The New York Times Book Review
Harvest of Empire: The History of Latinos in Americaby Juan Gonzalez
Spanning five hundred years -- from the first New World colonies to our nation's
Within the next decade, Hispanics will become the largest minority group in the United States. The new immigrants have ignited a vibrant "Latin explosion" in American popular culture. But the Latino influence reaches far beyond music, sports, cuisine, or the latest magazine cover.
Spanning five hundred years -- from the first New World colonies to our nation's nineteenth-century westward expansion, from the days of gunboat diplomacy to the turn of the millennium -- Harvest of Empire features family portraits of real-life immigrant Latino pioneers, as well as sketches of the political events and social conditions that compelled them to leave their homeland, and how they have transformed the nation's cultural landscape.
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Conquerors and Victims:
The Image of America Forms
We saw cues and shrines in these cities that looked like gleaming
white towers and castles: a marvelous site.
--Bernal Díaz del Castillo, 1568
The arrival of European explorers to America began the most astounding and far-reaching encounter between cultures in the history of civilization. It brought together two portions of the human race that until then had known nothing of each other's existence, thus establishing the basic identity of our modern world. French writer and critic Tzvetan Todorov has called it "the discovery self makes of the other"; while Adam Smith labeled it one of "the two greatest and most important events recorded in the history of mankind."
Of the Europeans who settled America, those who hailed from England and Spain had the greatest impact. Both transplanted their cultures over vast territories. Both created colonial empires from whose abundance Europe rose to dominate the world. And descendants of both eventually launched independence wars that remade the political systems of our planet.
That common history has made Latin Americans and Anglo Americans, like the Arabs and Jews of the Middle East, cousins in constant conflict, often hearing but not understanding each other. Most of us know little of the enormous differences between how the Spanish and English settled America, or how those disparities led after independence tonations with such radically divergent societies. For just as adults develop key personality traits in the first years of childhood, so it was with the new nations of America, their collective identities and outlooks, their languages and social customs, molded by centuries in the colonial womb.
This first chapter seeks to probe how both Latin American and Anglo American cultures were shaped from their colonial beginnings in the 1500s to the independence wars of the early 1800s, particularly how each culture took root in separate regions of what now makes up the United States.
What kind of people were the original English and Spanish settlers and how did the views and customs they brought with them affect the America they fashioned? What was the legacy of the settlers' religious beliefs, racial policies, and economic relationships? How did the colonial systems of their mother countries influence their political traditions? How were the rights of individuals regarded in the two groups of colonies? How did divergent views toward land, its ownership and its uses, promote or retard the development of their societies? To what degree did the various Amerindian civilizations the Europeans conquered influence the settlers' own way of life?
WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE
The native population at the time of first contact has been much debated. Estimates vary wildly, though there seems little doubt that it equaled or surpassed that of Europe. Most likely, it was around 60 million; some scholars place it as high as 110 million. The greatest number, perhaps 25 million, lived in and around the Valley of Mexico, another 6 million inhabited the Central Andes region, while the territory north of the Rio Grande was home to perhaps another 10 million. A bewildering level of uneven development prevailed among these Native Americans. The Han and Capoque were still in the Stone Age, nomads foraging naked along the bayous of the North American Gulf Coast. The slave-based city-states of the Aztecs, Mayas, and Incas, on the other hand, rivaled the sophistication and splendor of Europe. The Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán was a bustling metropolis. Meticulously designed and ingeniously constructed in the middle of a lake, where it was accessible only by well-guarded causeways, it contained some 250,000 inhabitants when Hernán Cortés first entered it. (London's population at the time was a mere 50,000 and that of Seville, the greatest city in Castile, barely 40,000.) The Spaniards were awestruck. One of Cortés's captains, Bernal Díaz del Castillo, left a vivid description of what he and his fellow Spaniards beheld that first day from the top of the central Aztec temple:
We saw a great number of canoes, some coming with provisions and others returning with cargo and merchandise; and we saw too that one could not pass from one house to another of that great city and the other cities that were built on water except over wooden draw-bridges or by canoe. We saw ... shrines in these cities that looked like gleaming white towers and castles: a marvelous sight.
