of a populace which had made its voice heard, and had been prepared to resort to arms against an oppressive and avaricious oligarchy in defence of the rights of free-born Englishmen. A vote by the assembly to limit the privilege of wealthy planters to tax-free labour suggested that the elite had learnt its lesson.78

Yet although Bacon's revolt shook Virginian society to its foundations, the new social order in process of formation during the middle decades of the century emerged largely unscathed from the upheaval. Property qualifications for voters, rescinded when Bacon was in command, were restored by the assembly in 1677. If the poor white population lost their votes, however, they still kept their guns, and this was something the elite could not afford to forget.79 Meanwhile, changing economic and social conditions in the two decades following the rebellion altered the dynamics of a society in which turbulence had formerly seemed endemic, and opened the way to a tacit, although initially fragile, accommodation between the rich and the poor in Virginia's white community.

The rise in tobacco prices after 1684 brought a new prosperity, which gradually improved the lot of the landless freemen who had responded in such numbers to Bacon's call to arms.80 Legislation imposing chattel bondage on imported Africans had been initiated by the Virginia assembly in the 1660s, and as the planters turned more and more to the import of black slaves in preference to increasingly expensive white indentured servants,81 the balance and composition of the colony's population began to change. In the 1690s, with the import of servants from England declining, the majority of Virginia's whites were Virginiaborn for the first time in the colony's history.82 The native American population of the Chesapeake region was rapidly dwindling - the process no doubt exacerbated by the hunting down and enslavement of Indians by Bacon and his men, and by the decision of the assembly in 1682 to lump together imported Indians and blacks as slaves for life, whether or not they became converts to Christianity."

By now, Virginia was looking to Africa for its slaves at least as much to its traditional supplier, Barbados. In the 1680s some 2,000 Africans were landed in the colony.84 In earlier years the free black population had lived and worked side by side with the white labouring force, but as the number of blacks increased, to reach perhaps 10,000 - some 15 per cent of Virginia's total population85 - by the end of the seventeenth century, the assembly embarked on efforts to reduce the number of free blacks by forbidding masters to free their slaves unless they agreed to transport them out of the colony.86 The assembly also sought to drive a wedge between whites and blacks by denouncing miscegenation and its consequences. Virginians were on the way to being classified by the colour of their skin.

Around 1700, therefore, a new dividing line emerged in Chesapeake society - a line in which the social antagonisms separating white from white were eclipsed, although by no means obliterated, by a growing racial divide between white and black. During the course of the following years, white Virginian society slowly began to acquire something of the cohesion it had lacked for so long. A common white male culture was emerging, based on a number of shared points of reference - gambling, horse-racing, cockfights and the tavern. This was to become a patriarchal society, under the leadership of an elite which took its duties of hospitality seriously, looked with a paternal benevolence on social inferiors, and accepted the need to let them assert their rights as free-born men when it came to election time.87

As dynastic marriages cemented the ties between leading families like the Byrds, the Carters and the Beverleys, Virginia in the opening decades of the eighteenth century entered on a prolonged era of stability, guided by a closely knit group of substantial planters who saw no incompatibility between speaking the language of liberty and holding large numbers of slaves. The need to maintain a common front against the interfering ways of royal governors helped to keep the principal families united among themselves.88 But it was the rapid spread of slavery that created the conditions for this new age of stability and for the dominance of the wealthy elite that presided over it. Privileged and underprivileged whites were brought together by their common contempt for blacks, and by fears that at any moment they might have to close ranks in the face of a mass uprising of slaves.89

Chesapeake society was following in the wake of the slave societies of the British Caribbean islands, although oligarchy here became even more entrenched. After a comparable period of turbulence the big sugar planters of Barbados, the Leeward Islands and Jamaica succeeded both in reaching a political accommodation with the government in London and in consolidating their dominance over the social and political life of their islands.90 Both in the islands and in the southern mainland colonies large-scale investment in slaves reinforced the wealth and power of the top stratum of the planter class at the apex of hierarchically structured societies linked by ties of deference and subordination. 91 The ways in which this elite used or abused its wealth and power would vary with both place and time. Cultural cross-currents might, as in eighteenth-century Virginia, come into play to check the inherent tendency to indulge in conspicuous consumption, but all these elites shared an acute concern with honour and reputation.92 By the early eighteenth century nearly every Virginian family with any claim to status had obtained its coat of arms.93

If a hierarchical order emerged in the plantation societies of the Chesapeake and the British Caribbean, it was a relatively simple hierarchical order when compared with that which emerged in the viceroyalties of New Spain and Peru. The black-white dichotomy of a largely agrarian world of planters and slaves saw to this, even if the dichotomy was complicated by the presence of a population of poor whites, and by the emergence in the Caribbean of a significant intermediate sector of free blacks and mulattoes. There were, too, groups of subservient Indians in the Chesapeake region. Over large parts of Spanish America, on the other hand, the coexistence and interbreeding of different ethnic groups in a much more urbanized environment than that of the British plantation societies was reflected in the construction of a social order of far greater complexity.

