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The Xenophile Historian

Antigua & Barbuda Argentina Bahamas Barbados Belize Bolivia
Brazil Chile Colombia Costa Rica Cuba Dominica
Dominican Republic Ecuador El Salvador Grenada Guatemala Guyana
Haiti Honduras Jamaica Mexico Nicaragua Panama
Paraguay Peru Puerto Rico St. Kitts & Nevis St. Lucia St. Vincent & the Grenadines
Suriname Trinidad & Tobago Uruguay Venezuela    

A History of Latin America and the Caribbean

Chapter 2: The Age of the Conquistadors, Part II

1492 to 1650

This chapter is divided into two parts, which cover the following topics:

Part I

Christopher Columbus
What Colombus Really Discovered
Population At First Contact
The Conquests of Ahuitzotl and Moctezuma II
Huayna Capac
From Hispaniola to Mexico, and the Discovery of Brazil
"Pioneers Take the Arrows"
The Conquest of New Spain
The Conquest of Central America and Western Mexico
The Conquest of Peru, Act 1
The Conquest of Peru, Act 2

Part II

The Conquest of Peru, Act 3
Colonizing Paraguay
Filling In the Gaps
Miners, Traders and Raiders
The Conquest of Peru, Act 4
The El Dorado Dream
The Church Comes to Latin America
The Colonization of Brazil
French and English Inroads in the Caribbean
Spain Comes To the End Of the Line
Population Figures After the Conquest, and the Columbian Exchange
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The Conquest of Peru, Act 3

Now that he was done in Cajamarca, Pizarro began marching to Cuzco. But he still felt that the best way to rule was with a native king as his front man. For this job he chose Tupac Huallpa, a brother of Huascar and Atahualpa, but Tupac died of smallpox three months later. Meanwhile in Cuzco the pro-Huascar faction chose another brother, Manco Inca Yupanqui (1533-44). When the Spaniards reached the capital, Manco defended it briefly, then went out to negotiate, because the Spaniards had the crown of his ancestors. They agreed to give him the crown and recognize him as king, and Manco returned to Cuzco with Pizarro's men as part of the royal procession. Because the Spaniards had killed Atahualpa, the people of Cuzco welcomed them as liberators, though they took the precaution of hiding what they valued most--the royal mummies--before the Spaniards found them.

It didn't take long for the Incas to find out they had been tricked; Manco Inca was treated with less dignity than the Incas had treated enemy chiefs, after they conquered them. The trouble started when Pizarro decided that Cuzco wasn't a suitable place for a Spanish capital. For his needs, the capital would have to be on the coast, so he went there and founded modern-day Lima.(30) His brother Gonzalo managed Cuzco after he left, and he misbehaved badly. After Gonzalo abducted and raped Manco Inca's favorite wife, the Inca king tried to escape, but he was captured, brought back in chains, and thrown in jail; later he claimed that his captors urinated on him and burned his eyelashes with candles.

Meanwhile, the Spaniards successfully advanced on the northern front. A lieutenant of Pizarro, Sebastian de Benalcázar, went north with 140 men to get Rumiñahui. He defeated the Inca general, and then met another force led by Pedro de Alvarado, the conqueror and current governor of Guatemala. Alvarado was bored, now that Central America had been secured, so he sailed to Ecuador without the crown's permission. There were some tense moments, because Alvarado thought Quito was another treasure house, but in the end he sold most of his ships, horses, men and ammunition to Benalcázar's group for less money than you might expect, and went home. In 1533 Rumiñahui burned down Quito to keep it out of Spanish hands, so with some help from Pizarro's partner, Diego de Almagro, Benalcázar built a new Quito (the current one) in the following year.

Cajamarca was only a few miles (as the condor flies) from the land of the Chachapoyas, the most unruly subjects of the Incas. During the Inca civil war, Chachapoya warriors were drafted into the service of Huascar, so Atahualpa executed or deported quite a few of them in the brief period between the civil war's end and the Spanish conquest. Thus, like the Chimu, Totonacs and Tlaxcalans, the Chachapoyas saw the Spaniards as liberators, so at this time, many of them took the side of Spain. Good relations lasted until Spanish soldiers occupied the city of Chachapoyas in 1547, and relocated the residents to Spanish-style towns, where they had to rub elbows with members of other tribes. In the end, as in other parts of the Americas, disease and poverty did more to grind down the Chachapoyas than Spanish arms did; some accounts claim that the population of the Chachapoyas region decreased by 90% over the next 200 years.

North of Ecuador, Colombia was taken without major resistance. As early as 1525, a conquistador named Rodrigo de Bastidas had founded Colombia's first permanent Spanish settlement, Santa Marta, on the northern coast, and another adventurer, Pedro de Heredia, founded Cartagena in 1533. Then Heredia went looking for the graves of the Sinu Indians, because he heard that much of the tribe's gold was buried in them. He found it, recovering “about 110 lbs. of fine gold and 53 lbs. of base [alloyed] gold.” The gold made Cartegena an instant success; that, and the plantations set up around the city, financed the local government for many years. It also encouraged other treasure hunters to try their luck. Gonzalo Jimenez de Quesada led a poorly planned expedition into the interior in 1535. Quesada was pursuing the El Dorado legend (see Chapter 1), but of the 900 men who went into the jungle, only 166 survived. When he got to the Muiscas, he found two chiefs at war with each other, took over, and founded a city that was first called the "New City of Granada," then "Santa Fé de Bogotá," and finally just Bogota (1538).(31) Coming in from the south, Sebastian de Benalcázar founded Cali in 1536 and Popayan in 1537.

With the north pacified, Almagro went south to explore and claim the lands Pizarro promised to leave to him. When the Spanish crown saw the size of the empire Pizarro had conquered, a proposal was made to divide it into two provinces. The northern province, named New Castile, would run from latitude 1° to 14° S., and be assigned to Pizarro, while the southern province would be called New Toledo, run from latitude 14° to 25° S., and go to Almagro. The latter included part of present-day Chile, and to explore this area, Almagro equipped a larger force than Pizarro had when he first invaded Peru. He spent the next two years marching around in the southern Andes (1535-37), losing an appalling number of men in the mountains to thin air, cold, hunger and exhaustion. When he got to Chile, he claimed it for Spain, but never found the gold or cities that the Incas said were there. After a clash with the hostile Mapuche tribe, he decided it wasn't worth his time to found a city in the new territory(32), the way Pizarro did with Lima, so he returned to Cuzco by way of the desolate Atacama Desert. He was bitterly disillusioned, because his province turned out to be poorer than Pizarro's, and he had little hope that serving as its governor would bring him the riches he felt he deserved.

Manco Inca tried to escape from Cuzco again in 1536, and this time he was successful. Gonzalo had gone out of town, and another Pizarro brother, Hernando, took charge in his absence. Manco asked Hernando to let him go and perform religious ceremonies at a shrine outside of Cuzco. He said the shrine contained a golden statue of his father Huayna Capac, and he would bring it back as a gift. Hernando believed him, and when Manco got out of the city, he sent messengers to announce a revolt. The hatred the Incas had for the Spaniards, and the efficiency of their communications system, resulted in a huge army raised with phenomenal speed. By the time Francisco Pizarro heard about it, Cuzco was under siege, by an Inca army of at least 40,000 warriors (some estimate that the army had as many as 200,000).

The siege of Cuzco lasted for ten months. It wasn't a total blockade because some Indians, fearing Spanish retaliation later on, smuggled food to the Spaniards trapped inside; the Spaniards also staged some food-gathering raids outside the city. The high point of the conflict was a Spanish assault on Sacsayhuaman, an Inca temple complex with walls so formidable that it doubled as a fort. Sacsayhuaman was taken after two weeks; one of the Pizarro brothers, Juan Pizarro, was killed in the battle from injuries after he was struck in the head with a rock. However, the Spaniards suffered a defeat when they broke out of Cuzco to attack Ollantaytambo, Manco Inca's headquarters. In the end, the war was decided by the return of Diego de Almagro's force from Chile. Morale plummeted among the Incas when they saw the Spanish reinforcements; with their best chance to win gone, the army dissolved away into the surrounding countryside. In the aftermath, Manco Inca decided that even Ollantaytambo could not be defended anymore, so he withdrew with 20,000 followers to the jungle; there they built the city of Vilcabamba, the last Inca capital.

Almagro took Cuzco for himself, claiming that Cuzco was in his province and not Pizarro's. He also locked up Gonzalo and Hernando Pizarro, so Francisco Pizarro sent an army from Lima to rescue his brothers; Almagro was defeated, captured, sentenced to death and executed (1538). As for the Incas, there was one more son of Huayna Capac available, Paullu Inca, and because Manco Inca had flown the coop, Pizarro crowned him as yet another puppet king (1538-49).

However, the feud between Pizarro and Almagro did not end with the latter's death. In 1541 twenty supporters of Almagro's son, also named Diego de Almagro, broke into Pizarro's palace, murdered him, and installed the younger Almagro as governor. The Spanish crown had just appointed its own choice for a new governor, Cristóbal Vaca de Castro, and he heard about Pizarro's assassination while on his way to Peru. Instead of accepting the results of this coup, Vaca de Castro defeated and executed the younger Almagro in 1542.

Vaca de Castro was not in office for long, so his only other achievements were to enforce the “New Laws,” which curbed the worst abuses of the encomienda system(33), and to send an unsuccessful expedition into northern Argentina (1543). In 1542 Spain set up the same sort of organization for South America that it had for Mesoamerica, by creating the Viceroyalty of Peru. Peru's first viceroy, Blasco Núñez Vela, arrived in 1544 to take the place of Vaca de Castro. Underneath the Viceroyalty came Peru itself, now called the Audiencia of Lima, and four more audiencias were added during the next twenty years: Santa Fe de Bogotá (Colombia, 1548), La Plata de los Charcas (Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, and some land that later went to Brazil, 1559), Quito (Ecuador and the Amazon basin, 1563), and Chile (1565). In 1718 another reorganization transferred the Audiencia of Panama from being under the Viceroyalty of New Spain to the Viceroyalty of Peru.

South America, 1650.

The provinces or audiencias under the Viceroyalty of Peru.

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Colonizing Paraguay

The lands which now make up Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay did not yield riches, or an easier path to the Pacific than the Strait of Magellan, but they were conveniently close to richer lands, and their location in the south temperate zone made them more attractive places to live than the tropics, especially after Spain confirmed that they were on the Spanish side of the 1494 treaty line. In 1535 King Charles gave Pedro de Mendoza 2,000 men and thirteen ships, and told him to go to the Rio de la Plata and do better than Sebastian Cabot did. A storm scattered the fleet off the coast of Brazil, and Mendoza was afflicted with syphilis, so he put his lieutenant, Juan de Osorio, in charge, but later accused him of treachery and had him assassinated. Despite these mishaps, they arrived and founded Buenos Aires on February 2, 1536. At first the nearest Indians gave them some food, but when supplies ran low and the tribe moved away to avoid making any more donations, Mendoza sent his brother to take what they needed by force. In the resulting battle, his brother and two thirds of his men were killed. Further Indian attacks burned down most of Buenos Aires, and because he was still too sick to lead, he handed over command to Juan de Ayolas, headed back to Spain, and died on the voyage. Ayolas took part of the remaining force up the Parana River, and founded a second city, Asuncion (1537), at a spot where the Guarani Indians were friendly. Spain did not send enough help to keep Buenos Aires going, so in 1541 the settlers abandoned that city, moved upstream to Asuncion, and elected Domingo Martinez de Irala as the third governor of the colony.(34)

However, Spain had its own choice for governor – Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca, the explorer of Texas. In 1541 he arrived on the Brazilian coast. Here he learned about the failure of the Buenos Aires settlement, so instead of sailing farther south, he disembarked on the part of the mainland closest to Santa Catarina Island, and hiked overland to Paraguay. On the way de Vaca showed he was different from other conquistadors because he got along well with the Indians; he treated them fairly, traded for the supplies the Spaniards needed instead of just taking them, and punished expedition members who tried to take advantage of the Indians. The path of his march took them past Iguazu Falls, the most impressive waterfall in South America, so de Vaca usually gets credit for discovering that landmark. However, Juan de Solis may have seen the falls first, almost thirty years earlier; he claimed he saw a waterfall in the area, anyway.

