The Conquest of New Spain History – 1492-1901
At the height of the Spanish Empire (17th Century), the Spanish Empire was the largest empire in the world and included the following modern countries and territories: Bahamas, Belize, Canada (British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan), Cayman Islands, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Federated States of Micronesia, Guam, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Trinidad and Tobago and the United States (California, Oregon, Washington, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Arizona, Missouri, Iowa, Arkansas, Louisiana, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Nebraska, Alaska).
New Spain was a viceroyalty, or administrative unit of the Spanish colonial empire. Its capital was Mexico City, formerly Tenochtitlan, capital of the Aztec Empire. New Spain was established following the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire in 1521.
The creation of a viceroyalty in the Americas was a result of the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire (1519 to 1521). The lands and societies brought under Spanish control were of unprecedented complexity and wealth, which presented both an incredible opportunity and a threat to the Crown of Castile. The societies could provide the conquistadors, especially Hernán Cortés, a base from which to become autonomous, or even independent, of the Crown. As a result the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain, Charles V created the Council of the Indies in 1524.
A few years later the first mainland Audiencia was created in 1527 to take over the administration of New Spain from Hernán Cortés. An earlier Audiencia had been established in Santo Domingo in 1526 to deal with the Caribbean settlements. The Audiencia was charged with encouraging further exploration and settlements under its own authority. Management by the Audiencia, which was expected to make executive decisions as a body, proved unwieldy. Therefore in 1535, King Charles V named Antonio de Mendoza as the first Viceroy of New Spain. After the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire in 1532 opened up the vast territories of South America to further conquests, the Crown established an independent Viceroyalty of Peru there in 1540.
Upon his arrival, Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza vigorously took to the duties entrusted to him by the King and encouraged the exploration of Spain’s new mainland territories. He commissioned the expeditions of Francisco Vázquez de Coronado into the present day American Southwest in 1540–1542. The Viceroy commissioned Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo in the first Spanish exploration up the Pacific Ocean along the western coast of the Las Californias Province in 1542–1543. He sailed above present day Baja California (Vieja California), to what he called ‘New California’ (Nueva California), becoming the first European to see present day California, U.S. The Viceroy also sent Ruy López de Villalobos to the Spanish East Indies in 1542–1543. As these new territories became controlled, they were brought under the purview of the Viceroy of New Spain.
During the 16th century, many Spanish cities were established in North and Central America. Spain attempted to establish missions in what is now the Southern United States including Georgia and South Carolina between 1568 and 1587. Despite their efforts, the Spaniards were only successful in the region of present day Florida, where they founded St. Augustine in 1565.
Seeking to develop trade between the East Indies and the Americas across the Pacific Ocean, Miguel López de Legazpi established the first Spanish settlement in the Philippine Islands in 1565, which became the town of San Miguel. Andrés de Urdaneta discovered an efficient sailing route from the Philippine Islands returning to Mexico. In 1571, the city of Manila became the capital of the Spanish East Indies, with trade soon beginning via the Manila-Acapulco Galleons. The Manila-Acapulco trade route shipped products such as silks, spices, silver, and gold, and enslaved people to the Americas from Asia.
Products brought from East Asia were sent to Veracruz México, then shipped to Spain, and then traded across Europe. There were attacks on these shipments in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea by British and Dutch pirates and privateers, led by Francis Drake in 1586, and Thomas Cavendish in 1587. In addition, the cities of Huatulco (Oaxaca) and Barra de Navidad in Jalisco Province of México were sacked. Lope Díez de Armendáriz was the first Viceroy of New Spain that was born in the ‘New World’ (Nueva España). He formed the ‘Navy of Barlovento’ (Armada de Barlovento), based in Veracruz, to patrol coastal regions and protect the harbors, port towns, and trade ships from pirates and privateers.