Although the Spanish crown had set itself firmly against the creation of a New World nobility, it was otherwise concerned to replicate the hierarchical and corporate system of social organization on which peninsular society was based. Only an organic society headed and regulated by the crown - a society in which each element recognized, and kept, its proper place - offered the security of a durable political and social order that patterned the divine. But in the Indies this proved much more difficult to achieve than in Spain itself, partly because of the crown's own reluctance to validate the social pretensions of the conquerors, and partly because of the difficulties encountered by the conquerors and encomenderos themselves in perpetuating their lines and consolidating their position as a natural elite.94

The creation of a clear-cut hierarchical order was further complicated from the first days of settlement by the presence of large Indian populations, which would be endowed with a distinctive corporate identity as a repi blica de los indios. Nominally, therefore, two parallel social orders coexisted, one Spanish and one Indian, with its own hereditary nobility. This nobility was juridically entitled in Spanish eyes to the special treatment and privileges accorded to the nobility of Spain; and although, particularly in New Spain, the Indian nobility and its rights were whittled away during the course of the sixteenth century, a society of orders was considered as integral to the Indian republic as conceptualized by the Spaniards as it was to the republica de los espanoles.

In other respects, however, theory and practice soon parted company, as the barriers between the two republics began to break down, and growing numbers of Indians moved into the cities. Here they found themselves living alongside a growing Spanish population made up of first settlers, new immigrants and their descendants, who naturally saw themselves as members of a conquering race, even if they themselves had not participated in the conquest. The superior status of these settlers of Hispanic descent, who first began to be known as criollos in the 1560s,95 was recognized in their exemption from the payment of taxes - the privilege enjoyed by nobles and hidalgos in Spain. It was this privilege that set the creoles apart from the tribute-paying Indian population, although many of them lived no better than their Indian neighbours.

The obsessive pursuit by the creoles of the outward marks of social distinction, including the title of don, reflected their deeply felt need to mark themselves out as belonging to the society of the conquerors and to place themselves on an equal footing with the upper strata of the colonial social hierarchy. `Any white person,' wrote Alexander von Humboldt at the end of the colonial period, `even though he rides his horse barefoot, imagines himself to be of the nobility of the coun- try.'96 Yet whiteness, like nobility, was to acquire its own ambiguities in a society where nothing was quite as it appeared on the surface.

By the later years of the seventeenth century, although the creoles retained their tax-exempt status and still nominally formed the society of conquest, the old distinctions between conquerors and conquered were coming to be blurred by racial intermingling and were being overlaid by new distinctions thrown up by the confusing realities of an ethnically diverse society. What became known as a society of castas was in process of formation - casta being a word originally used in Spain to denominate a human, or animal, group, of known and distinctive parentage.97 The mestizos born of the unions of Spanish men and Indian women were the first of these castas, but they were soon joined by others, like mulatos, born of the union of creoles with blacks, or zambos, the children of unions between Indians and blacks. By the 1640s some parish priests in Mexico City were keeping separate marriage registers for different racial groups.98

As the combinations and permutations multiplied, so too did the efforts to devise taxonomies to describe them, based on degrees of relationship and gradations of skin colour running the full spectrum from white to black. In the famous series of `casta paintings', of which over 100 sets have so far been located, eighteenth-century artists would struggle to give visual expression to a classificatory system designed to emphasize and preserve the social supremacy of a creole elite that felt threatened by contamination from below, even as it found itself dismissed as degenerate by officials coming from Spain. The elaborate efforts of these artists to depict in sets of exotic paintings family groups representing every conceivable blend of racial mixture and colour combination look like a doomed attempt to impose order on confusion (fig. 15).99 In the `pigmentocracy' of Spanish America, whiteness became, at least in theory, the indicator of position on the social ladder.100 In practice, however, as time went on there were few creoles to be found without at least some drops of Indian blood, as newly arrived Spaniards (known to the creoles as gachupines) took pleasure in proclaiming.

