Ever since Moctezuma I established a lush retreat for the Aztec emperors at Oaxtepec, the unique climate and fertility of what is now the Mexican state of Morelos have caught the attention of conquerors, travelers, and scholars alike. “This well-ordered, magnificently varied garden”1 so enchanted Fernando Cortés that he appropriated much of the area into his personal domain.2 In the nineteenth century Emperor Maximilian often sought repose in Cuernavaca, today’s capital, and Fanny Calderón de la Barca marveled at the prodigality of nature with an enthusiasm today echoed in promotional literature distributed by Morelos’s many spas and resorts.3 In a more analytical vein, modern geographer Ward Barrett has noted advantages of water, climate, soil, and proximity to urban markets that make Morelos unique in Mexico and that have given the state a distinct agricultural and social history. The complementarity of Morelos’s diverse agricultural production with that of the higher and cooler Valley of Mexico has endured from pre-Hispanic times to the present. The area’s suitability for sugarcane cultivation encouraged sixteenth-century Spaniards, beginning with Cortés himself, to establish haciendas and to import African slaves to work them. Because it remained an important center of indigenous population despite the encroachments of haciendas and the ravages of sixteenth-century epidemics, Morelos differed from other sugar colonies in the Western Hemisphere in that its plantations coexisted with indigenous communities whose claims to land and water were buttressed by pre-Hispanic custom and colonial law.4

This distinct agricultural and social history prompted one recent author, John Tutino, to omit Morelos from a well-documented and otherwise thorough study of elites and hacienda-village relations in central Mexico during the late colonial period.5 Although Tutino quite rightly suggested that the specialized techniques of sugar production required that the region be studied separately, many of the phenomena that affected hacienda-village relations elsewhere in late colonial New Spain also occurred in Morelos. The area’s hacendados wholeheartedly shared the goals and values of the elites described by Tutino; indeed, such prominent sugar planters as Gabriel de Yermo, Martín Angel Michaus, and Angel Puyade held extensive investments in agricultural and commercial pursuits outside Morelos.6 Like their counterparts elsewhere, Morelos hacendados infused large amounts of fresh capital into their estates and increased production to meet growing urban demands for foodstuffs. They sought to enhance their own interests by experimenting with crop diversification, exploiting ambiguities in governmental policy, and attempting to turn agricultural crises to their own advantage. Meanwhile, the Indian villages of Morelos experienced much the same population pressure and resultant social tensions felt in pueblos throughout central Mexico during the late colonial period. When the ascendant sugar planters made new encroachments on land and water claimed by the pueblos, the villagers of Morelos added their lawsuits to the hundreds of pleitos addressed to judicial tribunals on behalf of indigenous pueblos.

The present study seeks to demonstrate the degree to which the unique agricultural and social history of Morelos conditioned the region’s responses to these common phenomena during the years from 1780 to 1810. Because Morelos’s propitious climate and its proximity to Mexico City favored the production of a wide variety of crops in addition to sugarcane, hacienda owners found attractive opportunities to increase their profits through agricultural diversification. At the same time, growing numbers of Indians, and especially gente de razón (non-Indians), raised fruits, vegetables, and indigo, and therefore competed with hacendados for access to land, water, and markets. When these gente de razón rented land from the Indian villages, they acquired a concrete interest in those communities’ retention of the privileges accorded by colonial law to incorporated indigenous pueblos. The villagers’ ability to persist in their demands owed much to the benign climate, which spared the low-lying tierra caliente of Morelos from the severe agricultural crisis that spread hunger and devastation to most parts of New Spain in 1785-86. Claims advanced by these stubbornly resilient campesinos understandably alarmed the hacendados, who had invested so much in the mills and irrigation works necessary for sugar cultivation. Meanwhile, the haciendas’ sizeable resident populations, descended in part from slaves imported by planters during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, tempted hacendados to project a future in which they might no longer need to recruit seasonal labor from corporate villages. Anticipating the goals of their successors a century later, late colonial planters heralded the coming of a social order in which corporate villages had no place.

Without question the most visible feature of Morelos’s late colonial agricultural history was the sugar industry’s remarkable recovery from serious reverses suffered during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, when low sugar prices, the decline of the slave labor force, poor management, and the prohibition of aguardiente production forced some mills to cease operations and many others to succumb to bankruptcy proceedings.7 After mid-century, a newly invigorated hacendado class, drawing on extensive ties to mercantile and bureaucratic elites in Mexico City, rehabilitated old sugar mills and constructed new ones. Favored by a monarchy eager to promote agricultural production, these ambitious planters augmented the acreage devoted to sugarcane while refining techniques to increase the yield of land and labor. Consequently the hacendados achieved impressive production increases by the end of the eighteenth century. Tithe records indicate that sugar output in the Archdiocese of Mexico (virtually all of which came from Morelos) expanded from 4,857 tons during the period 1785-90 to 7,952 tons between 1800 and 1804. Moreover, the destruction of sugar plantations in Haiti after 1791 afforded the Morelos planters a brief but exhilarating entrance into export markets, while the legalization of aguardiente production after 1796 presented additional prospects for gain.8

The late colonial planters’ success was not based on sugar alone, however. It is clear that a diversity of agricultural endeavors added to their profits and served political and social purposes important to the hacendados. As did their counterparts in such predominantly grain-producing regions as the Bajío,9 landowners in Morelos leased small parcels of land to persons known locally as terrazgueros or peujaleros, who produced maize and other crops.10 Rent, usually paid in kind, furnished hacendados with grain for their workers and livestock, and perhaps a small surplus for market. In addition, many hacendados and would-be hacendados engaged directly in the production of such commodities as maize, indigo, and vegetables.