Some of our soldiers who had been in many parts of the world, in Constantinople, in Rome, and all over Italy, said they had never seen a market so well laid out, so large, so orderly, and so full of people.
But Aztec civilization could not compare in grandeur, archaeologists tell us, to its predecessor, the city-state of Teotihuacán, which flourished for several centuries before it collapsed mysteriously in A.D. 700, leaving behind soul-stirring pyramids and intricate murals and artifacts as clues to its resplendent past. Nor did the Aztecs approach the sophistication of the Mayans, America's Greeks, whose mathematicians and astronomers surpassed any in antiquity and whose scholars invented during their Classic Period (A.D. 300 to 900) the hemisphere's only known phonetic script.
Farther north, beyond the Rio Grande, hundreds of native societies existed when the Europeans arrived, all with their own languages and traditions, though only the Pueblos of New Mexico and the Iroquois Confederation in the Northeast approached the level of civilization reached by the natives of Meso- and South America. The Pueblos were descended from the even larger and more advanced Anasazi, who flourished in present-day Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries A.D. before they, too, mysteriously disappeared. By the time the first Spaniards arrived in the region in 1540, the Pueblos numbered around sixteen thousand. They were living in small cities of multilevel adobe apartments built on high plateaus, among them Acoma, Zuñi, and Hopi. A peaceful, sedentary civilization, the Pueblos survived off the ocean of barren scrubland and buttes by planting extensively in river bottoms. They practiced a complicated animist religion that revolved around their ceremonial center, the kiva, where they taught their young that "competitiveness, aggressiveness and the ambition to lead were ... offensive to the supernatural powers."
The Iroquois Confederation, formed around 1570 by the Mohawk shaman, or chief, Hiawatha, was the largest and most durable alliance of native societies in North American history. Its influence stretched from the hinterland of Lake Superior to the backwoods of Virginia. Feared by all other Indians, the Iroquois became gatekeepers to the huge fur trade and a decisive force in the competition between the English and French for its control. They lived in towns of up to several thousand residents in wooden longhouses protected by double or triple rings of stockades. Social authority in each of the five Iroquois nations was matrilineal. Women chose the men who served as each clan's delegates to the nation's council, and each nation, in turn, elected representatives to the confederation's fifty-member ruling body, the Council Fire. That council decided all issues affecting the confederation by consensus.
The Europeans who stumbled upon this kaleidoscope of Amerindian civilizations were themselves just emerging from a long period of backwardness. The Black Death had swept out of Russia in 1350, leaving 25 million dead. There followed a relentless onslaught of epidemics that so devastated the continent that its population declined by 60 to 75 percent in the span of a hundred years. So few peasants were left to work the land that feudal society disintegrated, the price of agricultural labor soared, and new classes of both rich peasants and poor nobles came into being. The sudden labor shortage spurred technical innovation as a way to increase production, and that innovation, in turn, led to the rise of factories in the cities. The social upheaval brought about a new mobility among the long-suffering peasantry, and with it a new aggressiveness. Rebellions by the starving poor against their feudal lords became more frequent. Some even assailed the all-powerful Catholic Church, whose bishops preached piety to the common man while surrounded by the privileges of the nobility.
By the fifteenth century, the frequency of plagues ebbed, population rebounded, and the continent emerged into a dazzling era of artistic and scientific achievement. The first printing presses disseminated the new knowledge widely, through books written in scores of vernacular languages, ending forever the monopoly of Latin and the stranglehold of the clergy on learning. In 1492, as Columbus launched Europe's historic encounter with the Amerindians, Renaissance geniuses like Hieronymus Bosch and Leonardo da Vinci were at the apex of their fame; the German master Albrecht Dürer, was twenty-one; Niccolò Machiavelli was twenty-three; Dutchman Desiderius Erasmus was twenty-six; the Englishman Thomas More was fourteen; Copernicus was only nineteen, and Martin Luther a boy of eight.
