Great as have been the political and religious changes of the last one hundred years, they fall short of those which took place in the three generations following the first voyage of Columbus. A man like Las Casas, who was approaching maturity in 1492, saw the discovery of a new world, the opening to European traffic of the three vast oceans, the circumnavigation of the globe, the setting forth of the Copernican theory of the solar system, the establishment of the Spanish Empire in the New World, and the Protestant revolution, events in their novelty and their far-reaching consequences surpassing anything in the history of mankind since the establishment of the Roman Empire and the advent of Christianity.
In three of these epoch-making processes Spain took the leading part; and it will be suitable in this place before taking up the special phases of her work in America to make a brief survey of what had been accomplished by Spanish enterprise in somewhat less than a century. To appreciate the total achievement, p191 it is necessary to remind the reader that Spain was not a rich country, that her area was about equal to that of New England, New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio combined, that her population at the end of this period was somewhat smaller than that of New York to‑day, and somewhat larger than that of Pennsylvania.1 Most of this work, however, fell to natives of the kingdom of Castile, whose population was probably half a million less than that of Pennsylvania.
Taking up first the extension of geographical knowledge, we have to record the exploration of the Atlantic coast-line from Nova Scotia to Cape Horn2 and of the Pacific coast-line from the Straits of Magellan as far north as Oregon.3 The Pacific had been crossed both north and south of the equator going west; and the proper eastward course, after repeated failures, was discovered in 1565 by Urdañeta.4 The empires of Mexico and of the Incas had been conquered, and their wealth had become the support and the stimulus to the most arduous and heroic overland explorations of modern times. Pedro de Alvarado, in 1534, tempted by the desire to rival the Pizarros, diverted an expedition destined p192 to the Spice Islands to the region north of Peru, and forced his way through the snowy passes of the Andes to Quito, only to find that he had been anticipated by Sebastian de Benalcazar.5 In 1537 Benalcazar made his way to Bogotá, which place was also reached up the Magdalena River from the Caribbean Sea by Gonzalo Ximenes de Quesada, and from the basin of the Orinoco by the German Federmann, sent out by the Welsers, of Augsburg, under a license from the emperor Charles V.6 In 1537 also the lawyer Vadillo organized an expedition at an expense of one hundred thousand pesos to march overland from Cartagena to Peru. After a year of extraordinary exertions and hardships, during which ninety-two of the three hundred and fifty Spaniards died, they reached Cali, in the southern part of the modern Colombia, where, like Alvarado, they found themselves anticipated.7
Juan de Ayolas, in 1535, went up the Paraná and the Paraguay as far as twenty degrees south latitude, and then across the plains to Peru.8 Five years later Martinez de Irala went up the Paraguay to the seventeenth parallel and opened the permanent line of communication between Peru and the river Plate region.9 In the middle of the continent Gonzalo Pizarro crossed the eastern Andes from p193 Quito, and his lieutenant Orellana, embarking on the Napo, floated down that stream into the Marañon and the Amazon, and reached the Atlantic after a navigation of seven months and three thousand miles.10 In the western Cordilleran region Almagro penetrated Chili from Peru and returned by the coastal lowlands, 1535‑1537, with difficulties and sufferings as great in the sandy deserts as in the mountain wilderness.11
In the present United States the story of the interior exploration is more familiar. Beginning with the wanderings of Cabeça de Vaca from eastern Texas to the Gulf of California, it was followed up in the southwest by Friar Marcos, of Nice, introducing the vaster enterprise of Coronado, who covered the region from Mexico to Kansas; and in the east by the expedition of De Soto, which, while failing of its immediate objects, enriched geographical knowledge with the earliest descriptions of our southern inland region from Florida to Arkansas, and recorded the first undoubted discovery of the Mississippi.
During this period the explorations of the French were limited to the voyages of Verrazano, Cartier, and Roberval; while the English, after the first ventures of John Cabot, did nothing to add to the knowledge of geography, with the possible exception of the Cabot voyage of 1508‑1509. Even the great p194 achievements of Champlain, La Salle, and other French explorers of the seventeenth century pale before the exploits of the Spaniards in the previous century.
