In this thorough study, Professor G. Michael Riley builds upon his solid research articles to produce an important monograph on the socioeconomic development of early sixteenth-century Mexico. The Marquesado in Morelos became the richest area of the Cortés estate out-distancing the wealth of the Oaxaca area. Of the estimated 50,000 tributary vassals included in the estate by 1560, over 25,000 of them were domiciled in the Morelos towns. After an interesting introductory essay on preconquest Cuernavaca and the Spanish conquest, Riley presents meaty chapters based on extensive archival documentation on the Morelos encomiendas of Cortés, their tribute, labor, land, management, and revenues. An especially well-written chapter on “The Morelos Marquesado in 1547,” and an articulate set of conclusions complete the text. The basic documentation is drawn from Archivo General de Indias in Seville and the Hospital de Jesús section of Archivo General de la Nación in México, D. F.
Riley’s monograph makes very effective use of data in lawsuits and other civil proceedings to reconstruct the development of Morelos as a conquered province from 1522 to 1547. In almost every paragraph he breaks new ground. For instance, he covers the early history before 1535 of the Altacomulco sugar mill recently studied by geographer Ward Barrett after that date. In other instances, he presents data and interpretations on Spanish land tenure and tribute which revise many of our current views. In the period before 1547 in Morelos, Indian land retention was much greater than many historians have supposed. Few Spaniards other than the missionary clergy appear to have acquired land in Morelos during the first half of the sixteenth century, and the church plots were limited to building requirements and the minimal maintenance of resident friars.
Fernando Cortés and the conquerors altered land use in Morelos, but still by 1547 most of the land in the valley was held by Indian communities, just as it had been before 1519. Many “office and institutional lands of the preconquest period disappeared. The Spanish created ‘institutional’—church, crown, and municipality—lands in Morelos as they did elsewhere, and they joined the Indian nobility as landowners” (page 94). Riley estimates that Spanish landholding in 1547 in Morelos totaled some 2,085 acres and their rented properties only 434 acres—generally scattered plots except for about 1,000 of Cortés’s acres and those of the Serrano-Ojeda families who owned the Altacomulco mill. Of course the Spaniard indirectly influenced the use of other land acreage as he encouraged Indians to raise sugar cane. Riley contends, however, “that original Spanish occupiers of Morelos took but a small fraction of its lands as their own.” The Marquesado is depicted as a model for economic development of the colony, and Fernando Cortés is described as an economic innovator who was often copied by his contemporaries, yet he often utilized their ideas and techniques as he built the estate into a manufacturing and agrobusiness empire.
This splendid study concludes with four valuable appendices: The Cuernavaca Area in 1519: Provinces, Towns and Tribute; Códice Municipal de Cuernavaca; Encomiendas held by Fernando Cortés and Their Estimated Value in Tribute and Service in 1524-1525; Cuernavaca Encomienda Towns and Their Sujetos as Reported in 1531-1532, and thirteen important tables quantified from archival data on: Tribute, Revenues in Cotton Textiles, Labor Services, Origins of Indian Slaves, Sex-Age-Location-Skills of Slaves (both those of Cortés and those Indian and Negro slaves in the Altacomulco sugar mill); a crucial 1549 table on Cortesian and other Spanish Landholdings in Morelos detailing location, use and acreage; a chart on the Administrative Organization of the Marquesado 1531-1547; Estimated Gross Revenues 1522-1547. Two excellent maps and a full bibliography of manuscript and printed materials are included.