In recent years social scientists have become increasingly aware of the persistence and importance of patronclientelism in Latin America. The growing literature on patron-clientele systems in the contemporary world provides a theoretical framework for studying possibly analogous social systems in the Spanish Empire. From research in the records of seventeenthcentury Caracas (1595-1627) emerge the outlines of a patron-clientele system in genesis within the structure of the kinship network of the city. To accomplish this analysis I applied methods which relied on computers to process the myriad pieces of comparable data describing events at the mundane level of human life where patron-clientelism exists. After a discussion of the concept, this essay describes how I defined the kinship network and calculated the distribution of wealth, power, and prestige within it.

Patron Clientelism

A patron-clientele system is a network of individuals extending from a small group of the most important members of the elite down through the upper, intermediate, and lower sectors of the society. Through this network goods, services, and support are exchanged on a person-to-person basis.1 The social structure in which a patronclientele system functions is of necessity hierarchical, a condition amply fulfilled in colonial Spanish America from the very beginning.2 Not only does the operation of a patron-clientele system presuppose a society in which a small group of people, the patrons, tend to monopolize the status, wealth, and power of the community, but at the same time such a system serves to increase, support, and refine the stratified nature of the society.3 The patron-clientele system accomplishes this by mobilizing for the patron a group of clients who are a source of honor, labor, and force. The larger the retinue of clients a person has, the more he will be respected, the better he will be able to exploit his territorial and commercial holdings, and the greater will be the authority of his name.4

The most important function of the patron-clientele system is to integrate the hierarchical societies in which it operates sufficiently to make it possible for them effectively to generate and allocate power, prestige, and wealth on a continuous basis.5 By definition the establishment of a patron-clientele relationship indicates the creation of a bond of cooperation between two people of unequal status, power, and wealth.6

In Spanish America the individuals to be brought together by the patron-clientele system can be seen as divided into three estates, each of which had a particular ethnic character and a particular socio-economic function. The rurally isolated Indians who provided agricultural labor for the community formed the lowest sector of the society. The intermediate sector of skilled laborers, artisans and domestic servants contained free and slave blacks and mulattos, Indians and mestizos, and persons of European origin. The elite which directed the society was primarily European.7

Compadrazgo, a relationship between the parents and godparents of a child (ritual kinship), provided a mechanism for the recognition of mutual obligations among the groups into which colonial Spanish American society was divided. Marriage alliances between Europeans and the two subordinate estates would have destroyed the apparent integrity of the elite and threatened the elite’s near monopoly of the economic, political, and social resources of the community. But through compadrazgo, members of the second and third estate could gain access to this concentration of wealth and power, while the first estate could obtain the loyalty of manual and skilled laborers without upsetting the existing social structure or resorting to sheer force.8

Patron-clientelism probably tends to flourish in an environment such as the Spanish Empire where formal, institutionalized, central authority is too weak to provide adequate security and justice and where the focal point of the economy is far removed, leaving it subject to fluctuations outside the control of the periphery.9 Under these conditions the patron, because of his superior ability to establish and utilize lines of communication, becomes a crucial broker between the local community and the outside world.10 In the Spanish Empire the king directed his loosely knit dominions from Madrid and the merchants who held a monopoly on imperial trade resided in Seville, while the major sources of wealth were located in the lightly populated backlands of the Americas.11 The patrons who lived in the urban centers of the Indies held it under Spanish rule through their control of the land, the Indians, and the mines of the countryside. They were responsible for the transfer of these political and economic resources to Europe.12

In Caracas, which is the unit for our study, the economic and political scene was favorable to the growth of a patron-clientele system. Imperial authority was even unable to control the political offices most important to governing the province of Venezuela. Not only the officials of the municipal council but also the only representatives of the royal bureaucracy present in the city—the provincial officials—were members of the local elite or became incorporated into it soon after their arrival, with the exception of two short-term governors and two lieutenant governors.13 Although these locally-based officials did not have a completely free hand, royal control even over matters of such serious imperial concern as contraband, alienation of public land, and exploitation of Indians was sporadic and largely ineffectual.14

The Caracas region had a small population and a correspondingly weak local market economy; the orientation of Caracas toward the imperial commercial system resulted in a neglect of the supply for the local market. Caracas was a collection and distribution point dominating a hinterland that produced cacao, tobacco, sugar, sarsaparilla, and leather hides for export to Seville.15 After 1600 the city faced a chronic grain shortage; this problem steadily worsened as residents turned increasingly to the more remunerative cultivation of tobacco and cacao which brought profits at least six times as high as raising grain.1® There was also apparent difficulty in obtaining an adequate supply of meat for the public slaughterhouse, and the scarcity of other basic commodities such as wine, salt, oil, and fish for Lent prevented the local stores from offering them for sale at accessible prices.17 Within the Caracas economy certain products circulated as money, taxes were paid in cotton cloth, and excise duties were collected in kind.18

The patrons in such a society do not constitute a true elite unless the most wealthy, powerful, and prestigious members of that society form a hereditary corporate group which the general population recognizes as superior.19 Those who controlled the economic, political, and social resources of the municipalities of the Spanish New World cannot be considered to have become an elite until they had been established in an urban district long enough to form solidarity ties among themselves and to demonstrate the transmissibility of their position.20 In Caracas the period from 1595 to 1627 encompasses the period of dominance of the first generation which acquired the character of an elite. Wealth, in the form of property, and prestige, in the form of family name, had been inheritable since the foundation of the city; but power officially transmissible to one’s heirs in the form of proprietary positions on the municipal council did not appear until the 1590s. The transition from elected to proprietary municipal council office took place over a period of several years. On January 1, 1595 the municipal council of Caracas was for the first time composed entirely of permanent councilmen who had purchased their positions.21

In the early decades of conquest and colonization, Spanish American communities were composed of people who on the whole had been previously unknown to each other. There were two methods available to the first generation of settlers for correcting the unintegrated nature of their society. One was marriage of the original residents to the sisters and older daughters of other members of the new urban community. This was inadequate for two reasons. First, some of these men were already married. Second, although by the time cities like Caracas were founded in the late sixteenth century there was probably a reservoir of women in their child-bearing years in the older urban centers of the New World, in a recently conquered region the supply of marriageable daughters and sisters was not large enough to provide the total basis of community cohesiveness. Because of the Spaniard’s traditional concern with perpetuating his lineage, legitimate children probably began to appear soon after he established himself in a given area.22 Through these offspring, compadre ties were created between parents and godparents, establishing the initial lines of cooperation within the community.