Colonial society, like that of metropolitan Spain, was obsessed with geneal- ogy101 Lineage and honour went hand in hand, and the desire to maintain both of them intact found its outward expression in the preoccupation with limpieza de sangre - purity of blood. In the Iberian peninsula, purity of blood statutes were directed against people of Jewish and Moorish ancestry, and were designed to exclude them from corporations and offices. In the Indies the stigma reserved in Spain for those `tainted' with Jewish or Moorish blood was transferred to those with Indian and African blood in their veins. In effect, limpieza de sangre became a mechanism in Spanish America for the maintenance of control by a dominant elite. The accusation of mixed blood, which carried with it the stigma of illegitimacy - compounded by the stigma of slavery where there was also African blood - could be used to justify a segregationist policy that excluded the castas from public offices, from membership of municipal corporations and religious orders, from entry into colleges and universities and from joining many confraternities and guilds.102

Yet the barriers of segregation were far from being impassable, and were the subject of heated debate within colonial society..103 In New Spain at least it was possible to remove the taint of Indian, although not African, blood over the course of three generations by successive marriages to the caste that ranked next above in the pigmentocratic order: `If the mixed-blood is the offspring of a Spaniard and an Indian, the stigma disappears at the third step in descent because it is held as systematic that a Spaniard and an Indian produce a mestizo; a mestizo and a Spaniard a castizo; and a castizo and a Spaniard a Spaniard."04 Genealogies could be constructively rewritten to conceal unfortunate episodes in a family's history, and retrospective legitimation could be purchased for dead relatives.'05

There were other ways, too, of circumventing the rigidities of a social ranking based on the colour of one's skin. A royal decree of 1662 relating to the mixedblood society of Paraguay did no more than recognize realities when it stated that `it is an immemorial custom here in these provinces that the sons of Spaniards, although born of Indian women, should be treated as Spaniards. 1106 Where mestizos were both legitimate and white, or nearly white, their chances of being passed off as creoles, with all the social advantages that this implied, were greatly improved. Already from the late sixteenth century it was possible for mestizos of legitimate descent to purchase from the crown a certificate classifying them as `Spaniards', which meant that their descendants would have access to institutions of higher learning and to the more profitable forms of employment.107 In the seventeenth century the so-called gracias al sacar permitted even mulattoes to move from black to white.10' This kind of legalized ethnic flexibility, facilitated by the crown's perennial shortage of funds, was almost unheard of in Anglo-American colonial society. Only in Jamaica, it seems, was formal provision made for the social ascent of mulattoes, following legislation in 1733 to the effect that `no one shall be deemed a Mulatto after the Third Generation ... but that they shall have all the Privileges and Immunities of His Majesty's white Subjects on this Island, provided they are brought up in the Christian Religion.""

Yet, for all the deceptions and ambiguities, colonial Spanish America evolved into a colour-coded society, although the equation between darkness of skin and social, as distinct from legal, status was by no means absolute. Black servants, the majority of them slaves, were legally inferior to pure-blooded Indians living in their communities, but in social and cultural terms they tended to rank higher, because their occupations in creole households or as hacienda foremen effectively made them members of the Hispanic world.lio If Spanish American colonial society was fundamentally a three-tier society, consisting of `Spaniards', castas and Indians, then the black population, unlike that of Barbados or the Chesapeake, occupied an intermediate position by virtue of its inclusion among the castas, even though Indian ancestry was rated superior to black ancestry when it came to contamination of the blood-line.

The complexities of these shades of ethnic difference, imperfectly superimposed on a traditional society of orders, inevitably made for a volatile society, especially in the cities. The poorer sections of the Spanish creole population, whose `pure' blood placed them above the castas, clung to the status symbols that differentiated them from people of mixed ancestry who might well be better off than themselves. Simultaneously they resented the airs, and wealth, of the creole elite. In spite of attempts by the authorities to end their exemption, mestizos shared with creoles the privilege of paying no direct taxes. This gave them every inducement to differentiate themselves from tribute-paying Indians. Correspondingly, an Indian who could pass himself off as a mestizo stood to gain substantially because he escaped tribute payments. Yet in matters of the faith he was better off if he remained classified as an Indian, since Indians, unlike creoles and mestizos, were not subject to the jurisdiction of the Inquisition."

