In recent years several scholars have labored to fill the crucial need for studies that go to the very heart of hacienda operation in colonial Mexico. Fernando B. Sandoval’s La industria del azúcar en Nueva España (1951); France V. Scholes’ The Spanish Conqueror as a Business Man: A Chapter in the History of Fernando Cortés (1958); François Chevalier’s Land and Society in Colonial Mexico (1956); and the doctoral dissertation of G. Michael Riley have added to the growing literature. These studies are now supplemented by a valuable work by geographer Ward J. Barrett who traces the history and operation of the Cortés sugar plantation of San Antonio de Altacomulco founded in 1535 on the outskirts of modern Cuernavaca.
Professor Barrett bases his account largely on the records of the plantation in the Hospital de Jesús section of the Mexican Archivo General de la Nación and on Sandoval’s study of the sugar industry. The result is a conscientious gleaning of data and a remarkable account of the plantation operation. Detailed description of how land and water were acquired, methods of irrigation and agriculture, as well as an excellent chapter on sugar technology make this study important to the field. The Sugar Hacienda of the Marqueses del Valle includes valuable appendixes on estate income, sugar and molasses production, livestock utilization, Indian laborers, Negro slaves, productivity of labor, and much more. The data is quantified from Hospital de Jesús accounts of the plantation from 1541 to 1847. The volume is enhanced by a series of maps, charts, and drawings of eighteenth-century sugar mills.
The new work on the Cortés Estate by Bernardo García Martínez, recent literature on colonal Mexican labor institutions, and the Scholes and Riley items do not appear in Ward J. Barrett’s list of sources, and this first account in English of the operation of a colonial Mexican sugar plantation might have contributed more to our knowledge had Professor Barrett used Spanish archival data and documents from other sections of the Archivo General de la Nación suggested by Scholes and Riley. Nevertheless this book is an important scholarly contribution. It belongs in every colonialist’s library.