If we turn to colonization and conquest we find the same disparity; for the results of the first eighty years of English and French colonization, compared with the work done by the Spaniards, were small, notwithstanding their great significance for the future. In the first three generations that followed the settlement at Jamestown, communities of Englishmen had been planted on the Atlantic coast and along the course of streams from Maine to South Carolina. New England had a white population of perhaps eighty thousand in 1700;12 in New York, in 1698, there were perhaps eighteen thousand of European extraction;13 Virginia was the home of about forty thousand in 1671,14 and in Maryland there were perhaps twenty thousand in 1676. In the Carolinas and the Jerseys by 1690 there were perhaps twenty-five thousand more, making a total of certainly less than two hundred thousand whites in the English colonies about the year 1690. Chalmers estimated the white population of the English settlements in 1715 at about three hundred and seventy-five thousand.15 Of Christianized Indians there were few outside of New England, and there p195 the number was much less than before King Philip's War. In 1674 Gookin estimated the total for Massachusetts and Plymouth at eighteen hundred.16
In the English colonies institutions for the education of the Indians were projected in the seventeenth century, but not realized except in so far as the foundation of Harvard College was designed to effect that end.17 Roger Williams had written on their language and customs, and Eliot had translated the Bible into the Natick dialect. For the higher education of the whites Harvard was the sole foundation until 1693; and only two other colleges were established during the next fifty years. There were in the colonies during the first century little accumulated wealth, but hardly any poverty, few fine buildings, and scant traces of artistic feeling. On the other hand, the English in America were building up self-governing communities which in some cases were almost independent states. They were the scenes of experiments of democracy and religious toleration of epoch-making significance. The foundations of a great people had been laid.
If now we compare what the Spaniards accomplished in the sixteenth century with the work of the English in the seventeenth we shall appreciate that, although it was different in character and less p196 in accord with our predilections or prejudices, it was, nevertheless, one of the great achievements of human history. They undertook the magnificent if impossible task of lifting a whole race numbering millions into the sphere of European thought, life, and religion. Yet this thought and life and religion were so different in many respects from the ideals which now appeal to the descendants of the seventeenth-century English Protestant that we instinctively appraise the attempt of the Spaniards both by modern standards and by the measure of their failure, rather than by the degree of their success.
An outline of what they had accomplished may be drawn from what is substantially a census of Spanish America in 1574. In 1576 Juan Lopez de Velasco, in his capacity as cosmographer and historian to the Council of the Indies, prepared a "Description of the Indies" which far surpasses in detail and completeness any official report on the English colonies till the time of Chalmers.18 In 1574 Velasco enumerates in the New World some two hundred Spanish cities and towns with some mining settlements. These towns, together with the stock-farms and plantations, contained about one hundred and six thousand Spaniards, of whom about four thousand were encomenderos — i.e., lords of Indian serfs — and the rest settlers, miners, traders and soldiers. Of Indians there were approximately p197 eight or nine thousand villages, inclusive of tribes or parts of tribes not yet civilized, containing one million five hundred thousand Indian men of tribute-paying age (fifteen to sixty), or an Indian population of about five million, not counting the considerable number who escaped taxation either because not yet reduced to village life or because they hid away. The Indians were divided into three thousand seven hundred repartimientos belonging to the king or to private persons. In addition there were about forty thousand negro slaves and a large number of mestizos and mulattoes. The great mass of the Indians were nominally Christians and were living as civilized men and their numbers increasing.19
In following Velasco's account of the various colonies we see how the superior attractiveness of Mexico, Central America, and Peru, and the restrictions on commerce, had largely depleted the population of the islands. In Española there remained only ten Spanish villages with a population of about one thousand Spaniards, engaged principally in sugar-growing and stock-raising, with the labor of some twelve thousand negro slaves. The city of Santo Domingo a few years before had a Spanish population of one thousand seven hundred, but in 1574 only one thousand and two. Of Indians there were left only two villages. In Cuba there were seven towns (villas) and one city, but their total Spanish p198 population was only two hundred and forty. There were nine Indian hamlets and about two hundred and seventy married Indians. Santiago, which had once contained a thousand Spaniards, now was the home of only thirty. The Spanish population of Havana was only seventy. Porto Rico and Jamaica were in the same plight, slowly stifling for lack of a market.20 Venezuela was somewhat better off, but here, too, the tale is of poverty.