Such solidarity ties did not necessarily form relations between men of equal status or position. Members of the elite enjoyed different degrees of prominence according to the amount of power, prestige, and wealth they were able to accumulate.23 In general this difference was related to age as well as to economic, political, and social acumen. At the head of colonial families were patriarchical authority figures who provided the cultural pattern for the rest of the society. They represented the paternalistic approach toward subordinates or inferiors that characterized all patron-client relations in the community.

Kin relations differ in intensity. The members of a Spanish colonist’s extended family were a resource which he exploited discriminately. They represented a universe of possible associations within which he could establish bonds of cooperation through a process of mutual selection.24 In addition, a resident in this society was able to expand his sphere of possible social interaction by entering a second kin group through a marital alliance. Consanguineal and affinal bonds could also be supplemented or reaffirmed by establishing ritual kinship ties through compadrazgo.25 The variety, range, and selectivity of relationships possible created an element of flexibility within the patronclientele system which allowed it to accommodate personality conflicts and adapt to particular individual capabilities and needs.

The consolidation of the most fortunate members of the community into a self-perpetuating elite is important to the stability and survival of a complex society with limited and fixed economic, political, and social resources. It allows for a concentration of wealth, power, and prestige sufficient to produce over time a surplus above subsistence and discourages its dispersion. That is, because of the extensive rather than intensive exploitation of resources in the colonial economy, it was necessary for an elite to concentrate control of these resources within a small number of families and prevent their division, if they were to maintain their superior position throughout generations.26 This was especially time in areas like Caracas where sources of wealth were especially limited. The size of families was controlled by constant intermarriage of kin and the channeling of excess offspring into convents and monasteries.27 Because of this inbreeding the elites of the cities of the Indies developed into cognatic (bilateral) descent groups that perpetuated their monopoly of the power, prestige, and wealth of the urban districts.28 This social mechanism prevented the hierarchical political structure from disintegrating because of the economy’s inability to support an expanding elite.

Patron-clientelism contributes to concentration of wealth, power, and prestige within the elite by providing a mechanism for the sharing of these resources. Alliances of those with superior prestige are made with those of greater wealth; access to wealth is exchanged for access to political power; political power is locally legitimized through association of those who possess it with those to whom tradition has granted prestige.29

Patron-clientelism creates continuity in an uncertain world. Colonial Spanish Americans, such as the residents of Caracas, had little control over the yield of the harvest, the health of the livestock, the supply of minerals in the mines, the arrival of merchant ships, or what victims illness would choose to strike, and little individual defense against the infringement of property rights or even murder.30 Subject to the vagaries of climate, disease, human avarice, and anger, the well-being of even the most prosperous colonist was precarious. Some insurance that an individual and his family could survive the fluctuations of fortune through time could be obtained only through the obligation of mutual help which the patron-client bond created.31

The Kinship Network

Although references to familial relationships are found throughout encomienda, land, notarial, and municipal council records, the principal sources for the documentation of kinship ties in colonial Spanish America are the marriage and baptismal records.32 These survive in the parochial archive of the cathedral in Caracas in nearly complete form for this period. Baptismal entries specify not only a conjugal unit, the parents, but in addition the child and the godparents of the child, ordinarily another conjugal unit. This information provides the basis for reconstructing extended families of several generations of siblings (consanguineal kinship), marital alliances between families (affinal kinship), and the compadrazgo relationship between the parents and godparents of a child (ritual kinship).33

To study the structure of these kinship ties I used computer cards to reconstruct the formal social system of the community from the perspective of every participant.34 I converted data on familial relationships (cousins, wives, uncles, etc.) into small standard units and placed this information on cards with each card listing a father, his sons, and his sons-in-law. Each card stated a relationship. Although a man might appear on three different cards—once as a father, once as a son, and once as a son-in-law—each card was unique. If he had been married more than once he might appear on even more cards. In addition there were cards which combined every man who presented children for baptism with all the godfathers he chose for them. I also used the computer to assemble from these cards individual lists for each man, containing every person with whom he had close formal social relationships—his sons, father, brothers, sons-in-law, father-in-law, brothers-in-law, and compadres. For every man with any male consanguineal, affinal, or ritual kin in the community, the computer printed out on successive levels the relatives on his list, then the relatives on the lists of his relatives, then the relatives on the lists of their relatives, etc., until all possible connections were exhausted. To prevent the computer from continuing interminably I programmed it not to repeat individuals who had already been printed out with their lists.

This process revealed the existence of one large kinship network, described by individual kinship charts which the computer drew for each of the network’s 544 members. The 544 men connected in this one kinship network represented 44 percent of the 1,241 adult male Europeans mentioned in all the records of the period. Those not participating in the network were socially isolated from each other as well. No one not linked to the 544 men who formed the kinship network had kinship ties with more than two other men in the city.

The Patron-Clientelistic Character of the Kinship Network

The economic, social, and political composition of the kinship network indicates that it encompassed the Caracas elite and connected it with the less privileged members of the community. To obtain a statistical estimate of the distribution of wealth, power, and prestige within the kinship network I constructed a status-position index for every man who appeared in the records of Caracas during this period.35 The establishment of these indices consisted of two distinct stages, first the definition of indicators and coding the data on each, and second, the actual construction of the index. The contracts in the notarial archive of Caracas were the primary resources in developing these indices. They survive for twenty of the thirty-two years covered by this study, although the records for four of the twenty years appear to be incomplete.36

It is most difficult to establish satisfactory economic indices for the residents of Caracas. The problems created by the variety of forms of wealth are aggravated by the fact that few wills survive and that there are no tithe lists (the collection of the ecclesiastical tax in Caracas was farmed out and only the auction price was recorded in the treasury accounts).37 Despite the inherent inadequacies of these records, their availability would have greatly simplified my task. Wills provide a static description of an entire estate, but not necessarily at the time of its greatest extent. At his death a man might well have already dispersed part of his wealth to establish his sons or settle dowries on his daughters. Also missing are indications of dynamic factors such as the vigor of the commerce in which he might be engaged or the productivity of his land. In addition, the wills and inventories appear most frequently among the wealthy. If the records were essentially complete, however, absence of a will could be used constructively to indicate lack of wealth, when checked against independent sources for evidence of land ownership, possession of an encomienda, etc. A man’s tithe assessment would theoretically indicate the productivity of his estate, thus making unnecessary the complicated manipulations of data I had to resort to, estimating the size of plantations and ranches and the number of Indian laborers. True, it would have to be taken into account that in all probability the tithe was not levied with rigorous impartiality, nor did productivity indicate total assets, as not all land was cultivated or used as pasture. Of course scholars who have these sources available may well develop greater sophistication in using them.

