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Chapter 3

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
History of Chile

by
Luis Galdames

translated and edited by Isaac Joslin Cox
Russell & Russell
New York 1964

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 5

p61 Chapter IV
The Colonial Organization

Government and Administration

During the first half of the sixteenth century the Spaniards conquered America from Mexico to Chile, and during the second half they organized it as a colony. Just as it fell to the lot of the Catholic kings to preside over and stimulate discoveries, and to Charles V to make conquests, so it fell to the lot of his son, Philip II, to preside over and direct the organization of the colonies.

It is well known that Philip II is the most absolute monarch that Spain has had and at the same time the most popular and beloved. Endowed with average intelligence and a cold, energetic character, he succeeded, without resistance of any kind, in impressing the characteristics of his personality on the government of all his dominions. Religious to the point of fanaticism, he adopted as the rule and mission of his life incessant warfare against Protestantism and in favor of the Catholic Church.

During his whole reign, which lasted about half a century (1556‑1598), he waged wars with various European countries for reasons that were more religious than political. The extension of the territories which he ruled and the enormous income of his treasury made him the most powerful king of his time. Spain, Flanders, and a great part of Italy and North Africa, as well as half of America, belonged to him. He used to exclaim proudly: "The sun does not set on my kingdoms." Fortune, however, frequently did not favor him; in war he suffered many defeats which completely annihilated his squadrons; in peace he always lived in need of money, in spite of all the gold America sent him.

He firmly believed that the colonies of the new continent were his own personal property, which he could dispose of at will; and he believed that to draw from them the greatest pecuniary profit possible should be the principal aim of his administration. His subjects most eagerly supported him in the organization of the colonies. They and the king had a common interest. The one as much as the other strove by choice to exploit the conquered countries. Those who came to America thought only of enriching themselves in order to return home and enjoy their fortune. There were very few who carried with them the firm resolution to establish themselves perpetually on the new continent.

p62 Under such circumstances, from the time they began to explore these regions, the sovereigns of the Peninsula wished at all costs to isolate them from the rest of the world and to prevent anyone not a Spaniard from establishing himself there; and the Spaniards themselves who desired to go had to give proof of their status, religion, honesty, and industry in order to obtain the required permission. This was certainly not a system exclusively Spanish. Portugal, France, England — all the colonial powers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries — introduced it as a colonial practice of the period.

The representatives of the royal authority — viceroys and captains general — were also isolated completely within their respective colonies. They could not contract marriage in them, nor be godfathers, nor receive gifts, nor assist at private celebrations, except in an official character. They were even more definitely prohibited from having any private business whatever. The ecclesiastical authorities, bishops and archbishops, and the judicial authorities, audiencias, were to watch the governors, take care of each other, and give account to the king of what they observed and considered worthy of his knowledge. In this way a permanent rivalry was stimulated between the two groups.

The Council of the Indies1 acted for the king in all American affairs. It proposed the names of the persons who should occupy public offices in America and took note of all the complaints and news that arrived in Spain. It proposed, furthermore, the laws which ought to be issued.

The highest colonial authority in Chile was the governor and captain generala appointed, on the recommendation of the Council of the Indies, by the king as his representative in the colony. His most immediate ranking superior was the viceroy of Peru, but the governor could communicate directly with the king when he thought it necessary. His duties were as follows: to command the army; to appoint and remove the other public functionaries except those who received appointment directly from the king; to administer civil and penal justice as a supreme judge, either in person or through his deputy (teniente general); to direct the administration p63of cities, designating the members of the first cabildos, with either himself or his subalterns presiding over the sessions of these bodies; to exercise the right of ecclesiastical patronage for the king and, under the title of vice patron of the Church, to name the parish clergy; to divide lands and Indians provisionally among the individuals whom he thought most deserving.

But these powers had two important limitations: In the first place, whoever was injured by his administration could apply for justice to the viceroy of Peru or to the king himself; and, in the second place, he was subjected to a public hearing (Juicio de residencia) before a lawyer when his office ended, to which all those came who had grievances against him. Their charges being reviewed in the hearing itself, the king, in the last instance, decided on whom the responsibility should fall, after the Council of the Indies had, of course, passed on the preliminary proceedings. The governor was a salaried officer. Valdivia received two thousand pesos annually; Don García was given twenty thousand. Afterward this amount varied until it was settled at ten thousand pesos annually.

Aside from the governor, political authority resided in his deputy; in the corregidores, or governors of cities and subdivisions called partidos (today provinces or departments); and in the high constables (alguaciles mayores), with authority equal to that of prefect, whose duty it was to execute judicial and governmental resolutions. In addition, there were royal officers: three functionaries charged with watching over and administering public revenues, its records, and the pay of the employees. One was called treasurer (tesorero); another, accountant (contador); and the last, overseer, or rather, reviser (veedor). These men received appointment from the king.

Besides the corregidores, the local administration of the cities was in charge of the cabildos.2 Each of these corporations was composed of two alcaldes, six regidores, a secretary, and a procurador, who represented it before the other authorities. On founding a city, the governor selected the members of the cabildo; these men afterward named those who should replace them each year; but, by order of the governor, three regidores were irremovable; later, these offices were sold at public auction. At any rate, the cabildo enjoyed a certain autonomy, and, as members were reëligible to these posts at the beginning and as the posts were afterward purchasable even for a lifetime, the result was that the same persons occupied them for many years.

p64 The functions of the cabildo were extremely varied. Some of the more simple duties of administration consisted of looking after public improvements, cleanliness, and health. Other duties were judicial in character, as shown by the fact that the two alcaldes administered justice in private affairs. Others were legislative, such as dictating local ordinances and tariffs on the prices of certain articles and handwork. Lastly, some functions were political. When a public danger or other important affair was to be considered, it brought the people together in an open cabildo (cabildo abierto), an assembly so called because all the residents of the locality could be present and deliberate in it, in order to determine such measures as would save the situation. When a governor died without having designated the person to fill his place temporarily, the cabildos might likewise ask the king to name such an individual. In spite of its humble character, this institution frequently provoked difficulties for the leaders of the colony, especially when the latter imposed extraordinary contributions (derramas) on the neighborhood, or committed some forceful act.