It is only when we follow the islanders and go to New Spain that we find progress and prosperity. In the city of Mexico in 1574 there were about fifteen thousand Spaniards — encomenderos, merchants, miners, mechanics — and about one hundred and fifty thousand Indians. Besides the public buildings, the churches, and the monasteries, there were a university, a boys' and girls' high-school, four hospitals, of which one was for Indians; in the Spanish quarter well-built houses of wood, stone, and masonry work.21 To the north of Mexico lay a typical Indian province, that of Teotlalpa, of some six hundred square miles, with no Spanish towns save two mining settlements with perhaps one hundred and thirty Spaniards. There were twenty-six Indian villages with one hundred and fourteen thousand Indians paying tribute, fifteen monasteries averaging three or four friars each.22
In the bishopric of Tlaxcala to the east there were only two Spanish towns, Los Angeles and Vera p199 Cruz. The two hundred Indian villages contained two hundred and fifteen thousand tributaries, divided into one hundred and twenty-seven repartimientos, worth one hundred and twelve thousand pesos a year. Sixty-one belonged to the crown, yielding thirty-eight thousand pesos, and sixty-six yielding seventy-four thousand pesos to private encomenderos. In the town of Vera Cruz lived some two hundred Spanish families, all merchants and shopkeepers, but no Indians. The heavy work was performed by some six hundred negro slaves as porters and stevedores. The sickly climate accounts for the three hospitals in so small a place.23
In Yucatan, not counting Tabasco, there were four Spanish towns, with some three hundred householders, one hundred and thirty of them encomenderos, the rest planters living on their plantations, traders, and officials.24 In South America, Velasco reckoned one hundred Spanish settlements with a total of thirteen thousand five hundred households. Some two thousand of the Spaniards were encomenderos, the rest farmers and traders. The Indians were not reduced to village life as generally as in the north, but the number of tributaries is put at eight hundred and eighty thousand. The Indians on the plains were diminishing in number, while those in the uplands were increasing.25 The aspects of Spanish life were not dissimilar to those in the p200 north: stock-raising, growing cereals, sugar-cane, wool, etc., were the principal occupations.26 The city of Quito contained some four hundred Spanish families, three monasteries, and a hospital. In the Franciscan monastery there was an Indian school.27
In Lima, the "City of the Kings," the capital of the viceroyalty of Peru, there were some two thousand Spanish families, thirty of them encomenderos, the rest traders and officials. The Indian population of the district was twenty-five or twenty-six thousand, divided into one hundred and thirty-six repartimientos, of which six belonged to the crown. The wealth of Peru redounded to the prosperity of the church, for Lima contained five monasteries and two convents, a convent for mestizo girls and a house of sisters of charity, two large and rich hospitals, one for Spaniards and one for Indians.28 In institutions of learning Lima was in 1570, as always, far behind Mexico.
The foregoing presents the results of Spanish colonization from the stand-point of the historian and geographer of the Council of the Indies. If now we review the same events with the eyes of the old campaigner of the conquest, Bernal Diaz, as he looks back forty-seven years, we see that first there come to his mind the wonderful changes in the life and condition of the Indians, changes in range and character perhaps not equalled before in the history of the race in so short a time. Instead of the fearful p201 temples of Huitzilopochtli and Tezcatlipoca, smoking with human sacrifice and dripping with blood of victims, there are Christian churches; while upon the Indians themselves have been bestowed the hardly won prizes of ages of slow progress, the developed arts, the various domestic animals, the grains, vegetables, and fruits, the use of letters and the printing press, and the forms of government.29 As the child physically and mentally passes rapidly through the earlier stages of the development of the race, so the natives of New Spain in a generation and a half were lifted through whole stages of human evolution. If these gifts came through war and conquest, so Roman culture came to Gaul and Britain.
1 Häbler, Die Wirthschaftliche Blüte Spaniens im 16 Jahrhundert und ihr Verfall, 150, places the population of Spain in 1550 at about 6,800,000.
2 Cape Horn was discovered, but not rounded, in 1526 by Francisco de Hoces. Hugues, Cronologia, 35.
4 Ibid., 71.
5 Prescott, Conquest of Peru, II, 13‑22.
6 Hugues, Cronologia, 48.
7 Herrera, Historia General, dec. VI, lib. VII, chap. IV.
8 Hugues, Cronologia, 49.
10 Prescott, Conquest of Peru, II, 153‑170.
11 Ibid., II, 83‑90.
Thayer's Note: Onsite, a somewhat briefer account of Almagro's trek is found in Galdames, History of Chile, pp26‑29.
12 Doyle, English in America, II, 497, 498.
13 Lodge, Short Hist. of the Eng. Cols., 312.
14 Governor Berkeley's report, in Hart, Contemporaries, I, 239.
15 Fiske, Old Virginia, II, 169.
16 Doyle, English in America, II, 202.
17 In Virginia in 1619, Bruce, Economic History of Virginia, I, 228; in Massachusetts, Doyle, II, 78; Cal. of State Pap., Col., 1650; charter of Harvard College, 1650, Harvard University Catalogue.
18 Juan Lopez de Velasco, Geografia y Descripcion Universal de las Indias (Justo Zaragoza's ed.).
19 Velasco, 1, 2.
20 Velasco, 94‑134.
21 Ibid., 188‑190.
22 Ibid., 194‑196.
23 Velasco, 207‑213.
24 Ibid., 247.
25 Ibid., 401.
26 Velasco, 337.
27 Ibid., 432.
28 Ibid., 463‑466.
29 Bernal Diaz, Historia Verdadera, chaps. CCVIII, CCIX.
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