The revolutions in production and in knowledge were reflected in politics as well. For the first time, strong monarchs ruled England and Spain, kings who were determined to create unified nations out of fiefdoms that had quarreled and warred against each other since the fall of the Roman empire.
Foremost among those monarchs were King Ferdinand of Aragón and Queen Isabella of Castile, who joined their twin kingdoms and finally ousted the Moors in 1492 from the Kingdom of Granada, the last Arab stronghold in Europe. For most of the previous eight centuries, Moors had occupied the Iberian Peninsula, where they withstood fierce but intermittent crusades by Christian Spaniards to reclaim their land. Those crusades--the Spanish call them La Reconquista--had succeeded over the centuries in slowly shunting the Moors farther south, until only Granada remained in Arab hands.
Ironically, the Moorish occupation and La Reconquista prepared Spain for its imperial role in America. The occupation turned the country and the city of Córdoba into the Western world's premier center for the study of science and philosophy, while the fighting engendered a hardened warrior ethos in the hidalgos, Spain's lower nobility. It was those hidalgos who later rushed to fill the ranks of the conquistador armies in the New World. The wars provided vital practice in colonization, with Spanish kings gradually adopting the practice of paying their warriors with grants from land they recovered in battle. Finally, La Reconquista reinforced a conviction among Spaniards that they were the true defenders of Catholicism.
Unlike Spain, which grew monolithic through La Reconquista, England emerged from the Middle Ages bedeviled by strife among its own people. The most bloody of those conflicts was the thirty-year Wars of the Roses, which finally drew to a close in 1485 when Henry Tudor of the House of Lancaster vanquished Richard III of the House of York. Henry VII quickly distinguished himself by creating a centralized government and reliable system of taxation, the first English monarch to do so. His success was due in no small measure to the prosperity of English farming, to the flowering of English nationalism, and to his enlightened concessions to local self-government. Henry's subjects proudly believed themselves to be better off than any people in Europe, and they were largely right, for neither the widespread class divisions nor the famine and squalor that afflicted much of the continent during the fifteenth century could be found in England. Slavery, for instance, did not exist in the kingdom, and English serfs already enjoyed greater liberties than their European counterparts. The yeomanry, small farmers who comprised a large middle class between the gentry and the serfs, fostered economic stability and provided a counterweight to curb the power of the nobility. At the same time, Parliament and the traditions of English common law accorded the average citizen greater protection from either the king or his nobles than any other political system in Europe.
Such were the conditions in 1497 when Henry, fired by news of Columbus's discoveries, dispatched explorer John Cabot to America. Cabot landed in Newfoundland and laid claim to North America for the British Crown, but he perished in a subsequent trip before establishing a colony. That failure, along with the discovery of gold and silver in Mexico and Peru a few decades later, permitted Spain to catapult to the pinnacle of sixteenth-century world power. Meanwhile, the English, bereft of colonies and increasingly consumed by religious and political strife at home, were reduced to sniping at Spanish grandeur through the exploits of their pirates.
When they finally did embark on a New World empire a century later, the English brought with them not just their tradition of local self-government but the vestiges of their domestic conflicts as well, most important of which were the religious schisms and sects that arose after Henry VIII broke with the pope in Rome and established the Church of England. Among those sects, one in particular, the Puritans, was destined to leave a vast imprint on American society.
Another "British" conflict that was to greatly influence the New World was the colonizing of Catholic Ireland and the bloody repression that accompanied it. By their callous treatment of the Irish, Anglo-Norman Protestants set the stage for the massive Irish flight that followed. English leaders justified that occupation by claiming that the Irish were a barbarian people, but in doing so, they gave birth to notions of Anglo-Saxon superiority that they would later use to justify their conquest of Native Americans.