The Indians living in the Gran Chaco were tough, because it was a hostile land, and they were enemies of the Guarani, so when de Vaca took charge, he was expected to help the latter in their tribal wars. The resulting conflict lasted two years, and threatened the existence of the Asuncion colony. As for the Guarani, they had three customs that de Vaca considered unacceptable behavior: slavery, cannibalism, and concubinage. The first two came from the practice of enslaving or eating defeated enemies; the third was a problem because whenever two tribes made an alliance, each tribe gave away women to the other. This meant that a leader who was a successful diplomat could end up with quite a harem, just as King Solomon had seven hundred wives because he married members of all the other royal families in his day. Some Spaniards got Indian women this way and not only put them to work as laborers, they also had Mestizo (European-Indian) children by them.(35) Even worse, the women were often closely related; two concubines might be sisters, or a mother and her daughter; pious Spaniards thought this looked too much like incest. In 1545 a Spanish priest called Paraguay "Mohammed's paradise," because seeing each Spaniard with two or more women reminded him of what Moslems expected to have in the afterlife. De Vaca could threaten the Indians with war if they continued to practice cannibalism, but the settlers did not like the idea of giving up either their slaves or their concubines. Most of them refused to cooperate with de Vaca, and eventually former governor Irala arrested him on a charge of poor administration, and sent him back to Spain for trial. After the trial he was exonerated, but de Vaca never came to the New World again.

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Filling In the Gaps

It took forty years to conquer Peru, but while that was happening, Francisco Pizarro was not too busy to fill in the blank areas on maps of the New World. As governor he gave two other conquistadors, his brother Gonzalo and Pedro de Valdivia, authorization to explore the lands to the east and south, respectively. Valdivia had been a partner of Pizarro in putting down the elder Almagro's rebellion, and after that he assisted Gonzalo and Hernando Pizarro in conquering Bolivia; for this he received a silver mine in the new territory. As early as 1538 he wanted to explore Chile, to find anything valuable that Almagro might have missed. However, he had to sell his silver mine to pay for the expedition (a mistake, see the next section), and few men were willing to go with them, because they had heard that Chile was a poor country. When the expedition finally departed in January 1540, he had a thousand Indians and 150 Spaniards. Using the path that Almagro had used to get back, they crossed the Atacama Desert from north to south. At the end of the year they reached a more fertile valley, that of the Mapocho River, and that looked like a good spot for a city, so on February 12, 1541, Valdivia founded Santiago, the capital of Chile.

Francisco Pizarro had heard that east of Ecuador was a "land of cinnamon," so in December 1540 he appointed Gonzalo Pizarro as captain-general of Quito, and gave him the assignment of locating that valuable spice. For the expedition, Gonzalo organized an army of two hundred campaign-hardened Spaniards, four thousand Indians who carried supplies and drove herds of pigs ahead of them for food, and a thousand trained war dogs to fight hostile tribes with.

The column set off from Quito in 1541, following the equator across the Andes. In the mountains howling blizzards scattered the soldiers; supplies had to be abandoned; many Indians got sick, deserted or froze to death. Then they descended from the snows, only to find that their adventure had barely begun. In the stifling Amazonian jungle, it rained almost every day; armor rusted, food spoiled, and clothing rotted on their backs. When they met Indians, they asked for directions to the rich country they had heard about; when the Indians did not give acceptable answers, they were burned to death or thrown to the dogs. After the Indians got the message, the Spaniards had to fight off bands of them with horse and lance, crossbow, arquebus and sword. Three hundred miles of this reduced the Spaniards to despair. They had, however, found a river, the Coca, so they made camp long enough to build an oversized rowboat to carry the sick, the priests and the provisions while the main party followed it along the riverbank.

Two months after they started moving again, men were dying daily, so Gonzalo Pizarro decided to send ahead his second-in-command, a one-eyed knight named Francisco de Orellana, with the boat and sixty men to find out if there was any point in exploring further. Orellana was supposed to come back as soon as he gathered enough food for the rest of the expedition, but instead he kept going. He claimed later that the Coca river swept him into a larger river, the Napo, and when he found food the current was too strong for him to go back upstream. Consequently, the only course that seemed open was to continue going east until he reached the end of the river. At the point where the Napo flowed into the Amazon, some of Orellana's men refused his orders and were put ashore. Pizarro, struggling through the jungle, found these men, branded Orellana a deserter, and turned around.

While Pizarro hacked his way back to Quito, Orellana drifted eastward down the Amazon. On the way he built a second boat, stopped at friendly villages, pillaged hostile ones, and fought giant storms and occasionally fleets of native war canoes. They caught iguanas, spider monkeys, giant turtles and fish to eat, but they also had to keep on the lookout for creatures that could eat them, like jaguars, crocodiles, anacondas, army ants, and piranha! Near the end of the voyage Orellana claimed to have fought "tall, fair, robust" women warriors, and when this reminded somebody of the Amazons of Greek myth, the huge river was given its present-day name.(36)

Incredibly, both Pizarro and Orellana made it--the latter after a 2,000-mile journey that took eighteen months. After navigating out of the Amazon delta, which is 150 miles across, Orellana hurried to Spain to tell the king he was not a deserter, but the discoverer of a vast new territory for the crown. King Charles V must have believed him, because when Orellana returned to the Amazon basin, he had a governor's appointment and 400 men. But this time the river's size and savagery defeated him. His men sickened and scattered, and Orellana himself died while exploring the river's mouth.

Gonzalo Pizarro only learned upon his return that his brother had been assassinated, and Governor Vaca de Castro turned down an offer from Gonzalo to help capture the killers. However, what really ticked off Gonzalo were the previously mentioned New Laws, which the governor and Viceroy Blasco Núñez Vela tried to enforce. Many settlers did not like the idea that they could no longer exploit the natives, and Gonzalo led them in a revolt against the viceroy and the New Laws. The rebels won a battle near Quito in 1546, but one year later Spain sent a new viceroy, Pedro de la Gasca. This viceroy offered to repeal the new laws and give amnesty to the rebels, causing Gonzalo's army to wither away. At the next important battle (Sacsayhuaman, 1548), Gonzalo Pizarro surrendered and was beheaded on the battlefield.

Meanwhile, Valdivia took much longer in the south. Only seven months after he founded Santiago, the Mapuche Indians attacked it. Valdivia was away at the time, and his mistress, Ines de Suarez, led a successful defense of the city until he got back. Still, Santiago was a wreck, and Valdivia had to wait until September 1543 before he could rebuild the place, because it took that long for Peru to send the supplies he requested. He also kept exploring; a naval expedition mapped the coast as far as present-day Valdivia (named after the conquistador, of course), while a land expedition led by Valdivia himself reached the Bio-Bio River. He wanted to build his second city here, but the Indians were too tough to dislodge, so he went to Peru and asked for reinforcements.

Valdivia ended up staying two years in Peru (1547-49). He joined the viceroy's army long enough to help him put down Gonzalo Pizarro's rebellion; then his rivals had him arrested and put on trial, charging him with tyranny, misusing public funds and public immorality (the mistress, you know). After getting his name cleared, Valdivia returned to Chile and resumed his efforts to expand southward, founding the city of Concepcion at the mouth of the Bio-Bio River in 1550. However, the territory south of the Bio-Bio, which he named Araucania, was full of implacably hostile Mapuche Indians. An Araucanian chief, Lautaro, had previously been a captive of the Spaniards, serving at one point as Valdivia's groom; he learned how to manage horses, and taught that skill to his tribe after regaining his freedom.(37) Thus, the war went on for years, with Valdivia making no headway. In 1553 he heard that Lautaro had organized a huge Mapuche force and attacked the fort of Tucapel, so he rode to the rescue from Concepcion with forty men; instead of saving the day, he was ambushed, captured and killed. Concepcion had to be abandoned for the time being; not until Lautaro was killed in another battle (1557) did the Spaniards gain the upper hand in Chile. Even then, Spain never succeeded in pacifying Araucania and the lands farther south; that wouldn't happen until after Chile became independent in the nineteenth century.

Another chapter in Amazon exploration began in 1560, when Pedro de Ursúa led 300 underemployed adventurers and their native followers across the Andes to conquer the central Amazon basin. Finding only mosquitoes when they arrived, the men massacred Ursúa and his second-in-command; then, under Lope de Aguirre (sometimes called El Loco, “the Madman”), they marched up the Amazon's main tributary, the Rio Negro, and down the Orinoco River to reach the Atlantic, destroying the native villages they encountered on the way. By this time, Aguirre had persuaded the rest of the party to sign a proclamation that declared him prince of Panama, Peru and Chile. Off the coast of Venezuela, he seized Isla Margarita and killed many innocent people whom he thought were enemies. Next, he tried to go to Panama, as the first step toward conquering the lands he claimed were his, but never got out of Venezuela. At the city of Barquisimeto, he was surrounded, and he killed his daughter Elvira to keep her from falling into the hands of “uncouth people,” before he was in turn captured and killed. Thus, instead of founding an empire, all Aguirre did was create some exciting material for adventure stories.

The next expeditions tied up loose ends left by the previous ones. In 1562 Francisco Fajardo, the son of a Spanish captain and an Indian cacica, attempted to establish a plantation in the valley of Caracas, and some towns on the Venezuelan coast. They were destroyed by the local tribes, and then a conquistador, Diego de Losada, arrived on the spot in 1567 and founded present-day Caracas. In 1566, an expedition without a chronicler went looking for El Dorado; it covered more than a thousand miles in Peru and Colombia, but all it proved was that El Dorado was not in Ecuador or Peru. Because of that, and because El Dorado had not turned up where expected (near Bogota), the Spaniards now suspected that it was in a region called the Llanos, a flat tropical grassland between the Andes and the Orinoco River (eastern Colombia and western Venezuela).

The explorer of the Llanos was a veteran in the business, the founder of Bogota, Gonzalo Jimenez de Quesada. The Llanos was assigned to him as an additional area to govern, so in December 1569 he set off to conquer the new territory, though he was now at least seventy years old (it had been more than thirty years since his first expedition). With him went 500 soldiers, 1,500 Indians, 1,100 horses and other pack animals, 600 cattle, 800 pigs, some black slaves and eight priests. One of their goals was to found new towns, but none of the land they passed through was “just right”; the country was either dry and dusty, swampy, or soaked by heavy rains. The men started dying from disease and hunger, or they simply deserted. For a while Quesada hanged captured deserters, but then just let those who wanted to leave do so. By the end of 1571 he reached the Orinoco, but couldn't cross the river because he had no boats. In December 1572 he returned to Bogota, but had wasted so many lives on the expedition that he only had twenty-five Spaniards, four Indians, eighteen horses and two priests left. A report from one of the survivors summarized in one sentence what an expensive disaster it was: “He has made no settlement and achieved nothing.” Except for the Guiana highlands and the continent's southern tip, the main geographical features of South America had been filled in.

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Miners, Traders and Raiders

A popular motivational book, Acres of Diamonds, teaches that you should not look for your fortune in a distant land, because it may be hidden closer to home. That lesson is a good summary of what happened in the 1540s. After the Spaniards looted the Aztecs and Incas, the only colony that generated a reliable income in gold was Colombia. Though Colombia was also the source of the El Dorado legend, greedy Spanish explorers searched for El Dorado elsewhere, from the North American Great Plains (Coronado's expedition) to the Argentine Pampas, only to come up empty-handed every time.(38) Meanwhile, those who stayed behind hit the mother lode; the world's richest deposits of silver were discovered in the areas already conquered. The greatest strike of all was at Potosi, in Bolivia (then called Upper Peru) in 1545.(39) This was followed by smaller, but still very substantial strikes, around the Mexican city of Zacatecas (1546-48). To say that the silver had a dramatic effect on Spain's economy would be an understatement.