Luis de Velasco, marqués de Salinas gained control over many of the semi-nomadic Chichimeca indigenous tribes of northern México in 1591 for awhile. This allowed expansion into the ‘Province of New Mexico’ or Provincia de Nuevo México. In 1598, Juan de Oñate pioneered ‘The Royal Road of the Interior Land’ or El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro between Mexico City and the Tewa village of ‘Ohkay Owingeh’ or San Juan Pueblo. He also founded the settlement (a Spanish pueblo) of San Juan on the Rio Grande near the Native American Pueblo, located in the present day U.S. state of New Mexico. In 1609, Pedro de Peralta, a later governor of the Province of New Mexico, established the settlement of Santa Fe in the region of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains on the Rio Grande. Missions were established for conversions and agricultural industry. The territory’s Puebloan peoples resented the Spaniards denigration and prohibition of their traditional religion, and their encomienda system’s forced labor. The Pueblo Revolt ensued in 1680, with final resolution including some freedom from Spanish efforts to eradicate their culture and religion, the issuing of substantial communal land grants to each Pueblo, and a public defender of their rights and for their legal cases in Spanish courts. In 1776 the Province came under the new Provincias Internas jurisdiction. In the late 18th century the Spanish land grant encouraged the settlement by individuals of large land parcels outside Mission and Pueblo boundaries, many of which became ranchos.
In 1602, Sebastián Vizcaíno, the first Spanish presence in the ‘New California’ or Nueva California region of the frontier Las Californias Province since Cabrillo in 1542, sailed as far upcoast north as Monterey Bay. In 1767 King Charles III ordered the Jesuits, who had established missions in the lower Baja California region of Las Californias, forcibly expelled and returned to Spain. New Spain’s Visitador General José de Gálvez replaced them with the Dominican Order in Baja, and the Franciscans to establish the new northern missions. In 1768, Visitador General José de Gálvez received the following orders: “Occupy and fortify San Diego and Monterey for God and the King of Spain.” The Spanish colonization there, with far fewer recognized natural resources and less cultural development than Mexico or Peru, was to combine establishing a presence for defense of the territory with a perceived responsibility to convert the indigenous people to Christianity. The method was the traditional missions (misiones), forts (presidios), civilian towns (pueblos), and land grant ranches (ranchos) model, but more simplified due to the region’s great distance from supplies and support in México. Between 1769 and 1833 twenty one Spanish missions in California were established. In 1776 the Province came under the administration of the new ‘Commandancy General of the Internal Provinces of the North’ (Provincias Internas) to invigorate growth. The crown created two new governments in Las Californias, the southern peninsular one called Baja California, and the northern mainland one called Alta California in 1804. The issuing of Spanish land grants in California encouraged settlement and establishment of large California ranchos. Some Californio rancho grantees emulated the Dons of Spain, with cattle and sheep marking wealth. The work was usually done by displaced and relocated Native Americans. After the Mexican War of Independence and subsequent secularization (“disestablishment”) of mission lands, Mexican land grant transactions increased the spread of ranchos. The land grants and ranchos established land-use patterns that are recognizable in present day California and New Mexico.
The forts, pueblos (civilian towns) and the misiones (missions) were the three major agencies employed by the Spanish crown to extend its borders and consolidate its colonial holdings in these territories.
The town of Alburquerque (present day Albuquerque, New Mexico) was founded in 1660. The Mexican towns of: Paso del Norte (present day Ciudad Juárez) founded in 1667; Santiago de la Monclova in 1689; Panzacola, Tejas in 1681; and San Francisco de Cuéllar (present day city of Chihuahua) in 1709. From 1687, Father Eusebio Francisco Kino, with the marqués de Villapuente’s economic help, founded over twenty missions in the Sonoran Desert (in present day Mexican state Sonora and U.S. state Arizona). From 1697, Jesuits established eighteen missions throughout the Baja California Peninsula. In 1668 Padre San Vitores established the first mission in the Mariana Islands (now Guam). Between 1687 and 1700 several Missions were founded in Trinidad, but only four survived as Amerindian villages throughout the 18th century. In 1691, explorers and missionaries visited the interior of Texas and came upon a river and Amerindian settlement on June 13, the feast day of St. Anthony, and named the location and river San Antonio in his honor.