EARLY SPANISH INFLUENCE IN THE UNITED STATES
The textbooks most of us read in grammar school have long acknowledged that Spanish conquistadores crisscrossed and laid claim to much of the southern and western United States nearly a century before the first English colonies were founded at Jamestown and Massachusetts Bay. But most Anglo American historians have promoted the view that the early Spanish presence rapidly disappeared and left a minor impact on U.S. culture when compared to our dominant Anglo-Saxon heritage.
Those early expeditions, however, led to permanent Spanish outposts throughout North America, to the founding of our earliest cities, Saint Augustine and Santa Fe, and to the naming of hundreds of U.S. rivers, mountains, towns, and even several states. Moreover, they led to a Spanish-speaking population--more accurately, a Latino/mestizo population--that has existed continuously in certain regions of the United States since that time. That heritage, and the colonial society it spawned, has been so often overlooked in contemporary debates over culture, language, and immigration that we would do well to review its salient parts.
Juan Ponce de León was the first European to touch what is now U.S. soil. His fruitless search for the Fountain of Youth led to his discovery in 1513 of La Florida. He returned eight years later but was killed in battle with the Calusa Indians before he could found a settlement.
Nearly two decades after Ponce de León's death, Francisco Vásquez de Coronado and Hernando de Soto, their imaginations fired by the treasures Cortés had seized in Mexico, each led major expeditions in search of the fabled cities of gold. Starting from central Mexico in 1539, Coronado and his men marched north into present-day Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas, planting the Spanish flag wherever they went. By the time the expedition returned in 1542, the Spaniards had discovered the Grand Canyon, crossed and named many of the continent's great rivers, but discovered no gold. The same year Coronado set out, De Soto led an expedition out of Cuba that explored much of Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana, but he and half his men perished without finding any treasure.
The most extraordinary exploit of all, however, was that of Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, who arrived in Florida in 1527--fifteen years before De Soto--as second-in-command to Pánfilo de Narváez, the bungling onetime governor of Cuba whom King Charles of Spain authorized to complete the colonization of Florida. After landing on the peninsula's western coast, Narváez led a three-hundred-man expedition inland near present-day Tallahassee, then foolishly lost touch with his ships and was killed. His men, unable to withstand the constant Indian attacks, headed west along the Gulf Coast on makeshift barges.
Only four survived the ordeal, among them Cabeza de Vaca and a Spanish Moor named Estevanico. The four spent the next seven years wandering through the North American wilderness. Their six-thousand-mile trek, one of the great exploration odysseys of history, and the first crossing of North America by Europeans, is preserved in a report Cabeza de Vaca wrote for the king of Spain in 1542. At first, they were separated and enslaved by coastal tribes, where Cabeza de Vaca was beaten so often his life became unbearable. After a year in captivity, he managed to escape and took up the life of a trader between the tribes: "Wherever I went, the Indians treated me honorably and gave me food, because they liked my commodities. I became well known; those who did not know me personally knew me by reputation and sought my acquaintance."
His rudimentary medical knowledge enabled him at one point to cure some sick Indians. From that point on, the tribes revered him as a medicine man. Once a year, when the various tribes gathered for the annual picking of prickly pears, he was reunited with his fellow Spaniards, who remained enslaved. At one such gathering in 1533, he engineered their escape and they all fled west through present-day Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. As they traveled, word spread of the wondrous white medicine man and his companions, and soon thousands of Indians started to follow in a caravan of worshipers. The four did not finally reconnect with Spanish civilization in northern Mexico until 1534. By then, Cabeza de Vaca had been transformed. He no longer regarded the Native American as a savage, for he now had an intimate understanding of their culture and outlook. Instead, the barbarity of his fellow Spaniards toward the Indians now filled him with despair. His description of his trip through an area where Spanish slave traders were hunting Indians remains a powerful revelation into the nature of the Conquest:
With heavy hearts we looked out over the lavishly watered, fertile, and beautiful land, now abandoned and burned and the people thin and weak, scattering or hiding in fright. Not having planted, they were reduced to eating roots and bark; and we shared their famine the whole way. Those who did receive us could provide hardly anything. They themselves looked as if they would willingly die. They brought us blankets they had concealed from the other Christians and told us how the latter had come through razing the towns and carrying off half the men and all the women and boys.