Like the famous gold rushes of history, both Mexico and Bolivia saw silver rushes in the mid-sixteenth century. In Mexico, the strike happened in the newest province, New Galicia, so the land north of Zacatecas (modern Durango and Chihuahua) was organized into another province, New Vizcaya. In Upper Peru, Chuquisaca (modern Sucre) was founded in 1538. The big silver strike quickly led to the founding of two more cities: Potosi in 1546, and La Paz (Bolivia's other capital) in 1548. At its peak, in the late seventeenth century, Potosi held nearly 200,000 people and was the richest city in South America. “Frontier towns,” communities built in remote areas to exploit a valuable raw material, tend to be rowdy places, where laws are unevenly enforced because more civilized places are hundreds or thousands of miles away. In Potosi's case, add to that thin air, because Potosi is two and a half miles above sea level, and the use of coca among the natives; Potosi must have been the wildest frontier town of all time!

Within a few years the Spanish settlers of the New World went from being rich in land and serfs, to being rich in land, serfs and money, and that is exactly how they liked it. The king of Spain did even better, because he was entitled to one fifth of what the mines produced; the Spanish government's income rose from 1.8 million ducats a year in the time of Columbus, to 10 million ducats a year by 1600 (from $215 million to $1.2 billion in 2010 dollars). However, the “Royal Fifth” did not do the king any good if he didn't get it. On the long journey from Potosi or Zacatecas to Madrid, the most dangerous part was the ocean crossing, where Spanish galleons could fall victim to either shipwrecking storms or pirates. There wasn't anything they could do about the storms (see Chapter 2, footnote #11 of my North American history), but then, the pirates were the greater danger.

At this stage most pirates were technically privateers, gangs of private individuals who outfitted ex-warships for their own gain, and concentrated their attacks on ships belonging to enemies of a certain nation. That host nation issued a permit to a privateer ship, called a letter of marque, which stated that in return for a share of the loot captured, and a promise not to attack the host nation's shipping, the privateers would be automatically pardoned if the host nation captured them later. If another nation captured them, the privateers would not have enough evidence on them to incriminate the host nation, though the host nation obviously benefited from their activities (e.g., think of the relationship between Sir Francis Drake and Queen Elizabeth I, as you read on). Because of that, and because most ordinary people feared them, pirates/privateers were a lot like today's terrorists.

In the early sixteenth century most privateers were French (the French called them corsairs), because France had developed the rules of privateering during the Hundred Years War, because the French had more ships in the Atlantic at this stage than anyone else (except for Spain and Portugal, of course), and because France and Spain were usually on opposing sides in European politics. Privateers became active in the New World as soon as reports of the New World's wealth got out; they managed to capture some of the ships bringing back Aztec and Inca treasures. And you could bet your last gold piece that wherever the pirates/privateers had success, they would strike again; the new silver shipments needed better protection. So did the ports where the ships stopped on the way. Havana was sacked by pirates in 1538, 1555, and 1558; Cartagena was sacked in 1551 and 1559.

Spain's answer was to introduce a convoy system; it was put into action in the early 1540s, and by the 1560s, all Spanish ships crossing the Atlantic were required to travel in them. Ships from other nations did not participate, because of the Spanish policy of mercantilism; only Spanish ships were allowed to go to the colonies. They left Spain each year in May if they were going to Mexico, and in August if they were going to Panama or South America. During winter, the ships returning to Spain from South America assembled at Nombre de Dios, Panama, and sailed to Havana, where they waited for ships from Mexico, Central America, and the rest of the Caribbean to join them. Then in March this convoy caught the Gulf Stream current as it passed Florida, and rode it across the Atlantic. The typical eastbound convoy had at least thirty merchant ships and half a dozen warships, a force far too strong for anything smaller than a naval fleet, so those merchants who stayed with the convoy were safe from pirates. The whole system was expensive and slow (a group moves at the speed of its slowest member, after all), but it did its job and got the king's money safely home.(40) It also helped that none of the nations which supported privateers had bases in the New World this early; the colonies they founded before 1600, like Fort Caroline in Florida and Roanoke in North Carolina, all quickly failed.

Unfortunately mercantilism and the convoy system were a raw deal for Spanish colonists. This was especially the case for the colonists living on the Rio de la Plata. Ships weren't allowed to simply sail across the Atlantic between Spain and Buenos Aires. Instead people and goods followed the convoy to Panama, traveled overland across the isthmus, went down the Pacific coast to the Peruvian port of Callao, and then were transported over the Andes and Gran Chaco to reach Paraguay and Argentina. Anything going from the Rio de la Plata to Spain followed the same roundabout course, in the opposite direction. Obviously, any goods traveling this way would be terribly overpriced, and there would never be enough commerce to meet the needs of the colonists.

On top of all that, the only legal manufactured goods in the colonies came from government-licensed traders, and their merchandise was not only expensive, but also of poor quality. The only time Spain had an efficient economy was during the Dark Ages, when it was a Moslem state called the Caliphate of Cordova. Now the Caliphate had been gone for more than five hundred years, and Spain was saddled with an out-of-date caste system (the novel Don Quixote would make fun of this before long), a foreign policy and bureaucracy that was stretched thin by Spanish activities in every part of the world, and spiraling inflation caused by the convoy's silver when it reached Spain. Whatever the colonists demanded would arrive late--if it arrived at all.

Consider this story as an example of how inefficient the mercantilistic economy could be:

“The economic formula of the monopolists is epitomized in the sad tale of a fine handkerchief. A Spanish broker bought a pinch of good [Peruvian] cotton at the fair in Porto Bello; a Spanish ship carried it to Seville; a broker sold it to the agent of a mill in Flemish Ghent; after another ocean voyage the cotton was carded, the thread spun, the fabric woven, the handkerchief fashioned; the delicate confection journeyed again, first to Seville, then to Porto Bello, then overland to Panama, then by sea to Callao and Lima; in due course it was sold to a fine lady in the viceregal court of Peru, or even in Tucumán or Buenos Aires. The pennyworth of cotton had become a two dollar handkerchief, and the mercantilists' cycle had been completed.”(41)

Because the Spanish economy had so many shortcomings, the colonists did not ask too many questions when smugglers showed up with goods for sale. Most of the smugglers, when caught, could get away with it, too, by saying that their cargoes were meant for another port, but they had been blown off course by storms. The most famous smuggler was an English privateer named John Hawkins; he hijacked a Portuguese slave ship off Sierra Leone in 1555, took the 301 slaves he captured to the New World, and had no trouble selling them in Santo Domingo. In 1563 and again in 1564-65, he brought more slaves from Africa, and sold them, too. In so doing he established the infamous “Triangular Trade” that slavers would practice after this; Hawkins took manufactured goods from Europe to Africa, took slaves from Africa to the New World, and took raw materials from the New World back to Europe, earning a profit at each point of the triangle. On the next voyage (1567-69), he besieged the port of Cartagena without success, and he ran into the Spanish convoy at Veracruz, where he lost four of his six ships in the resulting battle, but still he made money from the venture. Both his successes and failures showed that the Spanish Empire was no longer the leader of crusaders, but an overweight giant, facing competitors who were smaller, but swift by comparison.

Hawkins had an apprentice and second cousin named Francis Drake, who went on to become the most celebrated privateer of all. A survivor of Hawkins' ill-fated fourth voyage, Drake devoted the rest of his life to avenging himself against Spain, and stealing Spain's wealth for Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth I. He got his first chance in 1572, when he led two ships and 73 men in a raid on the Panamanian port of Nombre de Dios. They captured the town and this year's load of South American silver, which had just arrived by mule train, but Drake was wounded, and bleeding so badly that his men insisted they must leave; that saved Drake's life, but it meant leaving the treasure behind.

Drake stayed around Panama after that, looking for a second chance. It came in 1573, when he teamed up with Guillaume Le Testu, a French privateer. Together they ambushed another treasure-laden mule train, as it approached Nombre de Dios. The resulting loot was approximately twenty tons of gold and silver, an awesome haul. However, this was too much for them to carry, and Spanish troops were closing in, so they buried most if it; Le Testu had been wounded in the battle, and he chose to stay and rest as well. The Spaniards captured and beheaded Le Testu, and tortured the men with him to find out where the buried treasure was hidden. As for Drake and his followers, they hiked across eighteen miles of jungle-covered mountains to find a barren beach--his ships had left to avoid detection. Drake had told the ships to hide at a nearby islet if they were in danger of being captured, so at the finest moment of his career, he had the rest of the treasure buried on the beach, built a raft, and went to the islet with two volunteers. The raft nearly sank, but they found the flagship. By this time Drake looked awful after exposure to sunburn and salt water, and when the crew asked how the raid went, Drake had a bit of fun by acting miserable for a moment. Then he laughed, showed the Spanish gold chain he was wearing around his neck, and said, “Our voyage is made, lads!” After returning to the beach to recover the rest of the men and the treasure, it was back to England for them.

Because Drake had done so well, the queen gave him a new mission in 1577, one that would have him lead the second voyage around the world. Drake's first set of instructions was to go to the Pacific and look for the undiscovered islands and continents that many people believed were there. But before the journey began these plans were changed; apparently the queen and her hardheaded Secretary of State, Sir Francis Walshingham, decided that political/material gain was better than geographical knowledge. The new plan would have Drake sail up the Pacific coast of South America, raiding the ships and ports of Spanish Peru. Because the trade winds of the Pacific did not allow an easy journey eastward, once he was done Drake would have little choice but to go west across the Pacific and Indian Oceans and come home around Africa. To keep the spirit of idealism high, nobody--not even the crew--was told the old or the new plan. The official announcement everyone heard was that Drake was commanding a routine trading mission to the Mediterranean's eastern shore.

Starting with five ships, the voyage began with an exact parallel of Magellan’s misfortunes. While sailing past Patagonia, Drake was deserted by one ship and he had to settle a mutiny on the same spot that Magellan did; then stormy waters forced three of his ships to turn back, leaving him with only the flagship, the Pelican (renamed the Golden Hind before the voyage was over.) After he passed through the Strait of Magellan and entered the Pacific, storms knocked him back to Tierra del Fuego. Looking southwest from these wild waters, he stayed only long enough to convince himself that there was no rich kingdom here – and no more land, for that matter.(42)

As Drake journeyed from Chile to Panama, the story about him going to the Mediterranean did its work; no Spaniard expected any English vessel in the Pacific. Wherever he looted, on shore or at sea, Drake found it easy due to utter surprise. One crewman recalled such an example: “We found by the seaside a Spaniard lying asleep who had lying by him 13 bars of silver which weighed 4,000 ducats Spanish. We took the silver and left the man.” At Lima the English found twelve ships anchored in the harbor with their sails on shore, which were also easy pickings; here he made off with 37,000 ducats worth of gold. Further north, Drake heard about a Spanish treasure ship, the Cacafuego, which was sailing to the Philippines as part of the Manila galleon trade. He caught up with the Cacafuego and captured it; in the cargo hold he found jewels, thirteen chests full of royal plates, 80 pounds of gold and 26 tons of silver. Then Drake sailed directly to California, where he repaired his ship and explored the Pacific coast of North America, before resuming his voyage of raiding around the world.

From the English investor's point of view, Drake's expedition was a roaring success: they had spent 5,000 on the ships and men, and the treasure brought back was worth 600,000. The queen was the happiest of all, for she got half of the treasure, thereby doubling the crown's revenue for that year. Naturally she knighted her brave privateer, so we have called him Sir Francis Drake ever since.

Six years after Drake returned another English privateer, Thomas Cavendish, tried to repeat what Drake did. While his expedition did not bring back as much loot, it showed that Spanish shipping was still vulnerable. Cavendish sailed through the Strait of Magellan with three ships, the Desire, the Content, and the Hugh Gallant, entering the Pacific in February 1587. Off the South American coast he sank or captured nine Spanish ships; by this point he had lost quite a few crewmen, so he sank his smallest ship, the Hugh Gallant, and divided its crew between the other two ships. From a captured Spanish pilot he learned that the Manila galleon was expected to sail down the Mexican coast in October or November, and he went to Cape San Lucas, at Baja California's southern tip, to wait for it. Three weeks later, the 600-ton Santa Ana came into view, and the ships of Cavendish went after it. The attacking ships were much smaller than the galleon, displacing 120 and 60 tons apiece, but the cannon of the Santa Ana were stowed away in the hold, to make room for more cargo; the Spaniards could only fight back with muskets and pistols. After a six-hour battle, the Santa Ana surrendered, and Cavendish loaded his ships with all of the Santa Ana's cargo they could carry; the loot had an estimated value of 150,000. Then he set the Santa Ana on fire, took three boys and four crewmen with him that could be useful, marooned the rest of the crew and passengers (190 in all) on a beach where water and food was available, and set off across the Pacific. The Content disappeared and was never heard from again, while Cavendish and the Desire made it back to England by way of Guam, the Philippines, Java and St. Helena, completing history's third circumnavigation of the world. Meanwhile back at Baja California, the burning Santa Ana drifted to shore, where the survivors put out the fire and repaired it enough to carry them to Acapulco.