In this study the economic indices of the residents of Caracas are based on indicators of their living standard, estimates of their land-encomienda wealth, and a sample of their export-import activities. There are three kinds of data available which indicate living standard: the number of Negro and Indian slaves and servants a man maintained in his household; the amount of money he spent on luxury goods; and the quality of the goods he purchased or received.

I obtained information on slave ownership and servants through baptismal, confirmation, burial, and marriage records, as well as wills and economic contracts.38 Any notation of a non-European mentions his status, race, and the household with which he is associated. As slaves and servants were generally referred to by first name only, it was necessary to assume that a household had only one slave or servant of the same race called by the same name. Although these records do not provide a complete list of the number of blacks and Indians a man maintained, they do provide a sample which covers the whole community throughout the thirty-two year period of the study. Slaves described in the few surviving wills could not be included in the count of the slaves and servants he maintained in his household because the data is not comparable. Slaves bought and sold in economic contracts also had to be excluded from the sample. This was not only because in the economic contract ownership is in the process of being transferred, but more importantly because in the economic contract the slave is not a person maintained in a household but an object of trade.

Other data on living standard is even more difficult to use. Estate inventories and dowry contracts do not provide a real sample for the whole population because these documents tend to reflect the economic life of the elite only. Neither do they really provide a sample of the elite. As members of the elite were not competing for these goods on the open market, absence of a dowry contract or estate inventory does not indicate lack of expenditures on luxury items. But it was possible in eighty-nine cases to measure the quality of one man’s goods against the others by comparing the monetary value of similar items listed in dowry contracts and estate inventories, as well as in bills of sale and auction accounts.39

Absence of information for an individual is not necessarily indicative of a low living standard. Therefore in cases where such information does not exist the person was assigned the average score achieved by those people from whom a living standard index had been constructed.

Outside the great mining regions, the two principal sources of wealth in colonial Spanish America were commerce and land. In the case of Caracas it was necessary to rely on the size of encomiendas and land tracts to establish an index of the amount of each man’s agricultural wealth. Not only are the sources of this information fragmentary, but area of land and number of Indians do not indicate actual productivity. I calculated the amount of land possessed from several types of documents, each with its own type of data. Land-grant titles specify the area of the estate received initially.40 Accounts of composiciónes record the tax paid to establish legitimate claims to illegally occupied land.41 Land-sale agreements include the monetary value of the object of the transaction.42 As an individual would not have bought or negotiated with the authorities for land to which he held title, I assumed that where I had information in more than one category for the same individual, the different figures do not represent the same land. Rent paid to the municipal government for leasing part of the communal fields could not be included because such an arrangement was not necessarily permanent.

Information on who owned land is much more complete than statistics on how much land the owners possessed. The 32 percent of the owners who do not appear in the records of the composiciónes, sales or grants were assigned the average amount of land possessed by individuals. I assumed that those for whom no record of land ownership exists were not landowners.

As labor must be applied to land to make it productive I also calculated the relative abundance or scarcity of Indians available to owners. Except for one early seventeenth-century composición of encomiendas, no data on the number of Indians in Caracas’ encomiendas survived the 1623 revolt.43 But the governor of the province of Venezuela did make a relatively thorough visita (inspection) of the encomiendas in 1671, and it is possible to find out who had possessed the inspected encomiendas earlier during the thirty-two year period under study. If the complaints of the colonists about the dwindling supply of Indians are to be believed, the size of encomiendas probably continued to decline between 1627 and 1671. But on the assumption that the causes for this decfine (epidemics, low reproductive rates, etc.) affected all the encomiendas more or less equally, a scale of their size relative to each other was constructed for the period from 1595 to 1627 on the basis of the 1671 statistics.44 After the information from both the visita and the composición were placed on separate normalized standard distribution scales, they were combined, although in some cases they both refer to the same encomienda. I did this without giving extra weight to those encomiendas represented twice by adding their scores on the two scales and dividing the sum by two. As with land, information on who possessed encomiendas is much more complete than statistics on the number of Indians on them.45 The 70 percent of the encomenderos for whom we have no data were again assigned the average number of Indians possessed by individuals, and it was again assumed that those for whom no record of possession exists were not encomenderos.

It was much easier to arrive at an estimate of the extent of an individual’s activity in commerce. Bills of lading and bills of sale of import and export commodities provide the information.46 The bills of lading give the amount of goods being consigned for shipment, while the bills of sale give the price of the goods being transferred. The two sets of data were made comparable by computing the value of the goods in the bills of lading on the basis of the average price these goods brought in Caracas between 1595 and 1627. Once this was done it was possible through adding up the value of import goods being sold, of export goods being bought, and of export goods being consigned for shipment, to arrive at an estimate of an individual merchant’s investment in trade.

To construct an index of political power it was necessary to find indicators of ability to take effective action. In colonial Caracas these indicators fall into three categories—formal political position, importance of role in the society, and prominence in the representation of other individuals’ interests.

Importance of role in the society refers to performance in the role of intermediary between the local community and the wider world. This was measured by counting the number of economic and political relationships each person had with outsiders both in Caracas and in other cities of the empire. This information is found in the economic contracts and powers of attorney in the notarial archives.47 These documents usually specify in what city a person is a vecino (citizen). The only methodological problem was to discover those outsiders who in time became fully integrated into Caracas society. This was accomplished by eliminating those men who established their families in Caracas.

