In the 1770s, dramatic changes were occurring along the southern coast of South America (current-day Uruguay and Argentina). Improvements in transportation and a growing demand for hides for an industrializing and expanding Europe generated the east coast revolution, transforming a then-peripheral region in Spain's American empire into a vibrant and important economic zone. As it exported goods across the Atlantic, the scarcely populated Río de la Plata, as the viceroyalty was christened in 1776, looked to the Spanish peninsula for its own necessary import: people. The province received few migrants from within South America. It was far from the center of viceregal power in Lima, Peru, and bordered the territorially aspirational Portuguese in Brazil. Nor did imperial authorities recognize the region's native groups as a solution to their quest to establish a larger and more stable colonial society. In 1778 the Bourbon...

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