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The Conquest of Peru, Act 4

In the same year as Drake's first raid (1572), the war between Spain and the Incas finally ended. When we last looked at Peru, there were two Inca kings; Paullu Inca was Spain's front man in Cuzco, while Manco Inca led the native resistance from the eastern Peruvian jungle. The latter got a few years of relief when the Pizarro and Almagro families and the governors sent by Spain fought over what they had conquered to date. Still, he could not escape their reach forever. In 1544 Manco was murdered in a quarrel over a game he was playing with supporters of Diego de Almagro, who wanted him dead, though they were refugees and he had given them shelter.

Manco Inca was succeeded by a nine-year-old son, Sayri Tupac. Because he was a minor, regents ran the kingdom for him, and because he stayed in the jungle, there was effectively a truce between the Incas and the Spaniards for all of his reign. The Spaniards felt safest if anyone claiming to be a native ruler was in a place where they could keep an eye on him, so they invited Sayri Tupac to move to Cuzco, but during the preparations for the move Paullu Inca died unexpectedly, and Sayri chose to stay at Vilcabamba, seeing his uncle's death as a sign of what would happen if he went there.

The Spaniards felt the same way about dead native kings as they did about live ones. We mentioned earlier that the royal Inca mummies had been hidden before the Spaniards took Cuzco. In 1559 Cuzco got a new city magistrate, Polo de Ondegardo, who was determined to stamp out idolatrous practices among the natives. When he heard that the mummies were still being worshiped, he launched a series of interrogations and searches. The result was that he found the mummies of six kings, including Pachacuti and Huayna Capac, the mummies of two coyas, the ashes of two more kings whose bodies had been burned previously (see footnote #25), and various statues; the latter represented the mummies that had been lost over the years, and enemies the Incas had conquered, like the Chancay. All of the bodies were dressed in fine clothing, and displayed in a seated position.

A contemporary historian, Garciliaso de la Vega, viewed the mummies and was astonished at their state of preservation. He also described the dramatic scene when they were moved to Lima: “In the street, they covered them with a white sheet; and all the Indians who saw them pass knelt down immediately and bowed, sobbing, their faces bathed with tears. Many Spaniards, too, took off their hats.” In Lima the mummies were put on display at the Hospital of San Andrés; here they were out of the natives' reach because the facility was for European patients only. But in the relatively damp climate of Lima the mummies started to decay, and eventually the government had them buried secretly in unmarked graves. Even when long dead, the Inca kings were still dangerous to those who had taken their empire.

Sayri Tupac finally came to Cuzco in 1560, after four years of negotiations with the viceroy. In returned for a pardon and rich estates outside the city, he renounced his claim to be emperor and accepted baptism, but he died just a year later. His half brother, Titu Cusi Yupanqui, was crowned in Vilcabamba after the Inca throne became vacant. Suspecting treachery in Sayri Tupac's death, Titu Cusi refused to be lured to Cuzco, though he was baptized in 1568.

In 1571, Titu Cusi fell ill. The only Spaniards in Vilcabamba at the time were a friar named Diego Ortiz and a translator named Pedro Pando. The Inca lords asked the friar to pray for his God to save Titu Cusi. Instead, the king died, and the lords executed both Spaniards, believing they had poisoned him. One more son of Manco Inca, Tupac Amaru, took over as king; previously he had been a priest and the custodian of Manco Inca's mummy.

The Spaniards did not know of Titu Cusi's death, and sent diplomats to negotiate with him some more, but the border of the Inca kingdom had been sealed and they were not allowed in. A third diplomat was killed on the border by an Inca captain. When news of this reached Cuzco, the viceroy of Peru, Francisco de Toledo, used this as an excuse to finish off the Incas. He declared that the Incas had violated international law regarding the treatment of ambassadors, and the Inca-Spanish truce was over.

The last war only lasted for three months (April-June 1572). A Spanish army reached Vilcabamba on June 1 and besieged it for three weeks, before Tupac Amaru's family and about a hundred other defenders abandoned the city. The Spaniards entered Vilcabamba to find that the Incas had already burned most of it down. The fleeing defenders split into smaller groups to reduce the chance of capture, but the Spaniards got non-Inca natives in the jungle to tell them where they had seen the royal family, and continued the pursuit. Tupac Amaru was slowed down because his wife was pregnant and about to give birth, so the Spaniards eventually caught up with him. On September 21, 1572, the Spaniards brought all their captives into Cuzco. Tupac's generals were tortured, and after a show trial, the last Sapa Inca and his generals were sentenced to death. The generals were all hanged, including those that had died under torture, and Tupac Amaru was beheaded in the town square, bringing an end to the Inca dynasty.

The ruins of Vilcabamba and nearby Machu Picchu were forgotten by everybody, except for the Indians living in the vicinity. These two lost cities were discovered again in 1911 by Hiram Bingham, an American explorer. Machu Picchu was built around 1450 by Pachacuti, and abandoned a century later, possibly from epidemics like the one that shook the Inca Empire just before the Spanish arrival. Whatever the reason for it becoming a ghost town, it is the best preserved of all Inca cities, because the Spaniards never found it. The spectacular mountains surrounding Machu Picchu have made it one of the most recognizable cities anywhere; a 2007 Internet poll voted Machu Picchu one of the “seven wonders of the modern world,” along with Chichen Itza, Rio de Janeiro's Christ the Redeemer Statue, the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal, Petra, and the Colosseum. Bingham thought Machu Picchu was Vilcabamba, but in the 1960s and 70s, other explorers succeeded in proving that the other set of ruins he found were the real location of the Incas' last refuge.

Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu.

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The El Dorado Dream

Gonzalo Jimenez de Quesada, the old conquistador, owed more than 60,000 ducats after his last expedition failed, and died of leprosy in 1579. He bequeathed his governorship and his estates to the husband of his niece, Antonio de Berrio. At first Berrio thought he could retire gracefully with this inheritance; in 1581 he sent his wife, children and belongings to the Caribbean, thinking that one of those islands would be a nicer place to live than Colombia. But then he learned he had also inherited the El Dorado quest; Quesada specified in his will that whoever got his wealth would have to spend part of it looking for El Dorado, in order to keep the rest. Some scholars have suggested that Quesada's futile adventures were the inspiration for Miguel de Cervantes' suffering hero, Don Quixote, but the same can be said about Berrio, who was brave, tireless, and in the end even more committed to finding the Golden Man's treasure.

Quesada's experiences and stories from the Indians convinced Berrio that El Dorado was not in the Llanos region, but in the forested mountains of southern Venezuela. His first expedition began in 1581, and after beating off an attack from Achagua Indians, he learned from the natives he captured that they were approaching a “very large laguna,” called Lake Manoa. This lake was high up in the mountains, was so large that it took three days to paddle across it, and on the far side were large communities full of people rich with gold and gems. When he saw the mountains of the upper Orinoco valley, Berrio was so convinced he was almost there that he wrote a letter to the current king of Spain, Philip II, stating that he had found “the cordillera so ardently desired and sought for 70 years past, and which has cost the lives of so many Spaniards.” King Philip responded by appointing him governor of the upper Orinoco basin, a new province which appropriately was named El Dorado. However, by this time, most of Berrio's 100 men were too sick with jungle diseases to climb the mountains; only thirteen tried it, and before reaching the lake or the summit, they gave up and returned to Bogota. The good news was that Berrio lost only eight men, a casualty rate much smaller than on other New World expeditions, so he proved he was an excellent leader, even if he did not discover anything useful.

For his second expedition (1584-88), Berrio brought ninety-seven men, six canoes, and plenty of supplies, but he did no better this time. They hiked for 600 miles around the mountains they reached on the first expedition, but never found a pass or easy slope to let them go to the peaks. They also had the usual problems with hostile Indians and malaria (Berrio himself fell ill on this trip). When a mutinous officer ran off with most of the men and all the canoes, Berrio had no choice but to go back to Bogota.

Berrio tried a third time in 1590, bringing seventy Spaniards, another supporting cast of Indians, and his son Fernando. Again unscalable peaks thwarted him; then the food ran out, and disease took its toll, until thirty Spaniards and two hundred Indians died. To keep the rest of the men from deserting (unless they were willing to make the hike on foot), Berrio ordered the horses killed, which also provided fresh meat to solve the food problem. Eventually they reached the Caroni River, which flows into the Orinoco from the Guiana highlands, the mountains that run along Brazil's northern border with present-day Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana. Berrio now thought that the Caroni, and not the Orinoco, was the real gateway to El Dorado, so when he found the way upstream blocked by a waterfall, he decided that a tributary of the Caroni came from Manoa and “the greatest grandeur and Wealth that the world holds.”

However, Berrio would need reinforcements to go any farther. A parasite-caused disease had blinded many men, and more had died. He sent a request for assistance to Isla Margarita, an island off the Venezuelan coast. No answer came back, so he went himself to get help, sailing down the Orinoco to its mouth, and stopping at Trinidad before going on to Margarita(43). One of the men he recruited there was a real go-getter, Domingo de Vera; Vera went to Caracas and got enough men to lead them on another trip up the Caroni. When they came back, Vera had a great report; he said that at least two million people lived in the highlands, they wore lots of gold, and that Lake Manoa was eleven days' march past the farthest point he had reached. As for Berrio, he now believed that Manoa was the original land of the Incas, and that they had marched west to conquer Peru; he had nothing to prove this theory, but it seemed to explain why the Incas were rich, too.

But stories do not pay the bills, and no Spaniard had yet seen the gold they were talking about. Berrio found that he now had too many rivals in South America; they kept him from raising any more men and money for future expeditions. Growing desperate, Berrio sent Vera to Spain, in the hope that he could get support from the crown, if not locally. That might have worked, if an important foreigner had not taken an interest in the El Dorado legend, and showed up on the scene before Vera came back.

That man was Sir Walter Raleigh. Raleigh had already made a name for himself, as a dashing courtier of Queen Elizabeth I(44), poet, explorer, and pirate; he also named North America's mid-Atlantic coast “Virginia,” and founded England's first New World colony there. However, he fell out of the queen's favor when he married a lady-in-waiting without her permission, and she retaliated by locking up both Raleigh and his new wife in the Tower of London. Now Raleigh got the idea that if he could take something really valuable for England, like El Dorado, it would restore him to the queen's good graces.

Raleigh started by sailing to Trinidad in 1595; he brought along his nephew, John Gilbert, and a friend named Lawrence Keymis. His first plan was to meet with Berrio and find out what he knew about El Dorado, but Berrio refused his invitation; seven years after the Spanish Armada, England and Spain were still at war. That wasn't going to stop Raleigh, so he attacked Trinidad, captured Berrio, and politely interrogated him. After the “meeting,” Raleigh ordered his men to build small boats, and they sailed to the Orinoco delta. The conquistador had tried to talk the Englishman out of the El Dorado business, but a month on the Orinoco and Caroni Rivers convinced Raleigh that jungle exploration wasn't for him. Later he wrote, “There was never any prison in England that coulde be founde more unsavory and lothsome, especially to my selfe.” When he returned to the coast, Raleigh released Berrio, and sailed home. The following year, Keymis came to South America for another look, and he reported that there was a lake on the way to the city of the Golden Man, only it wasn't called Manoa, but Parime.

Back in England, Raleigh tried to get the queen interested in conquering the northeast corner of South America, then called Guiana. As part of this effort, Raleigh wrote a book about the place, The Discoverie of the Large, Rich an Bewtiful Empire of Guiana, with a Relation of the Great and Golden City of Manoa (which the Spaniards call El Dorado), which collected all of his favorite El Dorado stories. For example, he claimed that it wasn't just the king, but all of the natives who anointed themselves with gold dust. He also reported that Guiana had more cities, more temples and more gold than either Mexico or Peru. Still another story declared that the people of the land had no heads, but faces on their chests, and hair behind their shoulders.