During the colonial period there was nothing more complicated than the administration of justice. The governor had the right to judge certain civil and penal cases; the alcaldes were also judges of the courts of first instance in the same or other cases. An attorney, appointed as the governor's deputy, the corregidores of the cities, the constables — all had the character of judges in certain specified cases. There were also military judges, treasury judges (jueces de hacienda) who heard matters of taxation, judges of mines, judges of commerce, judges of water, and ecclesiastical judges who heard religious affairs and civil or criminal cases in which priests were involved.

But the superior tribunal in Chile was called real audiencia, a kind of court of justice composed at first of four members, or judges, appointed by the king. It was established for the first time in 1567, in Concepción, but was suppressed after seven years, to be again established in 1609. The governor presided over it and so this officer afterward bore not only the titles of governor and captain general, but also that of president. The audiencia greatly limited the action of the governors because in many cases the latter had to proceed in accordance with it. The organization of this tribunal was later somewhat modified.

The administration of criminal justice was very complicated, but the penal punishments inflicted on delinquents were exceedingly severe: the stocks, or barra, as it is called today; chains, like the fetters of today; the gallows, erected in a public plaza; the pillory, p65put in the same place, to fasten the hands of the culprit; and, lastly, the roller, located in the plaza also, to whip the criminals in public. Torture, or tormento, as it was then called, was the means most used for drawing out confessions from delinquents.

The legislation was the same as in Spain, save for the variations introduced by the ordinances of the king, especially for his colonies.3

The Authority and Prestige of the Church; The Inquisition

Political and ecclesiastical authority in Chile were almost the same, because the king made them both serve the ends of his government. The union of both powers originated in the first place in the belief that the powers of kings proceeded from God; and, in the second place, from the authorization that the pope gave the sovereigns of Spain to determine the ecclesiastical dignitaries of the new continent — an authorization that was equivalent to naming them, known as the right of patronage (derecho de patronato).

Side by side with the political and administrative organization, then, was the Church. Fervent Catholics that the Spaniards were, their first care in founding a city was to select a site for a church and accumulate materials for its erection. The construction of the Cathedral of Santiago was begun in the time of Hurtado de Mendoza, and this structure, a plain parish church during the years of the conquest, became in 1561 the seat of a bishopric, subordinate to the archbishopric of Lima. Its first bishop was Rodrigo Gonzalez Marmolejo. Two years later, the church at Imperial was raised to the category of bishopric, subordinate also to the see of Lima.

During this same sixteenth century religious communities were established in the country; first, those of the Dominicans, Franciscans, and Mercedarians; afterward, those of the Jesuits and the Augustinians.4 All these orders at once attained great prosperity p66and possessed extensive properties through legacies of wealthy persons and through royal concessions. The first orders of nuns to be established were the Clares and the Augustinians.5 The founding of monasteries, convents, and churches became so common and they became so numerous in Santiago that, at the beginning of the seventeenth century, this city was called the Rome of the Indies.

The number of persons consecrated to the monastic life became, a little later, relatively numerous in proportion to the general population. Different causes produced this great affection for the religious life. In the first place, preparation for the priesthood did not then involve long study or much training; further, the priesthood meant exemption from military service in the army, which was so dangerous in Chile because of the eternal warfare with the Araucanians that many, after serving in the army, abandoned this career in order to enter upon the ecclesiastical life; and lastly, the priesthood carried with it social considerations and the unencumbered existence which the charities of the parishioners gave it.

By its prestige, fortune, and numbers, the ecclesiastical authority was, in the early days of the colony, as influential as the political authority; and, little by little, by virtue of the privileges that it enjoyed and because of the moral influence it exerted, it came to be superior to it. Since it constituted the firmest pedestal of the monarch's absolute power and had for its principal mission the defense of the monarchy's divine origin, special prerogatives were bestowed upon it, among which the most important were the so‑called civil jurisdiction and ecclesiastical privilege (jurisdicción civil y fuero eclesiástico). By the first, it had under its control the judging of all questions raised among laymen that related in any manner to religion; and, by the second, every question of civil and criminal character arising among ecclesiastics was to be judged before its tribunals. When anyone, whoever he might be, even the governor himself, resisted the mandates of the bishop, the latter fulminated p67his excommunication against him — a weapon stronger than a whole army, because it left the rebel outside the Church and isolated from society. This was the principal element that gave the ecclesiastical authority predominance over the political. More than once the bishop thought it necessary to excommunicate some governor, or at least threaten him with that penalty, because, in spite of the fact that both ought to act in accord, they did not always do so, but, on the contrary, frequently engaged in controversy. Among the various cases that might be cited is the following: the encomenderos paid the parish priests for their services, a payment which was many times the object of bitter discussions. Governor Rodrigo de Quiroga, on petition of the encomenderos, issued an ordinance reducing such payments; the bishop of Santiago, Friar Diego de Medellín, required the revocation of the ordinance under penalty of excommunication, and Quiroga had to give way.

Besides this, the tribunal called the Holy Office, and more commonly merely the Inquisition,6 was charged with pursuing and punishing with severest penalties those individuals suspected of religious transgressions. There was only a commissioner-general of this institution in Chile, who depended on the tribunal of Lima and did not come until the last third of the sixteenth century. In 1562, however, the first "offender against the faith," a certain Alonso de Escobar, was prosecuted for having said of a respectable priest that when he preached only the letter of the Gospel he heard him with pleasure, but that when he undertook the moral application, he closed his ears, and "other words of like effect." The good man proved that he had said it once for a joke, without evil intention, but he had to pay the costs of the trial, bear a long imprisonment, and be transferred to Lima for the revision of the proceedings. When the inquisitorial commissioner arrived, these causes were followed up more strictly and were not unusual.

The customary proceeding of this tribunal was really terrible. One accusation, made verbally or in writing by any person whatever, was sufficient to open suit. The supposed criminal was seized and held incomunicado. Witnesses were called to testify, without excluding any — friends or enemies, servants or patrons, relatives, children, or spouse of the accused. They were solemnly sworn to maintain absolute silence about what would be asked them and warned to speak the truth. The accused did not know who these p68witnesses were and was ignorant of the plot woven round him to prove his guilt. His defense was impeded. On his first appearance he was flattered with a pardon, in order to make him confess his crime and afterward, if this method failed, he was subjected to atrocious torture. If no success was gained by any of these methods of forcing a confession from the accused, he was declared acquitted, but suspicion of the crime always hung over him. It frequently happened that the unfortunate man died in prison because of the torture. Then he was buried secretly and the process continued. If nothing was finally proved against him, absolution was read to his effigy and the site of his grave was told to the family. But if, on the contrary, he was found guilty, his body was disinterred and burned, and his ashes thrown to the winds.