The powers of attorney or cartas de poder found in the notarial archive provide information on the prominence of a person in the establishment of individual relationships which transfer power.48 I assumed that the number of people who chose a person to represent them indicates the extent to which that person could be relied upon to effect the desired action.

The official political life of Caracas is mirrored in the records of its municipal council, which have lost only an occasional page in their journey through the centuries.49 Formal political power does not necessarily indicate real ability to obtain desired results, but the particular manner of operation of the local government of Caracas gives the impression that the elite used it effectively. For them it performed two important functions—it preserved the balance of power, prestige, and wealth within the elite itself by distributing the rewards and burdens of advantageous and disadvantageous actions equally among its members, and it worked for the “common good” when the interests of the elite were at stake. It did this by exercising the power of its members over provincial finances, litigations heard in the court of the first instance, allocation of land (until about 1600), distribution of plots within the city, epidemic control, sale of goods within the city, removal of crops from the province, and the provision of a regular supply of meat to the residents.

In evaluating the amount of power an individual was able to exercise through the municipal government it was necessary to take into account two factors—the importance of the office held and the number of years in office. Unfortunately, no one has ever analyzed the distribution of power within colonial Spanish American municipal government, although differences clearly existed. In the light of this I decided that, although it was necessary to make some distinctions, the greatest validity could be achieved by dividing the municipal offices into only two categories, the municipal council members and all others. There were five factors, their control of decision-making aside, which indicate that the members of the municipal council exercised more power than the other officials of the municipal government, such as the alcaldes de hermandad, procurador, mayordomo, and escribano (secretary). First, the council members—regidores, alferez real, alguacil mayor, and the treasury officials—elected the other members of the municipal government, with the exception of the escribano. Second, it was the alcaldes who were judges in the court of the first instance. Third, they often delegated supervision of the execution of their decisions to one or two of their own number. Fourth, it was the treasury officials who administered provincial finances. Fifth, in the case of the death of a governor it was the alcaldes who assumed his functions until the new governor arrived. If the lieutenant-governor was a member of the local community, he was also included in the first group of officials because in the absence of the governor from the city he took over the governor’s responsibilities, including supervision of the municipal council meetings. To translate this analysis onto a scale, the number of years a person served in offices of the first category was multiplied by two, while the number of years a person served in the offices of the second group was multiplied by only one.

There is no way to measure who were the most respected men in Caracas, but there were certain marks of prestige in colonial Spanish American society generally. Participation in municipal government, possession of an encomienda, ownership of land, membership in a founding family (through affinal or consanguineal ties), and association with a large extended family were all part of the ideal style of life.

A man’s family extended beyond his immediate relatives, who did not provide a wide enough circle in which to function successfully. The persons named on the first three levels of an individual’s associational list or “distance chart” might be expected to support him in his striving for position or status.50 It is possible that certain men were chosen as godparents because they had access to more important persons than themselves, yet, since the degree of support should depend in general on the closeness of the social relationships, the value given to the number of an individual’s associates on the first three levels was weighted accordingly. That is, level 1 was given a weight of 3, level 2 weighted 2, and level 3 weighted 1.

Land ownership, the holding of rights over an encomienda, and membership in a founding family were generally permanent characteristics whose designations did not indicate degrees of possession, so that a fixed score was indicated.51 Only two scores are possible for the first three characteristics, but to avoid the extremes of 0 or 100 they were valued according to the percent of the population which possessed them. If 70 percent of the population did not own land, non-owners occupy the bottom 70 percent of the landowner scale, giving them an average value of 35. The 30 percent of the population who were landowners occupy the top of the scale from 70 to 100, which gives them an average value of 85. But offices changed hands more frequently than land, encomiendas or ancestors and were differentiated by various titles. For these reasons the scale developed for measuring political power was used for office holding to give proper recognition to differences in importance and length of tenure.52

In order to construct an overall index of status or position for each individual it was necessary to make the data for the diverse indicators comparable and combinatorial. For each indicator the individuals were ranked, each rank placing the individual in a certain percentile of the population. The individual was then assigned the T score (normalized standard score) which is associated with this percentile in a normal distribution, or one with a mean of 50 and a standard deviation of 10.

I weighted the indicators on the basis of my own considered judgment, as no studies have been done to establish the relative importance of these factors in colonial Spanish American society. Economic, social, and political indicators were each given an equal value. Each of these categories was equally divided between indirect and direct indicators. Land and encomienda are balanced against each other and together they are balanced against commerce. These two sources of wealth are balanced against two equally weighted indirect indicators of economic well-being: number of slaves, and servants, and living standard. Formal political position is balanced against two equally weighted indirect indicators of political importance: economic and political relations with outsiders, and number of powers of attorney received (political prominence). Four formal characteristics of prestige—land ownership, holding of political office, possession of an encomienda, and membership in a founding family—are balanced against the size of one’s extended family. Although the first three characteristics have been mentioned previously in other contexts, they must be mentioned again. In the economic and political categories the value of a man’s estate (measured in terms of land and encomienda) is counted no more than commerce, and office holding no more than other indicators of political importance, although these characteristics carried with them a prestige apart from the wealth or power they represented. These factors are therefore counted again in the social category.53

The sum of an individual’s scores on the normalized standard distribution scales for each indicator, properly weighted, forms his status-position index. The status-position indices enabled me to construct a curve which describes the economic, political, and social resources of each man in Caracas relative to every other man between 1595 and 1627. From this I was able to establish that the kinship network encompassed the Caracas elite and connected it with the less privileged members of the community.

Analysis of the status-position indices demonstrates a clear association between participation in the kinship network and possession of wealth, power, and prestige. In this analysis I used two approaches, each counteracting the biases inherent in the other. In the first approach I compared the indices of the network members with the indices of all residents of Caracas; in the second I compared them with the indices of all adult male Europeans who appear in the records. In both comparisons social prominence, defined in terms of number of associates on the first three levels of an individual’s kinship chart, had to be eliminated from consideration in order not to prejudice the results in favor of the members of the kinship network. But theoretically the members of the network with no status were in a better position than non-members with no status.54

In the first approach all adult males who established at least one kinship tie with someone in the city were regarded as permanent residents of the community.55 On this basis only 22, or 14 percent of the residents who were not members of the kinship network, had any status within the community, and this number represented only 5 percent of the total number of residents with status. This approach can be criticized as biased in favor of the network in view of the fact that a resident is considered to be any adult European male who established one kinship relationship in Caracas. Such a description of a resident by definition includes all members of the network, while possibly excluding other important men.