THE TOLL OF CONQUEST
The devastation Cabeza de Vaca warned of still defies comprehension. By the late 1500s, a mere century after the Conquest began, scarcely 2 million natives remained in the entire hemisphere. An average of more than 1 million people perished annually for most of the sixteenth century, in what has been called "the greatest genocide in human history." On the island of Hispaniola, which was inhabited by 1 million Tainos in 1492, less than 46,000 remained twenty years later. As historian Francis Jennings has noted, "The American land was more like a widow than a virgin. Europeans did not find a wilderness here; rather, however involuntarily, they made one."
Fewer natives perished in the English colonies only because the Amerindian populations were sparser to begin with, yet the macabre percentages were no less grisly: 90 percent of the Indian population was gone within half a century of the Puritan landing on Plymouth Rock; the Block Island Indians plummeted from 1,500 to 51 between 1662 and 1774; the Wampanoag tribe of Martha's Vineyard declined from 3,000 in 1642 to 313 in 1764; and the Susquehannock tribe in central Pennsylvania nearly disappeared, falling from 6,500 in 1647 to 250 by 1698.
Much of this cataclysm was unavoidable. The Indians succumbed to smallpox, measles, tuberculosis, and bubonic plague, for which they had no immunity, just as Europeans had succumbed to their own epidemics in previous centuries. But an astounding number of native deaths resulted from direct massacres or enslavement. If the Spaniards exterminated more than the British or French, it is because they encountered civilizations with greater population, complexity, and wealth, societies that desperately resisted any attempt to subjugate them or seize their land and minerals.
The battle for Tenochtitlán, for instance, was rivaled in overall fatalities by few in modern history. During the eighty-day siege of the Aztec capital by Cortés and his Texcoco Indian allies, 240,000 natives perished. A few Indian accounts of the battle survive today only because of Franciscan missionaries like Bernardino de Sahagún and Diego de Durán, who as early as 1524 developed a written form of the Nahuatl language, the lingua franca of central Mexico. The missionaries urged the Indians to preserve their tragic songs and reminiscences of the Conquest, and several of those accounts, such as the following section from the Codex Florentino, vividly describe what happened at Tenochtitlán:
Once again the Spaniards started killing and a great many Indians died. The flight from the city began and with this the war came to an end. The people cried: "We have suffered enough! Let us leave the city! Let us go live on weeds!"
A few of the men were separated from the others. These men were the bravest and strongest warriors. The youths who served them were also told to stand apart. The Spaniards immediately branded them with hot irons, either on the cheek or the lips.
Less than a quarter century after the arrival of Columbus, the Indian genocide sparked its first protest from a Spaniard, Fray Bartolomé de las Casas, who had arrived in Santo Domingo as a landowner but opted instead to become a Franciscan missionary. The first priest ordained in America, he quickly relinquished his lands and launched a campaign against Indian enslavement that made him famous throughout Europe. As part of that campaign, he authored a series of polemics and defended the Indians in public debates against Spain's greatest philosophers. The most famous of those polemics, A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies, recounts scores of massacres by Spanish soldiers, including one ordered by Cuba's governor Pánfilo Narváez, which Las Casas personally observed. In that incident, according to Las Casas, a group of natives approached a Spanish settlement with food and gifts, when the Christians, "without the slightest provocation, butchered before my eyes, some three thousand souls--men, women and children, as they sat there in front of us."
Las Casas's untiring efforts on behalf of the Amerindians led to Spain's adoption of "New Laws" in 1542. The codes recognized Indians as free and equal subjects of the Spanish Crown, but landowners in many regions refused to observe the codes and kept Indians in virtual slavery for generations. Despite his heroic efforts, Las Casas, who was eventually promoted to Bishop of Chiapas in Guatemala, also committed some major blunders. At one point he advocated using African slaves to replace Indian labor, though he ultimately recanted that position. While his polemics were among the most popular books in Europe and led to widespread debate over the toll of colonization, they greatly exaggerated the already grisly numbers of the Indian genocide, thus making Las Casas the unwitting source of the Spanish "Black Legend" propagated by Dutch and British Protestants.