Immersed in a low intensity war with Great Britain (mostly over the Spanish ports and trade routes harassed by British pirates), the defenses of Veracruz and San Juan de Ulúa, Jamaica, Cuba and Florida were strengthened. Santiago de Cuba (1662), St. Augustine Spanish Florida (1665) or Campeche 1678 were sacked by the British. The Tarahumara Indians were in revolt in the mountains of Chihuahua for several years. In 1670 Chichimecas invaded Durango, and the governor, Francisco González, abandoned its defense. In 1680, 25,000 previously subjugated Indians in 24 pueblos of New Mexico rose against the Spanish and killed all the Europeans they encountered. In 1685, after a revolt of the Chamorros, the Marianas islands were incorporated to the Captaincy General of the Philippines. In 1695, this time with the British help, the viceroy Gaspar de la Cerda attacked the French who had established a base on the island of Española.
Early in the Queen Anne’s War, in 1702, the English captured and burned the Spanish town St. Augustine, Florida. However, the English were unable to take the main fortress (presidio) of St. Augustine, resulting in the campaign being condemned by the English as a failure. The Spanish maintained St. Augustine and Pensacola for more than a century after the war, but their mission system in Florida was destroyed and the Apalachee tribe was decimated in what became known as the Apalachee Massacre of 1704. Also in 1704 the viceroy Francisco Fernández de la Cueva suppressed a rebellion of the Pima Indians in Nueva Vizcaya.
Diego Osorio de Escobar y Llamas reformed the postal service and the marketing of mercury. In 1701 under the Duke of Alburquerque the ‘Court of the Agreement’ (Tribunal de la Acordada), an organization of volunteers, similar to the ‘Holy Brotherhood’ (Hermandad), intended to capture and quickly try bandits, was founded. The church of the Virgin of Guadalupe, patron of Mexico, was finished in 1702.
The new Bourbon kings did not split the Viceroyalty of New Spain into smaller administrative units as they did with the Viceroyalty of Peru. The first innovation, in 1776, was by José de Gálvez, the new Minister of the Indies (1775–1787), establishing the Commandancy General of the Provincias Internas known as the Provincias Internas (Commandancy General of the Internal Provinces of the North, (Spanish: Comandancia y Capitanía General de las Provincias Internas). He appointed Teodoro de Croix (nephew of the former viceroy) as the first Commander General of the Provinicas Internas, independent of the Viceroy of New Spain, to provide more autonomy for the frontier provinces. They included Nueva Vizcaya, Nuevo Santander, Sonora y Sinaloa, Las Californias, Coahuila y Tejas (Coahuila and Texas), and Nuevo México.
The prime innovation introduction of intendancies, an institution borrowed from France. They were first introduced on a large scale in New Spain, by the Minister of the Indies José de Gálvez, in the 1770s, who originally envisioned that they would replace the viceregal system (viceroyalty) alltogether. With broad powers over tax collection and the public treasury and with a mandate to help foster economic growth over their districts, intendants encroached on the traditional powers of viceroys, governors and local officials, such as the corregidores, which were phased out as intendancies were established. The Crown saw the intendants as a check on these other officers. Over time accommodations were made. For example, after a period of experimentation in which an independent intendant was assigned to Mexico City, the office was thereafter given to the same person who simultaneously held the post of viceroy. Nevertheless, the creation of scores of autonomous intendancies throughout the Viceroyalty, created a great deal of decentralization, and in the Captaincy General of Guatemala, in particular, the intendancy laid the groundwork for the future independent nations of the 19th century.
In 1780, Minister of the Indies José de Gálvez sent a royal dispatch to Teodoro de Croix, Commandant General of the Internal Provinces of New Spain (Provincias Internas), asking all subjects to donate money to help the American Revolution. Millions of pesos were given.
The focus on the economy (and the revenues it provided to the royal coffers) was also extended to society at large. Economic associations were promoted, such as the Economic Society of Friends of the Country Governor-General José Basco y Vargas established in the Philippines in 1781. Similar “Friends of the Country” economic societies were established throughout the Spanish world, including Cuba and Guatemala.