For this reason I adopted a second approach, in which all 1,241 adult Europeans not specifically referred to as citizens of other cities were regarded as composing the entire community. In this case we find that 332, or 49 percent, of the 675 men with economic, political, and social resources were not members of the kinship network. These figures might seem at first to disprove the conclusion drawn from the previous analysis, that almost all the most important members of the community were members of the network. But as Figure 1 illustrates, a comparison of the scores of the two groups, members and nonmembers, demonstrates that the participants in the network almost monopolized the top of the status-position scale. To construct this figure the 675 men with indicators were rank ordered according to their indices and counted into groups of 24 men each. The solid portion of each bar on the frequency diagram indicates the number of men in each group of 24 who were members of the kinship network.56

It may be questioned whether one can really conclude from this approach that almost all the most important members of the community were members of the network, because appearance in the records is not proof of residency, and the non-members may have had lower scores merely because they were transients. The results of the first approach which shows that only 5 percent of the residents with resources were not members of the network, should overcome this objection.

Analysis of the status-position indices also demonstrates a division within the kinship network in terms of wealth, power, and prestige. Of its 544 members, 343, or 62 percent, had some economic, political, and social indicators independent of their participation in the kinship network, while 201, or 38 percent, had none except that which they derived from such participation. This latter group comprised a sizable portion (61 percent) of the 326 residents of the city who were without resources.

Those with indices on the lower part of the scale are a diverse group. In some cases these scores represent men of only moderate standing in the community, successful artisans or hanger-on members of the elite. In other cases they represent the young heirs of the most prominent men in the community, who had yet to achieve any distinction independent of their fathers.

To explore the pattern of association among the various social, economic, and political types in the kinship network, I divided the members of the network on the status-position scale into four groups according to their indices so that the most prestigious, powerful, and wealthiest fourth composed the first group, the next fourth composed the second group, and so on. The remaining 201 members of the kinship network who had no resources and occupied a uniform position on the bottom of the scale composed a fifth group. I then calculated the average distance (in terms of levels of the individual kinship charts) between individuals from group to group, as well as the average distance between individuals in the same group. The closeness of the relationships between individuals, both within groups and between groups, declines from the group with the highest status-position indices to that with the lowest (see Table II).

This phenomenon suggests the presence of a patron-clientele system. First, the failure of people in all but group 1 to be more closely associated with each other indicates an absence of class solidarity among all but the most substantial and important members of the community.57 The decreasing internal closeness from the highest to the lowest groups indicates the relatively higher degree of cohesion within the elite; the rising degree of integration into the network from the lowest to the highest indicates the centrality of the elite to the network. Second, the increase in association from the lowest to the highest group on the status-position scale indicates an effort on the part of all sectors of the network to establish the closest ties possible with the wealthiest, most prestigious, and most powerful members of the network accessible to them. This striving indicates that the closer a man’s affinal, consanguineal, and ritual kin were to the top of the scale, the more favorable the effects of the relationship could be expected to be. Third, the willingness of high-status men to accept associations with those lower on the scale than themselves implies that benefits could also be derived by men of prestige, power, or wealth from a following of those who lacked these resources. Fourth, the presence of associations of groups 2, 3, and 4 with groups lower on the scale than themselves indicates that the principal patrons of the community, those men who were no one’s clients, could not provide paternalistic supervision for the whole society. The network was held together under these conditions through the seepage of patron responsibilities down the status-position scale in decreasing amounts from group 2 to group 4. This enabled those at the peak of the society to draw on and control the resources of an entire network of patron-client relationships without overburdening themselves with direct obligations.

The high social integration of the elite offers the only apparent explanation for the absence of open internal factional conflict in a society of potentially divisive and intense competition over scarce economic, social, and political resources.58 Despite contention between members of the elite over election to municipal offices, bidding for auctioned positions, precedence in the cabildo, the awarding of encomiendas and the boundaries of lands, hostile groups within the elite did not form against each other.59

Those who did not control the resources of the community were made dependent for survival upon the elite by the structure of the internal economy and the execution of justice.60 The scarcity of the basic foods in the local stores did not affect those who provisioned themselves from their own estates and the gardens and fruit trees of their city plots. But middle-sector people, not owning lands, depended upon the elite for their supply of the necessities of life on a regular basis. As they could not obtain them in adequate quantities in the market place, we are led to the conclusion that in general they must have received them directly from members of the elite on a person-to-person basis. The importance of access to the economic, political, and social resources of the kinship network is illustrated by the fact that only 147 men, or 22 percent of the male population regarded officially as European, established themselves as permanent residents without associating themselves with the network.

The attitude of the elite toward the non-European subject labor force under the care of its members was not marked by solicitude. In the municipal records the Caracas elite characteristically complains of the other ethnic groups as a source of epidemics, immorality, and insurrection.61 The segregation of mulattoes, blacks, mestizos and Indians from the Spaniards in the parochial registers is symbolic of the discriminatory treatment they received.62

Theoretically compadrazgo provided a mechanism for modifying the relationship between the Europeans and the others. But in Caracas there are only nine examples of Spaniards who served as the godparent of a child of a non-European under their authority.63 At the same time, a mechanism appears to have been operating to discourage the establishment of a compadre relationship between a slave, servant, or tributary and any member of the kinship network which would compete with the relationship with his master. Of the 454 complete baptismal entries in the non-European sections of the parochial registers, only 36 percent of the compadres of those in a dependent status as servants, encomienda tributaries, or slaves were Europeans. Only 13 percent were members of the kinship network.

In contrast, in the case of the upper and middle sectors of the society, compadrazgo created an important social relationship through which economic exchange could be channeled. In the case of the relationship between Europeans and subject non-Europeans, no such ties were necessary: the kinship network was able to draw upon labor from 86 percent (930) of the 1,075 dependent non-Europeans who were linked economically if not socially to the network through the participation of their masters.