When the accused was declared guilty, while still alive, he was counseled to reconcile himself to the Catholic faith. If he did this, he was hanged and his body burned. If he did not, he was thrown alive into the flames. This was called auto-da‑fé. This act was executed with the greatest solemnity in the presence of the civil authorities, the ecclesiastical corporations, and the public. Although people in Chile were devout, the processes instituted by commissioner-general of the Inquisition were not rare. But the auto-da‑fé took place in Lima.

Tax and Public Income

In their communications to the king, the governors frequently dwelt on the beauty and natural wealth of Chile, but the treasurers or royal officials always mourned the poverty of the treasury; and the cabildos and private citizens, at every opportunity, were full of similar complaints. On the one hand, the constant warfare with Arauco made attention to agriculture difficult and caused excessive expenses; and, on the other hand, the limited development of industries and the occasional paralysis of labor in the mines considerably reduced the receipts.

There were two classes of taxes: those of a special nature, which taxed definite services in each community and which belonged to the cabildos; and those of a general nature, which taxed the production and business of the country in its different forms and which belonged to the king. The former constituted the local revenues; the latter, the royal treasury.

The cabildos preferably taxed the establishments of commerce and of industry, the exercise of manual arts, and that of the professions with definite fees, much like present-day licenses. They were further supported from the fines which were imposed on those p69who disobeyed their ordinances. The income which they thus received was, however, so slight at the beginning that the cabildo of Santiago, which was the most prosperous, had neither its own building in which to function — until, by order of the king, it purchased the house of Pedro de Valdivia — nor chairs to sit on, nor the means to pay a single employee.

The receipts of the crown were much more certain and plentiful. The following were the principal sources of revenue:

1. The royal fifth, 20 per cent of the production of the mines or washings of gold. This was collected from the proprietor of the extractive works at the time that the gold was stamped in the royal foundry established in Santiago. The circulation of gold dust was for that reason prohibited under penalty of confiscation.

2. The ecclesiastic tithe, the tenth part of the agricultural and cattle products of each year. It was levied also on garden products, fruits, and domestic fowls. The religious character of this income arose from the fact that it was destined for the maintenance and embellishment of public worship. Since early times the Roman popes had settled it on faithful Catholics, in consequence of the right of patronage enjoyed by the kings of Spain, and it continued to be collected by them, with the obligation of devoting the income to the sustenance of the Church.

3. The tariff (almojarifazgo), a customs duty of 5 per cent on merchandise introduced into the country or sent out of it. It was paid in each port where the merchandise was landed.

4. The excise tax (alcabala), an impost on the sale or transfer of goods, moveable or immoveable, in whatever form, at the rate of 2 to 6 per cent of its value.

5. The sale of papal bulls for eating meat on days when the Church prohibited it;7 and of public offices, such as those of secretaries, defenders of nonresidents, and regidores.

There were, moreover, other taxes of minor importance and some receipts that eventually reverted to the crown, such as the income from judicial fines, a part of which belonged to the "Chamber of His Majesty," according to the expression used at that time. The extraordinary tax called derrama was also imposed on the colonists p70on certain occasions, and these were very frequent in Chile. It was an arbitrary tax which the governors prescribed each time they thought the exigencies of war required it. The colonists hated it more than anything else because, aside from its being prescribed suddenly, each individual had to pay from his meager resources, according to the quota that the governor himself fixed.

The incomes resulting from all these taxes were also small, but the king knew how to indemnify himself. He authorized the governors to contract loans in his name when urgent circumstances required it; of course the king did not repay such loans. At other times he took possession of all the gold that any of the merchant fleets brought from America to Spain and gave a receipt in his name in favor of the person despoiled. His needs were such that there is no record of his ever returning these sums, though they frequently were the aid sent by the conquerors to their destitute families.

At the end of the sixteenth century, the poverty of the royal treasury in Chile was changing into misery. It lacked money to pay the numerous public functionaries, from governor to lowliest porter. And, further — a terrible menace — the soldiers were not punctually paid. Utter demoralization was on the point of dissolving the army, while the rebellious Indians were triumphing in the south. The king then ordered the treasury of Potosí to send to Chile an annual subsidy whose value changed frequently, but almost at the beginning amounted to 300,000 gold pesos. This subsidy was called a royal annuity and it was brought to Chile for the first time in 1600.

The Commercial Monopoly of the Mother Country

From the beginning commercial isolation was added to the political isolation of the colony. It was without communication with the rest of the world and without immigration from any European country. Furthermore, the interchange of its products could be effected solely with neighboring colonies or with Spain through them as intermediates. It was the system established by the sovereigns for the whole continent. It is fitting to remember that the other colonial powers of the period implanted the same system in their respective dominions. No one who was not a Spaniard could trade with America, and only one Spanish port was designated for this purpose — Seville, on the Guadalquivir River. A kind of customhouse and at the same time a tribunal of commerce, Casa de Contratación,8 was established in the port to regulate p71this commercial monopoly and was charged to intervene in whatever related to traffic between Spain and its colonies.

But Chile could not maintain direct relations with the Peninsula. As a general rule, a merchant fleet came once a year to America from Seville. Because of European wars and the incursions of the corsairs, however, these voyages often were delayed from two to five years. In compensation, some years two fleets would come. These were composed of various kinds of sailing vessels: some, called galleons, were of large tonnage, armed with heavy artillery to defend themselves from the corsairs. The irregularity in the voyages produced serious disturbances because, as the Americans could neither buy nor sell to anyone except the merchants of those fleets, there were years during which they had no opportunity or means to procure the European articles they needed, much less sell what they produced.9

The Chilean colonists were in a worse situation than the rest of the continent; no fleet came to their coasts. The following were the only definite ports in America for mercantile traffic with Spain: Havana, for the Antilles; Vera Cruz, for Mexico; Cartagena, for Venezuela and Colombia; Portobelo, for the rest of the South American colonies, Chile among them. Portobelo was situated in Panama near the Caribbean Sea.

