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Chapter 15

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Spain in America

by
Edward Gaylord Bourne

in the
Barnes & Noble edition,
New York, 1962

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 17

p243 Chapter XVI

Spanish Emigration to America
(1500‑1600)

The beginnings of Spanish emigration to the New World have already been outlined, and the efforts of the government and of the colonists to restrict the privilege to Spaniards of the old Christian families have been noted.1 Yet the enforcement of these regulations was delayed, and in 1511 the Casa de Contratacion was instructed to allow any Spaniards to go to the Indies without formalities beyond registration of their names and residence.2 In 1518, however, the earlier prohibitions were formally re-enacted and extended to include the grandsons of heretics.3

An interesting illustration of the thoroughness with which this rigorous sifting of emigration was later carried out, and of the completeness with which New Spain was sheltered from the invasion of heresy, p244is afforded by the case of the English merchant Tomson, whose trial for heresy in 1556 is perhaps the earliest recorded instance in Mexico of such a prosecution.4 The strangeness of the event aroused great curiosity, and "there were that came one hundredth mile off, to see the said Auto (as they call it), for that there were never none before, that had done the like in the said country, nor could not tell what Lutheranes were, nor what it meant; for that they never heard of any such thing before."5 This was almost forty years after the posting of Luther's theses. Perhaps an even more striking demonstration is that in an activity extending over two hundred and seventy-seven years the Inquisition put to death in Mexico only forty-one unreconciled heretics, a number surpassed in some single days in Spain in Philip II's time.6

These restrictions unquestionably conformed to prevalent public opinion in Spain and the colonies, yet here and there a protest was uttered. In 1518 the lawyer Zuazo, who was then in America as the agent of the crown, urged that the Indies be thrown open freely to emigration from all parts of the world, excluding only Moors, Jews, heretics, and their descendants.7 The restriction of the right of emigration p245to the people of Spain was contrary to the instincts and references of Charles V, and in 1526 he issued an ordinance giving full liberty to all his subjects of all his kingdoms and lordships, including the empire and Genoa and all the rest, to go to, to traffic in, and to live in the Indies, "since it was reasonable after such vast territories had been discovered that they should be peopled with Christians."8 How extensively this privilege was used it would be difficult to say. Charles granted Venezuela to the Augsburg banking-house of the Welsers9 and the coast of Chili to the Fuggers,10 but no German settlements resulted in either case.

That foreigners did secure licenses to go to and to trade in the Indies is indicated by the laws of 1569 requiring the Casa de Contratacion to keep an exact record of such instances, and the law of 1557 requiring such foreigners to stay in the ports and not to go into the interior.11 The Italian Benzoni seems to have had no difficulty in going to the Indies in 1541.12 In 1555 the English merchant Field, who had lived in Seville eighteen or twenty years, purchased a license to go to the Indies with his family, and took with him Robert Tomson, who had been in Seville only a year.13

p246 With the accession of Philip II, however, the lines were more strictly drawn; and the regulations in regard to passengers to the Indies and to foreigners reveal an elaborately devised policy to preserve, so far as European intermixture was concerned, the purity of the Spanish stock in the New World, and to prevent, so far as possible, the diffusion of knowledge in foreign countries of the wealth and resources of the king's American possessions. In regard to Spaniards the policy adopted was one of restriction and rigid supervision. No one, either native or foreigner, was allowed to go to the Indies without a permit from the crown (or in some cases from the Casa de Contratacion) under penalty of forfeiting his property. Officers of the fleets or vessels were held strictly responsible for infractions of this rule. In the code the details of these restrictions are amplified in seventy-three laws. The reason for such strict regulations covering emigration was to protect the Indies from being overrun with idle and turbulent adventurers anxious only "to get rich quickly, and not content with food and clothing, which every moderately industrious man was assured of."14

In 1592 all unnaturalized foreigners were prohibited from going to the Indies;15 yet a complete execution p247of the law seems not to have been attained, for the law of 1602 recognizes increasing inconveniences from foreigners going to the New World, and directs their deportation because "the ports are not safe in the things of our holy Catholic faith, and great care should be taken that no error creep in among the Indians."16 In 1621, however, exception is made of such as are engaged in the useful mechanical arts, but the law is to be enforced against the traders in the towns.17 Foreigners were defined to be those not born in Spain or Majorca or Minorca. This policy of exclusion was maintained to the downfall of Spain's rule on the main-land. In five years' travel in Spanish America Humboldt happened upon only one German resident.18 The inhabitants of the remote provinces, he tells us, had difficulty in conceiving that there could be Europeans who did not speak Spanish.19