A secondary feature of the Bourbon Reforms was that it was an attempt to end the significant amount of local control that had crept into the bureaucracy under the Habsburgs, especially through the sale of offices. The Bourbons sought a return to the monarchical ideal of having outsiders, who in theory should be disinterested, staff the higher echelons of regional government. In practice this meant that there was a concerted effort to appoint mostly peninsulares, usually military men with long records of service (as opposed to the Habsburg preference for prelates), who were willing to move around the global empire. The intendancies were one new office that could be staffed with peninsulares, but throughout the 18th century significant gains were made in the numbers of governors-captain generals, audiencia judges and bishops, in addition to other posts, who were Spanish-born.
The first century that saw the Bourbons on the Spanish throne coincided with series of global conflicts that pitted primarily France against Great Britain. Spain as an ally of Bourbon France was drawn into these conflicts. In fact part of the motivation for the Bourbon Reforms was the perceived need to prepare the empire administratively, economically and militarily for what was the next expected war. The Seven Years’ War proved to be catalyst for most of the reforms in the overseas possessions, just like the War of the Spanish Succession had been for the reforms on the Peninsula.
In 1720, the Villasur expedition from Santa Fe met and attempted to parley with French- allied Pawnee in what is now Nebraska. Negotiations were unsuccessful, and a battle ensued; the Spanish were badly defeated, with only thirteen managing to return to New Mexico. Although this was a small engagement, it is significant in that it was the deepest penetration of the Spanish into the Great Plains, establishing the limit to Spanish expansion and influence there.
The War of Jenkins’ Ear broke out in 1739 between the Spanish and British and was confined to the Caribbean and Georgia. The major action in the War of Jenkins’ Ear was a major amphibious attack launched by the British under Admiral Edward Vernon in March, 1741 against Cartagena de Indias, one of Spain’s major gold-trading ports in the Caribbean (today Colombia). Although this episode is largely forgotten, it ended in a decisive victory for Spain, who managed to prolong its control of the Caribbean and indeed secure the Spanish Main until the 19th century.
Following the French and Indian War/Seven Years War, the British troops invaded and captured the Spanish cities of Havana in Cuba and Manila in the Philippines in 1762. The Treaty of Paris (1763) gave Spain control over the New France Louisiana Territory including New Orleans, Louisiana creating a Spanish empire that stretched from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean, but Spain also ceded Florida to Great Britain to regain Cuba, which the British occupied during the war. Louisiana settlers, hoping to restore the territory to France, in the bloodless Rebellion of 1768 forced the Louisiana Governor Antonio de Ulloa to flee to Spain. The rebellion was crushed in 1769 by the next governor Alejandro O’Reilly who executed five of the conspirators. The Louisiana territory was to be administered by superiors in Cuba with a governor onsite in New Orleans.
The 21 northern missions in present-day California (U.S.) were established along California’s El Camino Real from 1769. In an effort to exclude Britain and Russia from the eastern Pacific, King Charles III of Spain sent forth from Mexico a number of expeditions to the Pacific Northwest between 1774 and 1793. Spain’s long-held claims and navigation rights were strengthened and a settlement and fort were built in Nootka Sound, Alaska.
A Spanish army defeats British soldiers in the Battle of Pensacola in 1781. In 1783 the Treaty of Paris returns all of Florida to Spain for the return of the Bahamas.
Spain entered the American Revolutionary War as an ally of France in June 1779, a renewal of the Bourbon Family Compact. In 1781, a Spanish expedition during the American Revolutionary War left St. Louis, Missouri (then under Spanish control) and reached as far as Fort St. Joseph at Niles, Michigan where they captured the fort while the British were away. On 8 May 1782, Count Bernardo de Gálvez, the Spanish governor of Louisiana, captured the British naval base at New Providence in the Bahamas. On the Gulf Coast, the actions of Gálvez led to Spain acquiring East and West Florida in the peace settlement, as well as controlling the mouth of the Mississippi River after the war—which would prove to be a major source of tension between Spain and the United States in the years to come.