The Chileans, therefore, had to go to Panama and cross the isthmus on muleback to meet the merchants of Spain; and, as this journey was long and difficult and not lacking in danger, one can understand that very few — or none — ventured to make it on their own account. Nor could the route from Buenos Aires across the cordillera, nor that of the strait be followed; they were closed to all traffic by order of the king.

In such isolation there was no other way than to send Chilean products to Callao, which the merchants of Peru frequently bought,º perhaps, to sell them again in that country or to carry them to Portobelo on their own account. Here a kind of fair was held every time a Spanish merchant fleet arrived. As there was no competition, the merchants of the fleet dictated the standard of prices. They sold for their own satisfaction and bought the same way. They were not satisfied with gaining 100 or 200 per cent; they must gain fivefold on their capital, and such was the abuse that gains of 900 per cent seemed easy.

p72 There were two results from this order of things: first, the enormous prices charged for European articles in Chile, so that very few persons were in a condition to acquire them; and second, the very low prices at which the national products were quoted, so that almost no one devoted himself to their production on a large scale. Thus, while a fanega (about 1.6 bushels) of wheat was worth two pesos, a cow the same, and a sheep one real, a packet of paper cost more than one hundred pesos, a sword, three hundred, and a cloth cape, not less than five hundred. Under such circumstances the colony was condemned to poverty. It must sell cheap and buy dear. There never was a commercial monopoly more rigid and more irritating.

With reference to production itself, on the other hand, the royal prohibitions against planting vineyards, olive trees, tobacco, and other industrial plants in order to prevent commercial competition with similar productions of Spain caused disturbances of no little consequence. It is true that those prohibitions were almost never respected, but nonetheless they showed clearly to what extremes the Spanish government tried to carry the exploitation of its colonies and restrain the development of their wealth. If to these obstacles are added the regulations and tariffs dictated by the cabildos for professions and manual trades, which placed bonds on free labor, and the ordinary and extraordinary levies, it will be seen how heavily burdened was the productive activity of the industries established by the colonists.

The plan followed by the kings of Spain in this system tended to enrich the royal coffers and those of their peninsular subjects, and one would believe from what has been said that they profited by following it. Nothing, however, was less true. It is a fact that because of the customs taxes which the crown collected and the fifth of the yield of the mines in America, its treasury was considerably increased; but the money left the royal chest as easily as it entered it, in order to maintain the ostentation of the court and the interminable European wars.

It is true also that numerous private fortunes grew out of colonial commerce but, to put it briefly, those fortunes did not remain in Spain. They went to England, France, and Holland, which were, in fact, the most inveterate enemies of Spain, and left Spain in a manner as inevitable as it was natural. The mother country was not an industrial power, and after the wars of the sixteenth century and the expulsion of the Jews and the Moors — who were the most industrious of its people during that century — Spain was left without industries of importance and p73with much less capacity than the maintenance of the colonies required. Since England, France, and Holland were really industrial nations, the Spanish merchant had to go to them to buy the necessary merchandise. The Spanish merchants were converted, then, into agents for the French, English, and Dutch producers. They loaded their ships with merchandise which they carried to America and sold at exorbitant prices, without real profit to themselves and at an enormous sacrifice to the Americans. This institution, created and exploited in the sixteenth century, lasted during the seventeenth and almost all of the eighteenth century.

The Elements of Colonial Economy

Meanwhile the Spaniards living in Chile were forced by necessity to lay the foundations of national production, in all its various forms, within a narrow framework. Although gold was the product most esteemed by them, yet they were forced, even during the closing of the sixteenth century, to endure a scarcity of it. Among the weighty reasons for limiting the exploitation of gold fields were the imperfect methods employed in the extraction of the precious metal, and the rapid dying out of the native race on account of the severe labor in the washings.

Whether they liked it or not, they had to concentrate their attention on the tasks of agriculture and cattle raising and industries derived therefrom in order to produce anything. It is true that they always continued to force the Indians to perform all the work. Particular attention was paid to the cultivation of the vine, wheat, and maize. Hemp, which they used so extensively in making fuses for their arquebuses, ropes for their packs, and rigging for their vessels, was cultivated with careful attention also in La Serena and valleys farther south. All fruit trees and garden plants which had been introduced from Spain found here a region adequate for their propagation. The same may be said of domestic animals (cows, horses, asses, goats, sheep, pigs, and other animals) and fowls (turkeys, hens, ducks, geese, and others). Both climate and soil favored considerably the cultivation of all these plants, as well as the pasturage of animals. At first, however, none of this was done on a large scale.

The only manufacturing industries which were established during the earliest years of the colony were flour mills, looms or workshops for weaving cloth from the wool of the sheep, and tanneries; and almost all such industrial establishments were located in cities or in their immediate vicinity. Other industries, such as the making p74of rigging or cordage and the building of vessels, were set up in suitable localities. Oil and wine were also manufactured. From animals, in addition to the wool and hides, the dried meat or charqui,b and the fat and tallow, occasionally made into candles, were utilized.

These very limited productive activities, in industry as well as in agriculture, had only one outside market — Peru. Exportation was carried on with great difficulty, as was also importation from that region. The vessels sailing between Valparaiso and Callao took a long time to make their voyages — one month in going and three in returning was common. Not until 1583 was this situation bettered a little. In that year the pilot, Juan Fernández,10 coming from Peru, left the coast and sailed on the high sea. He discovered en route the islands which bear his name and, to the great surprise of his sailors and even of himself, he reached Valparaiso after sailing only for a month.

This discovery, which gave him great fame and which was of very great importance for the furtherance of mercantile relations between Peru and Chile, is easy to explain. Since most of the sailors at that time sailed only within sight of the coast, the ocean current which runs close to the coast of Chile, flowing toward the equator from the south polar zone, was contrary to and retarded the journey of those sailing from Callao to Valparaiso, while on the other hand it favored those sailing from Valparaiso to Callao. When Fernández left the coast, he escaped the force of this current and the northern winds drove his ship onward without great effort.