Spain, of course, had no monopoly on settler barbarism. In 1637, the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony mistakenly concluded that local Pequots had killed two white men, so they set out to punish them. Assisted by other Indian enemies of the tribe, the Englishmen attacked the Pequot village on the Mystic River while its braves were absent, and roasted or shot to death between three hundred and seven hundred women and children before burning the entire village. Forty years later, during King Philip's War, colonists and their mercenaries conducted similar vicious slaughters of women and children. An estimated two thousand Indians perished in battle and another thousand were sold into slavery in the West Indies during the conflict. And South Carolina's Cherokee War (1760-1761) turned so brutal that a colonist defending a fort against Indians wrote to the governor, "We have now the pleasure, Sir, to fatten our dogs with their carcasses and to display their scalps neatly ornamented on the top of our bastions."
This type of savagery, often reciprocated by Indians desperate to defend their land, became a hallmark of Anglo-Indian relations far after the colonial period. A particularly gruesome example was carried out by Andrew Jackson in 1814. Settlers and land speculators from the Carolinas had started moving into the territory shortly after the War of Independence. When the settlers tried to push out the Indian inhabitants, the Creeks resisted and the U.S. Army, led by Jackson, intervened. During the war's decisive battle at Horseshoe Bend, Alabama, on March 27, 1814, Jackson's men massacred and cut off the noses of 557 Creeks, then skinned the dead bodies to tan the Indian hides and make souvenir bridle reins.
THE ROLE OF THE CHURCH
While all European settlers justified the Indian conquest and genocide as God's will, the Spanish and English differed substantially in their methods of subjugation, and this eventually led to radically different colonial societies. English kings, for instance, ordered their agents to "conquer, occupy and possess" the lands of the "heathens and infidels," but said nothing of the people inhabiting them, while Spain, following the dictates of Pope Alexander VI, sought not only to grab the land but also to make any pagans found on it "embrace the Catholic faith and be trained in good morals." In Spain, both Crown and Church saw colonizing and conversion as a unified effort. Priests accompanied each military expedition for the purpose of Christianizing the natives. Within a month of landing in Mexico, Bernal Díaz reminds us, Cortés presided over the first Indian baptisms, of twenty women given to the Spanish soldiers by the Tabascans of the coast: "One of the Indian ladies was christened Doña Marina. She was a truly great princess, the daughter of Caciques and the mistress of vassals ... they were the first women in New Spain to become Christians. Cortés gave one of them to each of his captains."
As the Conquest proceeded, priests performed such baptisms by the thousands. Before the holy water could dry on their foreheads, the Indian women were routinely grabbed as concubines by Spanish soldiers and settlers. The priests even performed occasional marriages between Spaniards and Indians, especially among the elite of both groups, thus fostering and legitimizing a new mestizo race in America. For example, Peruvian historian Garcilaso de la Vega, called El Inca, was born in 1539 to a Spanish officer and an Inca princess, while the parish register of Saint Augustine, Florida, recorded twenty-six Spanish-Indian marriages in the early 1700s, at a time when only a few hundred natives resided near the town. Far more important than legal marriages, however, was the extraordinary number of consensual unions. Francisco de Aguirre, among the conquistadores of Chile, boasted that by fathering more than fifty mestizo children, his service to God had been "greater than the sin incurred in doing so."
The first English colonies, by contrast, began as family settlements. They maintained strict separation from Indian communities, sometimes even bolstered by segregation laws. In North America, Indians rarely served as laborers for settlers or as household servants, and unmarried sexual unions between natives and whites were rare except for captives of war.