Such confusing cross-currents in legislative and social practice gave rise to continuous uncertainties and ambiguities, victimizing some but creating opportunities for others. Inevitably, too, the imperfect fit between rank and colour afforded wide scope for social subversion. According to Humboldt, `when some plebeian gets into an altercation with a titled personage, he will quite commonly say to him: "Do you think you are whiter than me?" - words which perfectly reflect the status and origins of today's aristocracy."2

It is not therefore surprising that Spaniards and the upper ranks of the creoles lived in fear of an explosion among the ethnically mixed population that crowded the streets of the cities of New Spain and Peru. A popular insurrection in Mexico City helped topple the reforming viceroy, the Marquis of Gelves, in 1624. If the Indians made up the bulk of the rioters, these also included many mestizos, blacks and mulattoes, and not a few whites.113 An urban underclass was in process of formation, indiscriminately drawn from a mixture of the different racial groups. Reflecting the hardening social divisions, the elite began to draw a distinction between its own kind - decent people (gente detente) - and the plebe, including the poor whites, just as the Virginia elite would seek to differentiate itself from the lower orders of white society by means of a social code based on the notions of gentility and respectability. 114

In the rural society of Virginia accumulated social and economic resentments found their outlet in Bacon's rebellion of 1676. In the urban society of Mexico City they culminated in a brief explosion of popular violence in 1692. Following heavy rains and floods, maize prices that year reached their highest level of the century,115 and on 8 June an infuriated populace vented its wrath on the symbols of authority, sacking and setting fire to the viceregal palace, the city hall and the town gaol, and looting the shops. Ethnic divisions between Indian, mestizo and Spanish artisans were momentarily forgotten in a concerted denunciation of `the Spaniards and the gacbupines who are eating up our corn'. The orgy of destruction was followed by a wave of repression and the rapid crumbling of the temporary unity achieved on 8 June. Economic hardship might produce a coalition of the poor and disadvantaged, but caste and colour consciousness helped to ensure that it was fragile and short-lived.116

The 1692 Mexico City insurrection, like Bacon's rebellion, proved to be an evanescent phenomenon, representing no lasting threat to an older and more firmly established elite than that of Virginia. Right across Spanish America urban oligarchies had been consolidating their hold over their cities during the second and third generations of the post-conquest period. At the heart of these oligarchies, which controlled the city councils and exercised a growing influence at the wider, provincial level, were those families of the conquerors that had managed to perpetuate themselves and hang on to the spoils of conquest. It was these families, for instance, which constituted the core of the urban elite of Santa Fe de Bogota during most of the colonial period. 117 But they were replenished and renewed - as the elite of its fellow New Granada town of Popayan was renewed - by newcomers from Spain or other parts of the Indies who married into them and periodically revived the family fortunes with injections of new wealth.11'

The new wealth came from trade, from mining and from the benefits of office. To the disgust of old conquistador families that had fallen on bad times, immigrants freshly arrived from the peninsula were all too often preferred in the allocation of posts in the central or local administration, and in the distribution of grants of land or labour. Viceroys would arrive from Spain with a large entourage of friends, relatives and retainers, all of them on the lookout for opportunities for enrichment during the tenure of their patron. Lines of influence and family connection stretched from the Iberian peninsula to Lima and Mexico City, where the viceroys dispensed patronage to their clients, and to those who could afford to pay. Don Luis de Velasco, a member of a junior branch of the powerful dynasty of the Constables of Castile, arrived in New Spain as its second viceroy in 1550, and held the post for fourteen years. His son, of the same name, was viceroy between 1590 and 1595, and again between 1607 and 1611, following an interim period as viceroy of Peru, before moving back to Spain to become President of the Council of the Indies (fig. 16). The more than twenty years of Velasco dominance in New Spain were to see a powerful reinforcement and consolidation of the viceroyalty's elite - an elite that included several members of the Velasco family who had married into the families of Mexican encomenderos or mining entrepreneurs. 119

Map 4. Principal Cities and Towns of British and Spanish America, c. 1700.

Based on R. L. Kagan, Urban Images of the Hispanic World, 1493-1793 (2000), fig. 2.5.

The upper echelon of the imperial bureaucracy - the presidents, judges and fiscal officers of the eleven American Audiencias, numbering 76 ministers and authorized officials by the late seventeenth century120 - in theory represented a closed caste, which was expected to keep its distance from the population in the name of equitable government and even-handed justice. In practice its members soon found ways of circumventing prohibitions on marriage into local families or the acquisition of property in their area of jurisdiction, and by the seventeenth century the crown was increasingly ready to grant special marriage dispensations to judges who wished to arrange marriages that would unite themselves or members of their families to the local elites. These connections with elite families naturally redounded to the benefit of both parties. Judges and officials enriched themselves by marrying into wealth, while the families with which they were now linked by marriage secured special consideration in disputed cases and an inside track to patronage.121