Although it is a fact that voyages were made more frequently when the sea route between Peru and Chile was shortened, it is also true that at the beginning this meant little to the colony of Chile. The colony exported at that time only wine, wheat, hides, tallow, and hemp, to which were added gold and some dyeing and medicinal substances. In exchange it imported rice, cloth, linens, silks, weapons, pig iron, paper, fine furniture, porcelain, metalware, and perfumes; but these transactions afforded little development because of the commercial system established by the mother country which obliged the colony to sell its products at very low prices and buy outside products at very high prices.

p75 Internal commerce was as yet but little more active. There were not even roads for easy transportation. The principal traffic carried on between Santiago and Valparaiso was by mule or horseback in journeys of several days' duration. The cities thus remained commercially almost isolated. Besides this, the private persons engaged in trade had to submit to many impositions in order to continue in business. Aside from the tax similar to a license, which they had to pay to the cabildos, they were obliged to sell merchandise coming from a distance at cost during the first nine days of its public display, but this did not keep them from selling it at high prices. Merchandise and the products of the country were subject to tariff. The trade in foodstuffs was carried on in the public plaza, in a kind of fair or market called tiangue.

Among the difficulties with which trade at that time also had to contend was the instability of weights, measures, and coins. The cabildo of Santiago legislated for the whole country with respect to measures and weights, fixing them exactly, but its ordinances in this matter were never strictly observed. The quart, bushel, pound, and yard were then the conventional measures.11

The conquerors brought no money. They did not need it, since they came for the very purpose of seeking exclusively its raw material, gold, and did not have anyone with whom to trade. For this reason transactions were made at first by exchanging one article for another or by paying for goods with gold dust, and for that purpose some traders went around with their small scales in their pockets. Only in his last years did Valdivia establish in Santiago a smelter for evaluating and stamping gold. A little later there were also smelters in La Serena, Concepción, and other cities of the south and the circulation of gold in dust was prohibited.

The best-known money of that epoch was the gold or "Spanish peso," the value of which depended on its weight.c Then came the real, which was worth from an eighth to an eleventh part of a peso, according to conditions; the maravedi (a peso generally equaled four hundred and fifty maravedis); and the ducat, which was worth a little more than aº peso. Besides these, there were many other fractional coins of silver. In order to determine values as compared with the coins of today, one must remember that the average Spanish peso was equivalent to twenty-four Chilean pesos of six pennies gold.12

p76 To the instability of the value of measures and coins were added other difficulties for the exercise of commerce and industry, and even for professions and trades. These were the ordinances fixing the rates and tariffs, prescribed and enforced with great strictness by the cabildo of each city. The price of labor was fixed for artisans. For instance, a blacksmith in Santiago had to make a pair of horseshoes for three pesos and a pickax for five, neither more nor less. The making of a cloak by a tailor cost thirteen pesos, and the rest of the garments according to the style. The artisan must post the rate ordered by the cabildo in plain view in his shop, and the cabildo reserved the right to revise and alter that rate. The fee for doctors was also fixed — a peso at night, and four reales during the day. The price of drugs was determined, as was that of clothing and bread. Failure to observe these ordinances was severely punished, either by a fine for the benefit of the public works of the city, the informer, and the treasury of the king, or by confiscation of merchandise, if the culprit were a trader, or by work performed without pay for the general welfare of the community if he were an artisan.

In this way the economic activity of Chile was organized and started on its development during the first half century of Spanish domination. Under strict isolation it had to produce only for the benefit of the kings of Spain and their peninsular subjects. The colonists settled in Chile were not able to profit by the wealth wrested from the soil by the sweat of the Indians, except by going back to Spain. The whole system established by the mother country seemed calculated for men who kept moving and must shortly return to their native land. The colonists did not appear to be inspired by any distinct purpose. Their first forms of production and labor, just like their local ordinances of trade and industry, left the impression that they dwelt in encampments rather than in cities and that, instead of living in families, they always lived in campaigns, fighting at the same time against nature and men. Their necessities were not yet more than those of soldiers.

The Formation of Society; Early Social Classes

Chilean society had its origin in the union of the native race with the Spaniards, beginning in the earliest days of the conquest. The Spanish population was always small in numbers compared with the native population of the country. At the end of the sixteenth century, there were not more than five thousand Spaniards in Chile — men, women, and children.

Although sickness and bad treatment caused a rapid dying out p77of the native race, the fusion of the two continued extensively. The Spaniards had come to these countries without families, and it was not until after some years had passed that a few did bring over their families. During the second half of the century, therefore, the number of Spanish women in Chile was very small. They arrived in appreciable numbers only in the following centuries. This fact is explained, furthermore, by the circumstances that most of the men who at that time came from Spain to Chile were military men and came to fight the wars of Arauco and to make a fortune with their swords. A family in such a case was a hindrance.

So they took Indian women for their wives and in this way, on the encomienda as a foundation, and within the domestic service itself, a social class arose intermediate between the Spaniard and the native, composed of mestizos (mixed bloods). Their physiognomy reproduced the European type, but their customs and character approximated more the native type of the country, since they continued to live with their mothers and received from them not only their language and first education, but also the characteristics of the race. These mestizos greatly exceeded the Spaniards in numbers before the end of the first half century after the conquest.

One more element soon came to be added to the population — the Negroes brought from Africa and sold as slaves. Some wealthy colonists bought them in Peru especially for use in domestic service, without implying that they were not also at times destined for the fields and mines. They were liked for their fidelity and submission. A Negro was worth from 300 to 500 pesos, according to his age, and a Negress from 200 to 300 only. Not many were brought into Chile because, among other reasons, there was no great need for them. The There were mestizos and native women who could give the same service. The Negroes were also intermingled with the Indians, although in smaller proportion, still less with the mestizos, and rarely with the Spaniards. The children of Negroes who bore the blood of other races were called zambos13 and mulattoes.

To summarize, the first elements of our society may be divided into five categories: Spaniards, Indians, mestizos, Negroes, and zambos and mulattoes. The first formed a privileged group who by their culture and force ruled the rest and placed a very different value upon each of the other groups.

The subjected Indian — yanacona or mitimae, according to the terminology of the time — bore all the burden of labor. Baptismal water had not yet bettered his condition; it made him a Christian p78but did not give him civilization. His condition continued to be equal to or worse than it had been in the first years of the conquest.

The mestizos, generally looked down on by the Europeans, also worked in the fields with the Indians. But the principal occupation for which they were destined was war. As soldiers in the Spanish ranks their bravery and fighting power were commendable. The cruelty with which their least fault was usually punished incited them more than once to rebel and to swell the army of the natives. These then became chiefs to be feared; and their more thorough preparation for war and their better developed intelligence gave them many chances for victory. In the early period, the mestizo, Alonso Díaz, was the most renowned of all the chieftains. Under the name of Paiñemancu and holding rank as an Araucanian chieftain, he devastated the regions of the south in several campaigns.