Men with faces beneath their shoulders.

Sir Walter Raleigh's idea of what Venezuelans looked like.

Miss Venezuela.

And here is how they look today (see the last footnote in this chapter).

Meanwhile in South America, time was running out for Berrio; he was seventy-four years old when Raleigh kidnapped him. In 1596 Domingo de Vera brought a huge load of colonists he had recruited in Spain: 300 married couples with their children, and 600 bachelors. Together they founded a town near the mouth of the Orinoco River, Santo Tome de Guayana. However, they did not plan well for the hardships that come with founding a community so far from Europe; the food soon ran out, and many settlers died from starvation and disease, especially the women; others fell victim to attacks from the Carib Indians or simply deserted, going to the established community on Trinidad. Berrio tried to save the situation by making one more try for El Dorado. He got to the point where the Caroni joins the Orinoco, but was too old to go any farther, so he sent part of the expedition up the Caroni under a lieutenant. However, this group offended the local Indians, and when the lieutenant died, the demoralized group broke up; the Indians eliminated those who were too slow to leave. Berrio headed back to the coast, and died on Trinidad in 1597.

Queen Elizabeth was not moved by Raleigh's tall tales, so Raleigh sailed on some new military campaigns, one against the Spanish port of Cadiz, and one against the Azores (then under Spanish rule, due to the Iberian Union, see below). These actions won the queen's favor again, but unfortunately Raleigh was acting near the end of the queen's career; in 1603 she died and the crown passed to King James VI of Scotland (henceforth known as James I of England). James not only disliked Raleigh, he also wanted better relations with Spain, so Raleigh had to go. In a matter of months he had Raleigh accused of plotting against him (a charge that was probably trumped up), convicted, sentenced to death, and sent back to the Tower of London; this time he was there for twelve years.

Despite this, Raleigh got one more chance, and like Berrio's last chance, it ended in disaster. By 1616, most of his enemies were dead, and in that year King James became interested in El Dorado, so he released Raleigh on condition that he find El Dorado/Manoa, and make no hostile moves against Spain; if he accomplished both of those things, he would receive a full pardon. With the ships and men he recruited, he brought Keymis again, and this time he brought his son Walter, who was about 25 years old. When they arrived at the Orinoco delta in 1617, Raleigh, sick with a fever, stayed there, and sent Keymis upstream to contact the nearest friendly chief. That meant going past Santo Tome de Guayana, and though it was an impoverished, neglected outpost, the Spanish official in charge was determined to resist the English, whom he saw as invaders. His 36 men were no match for the 400 men of the English party, and the English overran the outpost easily. Both Raleigh's son and the Spanish leader were killed; Keymis tried to justify the behavior of his men by having them search for a reported gold mine in the neighborhood after the battle, but all they got were ambushes from the few surviving Spaniards, who were now hiding in the surrounding jungle.

When Raleigh learned of the battle, he was devastated. Not only had the life of his son been wasted, but the fight violated the terms of his release. He gave Keymis such a scolding that the shamed lieutenant committed suicide. Raleigh no longer had any desire to find gold, and he was too honor-conscious to become a fugitive, so in 1618 he returned to England to face the consequences of his failure. He might have defended himself against his accusers in an open trial, but he was denied the opportunity to confront them. Instead the old charge of treason was brought up again, along with new charges of fraudulent and treacherous conduct in the New World, and he was sentenced to death by beheading. On the day the sentence was carried out, Raleigh died as nobly as he had lived. When he saw the axe that would soon be used on him, he commented, “This is a sharp medicine, but it is a physician for all diseases and miseries.” Then he laid his head on the block and commanded the reluctant executioner: “Strike, man, strike!”

In 1619 Fernando de Berrio, the elder Berrio's son, returned to the Orinoco and tried again to find El Dorado/Manoa; no evidence for it was found, though he managed to explore some more rivers. More explorers came and went over the next two centuries, and none of them did any better than Quesada, Raleigh, or the Berrios. Part of this was because people did not give up hope that they would find the treasure. The other reason was that, like in other parts of the Americas, they were misled by the Indians (see footnote #38). Finally in the early nineteenth century two scientists, Prussia's Alexander von Humboldt and France's Aime Bonpland, settled the matter. Both of them came to South America looking for other things, but they decided that while they were in the neighborhood, they would search for El Dorado as well. At the source of the Caroni river they found a small village named Esmeralda, but no lake and no city of gold. If El Dorado existed, it was not in the northeast quarter of South America, and that was that.

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The Church Comes to Latin America

One of the terms of the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas was that in the parts of the world assigned to them, Spain and Portugal were expected to convert the inhabitants to Christianity. To encourage this, the Papacy gave those countries the right to appoint bishops and priests, build churches and monasteries, and collect tithes from the New World. It also meant that clergymen would go on most of the expeditions. When a city was founded, they would be there to bless it; because of them, it was usually given a Christian name, and one of the first buildings raised was a church.

On the mainland, formal church activity began with a group of twelve Franciscan friars, who arrived in Mexico in 1524. They were soon followed by other orders, such as the Dominicans and Augustinians. But when it came to conversions, in most areas the clergy did a superficial job. The most visible sign of conversion was physical; the priests and friars would destroy native idols, tear down pagan temples, and build churches in their place. Often they would baptize entire villages at one time, and consider their work done. Or they might concentrate most of their attention on educating the sons of chiefs, reasoning that if they knew the tenets of Christianity well enough, they would teach it to their communities, so the clergy wouldn't have to do it themselves. However they did it, the result was a situation where the new churches, which usually started out as chapels, weren't big enough to hold the new congregations, forcing many services to be held outdoors.

Another result was that just as the churches were built on the foundations of the old temples, so Latin American Christianity ended up being grafted onto the old religions, instead of replacing them completely. True conversion requires more than just baptism and following a set of rules, and for whatever reason, the clergy overlooked Indians who continued to venerate their pre-Christian gods, alongside Mary, Jesus and the saints. In areas where a large Indian population survived, it is not unusual for them, even today, to perform dances and make offerings to the gods of their ancestors, while still attending church regularly. That is why the street festivals in modern-day Latin America are a bewildering mixture of Catholic and pagan symbolism. And when artists made Christian scenes and sculptures, like images of Christ, they often gave Indian features to their European and Jewish subjects. Likewise, the clergy tended to overlook those slaves who were not Christian before they were brought to the Americas; the slaves introduced African religious practices, like voodoo, to areas with large black communities.

One Catholic order, more than the others, remained true to its teachings and discipline--the Jesuits. Because they were founded in 1540, after the Reformation started, they arrived in America relatively late, starting around 1570. In Paraguay, where they were most successful, Jesuit activity began in 1588. Their biggest social experiment, the reductions, got off the ground in 1650, so that is a subject to be covered in the next chapter.

Many history books accuse the Catholic Church of finishing what the conquistadors started, in terms of destroying the local economy and culture. However, the missionaries also saw it as their duty to protect their flocks; they helped the Indians when no other Europeans did (see footnote #33). They also realized that they could not successfully convert the Indians if they could not talk with them or understand their mentality, so the more enlightened clergymen studied native cultures, languages, and even religions. That is why much of the information that we have about the Indians in the colonial period, comes from church records.

In 1551 Charles V approved the founding of the first universities in Latin America, at Mexico City and Lima. At first these universities were run by the Church, just like the schools of medieval Europe, and their purpose was to train new clergymen on how to preach to the Indians, and how to speak the native languages. In most cases education was reserved for Europeans, either those who came directly from Spain (Peninsulares), or those of European ancestry who had been born and raised in the colonies (Criollos). Very few nonwhites or Mestizos were admitted into schools at this stage, because the authorities felt that an educated native would be a subversive native, too.

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The Colonization of Brazil

America wasn't as important to Portugal as it was to Spain. The Portuguese already had access to plenty of riches in the other lands their ships had reached – gold and ivory from Africa, muslin fabrics from India, spices from Indonesia, silk and porcelain from China – and that consumed most of Portugal's attention and resources. Portugal was a small country, with a population of a million people in the fifteenth century, growing to one and a half million by 1600. To compensate for the manpower shortage, the Portuguese built an empire that took and transported wealth, instead of producing it. Conquests were only made to secure trade routes and outposts. They were also encouraged to transfer to others the menial tasks they didn't want to do: first to Moorish captives, and later to African slaves. For that reason, after the Portuguese launched the slave trade in the fifteenth century, they couldn't afford to quit, because more than money was at stake.

Even with slaves, the Portuguese were spread thin, as they tried to administer and defend all the assets they claimed in Africa, Asia and South America. This was especially a problem in Asia, where Portugal faced nations that were much larger (e.g., Vijayanagar, China, Japan), and technologically almost as advanced as Europe. Consequently, the Portuguese Empire stopped growing after 1550. In South America, the amount of land they occupied only grew as the Portuguese-speaking population grew.

During the first three decades of the sixteenth century, a few Portuguese ships arrived in South America to harvest brazil-wood, and the Portuguese hired Indians from the local tribes (the Tupi, Tupinamba, and Guarani) to help them gather it, paying them with iron tools and trinkets. However, by 1530 brazil-wood was getting hard to find on the coast. There might be more in the interior, but the woodcutters would need outposts on the coast before they could go for it. There was also the possibility that the Portuguese would lose the land to the French if they did not settle it; the first French ship arrived on the Brazilian coast in 1504, and soon the French were sending at least as many ships as the Portuguese. The first two permanent Portuguese settlements were São Vicente (a suburb of modern Sao Paulo, founded 1532), and Pernambuco (modern Recife, founded 1535).

By this time, King John III realized that Portugal needed to stake an indisputable claim to Brazil, but he didn't want to spend money doing it. His solution was another form of feudalism. The coast, from the mouth of the Amazon to Santa Catarina Island, was divided into sixteen fiefs called capitanias (captaincies). Each capitania went to a minor noble picked by the king, who was named a donatário and became its hereditary ruler. Although the main cities founded would have to be on the coast, each donatário was also given the right to expand west and exploit as much of the interior as he liked.

So how did the system work out? Not too good! A lot of the settlers were exiled prisoners, not a group you can expect to be well-behaved. The tropical climate made life difficult, and when faced with trouble from hostile Indians or marauding Frenchmen, the donatários got little help from Lisbon. Four capitanias were never settled, four were destroyed by Indians, and only two (you guessed it, Pernambuco and São Vicente) did well enough to be called successful. In 1549 King John realized that the capitania system was a failure, and turned Brazil into a crown colony. Tomé de Sousa became the first governor of Brazil, and he came across the Atlantic with a thousand settlers. They founded Salvador (modern Bahia), and that served as the colony's capital until 1763, when it was moved to Rio de Janeiro.

What would the Portuguese settlers do for a living, if the brazil-wood was gone? Early on, somebody tried growing sugar cane, because it had been grown on Madeira; it was an immediate success on Brazil's coastal plains, too. The tricky part was that growing sugar cane required more laborers than could be hired among the colonists. At first they tried enslaving the Indians, but like the tribes in the Caribbean, if they did not run away they soon died, either from disease or from exhaustion. We noted earlier that the Indians from South America's interior, like the Tupi and Guarani, were cannibals, so the Europeans justified the enslavement by reasoning that it is better to be worked to death than to get eaten, a point the Indians disagreed with. In the end the settlers resorted to the same answer that had been used on the Caribbean plantations--bring in slaves from Africa.

Before the sixteenth century, Europeans had treated sugar the same way they treated spices; it was an expensive luxury that only the rich could afford to use regularly (for people of lesser means, honey was the most common sweetener). Once the New World plantations started producing, the supply of sugar increased, and the price fell accordingly. After 1600, sugar was so common that it was used at a condiment with almost any food or drink, especially coffee. Other crops were grown successfully, like tobacco, cacao and cotton, but none of them brought the kind of income that sugar did.