Making use of their special connections to the royal administration, leading urban families built up their resources, established entails where it suited their purposes, and consolidated their dominance over the cities and their hinterland. They took advantage, too, of the crown's growing financial difficulties to buy their way into public office. Private traffic in regimientos - aldermanships - in city councils had long been standard practice, and from 1591 they were put up for public sale. From 1559 notarial posts were placed on the market, and these were followed in 1606 by almost all local offices. Philip II and Philip III had held the line against the sale of treasury offices, but in 1633 Philip IV began putting these, too, up for sale. Eventually, in the second half of the seventeenth century, even the highest posts came onto the market, with posts in the Audiencias being systematically sold from 1687. Creole families naturally moved to take advantage of these expanding opportunities, buying their way into local and central administration, and reinforcing their social and economic dominance in the process.122

A nexus of interests was thus built up, linking leading families to the royal administration, the church, mining and trade. Large profits were to be made, both in mining and the transatlantic trade, where Mexican and Peruvian merchants in the earlier seventeenth century looked for returns of 30 per cent or more.123 Some of these returns were directed into mining, which required heavy capital investment; others were used for dowries, thus enabling large-scale merchants to marry into landowning and administrative families. According to the Marquis of Mancera, viceroy of New Spain from 1664 to 1673, `the merchants and traders, who constitute a large part of the Spanish nation in the Indies, approach close to the nobility, affecting their style and comportment, so that it is not easy to distinguish and segregate these two categories.' The penury of the old-established families, and the ambition of the new merchant families, led to intermarriage, `so that it can be assumed that in these provinces the caballero in general is a merchant, and the merchant a caballero' - an outcome that, with Venice in mind, he regarded as being to the public benefit.124

While large-scale merchants did indeed come to form part of the elite, both in New Spain and Peru, Mancera was exaggerating. Even the wealthiest merchants continued to remain a distinctive social group, often maintaining their commercial interests by arranging for at least one son to go into trade; and they failed to penetrate the uppermost echelon of colonial society.125 This echelon was now acquiring new badges of distinction. During the seventeenth century 422 ceoles were admitted into the prestigious Spanish military orders of Santiago, Calatrava and Alcantara, compared with a mere sixteen in the preceding century.121 Creoles were also beginning to receive titles of nobility from a crown which in the sixteenth century had been determined to prevent the creation of a New World aristocracy, but was now too financially hard pressed to be able to hold the line. Peru, where Francisco Pizarro's marquisate was the sole title of nobility in the sixteenth century, acquired thirteen marquises and fourteen counts during the reign of Carlos II, and a further 78 titles were added in the course of the eighteenth century.127

Although an increasingly exclusive group may have been forming at the summit of Spanish American colonial society, the willingness, or anxiety, of leading families to gain access to new sources of wealth by agreeing to marriage alliances with the families of office-holders, merchants and mining entrepreneurs, helped to ensure that the elite remained relatively open to new blood and new money. It was also an elite with a potentially wide geographical range. For all the localism of Spanish American society, it was conscious of forming part of a wider structure whose parameters were defined by the larger units of royal jurisdiction and extended to Spain itself. Within the two viceroyalties and in the jurisdictional areas of the Audiencias, the elites of the various cities and towns were in constant touch, and in planning their marriage strategies they would frequently operate at the viceregal rather than the purely local level. A leading family in Santiago de Chile might thus be linked by ties of marriage to families in Cuzco, Lima, La Paz and Tucuman.121 Spain's American empire both created, and was held together by, a transcontinental web of inter-related families.

Here, as elsewhere, the all-embracing structure of royal government gave a greater underlying unity, and a greater degree of homogeneity, to the Spanish colonial societies than was to be found in the British societies to the north. There was certainly a significant element of movement between the different colonies in the formation of British America. Puritans from New England settled on the eastern shores of Maryland and Virginia from the 1640s, and during the second half of the seventeenth century thousands of Barbadians left their overcrowded island for a new life on the Chesapeake. Virginian merchants, too, would strengthen their trading connections by arranging marriages between their children and those of merchants in the other colonies with whom they did business.129 Yet, with the partial exception of the eighteenth-century Middle Colonies - New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and the three Lower Counties (Delaware), where market ties and common business interests helped to encourage social and political interchangel3o - the mainland colonies of British America remained strongly self-contained communities, preserving and even reinforcing the distinctive characteristics that derived from the occasion and place of settlement, and from the local and regional English origins of their early settlers.

Spanish America, by contrast, had from its very beginnings been subjected to processes that pushed the colonists in the direction of uniformity rather than diversity. While the different regional origins of the conquistadores pointed to an initial diversity, this diversity was submerged in the common enterprise of conquest and colonization. Regional differences were pared away in a `conquest culture', as the exigencies of conquest and settlement impelled a process of selection and simplification, whether of material objects, like ploughshares, or of cultural and linguistic traits.13' This first process of homogenization was succeeded by another, as royal officials imposed a common administrative apparatus across the continent.