In the second Treaty of Paris (1783), which ended the American Revolution, Britain ceded West Florida back to Spain to regain The Bahamas, which Spain had occupied during the war. Spain then had control over the river south of 32°30′ north latitude, and, in what is known as the Spanish Conspiracy, hoped to gain greater control of Louisiana and all of the west. These hopes ended when Spain was pressured into signing Pinckney’s Treaty in 1795. France reacquired ‘Louisiana’ from Spain in the secret Treaty of San Ildefonso in 1800. The United States bought the territory from France in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803.
New Spain claimed the entire west coast of North America and therefore considered the Russian fur trading activity in Alaska, which began in the middle to late 18th century, an encroachment and threat. Likewise, the exploration of the northwest coast by James Cook of the British Navy and the subsequent fur trading activities by British ships was considered an invasion of Spanish territory. To protect and strengthen its claim, New Spain sent a number of expeditions to the Pacific Northwest between 1774 and 1793. In 1789 a naval outpost called Santa Cruz de Nuca (or just Nuca) was established at Friendly Cove in Nootka Sound (now Yuquot), Vancouver Island. It was protected by an artillery land battery called Fort San Miguel. Santa Cruz de Nuca was the northermost establishment of New Spain. It was the first colony in British Columbia and the only Spanish settlement in what is now Canada. Santa Cruz de Nuca remained under the control of New Spain until 1795, when it was abandoned under the terms of the third Nootka Convention. Another outpost, intended to replace Santa Cruz de Nuca, was partially built at Neah Bay on the southern side of the Strait of Juan de Fuca in what is now the U.S. state of Washington. Neah Bay was known as Bahía de Núñez Gaona in New Spain, and the outpost there was referred to as “Fuca”. It was abandoned, partially finished, in 1792. Its personnel, livestock, cannons, and ammunition were transferred to Nuca.
In 1789, at Santa Cruz de Nuca, a conflict occurred between the Spanish naval officer Esteban José Martínez and the British merchant James Colnett, triggering the Nootka Crisis, which grew into an international incident and the threat of war between Britain and Spain. The first Nootka Convention averted the war but left many specific issues unresolved. Both sides sought to define a northern boundary for New Spain. At Nootka Sound, the diplomatic representative of New Spain, Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra, proposed a boundary at the Strait of Juan de Fuca, but the British representative, George Vancouver refused to accept any boundary north of San Francisco. No agreement could be reached and the northern boundary of New Spain remained unspecified until the Adams–Onís Treaty with the United States (1819). That treaty also ceded Spanish Florida to the United States.
The Third Treaty of San Ildefonso ceded to France the vast territory that Napoleon then sold to the United States, known as the Louisiana Purchase (1803). Spanish Florida followed in 1819. In the 1821 Declaration of Independence of the Mexican Empire, Mexico and Central America declared their independence after three centuries of Spanish rule and formed the First Mexican Empire. After priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla’s 1810 Grito de Dolores (call for independence), the insurgent army began an eleven-year war. At first, the Criollo class fought against the rebels. But in 1820, coinciding with the approval of the Spanish Constitution, which took privileges away from the Criollos, they switched sides. This led to Mexican triumph in 1821. The new Mexican Empire offered the crown to Ferdinand VII or to a member of the Spanish royal family that he would designate. After the refusal of the Spanish monarchy to recognize the independence of Mexico, the ejército Trigarante (Army of the Three Guarantees), led by Agustin de Iturbide and Vincente Guerrero, cut all political and economic ties with Spain and crowned Agustin I as emperor of Mexico. Central America was originally part of the Mexican Empire, but seceded peacefully in 1823, forming the United Provinces of Central America.
This left only Cuba, the Spanish East Indies (including the Philippines and Guam), and Puerto Rico in the Spanish empire until their loss to the United States in the Spanish–American War (1898).