The English, furthermore, never saw proselytizing among the Indians as important. True, the Virginia Company listed missionary work as one of its purposes when the Crown granted Jamestown its charter in 1607. And nine years later, the Crown even ordered funds raised from all parishes in the Church of England to erect a college for the natives. But the company never sent a single missionary to Virginia and the college was never built. Officials simply diverted the money for their own ends until an investigation of the fraud prompted the Crown to revoke the company's charter and take over direct administration of the colony in 1622.
Likewise, the New England Puritans segregated themselves from the Indians, not even venturing out of their settlements to win converts until decades after their arrival. In 1643, sections of Harvard College were built with money raised by the New England Company among Anglicans back home. While donors were told the funds would be used for Indian education, some of the money ended up buying guns and ammunition for the colonists. So minor was Puritan concern for the Indians' souls that by 1674, fifty-five years after the founding of Plymouth Colony, barely a hundred natives in all New England were practicing Christians.
At one time or another, clerics Roger Williams of Rhode Island, Cotton Mather of Massachusetts Bay, and Samuel Purchas of Virginia all vilified the natives as demonic. The Reverend William Bradford, one of the original Pilgrim leaders, insisted they were "cruel, barbarous and most treacherous ... not being content only to kill and take away a life, but delight to torment men in the most bloody manner." Throughout colonial history, only Williams's Rhode Island colony and the Quakers of Pennsylvania showed themselves willing to coexist in harmony with their Indian neighbors. Despite their low view of the Indians, the English settlers did not try to bring them under heel. At first, they merely purchased or finagled choice parcels of land from some tribes and pressured others to move toward the interior.
In the Spanish colonies, however, the natives were far more numerous, and the policies of the Catholic Church far more aggressive. Church leaders did more than merely recognize Indian humanity or accommodate mestizaje. The Church dispatched an army of Franciscan, Dominican, and Jesuit monks, who served as the vanguard of sixteenth-century Spanish colonialism. The monks who flocked to America perceived the chaotic rise of capitalism in Europe as auguring an era of moral decay. In the Native Americans they imagined a simpler, less corrupted human being, one who could more easily be convinced to follow the word of Christ. So they abandoned Spain to set up their missions in the most remote areas of America, far from the colonial cities and encomiendas.
Those missions--the first was founded by Las Casas in Venezuela in 1520--became the principal frontier outposts of Spanish civilization. Many had farms and schools to Europeanize the Indians and research centers where the monks set about learning and preserving the native languages. Quite a few of the monks were inspired by Thomas More, whose widely read Utopia (1516) portrayed a fictional communal society of Christians located somewhere on an island in America. One of More's most ardent admirers was Vasco de Quiroga, who established a mission of thirty thousand Tarascans in central Mexico and rose to bishop of Michoacán. Quiroga, like More, talked of trying to "restore the lost purity of the primitive Church." Since Indians had no concept of land ownership or money, the missionaries easily organized cooperative tilling of the land and even communal housing, just as More espoused.
The natives proved less malleable and far less innocent than the Europeans imagined, so much so that early colonial history is filled with countless stories of monks who met hideous deaths at the hands of their flocks. Despite those tragedies, the monks kept coming, and as the years passed, some of their missions even prospered. That prosperity enraged colonial landowners, who increasingly regarded mission Indian labor as unwanted competition for the products of their plantations. In 1767, the colonial elite finally succeeded in getting the Jesuits, the most independent of the monastic orders, expelled from the New World. By then, 2,200 Jesuits were working in the colonies and more than 700,000 Indians resided in their missions.
Long before those Jesuit expulsions, Spanish monks played a crucial role in colonizing major parts of the United States. Most important were the Franciscans, who founded nearly forty thriving missions in Florida, Georgia, and Alabama during the 1600s and numerous others in the Southwest. Saint Augustine was the headquarters for the Florida missions, in which as many as twenty thousand Christianized Indians lived. While most of the Florida missions eventually were abandoned, several in the Southwest later turned into thriving towns, with Spanish monks today recognized as the founders of San Antonio, El Paso, Santa Fe, Tucson, San Diego, Los Angeles, Monterey, and San Francisco.