In Brazil, the typical community had plantations clustered around a sugar mill, which usually was next to a river so it could be run with water power. Most of the plantation's workers were black slaves, and the owners were only likely to leave the plantation when they went to town to attend church or a festa (festival). The whole colony had an agricultural atmosphere to it; even Bahia and Rio de Janeiro were small towns, compared to Spanish cities like Mexico City, Lima and Potosi. Before the nineteenth century, sugar milling was the only industry permitted in Brazil, and there were no universities or printing presses, either. Much of the laid-back attitude of today's Brazilians can be traced to the easygoing culture that developed during the colonial era.

At first southern Brazil did not attract as much interest as the north, because it was farther from Europe and subtropical, rather than tropical, so sugar cane did not do as well there. It was the need to kick out rival claimants that got Portugal active in the south. Other European powers, namely France, England and the Netherlands, resented the pope's 1494 treaty, which gave the whole world beyond Europe to the two Iberian powers and cut them out completely. In the early to mid-sixteenth century, England's fleet wasn't very big, and the Dutch had not yet declared independence from Spain, so the French were the main problem at this stage. In 1555 six hundred Huguenots (French Protestants) came to Guanabara Bay, built a fort on a small island and a village on the mainland, and called the colony La France Antartique. Three hundred more colonists arrived in 1557. The Portuguese governor of Brazil sent 26 ships and 2,000 men against them in 1560; they destroyed the fort, but the village successfully resisted them, because the colonists had the support of the Tamoio and Tupinamba, two Indian tribes at war with the Portuguese. Estácio de Sá, the governor's nephew, led a second force there in 1565, landed at the foot of Sugarloaf mountain, and founded the city of São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro. Two years of fighting followed, and Estácio de Sá died of his wounds after a 1567 battle, but eventually the French were expelled from the bay.

The French tried again to occupy part of Brazil after the seventeenth century began, this time in the north. In 1604 they landed on the part of South America's northeast coast that later became French Guiana, but the Portuguese declared it a violated of the Treaty of Tordesillas, and forced them to leave. Then in 1612 the French landed in the state of Maranhão, and founded São Luís, named after France's King Louis XIII. This colony was called France Équinoxiale, and though Portugal was under Spanish rule at this date, it only took three years for the Portuguese to assemble a fleet large enough to send the French packing again.(45) The French returned to Guiana in 1643, founded some plantations and an outpost that would become the city of Cayenne, but a few years later they abandoned the colony again, because of Indian attacks.

The Dutch appeared in the Americas after 1600, and the Portuguese had a harder time keeping them away. Whereas the French were easily distracted by opportunities on other continents (e.g., Canada, Italy, Africa, India), the Dutch were only interested in two things: winning their independence and building an empire based on trade. The Portuguese already had a trading empire, and during the period of the Iberian Union (see the previous footnote), Spain was more willing to defend Spanish colonies than Portuguese ones, so it didn't take long for the Dutch to decide that the easiest way to build an empire was to take Portugal's empire for themselves. Their biggest success was their first; in the first forty years of the seventeenth century, the Dutch East India Company conquered the whole Portuguese network in Asia, except for the outposts of Macao, East Timor and Goa. Next they set up the Dutch West India Company (1621), and tried their luck with Africa. Though the Portuguese eventually recovered their colonies on the “Dark Continent,” most of the traffic in gold and slaves went to the Dutch and stayed there.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the Dutch announced their arrival in 1624 by sending twenty-six ships and three thousand men to northeast Brazil, where they bombarded and captured Bahia. However, this time they were not attacking remote outposts, but a full-fledged colony, one that was far larger than the mother country. A combined Spanish-Portuguese force recovered Bahia a year later, and though the Dutch did better in battles over the next few years, their victories drained the West India Company's funds. That almost ended the war, because the Dutch did not believe in fighting if there was no profit to be made. Admiral Piet Hein saved the day in 1628 by pulling the heist that pirates could only dream of; he captured the Spanish silver fleet off the coast of Cuba. Reinvesting the wealth gained from that caper, the Dutch returned to Brazil in the following year and took the cities of Olinda and Recife; the latter became the Dutch capital while they were there.

Now the Dutch turned their attention to the Caribbean. Before they attacked Brazil, they already had trading posts nearby, in an area they called the “Wild Coast,”: Demerara (founded in 1611), Essequibo (1616), and Berbice (1627). Then in 1631 they set up a colony on St. Martin, in 1632 they took Tobago, in 1634 they colonized Curacao and Bonaire, in 1636 they occupied Aruba and St. Eustatius, and in 1640 they settled Saba. Finally, the Dutch West India Company tried to colonize the Virgin Islands; it seemed like a good idea because a Dutch privateer, Joost van Dyk, had his base here from 1615 to 1625. The Company did not do as well, though; after three attacks (1640, 1646 and 1647), Spain managed to take that area back.

For the Dutch part of Brazil, the West India Company appointed Johan Maurits (John Maurice) as the first governor, and he took charge in 1637. He proved to be a wise and popular leader; his most important policy was freedom of worship, which left the Catholics alone as Protestant Dutchmen moved in, and gave Protestants, Catholics, and Jews a voice on the city council. Under him the Dutch-controlled area also expanded, and Catholic settlers didn't mind living under a Protestant governor because of the stability he brought. Unfortunately he wasn't in charge for long; always minding the bottom line, the Company was still losing money, so when it accused Maurice of spending too much, Maurice returned to Europe in 1644, rather than argue with his bosses. Almost immediately after he left, violent anti-Dutch uprisings broke out. The Portuguese, though outnumbered, won two key battles in 1648 and 1649, and they retook Recife in 1654. At that point, the war ended with the same results as in Africa; the Portuguese had most of the land, while the Dutch had most of the trans-Atlantic trade.

The settled parts of South America, 1650.

South America in 1650, showing the areas settled by the Portuguese (green), Spaniards (red) and Dutch (orange), in relation to the 1494 treaty line.

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French and English Inroads in the Caribbean

Because the Dutch had successfully established colonies in the Caribbean, the English gave it a try. The first English colony went up on St. Kitts in 1623. This was a joint venture with the French; currently there was a lull in the traditional rivalry between England and France (the Stuarts were friendlier to France than the kings before and after them). The French set up their own colony on the island, which they named Saint-Christophe, in 1625. However, the newcomers would have to fight in order to stay. The Carib Indians were already there, and they called in their kinfolk from neighboring islands to kill the settlers. But the English heard about this plan before it happened, so they and the French struck first, massacring the Caribs in 1626.

The second English colony was founded on Barbados, in 1627. Barbados proved to be more important than St. Kitts; not only is the island larger, but its location east of the other Leeward Islands meant it was often the first point of land reached by ships sailing west across the Atlantic (both the trade winds and the ocean current tend to aim vessels at Barbados). The importance of Barbados shows in how quickly the population grew, from 1,000 to 10,000 colonists in the 1630s. Sailors had reported Indians on Barbados in the sixteenth century, but at this point the island was uninhabited, so the settlers faced no opposition. In fact, for the whole colonial period, Barbados was the only island in the Caribbean that did not change hands; it stayed under English/British rule until independence was granted in 1966.(46)

The island next to St. Kitts, Nevis, was settled by the English in 1628. The first governor of Nevis was Anthony Hilton, a colonist of St. Kitts who left because of a murder plot against him, and he brought eighty other settlers along. They were soon joined by an additional hundred settlers from England; they were originally supposed to colonize an island named Barbuda, but London changed its mind and sent them to Nevis instead. Then in 1629, a Spanish expedition captured St. Kitts and Nevis, and deported the English and French settlers to their home countries. But it was a brief interruption; the war between Spain and England ended a year later, Spain gave the islands back as part of the terms of peace, and the settlers were allowed to return.

An English Puritan colony was established on Providencia, a mountainous island east of Nicaragua, in 1629. This was a sister colony to the one the Puritans had in Massachusetts, and existed for the same reason: to give the Puritans a place where they could enjoy religious freedom. But this was too close to a mainland Spanish colony; in 1641 Spain took back Providencia and uprooted the colony. Later on, the island would become a base for Henry Morgan, the notorious pirate. But despite trouble with the Indians and Spain, altogether the English colonists had an easier time than their counterparts did in the English colonies on the mainland (in Virginia and Massachusetts); most of the Caribbean colonists survived the early years, anyway.

Just as Spain had used Hispaniola as its advance base to conquer the Caribbean, so the English and French used St. Kitts and Nevis to help them colonize other islands. The English settled Antigua and Montserrat in 1632, and Anguilla in 1650. The French also did well, establishing colonies on Guadeloupe and Martinique in 1635, St Barthelemy in 1648, and Grenada in 1649.

On the South American mainland, France planted an outpost to match the Dutch ones. However, the French had a tougher time than the Dutch did. Portugal forced them to abandon the first outpost, founded in 1604, claiming it was a violation of the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas. The outpost was really on the Spanish side of the line, though, so in 1643 the French returned and founded Cayenne, the capital of present-day French Guiana. This time Indian raids forced them to leave, and the territory was then claimed by the Dutch West India Company.

In the Greater Antilles, England and France tried to establish another colony. This was a more ambitious venture, because here Spanish authority was still strong. The site they picked was Tortuga, a tiny island near Hispaniola; they briefly considered settling on Hispaniola itself, but then decided that would be too tough. Over the course of the 1620s and 1630s, Tortuga changed hands several times. The first English and French settlers arrived in 1625, and they kicked out the Spanish colonists already there. Then like St. Kitts and Nevis, Spain captured Tortuga in 1629 and expelled the non-Spanish settlers, but in the following year the French and English returned to set up new outposts. Spain conquered the island again in 1635 and 1638, only to leave again each time because Tortuga wasn't very important. Thus, Tortuga fell into French hands in 1639, but in this chaotic situation, piracy flourished, so a pirate faction, the famous buccaneers, grew to be more powerful than the agents of any government. When we see Tortuga in the next chapter, it will be the buccaneers' home base.

A few pirates were active on the mainland. By the early seventeenth century, Spanish ships were coming to the east coast of the Yucatan peninsula to cut logwood, which like brazil-wood, was the source of a textile dye. According to one legend, in 1638 an English pirate named Peter Wallace set up a base in a sheltered cove to prey on these ships. The Spaniards called him "Ballis" at first, then "Belize," and later applied the name to the nearest river. After 1650, when the European powers agreed to suppress piracy, the pirates switched jobs; they started harvesting their own wood instead of attacking others who did. Their logging camp became the English colony of Belize.

England settled Bermuda and the Bahamas as part of its activity on the North American mainland. The English colony on Bermuda was founded in 1612, because a supply ship meant for the Virginia colony (Jamestown) was wrecked there by a storm; the survivors became Bermuda's first colonists, whether they liked it or not. Because Bermuda is a small island, the population quickly grew to the point of overcrowding, and over the next two centuries, Bermuda succeeded as a colony because its surplus people emigrated. For example, one report claims that before the American Revolution, Bermuda had 20,000 residents, and more than half of them moved to Virginia, Carolina and Georgia.

The English who settled the Bahamas got off to an even rougher start. In 1647 a Puritan group, the Eleutheran Adventurers, fled from Bermuda. Bermuda, like Barbados, supported the royalists in the English Civil War (see footnote #46), so being on the losing side, the Puritans needed to leave. One of their two ships wrecked on a reef in the Bahamas, with the loss of all provisions, so the adventurers named the nearest island Eleuthera and settled there. Despite the arrival of more settlers and supplies, from Bermuda, Virginia and New England, the Eleuthera colony had such a hard time that many settlers returned to Bermuda in the mid-1650s, though about twenty families held out until a more successful English colony was founded in 1666 (we'll discuss that colony in the next chapter).