These strict regulations stand out in sharp contrast to the later English indifference as to what sort of people went to the colonies. The purely secular policy of Cromwell, who shipped Irish papists and rebels wholesale to the West Indies,20 would have been impossible for the scrupulous Philip II; but by the middle of the seventeenth century commercial and secular motives and ideals in state policy had p248nearly displaced the religious. Then again the existence in New Spain and Peru of a large population of Christianized natives whom the crown wished to protect so far as possible from exploitation, made the question of unrestricted immigration essentially different in the Spanish colonies from what it was in the settlements of the English.

That the difference between the policies of the two home governments was not a difference between the two nations so much as between two periods and their respective ruling ideas is shown by the earlier English projects to enforce religious uniformity in the colonies.21 Our own exclusion of laborers under contract, of speculative anarchists, and of the Chinese should not be overlooked in passing judgment on the Spanish restrictive policy.

Concurrently with this sifting of emigration the government continued to encourage the settlement of farmers and artisans in the islands. In 1519 colonists were offered exemption from taxation for twenty years. But soon Mexico, and later Peru, with their wealth of gold and silver and more salubrious climate, proved so attractive that the island colonies were threatened with depopulation.22

To counteract this peril, the king in 1525 offered free transportation of families to Española,23 and in p2491526 the extreme measure was adopted of prohibiting under penalty and confiscation migration from the islands to the continent. The founders of main-land settlements, however, were allowed to draw from the islands if they would contract to replace their recruits by an equal number of Spaniards. So severe a law was naturally a dead letter.24

In 1529 a new plan was tried — that of establishing feudal lordships. If any one would take over to Española fifty married couples, twenty-five free whites and twenty-five negro slaves, build a church and fort and support the clergyman, pay the freight and supply provisions for the emigrants, build their houses, give each couple two cows, two bulls, fifty sheep, one mare, ten pigs, and six chickens, and make the settlement within a year, completing twenty-five stone houses within five years and fifty within ten — he was to receive an area of about sixty square miles, with its mines (subject to the king's royalty of one-fifth), its fisheries, one-fifth of the royal income from the territory, the right of patronage for the church, etc.; and finally his family should be raised to the nobility and granted a coat of arms.25 It is possible that the sixty laborers with their wives and clergyman, brought to Santo Domingo in 1533 by one Bolaños under contract with the crown, came p250in response to this effort,26 but in general the allurements of Mexico could not be withstood or counteracted. In one period of five months (1535) there arrived in Panama on their way to Peru six hundred white men and four hundred negro slaves.27 In 1551 the crown agreed to advance to Cuban planters the capital required for building sugar-mills. The islands, however, never really prospered until the relaxation of the restrictions on their trade in the eighteenth century.

To estimate the amount of emigration from Spain to America is very difficult, but it probably did not average much over one thousand or one thousand five hundred a year during the sixteenth century. Robert Tomson tells us that in the fleet of 1556 there were eight ships, and that on one of them, the Carion, of five hundred tons burden, there were one hundred and thirty-nine persons — men, women, and children.28 He estimated the Spanish population of Mexico city at about one thousand five hundred households. Velasco's estimate, twenty years later, was three thousand households. Counting a household at five persons this would give about seven thousand five hundred as the growth in twenty years of the Spanish population in the city. Velasco in 1574, estimated the total Spanish population of the New World at thirty thousand five hundred p251households, or one hundred and fifty-two thousand five hundred people. If this population, like that of Mexico city, had doubled in twenty years we should have an average annual increase of about three thousand eight hundred from excess of births over deaths, and from immigration. It is clear, then, after making reasonable allowance for high mortality, that the annual immigration could not have furnished more than three thousand of this number, and that in all probability it was much less. The estimate, therefore, of one thousand to one thousand five hundred a year seems a reasonable one.