The presence of this subjugated labor force restricted the need for free non-elite persons. This is demonstrated by the fact that of the 556 men with no indication of power, prestige, or wealth who appear in the records of the community, only 35 percent were incorporated into the kinship network.64 But, in contrast to those of dependent status, a substantial percent of the independent non-European members of the community were incorporated into the kinship network through compadrazgo. In the 41 baptismal entries concerning these Indians, blacks, mulattoes and mestizos, 92 percent of the god-parents were Europeans, and 65 percent were members of the kinship network. These statistics would indicate that rather than discriminate against them the kinship network established a method for incorporating acculturated non-Europeans into European society on the same basis as its own subordinate members, maintaining them in a position of material and social dependency on the patriarchical figures who have dominated Spanish American society for centuries.

A developing patron-clientele system can be discerned in the structure of the kinship network of early seventeenth-century Caracas. Consanguineal, affinal and ritual kinship provided the basis for the social integration of the many diverse types of people who composed the population of the city. The solidarity ties defining the elite who tended to monopolize the political, economic and social resources of the community were based on kinship, as were the ties which connected this group with those who had insufficient resources to maintain themselves independently. Although the subjugated non-European labor force was not included in this network, the system had the potential to assimilate its members when they obtained their independence.

The following abbreviations are used in the notes: ACC: Caracas. Consejo Municipal del Distrito Federal, Actas del cabildo de Caracas, I-VI (Caracas, 1943-1950); AGI: Archivo General de Indias, Seville; DCP: Despacho Catedral Parroquial, Caracas, Bautizos I (1583-1610), II (1613-1625), III (1625-1643), IV (1578-1638); Defunciones (1625-1640); Matrimonios y Velaciones I (1615-1638); LPC: Caracas. Consejo Municipal del Distrito Federal. El Libro parroquial más antiguo de Caracas (Caracas, 1968); RP: Registro Principal, Caracas. Whenever possible references are cited by their dates. In presenting dates the first two digits of the year are omitted and are understood to be 15 in dates from 80 to 99 and 16 in dates from 00 to 27.


John Duncan Powell, “Peasant Society and Clientist Politics,” The American Political Science Review, 64:2 (June 1970), 412; Michael Kenny, “Patterns of Patronage in Spain,” Anthropological Quarterly, 33:1 (January i960), 21-22. For an excellent discussion of the definition of patron see Robert Paine, Patrons and Brokers in the East Arctic, Newfoundland Social and Economic Papers, 2 (Toronto, 1971), 8-20.


Richard M. Morse, “Recent Research on Latin American Urbanization: a Selective Survey with Commentary,” Latin American Research Review, 1:1 (Fall 1965), p. 39; Enrique Otte, Cedularios de la monarquía española de Margarita, Nueva Andalucía y Caracas (1553-1604). I (Caracas, 1967), xlvi, xlviii.


Morton H. Fried, “On the Evolution of Social Stratification and the State,” in Morton H. Fried, ed., Readings in Anthropology (New York, 1968), II, 470-471.


J. Campbell, Honour, Family and Patronage (Oxford, England, 1964), pp. 39, 233, 259; Edit Fél and Tamás Hofer, “Tanyakert-s, Patron-Client Relations and Political Factions in Atány,” American Anthropologist, 75:3 (June 1973), 792.


George M. Foster, “Cofradía and Compadrazgo in Spain and Spanish America,” Southwest Journal of Anthropology, 9:1 (Spring 1953), 1, 9.


Alex Weingrod, “Patrons, Patronage and Political Parties,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, 10:4 (July 1968), 379; Eric R. Wolf, “Kinship, Friendship and Patron-Client Relations in Complex Societies,” in Michael Banton, ed., The Social Anthropology of Complex Societies (New York, 1966), p. 16.


Sergio Bagú, Estructura social de la colonia (Buenos Aires, 1952), p. 54; Lyle McAlister, “Social Structure and Social Change in New Spain,” HAHR, 43:3 (August 1963), 349-370. Following current usage I have collapsed the older historiographical categories of peninsulares and criollos into the shorthand term “Europeans.”


Campbell, Honour, Family and Patronage, p. 223; Foster, “Cofradía and Compadrazgo,” pp. 9, 24; Harry W. Hutchinson, “The Family,” Village and Plantation Life in Northeastern Brazil (Seattle, 1957), p. 147; John Ingham, “The Asymmetrical Implications of Godparenthood in Tlayacapan, Morelos,” Man (new series) 5:2 (June 1970), 285; Kenny, “Patterns of Patronage,” pp. 18-19; Sidney Mintz and Eric R. Wolf, “An Analysis of Ritual Co-Parenthood (Compadrazgo),” in Jack M. Potter, May N. Diaz and George M. Foster, eds., Peasant Society: A Reader (Boston, 1967), pp. 180-81; Ann Osborn, “Compadrazgo and Patronage: A Colombian Case,” Man, 3:4 (December 1968), 596; Powell, “Peasant Society and Clientist Politics,” p. 414; Manoel Tosta Berlinck, The Structure of the Family in the City of São Paulo, Latin American Studies Program, Cornell University, no. 12 (Ithaca, New York, 1969), pp. 43-44; Charles Wagley, “Luso-Brazilian Kinship Patterns: The Persistence of a Cultural Tradition,” in Joseph Maier and Richard W. Weatherhead, eds., Politics of Change in Latin America (New York, 1964), pp. 177-181.


Robert Dirks, “Networks, Groups and Adaptation in an Afro-Caribbean Community,” Man, 7:4 (December 1972) 571; Wolf, “Kinship, Friendship and Patron-Client Relations,” p. 12.


Weingrod, “Patrons, Patronage, and Political Parties,” p. 382; Campbell, Honour, Family and Patronage, p. 260; Osborn, “Compadrazgo and Patronage,” p. 593; Powell, “Peasant Society and Clientist Politics,” p. 413; Sydel Silverman, “The Community-Nation Mediator in Traditional Central Italy,” in Potter, Díaz and Foster, eds., Peasant Society, pp. 280-281.


Richard M. Morse, “Latin American Cities: Aspects of Function and Structure,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, 4:4 (July 1961), p. 480; Gabriel Sjoberg, “The Pre-industrial City,” in Potter, Díaz, and Foster, eds., Peasant Society, p. 16.