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Spain Comes To the End Of the Line

Spain had more resources to build and maintain an empire than Portugal did. To start with, there were more Spaniards than Portuguese; Spain's population during the period covered by this chapter was 7 to 9 million. Second, Spain didn't have as many interests (read: distractions) in Africa and Asia, so Spanish resources could theoretically be concentrated in the western hemisphere. I say “theoretically” because there were plenty of enemies to fight back home: the French, German Protestants, Turks, Barbary pirates, and later the Dutch and the English. The Spanish Empire continued to grow after Portuguese expansion came to a halt, but it also had its limits, and reached them by the end of the sixteenth century. Even the temporary union with Portugal didn't help much; when the Dutch began attacking Portuguese colonies, they became a liability to Spain, not an asset. After the nimble English fleet defeated the Spanish Armada, in 1588, it became clear to Europeans that the best days of the Spanish Empire were over. The most visible early sign of Spanish decline was the response when the Dutch, French and English took the smaller islands of the Caribbean. Spain lost those islands because it could not patrol or settle them; it didn't even try very hard to kick the other Europeans out, after they moved in. Still, the Spaniards continued to claim the whole western hemisphere, except Brazil, for themselves.(47)

We mentioned earlier that the most advanced Indian tribes had the highest populations and the best organization, but surprisingly, it was the most primitive tribes that were the hardest to conquer. The subjects of the Aztec and Inca empires were used to paying tribute and performing service as laborers, so after the conquest, it wasn't too difficult for the Spaniards to replace the native leadership with their own, and modify the system to suit their tastes. However, the nomads and seminomads of other regions were tougher, man for man, because they were used to resisting opponents who had the advantages of numbers and resources; we saw how one tribe, the Mapuche of Chile, even learned to use Spanish horses and weapons. In addition, they were too far away to reach easily, and the lack of central organization meant that each tribe had to be conquered or intimidated separately; against them, the Spaniards faced the same problem that the Vikings faced in medieval Ireland (too many little communities).

For one of those uncivilized areas, northeast Mexico, King Philip II ordered the founding of a new province, which would have a purely European population. Luis de Carabajal y Cueva, the mayor of Tampico, was appointed governor over the province, and he founded it in 1581, calling it Nuevo Reino de León (New Kingdom of León). However, to protect themselves from Indian attacks and floods, most of the European immigrants settled in one spot. That site became the city of Monterrey, which was formally established as the capital of Nuevo Leon in 1596.(48)

Elsewhere in North America, the Spanish advance petered out. It was hard to motivate the Spaniards to settle north of Mexico, because they never found anything worth taking, like gold. On the east coast, the only successful colony founded was at St. Augustine, in Florida. In the west, the initial settlers were missionaries, because their reward was not wealth, but souls won to Christ. In the future state of New Mexico, they arrived at the end of the sixteenth century. However, even the missionaries were slow to act here, compared with how they moved in Central and South America. The seventeenth century was nearly over before missionaries came to Arizona and Texas; in California, they did not arrive until the late eighteenth century.

Speaking of limits, this is a good place to tell how Latin America's southern limit was explored. As we saw earlier, Spain took an interest in the Pacific Ocean as soon as it was discovered. After ports were built on Latin America's Pacific coast like Acapulco and Lima, expeditions were launched from there, and the Strait of Magellan was no longer used. This was sensible, but it meant that nothing at all was known about the southern tip of South America. For all anyone knew Magellan's Strait was the only connection between the Atlantic and the Pacific, and Tierra del Fuego extended all the way to the South Pole. In fact, many sixteenth-century maps showed it doing just that, with the area occupied in the real world by Australia, Antarctica and Tierra del Fuego belonging to a huge, mysterious continent named Terra Australis Incognita. This belief was inspired by the idea that there must be an equal amount of land both north and south of the equator, or the world would become unbalanced, and it survived when Sir Francis Drake was blown to the south side of Tierra del Fuego on his globe-circling expedition.

People continued to believe in the lost continent theory even after two Dutchmen, Willem Schouten and Jakob le Maire, discovered Cape Horn in 1616. Le Maire was a former employee of the Dutch East India Company, and after he left them he founded his own company, which he called the Australia Company. Then they prepared two ships to go to the Pacific, look for Terra Australis Incognita, and blaze a new path to Southeast Asia, which would compete with the trade route the East India Company already had across the Indian Ocean. It took them two years to cross the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans (1615-17), on a voyage that repeated those of Magellan and Drake, except that they went around Tierra del Fuego on the south side, skipping the Strait of Magellan. One ship was lost to fire, but in the Pacific they discovered several small islands that Europeans hadn't seen before, and they made it to Java with 84 of the 87 men they started with, a remarkable survival rate for explorers in those days. However, the Dutch East India Company's regional manager, Jan Pieterszoon Coen, accused them of violating the Company's monopoly, had them arrested, and confiscated their remaining ship. After they were released they caught a ride back to the Netherlands with Joris van Spilbergen, a Dutch naval officer who was going around the world in the opposite direction.

The part of the above expedition that matters to us is Cape Horn. Schouten named it after his birthplace, the Dutch town of Hoorn, but because the land in question is horn-shaped, geographers chose to go with the English spelling. Unfortunately for them, Schouten and le Maire also saw land east of Cape Horn. This was tiny Staten Island, but they thought it was the tip of the great southern continent, and that the waters they sailed in were merely a second strait between the oceans. Another generation went by before everyone realized that there was only water south of Cape Horn.

By the time Cape Horn was discovered, so were the Falkland Islands, but we aren't sure who deserves the credit for this. Some arrowheads and part of a canoe have been found there, suggesting that Indians from either Patagonia or Tierra del Fuego visited the Falklands, but they did not build any permanent settlements on the islands. During Magellan's expedition, the captain of the San Antonio reported seeing some islands on his way back to Spain; Portugal and England later claimed that their explorers saw the Falklands, too. Thus, we have sixteenth-century maps, including the famous Piri Reis map, showing a few islands southeast of South America, which may or may not be the Falklands. The most credible claim, however, came from Sebald de Weert, a Dutch explorer who went there in 1600. In 1598 the Dutch sent five ships to retrace the path Magellan took from Europe to the Spice Islands, and de Weert was captain of one of those ships. However, the squadron was scattered by fierce winds after passing through the Strait of Magellan; de Weert's ship was blown back into the strait twice, and on his third attempt, when he was just trying to get to an island where his men could hunt penguins, he was blown out of the east end of the strait altogether. At that point he decided that the crew's only hope was to go back to the Netherlands. On their return trip they sighted (but failed to land on) the Falkland Islands; when they arrived in Europe, only 36 of de Weert's original 105 crewmen were still alive. De Weert called them the Sebald Islands, and that name appeared on Dutch maps until about 1800. Because those islands are so remote, nobody tried to colonize them until the late eighteenth century; that, and the more recent Argentine-British dispute over the Falklands, are subjects for future chapters of this work.

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Population Figures After the Conquest, and the Columbian Exchange

The arrival of the Europeans was a disaster for the people already living in the New World; it shows in plummeting population figures between 1492 and 1650. The tribes of the Caribbean, who had originally numbered around 200,000, disappeared within a century; in mainland areas the population fell to a fraction of what it had been previously. Around 1650, the demographic slide “bottomed out,” and we estimate that Latin America's population at that point may have been as low as seven million, less than half of the numbers that lived there a century and a half earlier.

The brutality of the conquistadors was exceptional even by sixteenth-century standards. It was the Indians’ misfortune that the first Europeans to reach America were not the pious Portuguese, the diplomatic French, nor the practical English and Dutch. Instead they met Spanish soldiers who had no scientific curiosity, were thirsty for gold, and full of the bigotry that comes from a recent religious war (we noted at the beginning of the chapter that Granada, the last Moorish state in Spain, only fell in 1492). The Crusader mentality and the Inquisition were very much alive in Spain; the Spaniards saw their New World activities as a holy war; to them the Indians were heathens that needed to be conquered and converted. The conquistadors made few intelligent observations of the civilizations that disappeared under their assault. As for the missionaries who followed, their attitude can be summarized in the activities of Friar Diego de Landa, who studied the Maya culture and did his best to destroy it at the same time (see Chapter 1, footnote #40).

Fear of native numbers and devilish religious practices also encouraged brutality, especially when Hernando Cortez faced the murderous Aztecs. To the Spaniards, horrid deities like Huitzilopochtli, Coatlicue, and Coyolxauhqui made the devil of Christian theology look rather friendly, by comparison. If Cortez had lost, the best thing he could hope for was to be slain in battle; those enemies the Aztecs captured alive were taken up on the pyramids of Tenochtitlan, where their hearts were cut out and offered to the gods of ancient America. Thus, when Cortez ordered the burning of his ships, it really was a do-or-die situation for him and his troops.

Image of Coatlicue.

Coatlicue, the mother of Huitzilopochtli in Aztec mythology. This statue shows two rattlesnake heads springing from her decapitated body, a skirt of live snakes, and a necklace with human hearts, hands and a skull. The statue was unearthed twice; when first found in 1790, Spanish priests reburied it because they didn't want anybody worshipping the goddess. This picture is from Wikimedia Commons.

But while the conquistadors were harsh men, tyranny was not new to Mexico; to non-Aztec tribes, the Spaniards were simply new masters who did not perform sacrifices. In fact, the Spaniards were not directly responsible for most of the native deaths; nobody in the sixteenth century could commit genocide on such a scale. Nor could they have prevented the deaths, thanks to the primitive state of medicine in those days. The killers were European, all right, but microbes, not men: smallpox(49), measles, typhus, whooping cough, and diphtheria. Two other deadly scourges, yellow fever and malaria, were brought by ships from Africa, and these mosquito-borne infections quickly made the jungles of Central and South America uninhabitable.(50)

From the point of view of a virus, Native American communities were an ideal environment. The natives were genetically similar to one another, had never acquired immunity to the new diseases and, in central Mexico, were overcrowded. What's more, the greater genetic diversity of the Old World, agriculture, and thousands of years of man battling nature, had all combined to make Old World microbes far more virulent than any the New World had. As a result, mortality was exceptionally high. A lot of the early victims, like Huayna Capac, died without ever meeting a European.

The initial outbreaks were bad enough, but like the Black Death in medieval Europe, the epidemics came back, striking the population again in the late sixteenth century. This aftershock caught the Indians while they were suffering from poverty and malnutrition, and under an unsympathetic ruling class. Casualties weren't as high the second time around, but the Indians probably didn't appreciate that, inasmuch as they were hit when they were down. It was only after several generations that they gained some resistance. By the time their population recovered, they had been surpassed by the immigrant (European) and imported (African) populations.(51)

Nowadays historians lump the spread of diseases with the introduction of various plants, animals, people and cultures across the ocean, calling it the “Columbian Exchange.” We call it an exchange because it was not a one-sided transmission. The following picture shows twenty-five items that did well on both sides of the Atlantic; mind you, this is by no means a complete list. The exchange had an especially strong effect on the cuisines of both the Old and New World. Imagine Italy without tomatoes, Ireland without potatoes, Madagascar without vanilla, Thailand without chili peppers, Florida without oranges, or South America without coffee, and you'll see what a difference foodstuffs can make.

A map of the Columbian Exchange.

Most of the introductions were beneficial, but a few plants and animals ran wild, when brought to an environment where they had no natural enemies. To give just one example, the tumbleweed is native to Russia, but now is so common in the North American desert that we usually think of places like Texas, when somebody mentions tumbleweeds. Fortunately, the New World and Old World ecosystems were both large enough to avoid total disruption; no alien flora or fauna caused devastation on the scale of, say, the rabbits in Australia. Probably the worst ecological disaster was on the North American Great Plains, where the white man hunted the buffalo to near-extinction, and replaced the native plants with farms. Next to the diseases, the most dangerous aliens were the infamous killer bees, which were brought from Africa to Brazil in a misguided attempt to increase honey production; they have stung 300-400 people to death every year.

For a long time, the human newcomers to the New World were not very numerous. A century and a half after Columbus there were no more than 750,000 people of Old World ancestry in the western hemisphere, about one tenth of the hemisphere's total population. Half a million of these were Europeans, and among them, 100,000 had settled in Brazil, 250,000 in the Spanish colonies on the mainland, about 100,000 (half English, half Spanish) on the Caribbean islands, and about 50,000 (mostly English, but also a few French, Dutch, Scots and Swedes) in North America. The African total was just under half that of the European and most heavily concentrated in Brazil.(52) When English colonies in the Caribbean began to grow sugar their slave populations also rose rapidly, from 10% to 50% in a single generation; at the same time those English small landowners who could not afford large plantations and slaves emigrated to North America, leaving the island population much the same size.