Although differences would soon begin to develop as the new colonial societies established themselves and made the necessary adaptations to local conditions, there remained an underlying social and cultural unity that was reflected in the character of the emerging elites. A member of the elite of Mexico City would have had no great difficulty in adjusting to life among the elite of Lima. Civic institutions were identical; the forms of worship the same. The story was different in British America, where differing local backgrounds, differing motives for emigration and differing religious beliefs and practices created a mosaic of communities settled at a diversity of times and in a diversity of ways. With little or no conquest process and no over-arching structure of intrusive royal government to impose unity on diversity, each colony was left free to develop in its own distinctive fashion. The result was a great gulf in character and life-style, especially between the New England colonies and those of the Caribbean and the Chesapeake. There was neither similarity, nor sympathy, between New England's Puritan establishment and Virginia's gambling and horse-racing gentry elite.112

Yet even a society, like that of New England, which clung fast to the beliefs and practices of its founding fathers, found itself inexorably subjected to the challenge of change. A successful entrepreneur like John Pynchon of Springfield, Massachusetts, would build a handsome mansion for himself which immediately singled him out from his fellow citizens, many of whom had become his employees or looked up to him as their patron.133 Observing with alarm the changes going on around them, and contemplating with distress the corrupting effects of riches and the loss of civic virtue, the New England clergy of the second generation thundered out their jeremiads - the political sermons that cast the history of their settlements into a narrative of decline. While at one level these were sermons of despair, they were also rallying-calls to action, designed to recall the second and third generation to the spiritual errand that had inspired the thoughts and actions of their forefathers, and had marked out New England for its providential destiny. 114

As New England society grew more complex, it was natural to wonder whether the spirit that had animated the errand into the wilderness could successfully be transmitted from one generation to the next. The creation of a close-knit community of the godly was, and remained, a powerful ideal. But from the first years of the Massachusetts Bay settlement there had been tensions between the Puritan leadership of the community and merchants who, even if they counted themselves among the godly, were liable to chafe at the restrictive authoritarianism of the ministers. In the second half of the seventeenth century, as Boston became a thriving port, and New England was increasingly integrated into the expanding commercial economy of the British Atlantic, the tensions multiplied. Where the clergy had gloried in New England's isolation, which they saw as a continuing guarantee of the purity of its mission, the merchants saw the future of New England in terms of closer ties with the mother country, on which they depended for investment and trade.135

These merchants, marrying into each other's families, were coming to form a distinctive and influential group in New England society, just as, half a century or so earlier, Mexican and Peruvian merchants with transatlantic trading interests had evolved into a distinctive and influential group in the colonial societies of New Spain and Peru. 116 In the two Spanish viceroyalties this mercantile elite, while never fully assimilated into the upper echelons of society, managed to imbue them with something of its own concern for enrichment through investment in mining, trade and real estate. But at the same time it all too quickly assumed many of the more restrictive characteristics of the corporate and hierarchical society that surrounded it. The Consulados of Mexico City and Lima, to which the leading merchants belonged, were exclusive, self-perpetuating corporations, occupying their own area of protected space in oligarchical societies of interlocking families closely bound by ties of patronage, clientage and interest to the dominant institutions of church and state.

While the New England merchants had to contend with the Puritan establishment, they were not enveloped, like their Hispanic counterparts, by a powerful existing complex of families drawing their wealth from land and office. This gave them a greater freedom of manoeuvre, not only to impart something of their own values to society, but also to influence its character and its political direction, by offering a different form of leadership with a distinctive set of priorities. From the standpoint of the Puritan establishment these merchants may have acted as the precipitants of `declension', but by the final years of the seventeenth century they were beginning to emerge as the leading actors in an alternative narrative - a narrative, not of declension, but of progress and development.

This new mercantile elite, developing alongside the more traditional New England elite of respected professionals - lawyers, doctors, government officials and ministers of religion - was far from constituting a monolithic bloc. Some of its members were attracted by the Anglicanism of the Restoration Settlement, and complained bitterly of their disenfranchisement under a Puritan regime. Others remained Congregationalists, but Congregationalists who shared the desire of their Anglican colleagues for a more open and tolerant society, which they regarded as essential for the promotion of trade.137 By the later years of the seventeenth century this loosely united group of merchants was therefore acting as a catalyst for change in New England society, challenging the political importance of church membership, and making its first priority the maintenance of a close and continuing relationship with the authorities in London.

Yet the merchants of Boston and their colleagues elsewhere would have a struggle to impose their own values on New England society and orientate public policy in ways conducive to business enterprise. On the one hand they were faced with the admonitions, exhortations and denunciations of influential ministers, like Cotton Mather, who deplored the new social mobility and the greedy pursuit of profit that accompanied it.138 On the other, they were faced with an undertow of popular resentment as disparities of wealth became more marked.