The Florida missions and settlements left a greater imprint on frontier American culture than we might believe. That influence was not always a direct one. Rather, it came by way of the Indians and Africans who remained after the missionaries were gone and who carried on some of the customs they learned from the Spanish settlers. Indians who traded with Europeans at Pensacola in 1822 were "better acquainted with the Spanish language than either the French or English," notes historian David Weber, and Englishmen who settled in Virginia, Carolina, and Georgia encountered Indians who were already cultivating peach trees the Spanish had introduced from Europe. Weber notes that the missionaries of Florida and New Mexico "taught native converts to husband European domestic animals--horses, cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, and chickens; cultivate European crops, from watermelon to wheat; raise fruit trees, from peaches to pomegranates; use such iron tools as wheels, saws, chisels, planes, nails, and spikes; and practice those arts and crafts that Spaniards regarded as essential for civilization as they knew it."
The knowledge the missionaries imparted to the Indians, whether in agriculture, language, customs, or technology, did not disappear when the last monk departed. Rather, it remained part of Indian experience so that by the time Anglos began settling in the Southeast, they discovered the "civilized tribes," among them the Creeks, the Cherokees, and the Choctaws. Even some of the most nomadic and fierce of the Southwest nations, the Apaches, Comanches, and Kiowas partially assimilated into Spanish society. In one unusual case, Apache Manuel González became mayor of San Jose, California.
Apart from the missions, the Church reached into every corner of colonial life. It functioned side by side with Spanish civil government, sometimes even above it. In every town, the church was the dominant structure adjacent to which was erected the central plaza, the cabildo, and la casa real. While the Crown collected its royal fifth from the elite, the Church collected its 10 percent tithe from everyone, rich and poor, white and colored, as well as tribute from the Indians. Parish priests were the main moneylenders, and bishops held unparalleled power over the social life of colonists and natives alike. While the Church served as a buffer for the Indians against the worst abuses of Spanish civil society, it also discouraged independence or self-sufficiency and it demanded obedience from the natives it protected.
Even Europeans who dared question Church authority or doctrine were liable to be called before the all-powerful Inquisition, which could threaten anyone up to the governor with excommunication or prison, and which routinely prohibited the circulation of thousands of books and works of art it deemed sacrilegious. Its demand for blind faith toward Church doctrine impeded for centuries the spread of tolerance, ingenuity, or creativity in Latin American thought.
No English colonial Church enjoyed a monopoly power approaching that of the Catholic Church in the Spanish territories. The proliferation of sects among Protestants meant each denomination, even when its leaders wished to set up a theocratic colony, could do so only within a circumscribed area, as the Puritans did in Massachusetts and Connecticut. The Puritan witch trials of the late 1680s in Salem and surrounding Essex County rivaled the worst atrocities of the Inquisition. Twenty men and women were executed and more than 150 imprisoned, but the fanatics proved incapable of controlling everyone. Long before the witch trials, Roger Williams rebelled and founded the Rhode Island colony, where he permitted all manner of worship, and other colonies followed similar liberal policies. Catholic Maryland enacted a religious tolerance law and Quaker William Penn set up his Pennsylvania colony, which, likewise, welcomed all believers. New York City turned into such a hodgepodge of religious groups that its English governor reported in 1687: "Here, bee not many of the Church of England, [and] few Roman Catholicks, [but] abundance of Quakers--preachers, men and women, especially--singing Quakers, ranting Quakers, Sabbatarians, Anti-sabbatarians, some Anabaptists, some Independants, some Jews: in short, of all sorts of opinions there are some, and the most part of none at all."
After Parliament declared religious freedom in the colonies with the Toleration Act of 1689, the emigration of sects from Europe soared. Thousands of Germans, among them Lutherans, Moravians, Mennonites, and Amish, settled in the Middle Colonies and the hinterlands of the South, as did Scotch-Irish Presbyterians in the South.
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