All of these figures are approximate; not only is information scanty but in Latin America, interracial unions happened often, blurring the distinctions between the races within a few generations. Miscegenation took place because there was always a shortage of European women, except in the English colonies; the English brought their wives and daughters to the places they settled (and because of that, English colonies grew faster than those of other Europeans). By contrast, in the mostly male-populated Spanish colonies, the shortage of European women encouraged the men to have affairs with female slaves and Indian women. The problem was even more severe in the Portuguese area, where white women were rarely seen outside of plantation houses. Consequently Brazil had a reputation for being loose in sexual matters as early as 1700. Today most Brazilians have an ancestry that is part European, part African, and part Native American.(53) Over the course of the seventeenth century, the combined mulatto, Mestizo and Zambo (African-Indian) populations of Latin America grew until they were as large as the population that was strictly European in ancestry.

This is the end of Chapter 2.


30. Lima was founded on January 18, 1535. While Pizarro was holding Atahualpa prisoner at Cajamarca, he learned about the religious center at Pachacamac (see Chapter 1). Atahualpa told him about Pachacamac, and encouraged Pizarro to go there and take its gold and silver, because he believed the god of Pachacamac was a liar; when his father Huayna Capac was ill, the oracle of Pachacamac predicted that the king would get better if he was carried outside, but he died instead. Sure enough, in 1534 Pizarro sent an expedition, led by his brother Hernando, to sack Pachacamac and destroy its idol. However, we also hear that they did not find as much gold as expected, because the priests heard the Spaniards were coming, and hid most of the goodies.

31. To the Indians of Colombia, the bearded Spaniards made the same first impression that they had made to the Aztecs. The Muisca thought they were gods, and left young children in the path of Quesada's expedition, as sacrifices to the strange invaders.

32. But a lieutenant of Almagro, Juan de Saavedra, usually gets the credit for founding Chile's main port, Valparaiso.

33. Officially King Charles V was the author of the New Laws, but most of the ideas in them came from Bartolome de Las Casas (1484?-1566), a Dominican friar who has been called the “Apostle of the Indians.” Arriving on Hispaniola in 1502, Las Casas was an eyewitness of the Spanish conquest of the Caribbean, including its atrocities, and he came to believe that Spain's policy toward the Indians was un-Christian and unwarranted. Consequently he spent the last fifty years of his life traveling between Spain and the New World, writing books about what he saw, speaking in courts on behalf of the Indians, and calling for an end to Indian slavery and for native peoples to be treated like any other Spanish citizens. His ultimate goal was to do away with the encomienda system, but that was too unpopular with the colonists, so after the New Laws abolished it, the system was soon restored. He is also remembered for a celebrated debate in 1550 with Juan Gines de Sepulveda (1489-1573), a philosopher who argued that the Indians were only fit to be slaves; as Sepulveda saw it, the fact that the Indians were not able to resist the Spanish invasion was proof that they were too savage to govern themselves. Las Casas went down in history as one of the first humanitarians; some clergymen in our own time have even called him the father of Liberation Theology.

34. Buenos Aires was founded a second time in 1580, by Juan de Garay, the current governor of Asuncion. This time the city remained settled.

35. At 95 percent Mestizo, Paraguay has the most mixed population of any South American country. That trend started right when the Spaniards founded Asunción!

36. We now believe that the warriors Orellana saw were men with long hair, not women, but because nearly five hundred years have passed since the expedition, I think you'll agree that it's too late to change the name of the river and the jungle.

37. Not long after this, the Mapuche taught horsemanship to the tribes on the other side of the Andes; the first gauchos were Argentine Indians. They had horses because the Spaniards left their horses behind, when they abandoned Buenos Aires in 1541, and the horses thrived on the Pampas.

38. The Indians had learned by now to tell Europeans that they had seen whatever the white man was looking for, but that it was somewhere else, not on their land (“It's beyond the next range”). Either they did this out of a simple desire to please their guests, or they did it to make those “guests” leave peacefully. Whatever the reason, the result was the same; the Europeans wasted lots of time, money and men in wild goose chases, as they followed up on every rumor they heard.

39. Potosi's source is a literal mountain of metal, 15,000-foot-high Cerro Rico (“Rich Hill”, see the picture below). Besides silver, the mountain is also rich with lead, zinc and tin. It is so important to Bolivia that a picture of the mountain appears on the national seal, and on the Bolivian flag. By 1800 the silver deposits were depleted to the point that tin became more important, but the mines still employ 12,000 workers even today. Currently there are an estimated 55 miles of tunnels in the mountain, and more than 4,000 tons of ore are removed every day. Recently, it was warned that the whole mountain is likely to collapse in the near future; landslides, tunnel cave-ins and falling rocks are a serious problem now.

Cerro Rico.

40. After Francis Drake sacked Nombre de Dios, another port, Porto Bello, was built in the same part of Panama (1597). Thomas Gage, an English Dominican friar, visited Porto Bello in 1637, and noted that when the Spanish fleet was there, business was conducted as quickly as possible, both with the loading of ships and other transactions, due to the unhealthy climate. While the ships were away, Porto Bello was deserted, so Gage suggested that Porto Malo (Bad Port) would be a better name for the place!

41. Herring, Hubert, A History of Latin America, third edition, New York, Knopf, 1968, pg. 203.

42. Today the stretch of water between Cape Horn and the South Shetland Islands is named Drake Passage, in memory of Drake. However, it is unlikely that Drake really saw this part of the southern ocean. According to astronomical data from his voyage, the southernmost point of the voyage was at latitude 55º S., meaning that he probably could still see Tierra del Fuego from there.

43. Incidentally, Berrio founded the first permanent European settlement on Trinidad, San José de Oruña, (modern St. Joseph) in 1592. Other Spaniards had tried to colonize Trinidad as early as 1530, but their settlements always failed and were abandoned.

44. You've probably heard the story about how Raleigh once threw his cape over a mud puddle, so that the queen could cross it without getting her shoes dirty. While this may be the ultimate example of a gentleman's gallant behavior to a lady, it wasn't really a big sacrifice for Raleigh; he could easily afford another cape.

45. Portugal's King Sebastian I died without leaving an heir in 1578, when he led an army in an invasion of Morocco that failed disastrously. The king's uncle took over as a caretaker ruler until somebody more suitable could be found, but instead his death in 1580 left the throne both vacant and up for grabs. Catherine, the Duchess of Braganza, had the best claim to the throne, but Spain's King Philip II was an illegitimate grandson of an earlier Portuguese King (Manuel I), and he persuaded most of the aristocracy to support him rather than Catherine. For the next sixty years, Spain and Portugal were two empires with one king, sometimes called the Iberian Union. Finally in 1640, a grandson of Catherine led a successful revolt to become King John IV of a restored Portugal.

46. However, it did change hands between English rulers during the Commonwealth period (1649-60). The governor of Barbados favored Oliver Cromwell and Parliament, but after the execution of King Charles I, the local legislature, the House of Assembly, remained loyal to the royal family. Like the mother country, the legislative branch of government held more power than the executive branch, so Barbados became a rebel colony, until Parliament sent an invasion force to reconquer the island in 1651.
The English claimed St. Vincent in the same year that they settled Barbados (1627), but did not settle it, so that island went to the French, when they settled it in 1719.

47. As late as 1802, Spanish ships attacked a Russian outpost in Alaska for the same reason.
Spain also rigidly controlled who could immigrate to their colonies. This was done mainly to keep out heretics like the Huguenots, and the citizens of any country other than Spain. Alexander von Humboldt once declared that after traveling for five years in Spanish America, he had only met one German, and in remote areas, the natives had trouble believing that there were Europeans who did not speak Spanish.

48. We have already mentioned the gauchos of Argentina (see footnotes #12 and #37), and by 1600, Mexico had cowboys, too. We usually think of cowboys as being all-American because of exposure to so many westerns, but two hundred years earlier the Mexicans had most of the elements of the cowboy culture: cattle, horses, an all-leather costume (though Mexican cowboys wore sombreros, instead of a ten-gallon hat), etc. The main difference was that the Mexican cattlemen called themselves vaqueros. In fact, when English-speaking Gringos became cowboys in the lands north of Mexico, they copied all this; the word "vaquero" was translated as "buckaroo."

49. If you want to blame somebody for the epidemics, blame a cabin boy named Juan Nepomucen. In 1520 he went on the expedition of Panfilo de Narvaez to Mexico. Like Narvaez, he was captured and drafted into the army of Cortez. Nepomucen was sick with smallpox, and as he wandered across Mexico, he spread the terrible disease to the Indians he met. Thus, the “Typhoid Mary” of Mesoamerica wiped out whole tribes without firing a shot or even throwing a stone at them. He has been blamed for as many as three million deaths, making him the worst killer in the western hemisphere's history.

50. Even Tierra del Fuego was hit hard, though people of European ancestry did not settle in that harsh land until the nineteenth century. It is estimated that in the first fifty years after the island's discovery, smallpox and measles reduced the native poplation from 10,000 to a mere 350. The Fuegan Indians also suffered from European hunters introducing alcohol and killing off their largest game, whales and seals. When Charles Darwin passed through, he saw the Indians as the most primitive people he had ever met, "the most miserable wretches on the face of the earth," without knowing how far they had fallen in three centuries.

51. The New World returned the favor by introducing syphilis to Europe in the 1490s. Like the diseases going west, it was a fast-sweeping, acute infection at first, but since it is a sexually transmitted disease, rather than one spread by casual contact, it never threatened to destroy the communities of the Old World.

52. We believe that by 1650, at least one million slaves had been shipped from Africa to the New World. However, as noted above, there were only a quarter million blacks living in the Americas in 1650. The discrepancy can be explained in part by the deaths on the voyages (which averaged 20% of a typical cargo), and by an unfavorable sex ratio (two males were landed for every female). The most important factor, however, was that the slave's life did not allow favorable conditions for reproduction. A typical slave lived for seven years after he was brought to a sugar plantation, so much of each year's shipment went to replace those who died without leaving children. Not until the nineteenth century did living conditions improve to the point that the black American population became self-sustaining, and only after emancipation did it grow at a rate comparable to the white population.

One group of slaves in Mexico gained their freedom even before the Spanish Empire stopped growing. In 1570 a slave named Gaspar Yanga launched an uprising at a sugarcane plantation near Veracruz; he and the escaped slaves who followed him fled inland, and founded a community in the mountains, naming it San Lorenzo de los Negros. Because of the community's isolation, they were able to live unmolested for nearly forty years, and other escaped slaves came to join them. During this time, they made ends meet either by farming, or by raiding the Spanish supply convoys traveling between Veracruz and Mexico City. In 1609 the viceroy of New Spain dispatched 550 soldiers to stop the raids and secure this area. Opposing them was a roughly equal-sized force, of which only 100 had guns, but they knew the local terrain far better than the Spaniards did. As a result, the Spaniards burned the town, but they could not catch the blacks who fled into the countryside. After years of this stalemate, the Spaniards agreed to negotiate, and in 1618 they signed a treaty, which allowed the first free black community in the Americas to exist with Yanga's family in charge of it, provided it returned any escaped slaves who went there in the future. The town was rebuilt in 1630, under the name of San Lorenzo de los Negros de Cerralvo; today it is called simply Yanga.

53. Thanks to the way people get around these days, you can also throw a dash of Middle Eastern and Asian ancestry into the racial mixture. Evidently those genes mixed well. Today Latin American women are considered to be among the most beautiful in the world; it is a rare Miss Universe pageant that does not have one or more Latinas among the finalists (the picture is from 2008). Other modern examples of Latina beauty include singers, actresses and models like Alessandra Ambrosio (Brazil), Carolina Ardohain (Argentina), Elsa Benitez (Mexico), Gisele Bundchen (Brazil), Yamila Diaz (Argentina), Gloria Estefan (Cuba), Salma Hayek (more Mexico), Adriana Lima (Brazil), Zaira Nara (Argentina & Uruguay), Shakira (Colombia), Yesica Toscanini (Argentina), Leonor Varela (Chile), and Sofia Vergara (Colombia again). Local innovations like the string bikini, and songs like “The Girl From Ipanema” have increased the Latin allure, too.

Miss Universe 2008.

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