Nevertheless, the movement impressed contemporary observers as considerable. The Venetian ambassador Priuli, in 1576, refers to the emigration to the Indies as "the great numbers of people who have gone and go continually to those parts."29 In 1617 the Casa de Contratacion wrote the king of the serious embarrassment occasioned by the multitude of passengers desiring to go to the Indies who came before it with incomplete or unsatisfactory credentials.30 At a later date, in the early eighteenth century, Campillo, a minister of King Philip V, estimated the annual emigration to America at fourteen thousand,31 but this figure is supported by no actual records. Adam Seybert placed the annual emigration to the United States from 1790 to 1810 p252at not more than six thousand a year.32 It is difficult, moreover, to see where and how any such numbers as Campillo suggests could have got transportation, for the fleet system was on the steady decline after the treaty of Utrecht (1713).

In the previous centuries, notwithstanding the first excitement of the conquests of Mexico and Peru, there were no agencies of colonial companies nor any system of indentured servants such as supplied the English colonies. A record of the expense of crossing the Atlantic in the sixteenth century was made by the Englishman Miles Philips, who in 1581 paid sixty pesos for a passage from Honduras to Spain, and provided his own chickens and bread.33 The peso in Mexico at this time is usually the gold peso, which was equivalent to about three dollars. The legal fare for such as secured passage on the war galleons was twenty silver ducats.34


The Author's Notes:

1 Docs. Ined. de Ultramar, V, 134. Cf. above, pp207,º 220.º

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2 Veitia Linage, Norte de la Contratacion, 219.

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3 Recopilacion de Leyes, lib. IX, tit. XXVI, ley 16. The Jeronimite fathers wrote the king in January, 1517, from Española, that it was reported that there were many heretics in the island who had come to escape the Inquisition. Docs. Ined. de Indias, I, 274.

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4 Cf. Icazbalceta, "Autos de Fe celebrados en Mexico," Obras, I, 279.

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5 Hakluyt, Voyages, XIV, 146.

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6 Icazbalceta, Obras, I, 316. For autos in Spain in 1559, cf. Motley, Dutch Republic, I, 221, 222.

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7 Docs. Ined. de Indias, I, 328. The Jeronimite fathers urge the same, ibid., I, 287.

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8 MS. ordinance quoted by Saco, Historia de la Esclavitud, 85; Herrera, Historia General, dec. III, lib. X, chap. XI.

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9 See Häbler, Die Überseeischen Unternehmungen der Welser (1903).

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10 Armstrong, Charles V, II, 47.

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11 Recopilacion de Leyes, lib. IX, tit. XVII, leyes 2 and 4.

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12 Benzoni, History of the New World, 1.

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13 Hakluyt, Voyages, XIV, 138, 139.

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14 Velasco, Descripcion de las Indias, 36. Cf. the Venetian ambassador Soriano's characterization of most of the emigrants as "broken and desperate men or fugitives from justice." Albéri, Relazioni Venete, 1st series, III, 343.

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15 Recopilacion de Leyes, lib. IX, tit. XXVII, ley 1.

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16 Recopilacion de Leyes, lib. IX, tit. XXVII, ley 9.

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17 Ibid., ley 10.

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18 Humboldt, Travels, VII, 441.

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19 Humboldt, New Spain, I, 210.

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20 Cf. Cal. of State Pap., Col., I, 421, 427, 428.

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21 Cf. Eggleston, Beginners of a Nation, 231, 235; Cal. of State Pap., Col., I, 177, 310; Hart, American History told by Contemporaries, I, 183.

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22 See above, p197.º

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23 Saco, Historia de la Esclavitud, 141.

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24 Saco, Historia de la Esclavitud, 142; Herrera, Historia General, dec. III, lib. IX, chap. II.

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25 Saco, Historia de la Esclavitud, 147‑149.

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26 Herrera, Historia General, dec. V, lib. V, chap. V.

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27 Saco, Historia de la Esclavitud, 164.

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28 Hakluyt, Voyages, XIV, 142.

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29 Albéri, Relazioni Venete, 1st series, V, 233.

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30 Veitia Linage, Norte de la Contratacion, 225.

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31 Colmeiro, Hist. de la Econ. Polit., II, 48.

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32 Seybert, Statist. Annals, 29.

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33 Hakluyt, Voyages, XIV, 223.

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34 Veitia Linage, Norte de la Contratacion, 228.


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