Boston politics were still in large measure deferential in the later seventeenth century, with the most important offices being filled by persons of wealth and social standing.139 But the city's elite could never afford to take matters for granted. Decisions were taken by majority vote on a large range of civic issues at regularly convened town meetings, which were open to all the city's inhabitants, irrespective of social and economic status or sex. Challenges, both to individuals, and to policies favoured by the elite, could therefore come at any moment. If Bostonians still accorded due respect to status, they remained wary of individuals whom they suspected of attempting to manipulate or monopolize power.

On 18 April 1689 the city erupted in revolt as news arrived of the successful landing of William of Orange in England. In a concerted movement of armed protest, led by magistrates, merchants and preachers, and supported by militias from the neighbouring towns, the population rose and overthrew the hated government of Sir Edmund Andros in a bloodless revolution.140 Detestation of popery and tyranny had momentarily united all sections of Boston society, but the unity did not last. The overthrow of Andros was followed by popular demands for wider participation in the decision-making process, and an interim government had difficulty in maintaining control in the uneasy period during which the colony impatiently awaited news of its fate from the authorities in London.

The elite itself was divided over the form of government that was to replace the ill-fated Dominion of New England. The majority wanted a return to the old Bay charter, but the new government of William III had other ideas. In spite of tenacious resistance by the colony's representatives in London, the new royal charter granted to Massachusetts in 1691 curbed the autonomy hitherto enjoyed by the colony, along with the power of its Puritan establishment. For the new class of wealthy Boston merchants, however, the new charter possessed many attractions. By guaranteeing liberty of worship to all but Roman Catholics, and transforming the governorship of the colony into a royal appointment, it offered the promise of stability, tolerance and prosperity under benign royal rule.

The events of 1689-90 in Boston brought to the surface social antagonisms and resentments which, although largely contained, made it clear that the elite could not automatically count on the passive acquiescence of the mass of the inhabitants. Men of property warned darkly of `levelling' tendencies, which all too easily could plunge the city into anarchy.14' The anxieties felt by the Boston establishment over the dangers of mob rule could only have been enhanced by the news of more violent upheavals in New York, another seaport city boasting a vigorous merchant class that had made its wealth in the Atlantic trade. In New York social and religious tensions were compounded by antagonism between the English and the Dutch.142 The city's population, a mosaic of different creeds and nationalities, had little more in common than a detestation of popery. The city differed from Boston, too, in lacking a tradition of participatory politics. Not surprisingly, therefore, when the authority of James II's lieutenant-governor, Colonel Francis Nicholson, was challenged by the local militia and his government collapsed, it proved impossible to reach any consensus on what should happen next.

The void was filled by a militia captain, Jacob Leisler, a former soldier of the Dutch West India Company, a fanatical Calvinist, and now a middling merchant. He and his fellow militia captains set up a committee of public safety which took it upon itself to proclaim William and Mary king and queen. Although the Leisler regime could lay claim to having saved New York from popish tyranny, it was living on borrowed time. It lacked legitimacy, in spite of a letter from William III, received in December 1689, which, as read by Leisler, gave him authority to run the government. The heavily Dutch composition of his new city council inevitably aggravated the already sharp tensions between the English and the Dutch. At the same time, while the leading New York families, Dutch and English alike, resented the dominance of this upstart merchant, Leisler himself was being pushed from beneath by artisans and labourers. These had earlier vented their feelings by attacking the town houses of wealthy city merchants, and they saw in the new regime a chance to end government by oligarchy.

With the city deeply divided and its politics radicalized, the position of Leisler looked precarious by the time that William III's new governor arrived in the spring of 1691. His enemies were quick to claim that the city had fallen into the hands of the mob. Tried on trumped-up charges of treason, Leisler and his son-in-law, Jacob Milborne, were executed, and the old elite returned to power. But Leisler's legacy lived on. His friends and partisans rallied to the memory of their martyred leader, who remained as controversial in death as in life. For the next two decades Leislerians and anti-Leislerians would fight bitter battles to win control of the city government. The factional tradition of popular politics in New York had been well and truly launched.