The treatment of the Negro slaves received was also very severe. An ordinance of the time provided the following penalty for them:

Any person, whether he is a constable or not, who shall catch any male or female slave who shall have run away from the service of his master for more than three days or less than twenty, shall be entitled to receive ten pesos, to be paid by the master of said slave, and to such slave will be given for the first offense two hundred lashes in the public streets, and for the second, two hundred lashes and his foot shall be cut off.

The penalty for the third time was so severe as to be equivalent to death. It is to be noted that many of the most warlike natives taken prisoner with weapons in their hands were reduced to a condition of slavery. The zambos and mulattoes ordinarily followed the status of the mother, that is to say, they were slaves also and their treatment did not differ much from that given the rest of their class.

Intermingled among themselves, these varied elements formed the foundations of Chilean society and of the future nationality. The Spaniards, lords and masters of all those social groups, lived in the camps, where the mineral and agricultural works of their encomiendas were carried on, and in the cities. The life in the country was nothing but a continuous and violent exploitation of the soil and the Indians, and social relations developed there in all their barbaric rudeness.

City Life and Customs

It was in the centers of population called cities that European civilization began to manifest itself, adapted to the circumstances of the time and the nature of the country. There were already p79twelve cities in Chile at the end of the sixteenth century — eight south of the Biobío and four north of it, not counting those on the other side of the Andes. But in addition to those already mentioned must be added the city of Castro in Chiloé, founded in 1567, and that of Chillán, founded in 1580, both by Governor Ruiz de Gamboa. None had a numerous population. Santiago, the largest, did not yet shelter more than five hundred inhabitants of European origin; each of the rest, scarcely a hundred. It is not possible to calculate the Indian, mestizo, and Negro population employed in family tasks and in the services of each locality. The king had conceded to some cities the distinction of using a coat of arms, with accompanying privileges, in spite of the small number of their inhabitants. Santiago, for example, had a coat of arms on a silver background. On it was painted a lion with an unsheathed sword in one paw and eight emblems of the Apostle Santiago around him.d Above were the insignia of the king and the image of the apostle. The monarch also gave Santiago the right to call itself "a very loyal and very noble" city.

The urban population of the cities was divided into three categories: proprietors (encomenderos), indwellers (moradores), and transients. The first two received the common name of citizens (vecinos). The last was composed almost entirely of military men. The encomenderos constituted the richest class. The indwellers were the traders and artisans — those we call today the common people.

The right of residence was easily conceded. He who desired to become a resident had only to present himself before the proper cabildo and prove that he followed an honorable occupation and that he observed good habits. He then received a lot (solar), which he was obliged to enclose with a mud wall within a fixed time and to build his home on. The "letter of residence" that the cabildo authorized thus conferred a kind of local citizenship on the individual. From that time he could be elected regidor or alcalde and was subject to the imposts corresponding to the ordinances.

These towns and villages presented a poverty-stricken appearance. The low buildings had walls of adobe or plastered mud, and roofs of tile or straw — one to three rooms at the most. The narrow muddy streets were crossed by open ditches which carried off all the waste. They resembled our country lanes of today. Some of those of Santiago were already paved with round stones from the river and also had sidewalks of stone. At night there was no traffic through the unlighted streets after a certain hour. At the stroke of the curfew, given by a bell or drum, everyone had to go p80home. The curfew sounded at dusk for Indians and Negroes and one or two hours later for the rest, according to whether it was winter or summer.

The furnishings of the houses were very simple: tables, benches, chairs, cots, and bedsteads of wood or hides — all rudely made, the floor uncovered, of rough earth or brick. The walls were generally covered with a coat of lime. At night this dwelling was lighted with tallow candles and little oil lamps.

The common dress of the men was composed of a coat or jacket to the waist with a greatcoat for the richest; pantaloons to a little below the knee, held in at the bottom with garters; wool stockings or silk in some cases; and shoes like point slippers or simply like buskins (borceguíes), laced up in front. For protection a long cape of fine wool was used, which is still known by the name of "Spanish cloak." This costume was completed by a hat with broad brim and crown ending in a point like a bonnet, or perhaps a chupalla of straw, nothing more.

The women's costume was made of a saya, a kind of wrapper which covered the body to the ankles. It was girdled at the waist with colored ribbons and fitted the breast closely. The well-to‑do used light coats and hooped overskirts, plain or pleated and gathered at the hips, which fell to the feet. An embroidered collar or ruff, or a mantilla for the head in place of a hat, and shoes finer than those of the men and sometimes made of cloth completed their apparel.

The food generally consisted of vegetables, pork, and fish, eaten three times a day: in the morning, breakfast (almuerzo); in the afternoon, dinner (comida); in the night, supper (cena). Drinking water came from the ditches, but already in Santiago, at the end of the sixteenth century, pure water from the springs of Tobalaba and Apoquindo was brought by means of a narrow canal of brick and mortar to the plaza of the city where a pool was constructed. The first wines, grape cider (chicha) and light wines (chacolíes) made from the native grapes, were already abundant on the table.

There was little social activity. Large affairs, political and diplomatic, were lacking. Amusements were also few. There was neither theatre nor circus. The bullfights which Spaniards so much enjoyed occurred only now and then, and cockfights were almost always private. Instead, money was wagered on handball, cards, and dice.

On great occasions, when a king came to the throne, or a prince was born, or a member of the royal family was married, festivals of a public character were held, where, beside the bullfights, games of canes and rings were played in the presence of large crowds. p81The game of canes consisted in breaking one of them as if it were a lance upon the breast of an opponent while riding at full tilt. The ring game consisted in inserting a lance into rings hung from wires while the animal was going at full speed. These last games were first celebrated on the ascent of Philip II to the throne of Spain.

The annual holiday celebrated in Santiago with the most pomp was called "passing of the banner." It took place on the eve of the day of the Apostle Santiago, patron saint of the city, and was continued on the days of the saint himself (July 24 and 25). This celebration consisted in carrying the royal banner and escutcheon of the city through the streets, accompanied by a great procession of people on horseback, among whom were the governor and members of the cabildo. A certain person called "royal ensign" was appointed to carry the banner and this position was one of great honor. The residents also had especially large fine-looking, high-spirited horses for the parade. In the afternoon of the twenty-fourth, the royal ensign, on horseback, accompanied by the governor, the other authorities, and a great concourse of horsemen consisting of the most distinguished men of the city, took the standard from the house of the cabildo, carried it through the streets, with cries of "Long live the King" shouted by the multitude, and placed it in the cathedral. At night there was a banquet in the governor's residence and on the next day, a religious ceremony in the church in honor of the apostle. During that day the standard was veiled. This ceremony ended, it was paraded the same way as the day before, and returned to the cabildo, this act ending the celebration.