Morse, “Latin American Cities,” p. 480; Sjoberg, “Pre-Industrial City,” p. 16; David Kingsley and Ana Casis, “Urbanization in Latin America,” The Milbank Memorial Fund Quarterly, 24:2 (April 1946), 186-207.


Stephanie Blank, “Social Integration and Social Stability in a Colonial Spanish American City, Caracas, 1595-1627,” (Ph.D. Diss., University of Wisconsin, 1971), Appendix II; of the two governors not incorporated into the elite, one, Alonso Arias Vaca, was an interim appointee and the other, Gonzalo Pina Ludueña, was killed by Indians during a tour of the province shortly after his arrival.


For examples on these issues see ACC, II, Appendix, pp. 282-296; IV, Jan. 7, 17, Feb. 3, 18; Sept. 9, 19; V, July 31, 20, Aug. 28, 21, Nov. 9, 21, Jan. 12, 22, Feb. 15, 23, Sept. 2, 23, Sept. 30, 23, May 4, 24, Sept. 7, 24; VI, Feb. 15, 25, Nov. 15, 25, Nov. 22, 25; AGI, Escribanía de Cámara de Justicia, 658 B, 1603-1606; AGI, Escribanía de Cámara de Justicia, 674B; ACC, VI, July 25, 25; Protocolos, July 24, 98; ACC, I, April 7, 97, Oct. 7, 97, March 26, 98, Sept. 21, 98, Jan. 12, 99.


In Caracas not only did prominent citizens engage in commerce but even some of the men specifically referred to as merchants concurrently enjoyed marks of respect such as election to municipal office and membership in a founding family. The best example of this is Alonso Rodríguez Santos, a widowered merchant who arrived in Caracas from Santo Domingo with two motherless sons in 1602, married the granddaughter of one of the conquistadores and was chosen as alcalde mayor while continuing to be actively interested in trade. (Blank, “Social Integration and Social Stability,” Appendix II).


ACC, II, June 6, 00; Eduardo Arcila Farias, Economía colonial de Venezuela (México, 1946), pp. 68-69.


ACC, II, May 24, 00, June 6, 00, July 30, 03, March 27, 04, May 4, 04, May 8, 04, July 30, 04, Sept. 18, 04, Feb. 20, 05, March 12, 05; III, Jan. 30, 06, Feb. 11, 06, June 19, 06, Sept. 11, 06, Jan. 22, 07, Jan. 27, 07, June 28, 07, Aug. 20, 07, April 19, 10, Feb. 21, 11, March 21, 11, May 25, 11; IV, June 12, 13, Jan. 10, 15, Jan. 12, 15, April 8, 17, Jan. 8, 18, May 10, 19, May 18, 19; V, May 4, 20, Jan. 16, 21, Feb. 27, 21, Feb. 21, 22, May 2, 22, March 27, 23, April 19, 23, May 13, 23, May 20, 23, March 9, 24, April 3, 24, April 20, 24; VI, Jan. 22, 25, March 14, 25, March 22, 25, Aug. 29, 26, Jan. 2, 27, Jan. 9, 27, Jan. 23, 27.


AGI Santo Domingo, 201, ex. 34, 1604; ACC, I, Jan. 7, 95, Feb. 6, 95; II, Feb. 10, 03, April 10, 04, Sept. 18, 04; IV, Jan. 14, 12; RP, Escribanías (1616), Feb. 23, 16.


Frederic Jaher, “Nineteenth Century Elites in Boston and New York,” Journal of Social History, 6:1 (Fall 1972), 71; S. F. Nadel, “The Concept of Social Elites,” International Social Science Bulletin, 8:3 (Fall 1956), 415-17; Arnold Strickon, “Class and Kinship in Argentina,” in Dwight B. Heath and Richard N. Adams, eds., Contemporary Cultures and Societies of Latin America (New York, 1965), pp. 337-338.


Strickon, “Class and Kinship,” pp. 334-335.


ACC, I, July 31, 92, Feb. 9, 93, June 9, 94, Jan. 1, 95.


James Lockhart, Spanish Peru, 1532-1560: A Colonial Society (Madison, Wisconsin, 1968), p. 155.


Ralph L. Beals, “Social Stratification in Latin America,” in Heath and Adams, eds., Contemporary Cultures, p. 343.


George M. Foster, “The Dyadic Contract: A Model for the Social Structure of a Mexican Peasant Village,” in Potter, Díaz, and Foster, eds., Peasant Society, p. 214; Lisa Redfield Peattie, “The Kinship Network,” in The View from the Barrio (Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1968), pp. 49-50.


Foster, “Cofradía and Compadrazgo," p. 25; Eva Hunt, “The Meaning of Kinship in San Juan: Genealogical and Social Models,” Ethnology, 8:1 (January 1968), 42-46; Michael Kenny, A Spanish Tapestry: Town and Country in Castile (Bloomington, Indiana, 1962), p. 183.


Wolf, “Kinship, Friendship and Patron Client Relations,” pp. 3-5; Berlinck, Structure of Family, p. 47; Jaime Vicens Vives, ed., Historia social y económica de España y América, 5 vols. (Barcelona, Spain, 1957-1959), III, 522.


Strickon, “Class and Kinship,” p. 335.


Ibid., pp. 324-325; Berlinck, Structure of Family, p. 40; J. D. Freedman, “On the Concept of the Kindred,” in Paul Bohannan and John Middleton, eds., Kinship and Social Organization (Garden City, New York, 1968), p. 271.


Cf. Ayse Kindat Sertel, “Ritual Kinship in Eastern Turkey,” Anthropological Quarterly, 44:1 (January 1971), 42.


Force and the threat of force were a part of the life of a resident of seventeenth-century Caracas against which there was little redress. Murder lurked in the streets and behind the walls of the upper city at night and even men of such high status as Pablo Ponte met violent deaths (ACC, VI, Dec. 5, 26; Escribanías (1616-1627), July 7, 26).

One day in 1600 Garci González de Silva, one of the most prominent members of the Caracas elite, showed up on Miguel Figueredo’s land with a small band of men and informed the owner that he was building a mill there on a site granted by the municipal council as public land. In a futile effort Figueredo, who was the proprietor of a general store, brought him to court claiming that González de Silva was a “rich and powerful man” trying to dispossess him because he was poor and defenseless (ACC, II, Appendix II).