Even if in 1689-90 events took a different course in Boston and New York, the uprisings in the two cities had several points in common. In both of them, the trigger for action was provided by the crisis into which the British Atlantic community had been plunged by the policies of James II and the invasion of England by an army of liberation under William of Orange. This great imperial crisis, perceived in terms of a cosmic struggle against tyranny and popery, was played out in miniature in the transatlantic colonies, where it naturally became embroiled with political and religious conflicts at provincial and local level. It came at a time of sharpened social antagonisms, as elites strengthened their hold over local and municipal life, only to find themselves being simultaneously challenged, on the one hand by new mercantile wealth, and on the other by a growing underclass resentful of the dominance of the privileged few. The resentment, which a few years earlier had exploded into rebellion in the Virginia of Berkeley and Bacon, was particularly acute in the urban environment of the Atlantic seaport towns, where growing profits from trade and the accelerating pace of social change combined to nurture a sense of relative deprivation.

By the standards of Spanish America these towns were still very small. Mexico City at the time of its insurrection in 1692 had a population of at least 100,000.143 Boston, by contrast, had some 6,000 inhabitants, New York City 4,500, and Philadelphia, founded in 1681, a mere 2,200.144 Nor, in spite of the presence of free and enslaved blacks, did their populations have anything like the ethnic complexity of a Mexico City or a Lima, where the whole spectrum of colour and castas was on daily display in the crowded streets and market-places (fig. 20). If the North American towns had their poor, their poverty was relative by the standards of contemporary England'14' and it is doubtful whether anybody starved. There was certainly none of the grinding poverty of Mexico City, where a sudden sharp increase in the price of maize could make the difference between life and death.

Yet, as the uprisings in Boston and New York showed, even small cities could become breeding-grounds for unrest and insurrection. Seaports, with their transitory populations of sailors and immigrants, were especially vulnerable. But for those immigrants who had moved to the New World in the expectation of a better life, disillusionment could be bitter, and all the more so if they arrived imbued with the radical ideas that had risen to the surface in England during the revolutionary years of the mid-seventeenth century. Privilege and hierarchy, they soon discovered, had crossed the Atlantic too.

For all the disappointment and disillusionment, however, both the political culture of British North American societies and their urban arrangements offered more latitude to the discontented than was to be found in their Spanish American equivalents, where the populace could do little more than take to the streets with cries of `Long live the king and down with bad government!' The concept of `English liberties' was a powerful one, and sufficiently flexible to allow substantial room for judicial and political action. The revolutionary upheavals in seventeenth-century England had encouraged wide-ranging public debate over fundamental issues, and in the process had helped to consolidate in the British Atlantic community a strong sense of the people's rights.

In North America the notion of a degree of popular participation in government found practical expression at the provincial level in the elections to assemblies, in which suffrage requirements of £40 freeholds were apparently low enough, or at least liberally enough interpreted, to allow a majority of free adult males in Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania to exercise the right to vote.146 Relatively wide urban electorates that had grown accustomed to participating in assembly elections were likely to find ways of making their voices heard, even where, as in New York and Philadelphia, they were initially faced with largely closed systems of city government. If they found their wishes blocked, they could take to the streets side by side with the unenfranchised, to demand proper recognition of their rights as a free people.

The effect of the overthrow of unpopular governors in Boston and New York in 1689 was to reinforce the people's sense of their own power, and consequently to strengthen their claims to a more active role in the making of decisions which would affect their lives. In September 1693 a Connecticut magistrate, Samuel Wyllys, was sufficiently alarmed by the strength of the new demands to express the hope that the new monarchs would `please to declare that persons of mean and low degree be not improved in the cheifest place of civill and military affairs, to gratifie some little humors, when they are not qualified nor fit for the King's service'. The proper rulers of the colony, in his view, were `persons of good par- intage'.147 The turmoil in Boston politics during the first two decades of the new century, however, made it clear that, as in New York, `persons of good parintage' could no longer count on having everything their own way. 141 Others, of less good parentage, were becoming insistent that they, too, should have a share of power.

By the beginning of the eighteenth century in British North America, therefore, ideas and practice had jointly set in motion a dynamic that, once unleashed, could mount a powerful challenge to the exercise of power and privilege by the few. It is hard to detect, in the hierarchical society of Spanish America, forces capable of mounting a comparable challenge to the power of oligarchy. In June 1685 the Rye House plotter, Colonel Richard Rumbold, went to the scaffold in London after making an eloquent speech which found its place in the radical tradition of the British Atlantic community. While paying due deference to the wisdom of a God who had ordered different stations in society, he also uttered words that would not be forgotten: `None comes into the world with a saddle on his Back, neither any Booted and Spurr'd to Ride him.' Nearly a century and a half later Thomas Jefferson would write in the last letter of his life: `The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred ready to ride them legitimately by the grace of God. 114' British Americans had succeeded, sometimes in spite of themselves, in creating a society in which the booted and spurred could no longer take for granted a divine right to command.

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