Other festivities of importance were religious in character. Practically no one was excused from daily attendance at morning mass; the same was true of the processions which took place frequently. Those in honor of the Apostle Santiago, the Virgin of Socorroe (patroness of the conquest), and Corpus Christi were particularly solemn. All classes of artisans, with their respective standards and insignia, had to attend the latter. They also paraded to the shrines of various other saints: St. Lucas, the protector against locusts; St. Isidro, patron of rain; St. Antonio, the protector against floods; St. Saturnino, the protector against earthquakes; St. Sebastian, the protector against pests, and others. For the rest, the piety and devotion of the faithful were shown in legacies to the convents and parishes and in the founding of shrines or hermitages that later became churches.

This life, peaceful and free from interruptions other than the p82wars of Arauco, was not exempt, however, from vexation and disorder. The home life among the small number of Spaniards that experienced it was impaired by a certain harshness in the treatment of the family by its head. The wife and children were in an exceedingly subordinate position, under the severe authority of the father, who frequently resorted to blows to compel obedience. The morality of the people also was not very edifying. Law suits, quarrels, murders, and executions on the gallows, among Spaniards and mestizos, were so frequent in the lax state of the country and within the cities that they offer indisputable testimony to the lawlessness of customs among those whose numbers were still so small and whose life, therefore, should have been of great value in the engrossing tasks of ruling and developing the country.

Intellectual Manifestations

The Spaniards of that period reckoned the morality of a person by the degree of his observance of religion. The one who confessed the most and heard the most masses was the best. They never were friends of any but religious enlightenment, because they believed all study not entirely in accord with the precepts of the Church harmful for society. In order to prevent the perversion of moral feeling among their colonial subjects, the sovereigns prior to Philip II, and especially Philip II himself, denied any encouragement whatever to public instruction and the free cultivation of literature and science and prevented the publication and entrance of books without previous permission from the representatives of the Inquisition. The intellectual progress of the colonists, moreover, was considered undesirable in Spain because, if instructed, they might aspire to take part in the government and perhaps even to make themselves independent. In consequence of such beliefs there were no public colleges or printing presses in Chile during the sixteenth century.

The first conquerors who came to Chile, and those who followed later, had little culture — not so little, however, but that most of them could sign their names. As their principal occupation was war, they did not consider the education of their children important. Nor did they think that teaching amounted to much; they were accustomed to the fact that little was taught in Spain, especially to the lower classes of society. In Spain also it was believed that instruction was harmful for this class of people because it gave opportunity for excessive ambition and might menace the stability of the social order. A like conviction existed in regard to p83the teaching of women, which, it was thought, would corrupt their morals.

The first efforts to found educational establishments were due here as much as in Spain to the religious orders; but the first form of teaching was individual instruction. The father who wished his sons to learn to read and write put them in the class of parish priests and conventual priests, who taught them as much as they could besides, especially prayers and the miraculous lives of saints.

However, schoolmasters who wished to devote themselves to primary teaching were not lacking in Santiago; but the lack of interest on the part of the residents and the scant resources of the cabildo did not permit them to exercise their profession regularly and constantly. Meanwhile, the juvenile population increased considerably, especially among the mestizos. There were more than enough children for schools; but only the richest succeeded in learning merely to read and write.

The first primary schools date from the last third of the sixteenth century.14 The religious orders founded them and held them in their convents, the nuns as well as the friars, principally for the purpose of making novices for their profession. The Dominicans were the first to distinguish themselves in this kind of activity, and later the Jesuits. Seminaries for the clergy also date from this period, one in Imperial and another in Santiago, founded by the bishops of these dioceses. The first Chilean clergymen were educated in their halls.

But there was no place where the mestizos could be educated, nor did the colonists who wished to give their sons a moderately good education have a place where it might be provided for them. These people had to send the sons to colleges in Lima in order to give them this kind of education, but the length and peril of the journey, the price of board and room, and the lack of vigilance under which the pupils were forced to live there kept many from taking that step. The number of Chileans who were educated in those halls, therefore, was very small.

But in spite of its poverty and ignorance, Chile had the good fortune to have, at that time, men of renown who made the country known in Spain and even in other parts of Europe because of the excellence of their writing about its history, its geography, and its inhabitants. The literature of the conquest and of the first half p84century of the colony is scant, but valuable — for Chile at least.

The principal documents that one ought to read in order to follow the advance of the Spaniards in Chile from its first steps are the five letters of Pedro de Valdivia to the king,15 written for the purpose of giving the king an account of his campaigns and the results that the conquest promised. Valdivia certainly did not hesitate in those communications to exalt his own merits; but neither does he restrain the manifestation of the profound love that Chile inspired in him, praising it highly as a privileged land because of the mildness of its climate, the fertility of its soil, and the abundance of its natural products. Written in a pleasant, colorful style, these letters are at times real literary documents. The first conquering chief of Chile is, therefore, also its first chronicler and its first patriot.

Another of the notable works of the conquest is La Araucana by Don Alonso de Ercilla y Zúñiga. No other American country inspired an epic poem more famous than this. Designed to celebrate the heroism with which the native race of Arauco defended its land and to exalt the sacrifice which its conquest required of the Spaniards, it reflected better than any other style of writing the grandeur of that struggle and the real character of the Chilean Indian.

As a consequence of his grave displeasure with Hurtado de Mendoza, Ercilla did not praise the share of that leader in the conquest. Later, when Mendoza became viceroy of Peru, he encouraged certain writers to prepare the story of his campaign in the south of Chile.

Among works written for that purpose is one in verse — another poem tending to supplant La Araucana, called Arauco domado (Conquered Arauco). Its author was Pedro de Oña, who was born in Angol during the conquest and educated in Lima. He is the first of the poets born in Chile, but only in chronological order, because his epic did not have the importance of La Araucana, nor does it possess the literary merit of the latter. Devoted exclusively to extolling Don García, Oña disregards the reality of happenings and frequently descends to the ridiculous.