Wagley, “Luso-Brazilian Kinship Patterns,” p. 181; Eric R. Wolf, “Aspects of Group Relations in a Complex Society: Mexico,” American Anthropologist, 58:6 (December 1956), 1,069; François Chevalier, Land and Society in Colonial Mexico: The Great Hacienda (Berkeley, California, 1963), pp. 155-156.


ACC; LPC; DCP. Registro Principal, Caracas (RP); Escribanías (1607), (1607-1608), (1609), (1610), (1612), (1614), (1616), (1617), (1618), (1619-1620), (1620), (1622-1623), (1623), (1626-1627); Tierras (1586); Testamentos (1588-1631), (1595), (1602), (1605), (1614-1634); Venezuela Archivo General de la Nación, Encomiendas, 5 vols. (Caracas, 1945-1958), I-V; Venezuela, Biblioteca de la Academia National de la Historia, Protocolos del siglo XVI (Caracas, 1966).


For a discussion of the methodology of reconstructing familial relationships see “Estudio Preliminar,” LPC.


In this effort Albert Hart, a computer programmer, made an essential contribution in knowledge and expertise. The facilities of the Indiana University Research Computer Center were utilized under a faculty grant.


Again Albert Hart’s assistance was invaluable in accomplishing this task.


RP, Escribanías.


AGI, Contaduría, 1610, 1611.


DCP, Bautizos, I-IV; DCP, Matrimoniales y Velaciones, I; DCP, Defunciones, I; LPC; RP, Testamentos; RP, Escribanías.


RP, Testamentos; RP, Escribanías. I computed the percent each item stands above or below the average price of the type of item, averaged each man’s percentages, drew a scale for the whole community with 0 as the highest average percent below the average price and reduced this to a normalized standard distribution scale. Items such as city plots, houses, household furnishings, utensils, and clothing can best indicate standard of living through this procedure.


In La Estructura económica de Venezuela colonial (Caracas, 1963), pp. 147-181, Federico Brito Figueroa has gathered statistics on the area of land grants to the citizens of Caracas in the sixteenth century. These are based upon the Sección Tierras of the Registro Principal, the Actas del Cabildo de Caracas. Sección Provincia de Aragua in the Archivo General de la Nación, and the Registro del Distrito Ricuarte del Estado Aragua.


AGI, Contaduría, 1610.


RP, Escribanías; Eduardo Arcila Farias, El régimen de la encomienda en Venezuela (Seville, 1957), p. 161.


AGI, Santo Domingo, 41, ex. 1-96, 1603.


Encomiendas, I-V.


This additional information may be found not only in the documents related to encomiendas already cited but also in AGI, Contaduría, 1610, 1611 and RP, Escribanías.


RP, Escribanías.








For the results of programs which indicate that direct utilization of patronclient relations was concentrated in the first three levels, see Blank, ‘‘Social Integration and Social Stability,” pp. 62. 74.


It was possible to reconstruct the families of the founders listed by Nectario María, pp. 229-273, in the manner described on pp. 267-269.


See p. 273.


That is, I believe merchants aspired to become and became landowners more often than landowners aspired to become or became merchants.


Woodrow Borah, “Social Welfare and Social Obligations in New Spain,” in Congreso Internacional de Americanistas XXXVI, Sevilla, 1964, Actas y memorias 4 (1966), p. 51.


This definition was adopted for two reasons. Only to study men referred to as vecinos of Caracas would have unnecessarily biased the study in favor of the elite, who were far more likely to have been awarded citizenship. In addition the division of the community between vecinos and inhabitants (residentes, moradores and estantes) in the records is inconsistent. The status of a man’s residency may vary from document to document.


The 675 men referred to in this figure divide most evenly into 28 groups of 24. However this left a remainder of 3 at the end of the scale (2 of which were members of the kinship network) who are not pictured in this figure.


F. Bourricaud has noted the presence of clique rather than class tensions in the multiracial society of Puno, Peru. “Castas y clases en Puno,” Revista del Museo Nacional, 32 (1963), 312. John Phelan, The Kingdom of Quito in the Seventeenth Century: Bureaucratic Politics in the Spanish Empire (Madison, Wisconsin, 1967), p. 324.


J. A. Pitt-Rivers, “Ritual Kinship in Spain,” Transactions of the New York Academy of Science, (Series 2), 20:5 (March 1958), 431.


ACC, II, Sept. 18, 00, Oct. 27, 00. Jan. 1, 04, Jan. 1, 05; III, Jan. 1, 06, Oct. 16, 06, July 15, 11; Jan. 1, 13, Dec. 31, 16, March 5, 19, March 23, 19; V, Jan. 1, 21; VI, Jan. 1, 26; AGI, Escribanía de Camara de Justicia, 658A; AGI, Santo Domingo, 208, 1607-1608, letter of Juan Chavarria; RP, Tierras (1586); Encomiendas, I, 319.


See p. 263. Unfortunately since the Civiles (civil litigations) have not survived for the seventeenth century in Caracas it is not possible to gain much insight into the functioning of the judicial system during this period. But there are indications of bias in the dispensation of justice not only in the case of Manuel Figueredo against Garci González de Silva (see n. 30) but also in a direct accusation in a 1621 letter to the king that an unnamed thief obtained his release through his connections with influential citizens of the city. (AGI, Santo Domingo, 201, ex. 73, 1621).


ACC, I, Oct. 19, 96, Sept. 16, 97; IV, Oct. 20, 14; V, May 10, 21, May 25, 21, March 18, 23, Dec. 16, 23, Aug. 24, 24; VI, Jan. 16, 26, July 18, 26, Aug. 22, 26, Dec. 5, 26.


DCP, Bautizos, II: Matrimonios y Velaciones, I; UPC.


LPC; DCO, Bautizos, I.


Emilio Willems observes a similar situation in nineteenth-century São Paulo, “Social Differentiation in Colonial Brazil,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, 12:1 (January 1970), 39.

Author notes


The author is Assistant Professor in the Department of History of Indiana University Southeast.