Besides these works in verse, there is one in prose written by one who took part in the conquest and in affairs in the colony. This is Historia de Chile by Captain Alonso de Góngora Marmolejo, p85a native of Andalusia, who took part in the wars of Arauco during the time of Valdivia and spent the rest of his life in that manner until his death in 1575. His chronicle extends from the earliest times up to that year. He wrote simply and impartially, without pretension of any kind; he is worthy of credit, therefore, when he tells what he saw.

All these works measure the intellectuality of those times, and for Chile they have the merit of having been the first inspired by its nature and its men. They certainly are not the only works that might be mentioned, but the rest do not have the same literary and historic value as these. The warlike atmosphere which prevailed in Chile during the sixteenth and a great part of the seventeenth centuries was not propitious to peaceful intellectual production.


The Author's Notes:

1 See Merriman, The Rise and Fall of the Spanish Empire, III, 619‑623, for an excellent résumé of the establishment and functions of the Council of the Indies. Merriman places the "first definite and legal existence [of the Council] by the emperor in August, 1524." William Spence Robertson also points out in his History of the Latin American Nations, p97, that the council had existed in a rudimentary form "at least as early as the second decade of the sixteenth century."

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2 See W. W. Pierson, Jr., "Some Reflections on the Cabildo as an Institution," in Hisp. Amer. Hist. Rev., V (November, 1922), 573‑596.

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3 Another brief account of the political organization of the Spanish colonies is in Merriman, op. cit., III, 647‑648. An excellent résumé is given by Charles Wilson Hackett (ed.), Historical Documents Relating to New Mexico, Nueva Vizcaya, etc. (4 vols. Washington, 1923‑1937), I, 19‑28.

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4 The Dominican order was founded in 1215. Members of this order were in Santo Domingo as early as 1510 and an ecclesiastical province was established there in 1530. A Dominican province was established in Chile in 1592. See Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. XII, "Order of Preachers," p368E; Crescente Errázuriz, Los orijenes de la iglesia chilena, 1530‑1603, pp97‑102. The Franciscan order, founded in 1209, was identified with the Spanish conquest of America from the second voyage of Columbus ("Order of Minor Friars," Cath. Ency., VI, 281, 298), and with Chile from 1535. See Barros Arana, Historia jeneral, I, 373, n. 89; Errázuriz, op. cit., p103. The Mercedarians, founded in 1218 (Cath. Ency., Vol. X), are said to have accompanied Columbus on his later voyages. They first arrived in Chile with Valdivia himself. — Errázuriz, op. cit., p50. The Jesuits, organized in 1539, carried on their first American activities in Brazil (ca. 1549) and arrived in Chile in March, 1593. — Barros Arana, Historia jeneral, III, 215. Their arrival preceded by two years that of the Augustinians, the "Black Friars," whose organization dates from the first half of the century — Ibid., p217; Errázuriz, op. cit., pp439, et seq.

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5 The "Poor Clares" (Clarisas) were members of the second, or female, order of the Franciscans, which was founded by Ste. Clara, a contemporary and most devoted follower of St. Francis. The first formal establishment in Chile, however, seems to have been made up of those belonging to the third or "tertian" order. It was located at Osorno before 1573. — Ibid., p233.

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6 For the history of the Inquisition in Chile, see Henry Charles Lea, Inquisition of the Spanish Dependencies (New York, 1908) pp406‑412; and José Toribio Medina, Historia del tribunal del santo oficio de la inquisición en Chile (2 vols. Santiago, 1890).

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7 In 1509 Pope Julius II issued the bull "Santa Cruzada" which, followed by subsequent decrees, permitted the faithful to be relieved of certain forms of abstinence during fast days. The king could sell this privilege to his subjects, but they were obliged to renew it every six years. The proceeds were to be used in war against the infidel. In 1529 Charles V was empowered to extend this bull to America, but it was not so extended regularly until 1573, when it was used as a new source of revenue. See Barros Arana, Historia jeneral, III, 158.

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8 It was founded in Seville in 1503. See Merriman, op. cit., III, 623 ff.

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9 For the general subject of trade and commerce in the Indies, see Clarence H. Haring, Trade and Navigation between Spain and the Indies (Cambridge, 1918); A. G. Keller, Colonization (Boston, 1908), pp226‑241.

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10 A name applied to three pilots of the sixteenth century. One was master of the fleet which in 1534 bore Pedro de Alvarado to the port of San Miguel in Peru. Another, mentioned in 1546 as residing in Lima, was a native of Palos, Spain. A more likely person is the pilot who, in 1574 and 1586, is represented as voyaging along the west coast of South America. By some, a pilot of this name is credited with a sixteenth-century voyage to Australia. See Medina, Dic. biog., pp288‑290.

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11 The measures and weights mentioned, with approximate equivalents, are: almud = quart; fanega = bushel; libra = pound; vara = yard.

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12 See supra, this chapter, n. 9.

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13 Zambo: a name given to the issue of a Negro and an Indian woman, or of an Indian and a Negro woman. — J. A. R.

Thayer's Note: In English, back in similar times, usually "sambo."

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14 José Toribio Medina, La instrucción pública en Chile, I, xx. Señor Medina devotes a thick volume to his historical sketch on colonial education in Chile and follows this with a thinner volume of documents.

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15 The letters appear in "Colección de historiadores de Chile y documentos relativos a la historia nacional" (eds., Mariano Picón-Salas and Guillermo Feliú Cruz), I, 1‑62. See also R. B. Cunninghame Graham, Pedro de Valdivia, Conqueror of Chile, pp127‑220.


Thayer's Notes:

a Chile became a captaincy-general only in 1778 (Bourne, Spain in America, p231).

b North American readers will recognize in the Spanish word the origin of our beef jerky.

c The Spanish word peso means "weight."

d A bit of a translation glitch: Santiago = St. James, whose emblem is the shell. Thus the coat of arms of Santiago is:

[image ALT: A coat of arms heraldically blazoned in the text.]

which is properly blazoned as follows:

Argent a lion rampant proper langued gules and armed sable, raising in its dexter paw a sword also proper; a bordure azure eight escallops or.

e Socorro is not a placename, but Spanish for "help" — i.e., Our Lady of Perpetual Help.


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