Such diversification appealed to hacendados participating fully in the sugar boom, to those lacking sufficient capital or water to expand sugar production, and to individuals accumulating capital to invest in sugar mills. A thriving hacendado such as Antonio Velasco de la Torre, who purchased the region’s fifth most productive hacienda (Cocoyoq) in 1786, rented lands to tenants who cultivated frijoles and garbanzos.11 The Cortés family mill, whose estimated production was slightly larger than Cocoyoq’s, began coffee cultivation in 1805.12 Inventories taken in 1796 at two moderately sized ingenios, Pantitlán and Oacalco, revealed the presence of indigo mills on both haciendas.13 The owner of San Carlos Borromeo was an enterprising curate who supplemented his profits by cultivating indigo on lands belonging to an allegedly defunct cofradía in Yautepec, as well as by charging his parishioners excessive fees for his priestly services.14 The Urueta family, owners of two mills located downstream from such heavy water consumers as Pantitlán and Cocoyoq, rented a total of almost seventy-three fanegas de sembradura (about 642 acres) in 1789 to tenants who produced maize. At seven to eight cargas (or fourteen to sixteen fanegas), in rent per fanega de sembradura, the Uruetas received over a thousand fanegas of maize annually. They further diversified their enterprises by producing indigo.15

Lands at a site known as Olintepec further illustrate the economic role of leasing to small producers. During the 1780s the Brothers of San Hipólito rented this land to José Nicolás Abad, who in turn sublet it in plots varying in size from one-half to two fanegas de sembradura, at five cargas per fanega de sembradura and, after the agricultural crisis of 1785, eight. Meanwhile, Mexico City merchant José Martín de Chávez, having recently acquired the sugar hacienda Tenextepango, adjacent to Olintepec, was making generous loans to the chronically bankrupt Brothers of San Hipólito, who used the funds to operate their insane asylum in the capital. Finally, in 1790 Chávez agreed to accept the Olintepec lands and an adjoining property in lieu of repayment. He continued to lease Olintepec to peujaleros, and thus garnered increased profits for his ascendant hacienda.16

Production of maize, both on their own demesne and on lands leased to peujaleros, offered hacendados additional rewards less tangible, but perhaps more significant, than the grain they fed their livestock and workers. Because Morelos and other tierras calientes escaped the devastating frost that ruined crops throughout central Mexico in 1785,17 civic and ecclesiastical leaders explored the possibility of promoting grain production in these areas. The committee of leading citizens who met in the fall of 1785 to discuss solutions for the present crisis and means of averting future famines endorsed an emergency measure proposed by José Antonio Alzate y Ramírez, foremost scientist of the realm. Alzate suggested that sugar planters be urged immediately to plant winter (irrigated) maize, which could then be harvested in the spring of 1786. Since the planters normally left one-fourth of their sugar lands fallow each year, they could easily plant winter maize on the fallow fields. The committee also recommended that hacendados of Morelos and other tierras calientes be encouraged to increase their own and their tenants’ output of maíz de temporal, planted in the spring and harvested in the fall.18

Prompted by substantial bounties, the hacendados of Morelos responded eagerly to the committee’s requests, and winter maize from this tierra caliente appeared in Mexico City during the difficult summer of 1786.19 In return, landowners received heartfelt acclaim from the highest political officials, as well as a new rationale to use in advancing their own interests. For example, in April 1786, José Vicente de Urueta rebuffed a request of downstream landowners for a general inspection and adjustment of aqueducts by all who drew water from the Yautepec River. Urueta persuaded Viceroy Bernardo de Gálvez that the overhaul must await the harvest of his and others’ crops of irrigated maize.20 In 1790, José Nicolás Abad similarly touted his patriotic response to the famine when explaining why the Brothers of San Hipólito should compensate him for improvements made on lands he leased from them. As a conscientious citizen, Abad said that he had spent a considerable sum clearing portions of the land for cultivation by peujaleros.21 Production of irrigated maize and leasing to peujaleros thus served important political ends for the hacendados of late colonial Morelos.

Both the hacendados’ expansion of sugar production and their attempts to diversify their activities posed formidable threats to peasant agriculture. During the first half of the eighteenth century, residents of villages in the tierra caliente had taken advantage of hacienda reverses to expand their own production of fruits, vegetables, and other commodities that they sold locally and in the viceregal capital. Antonio Villaseñor y Sánchez reported that in the 1740s many towns specialized in one or more products, including melons, garbanzos, maguey, a wide variety of “frutos regionales y de Castilla,” timber, charcoal, fish, and even sugarcane.22 Moreover, the Indians of the tierra caliente had long been famous for their winter crops of irrigated maize, frijoles, and squash, which they planted in the fall and sold in Mexico City during the winter and spring, as exhaustion of the previous year’s harvests drove prices up.23 As sugar estates revived after 1750, hacendados diverted water from small producers in order to irrigate their increased acreage of sugar and other crops, and to operate their larger and more numerous water-powered mills. Yet another factor adding to the pressure on the water supply was the tendency of eighteenth-century hacendados to concentrate milling operations in the dry season, when their own terrazgueros as well as Indian villagers were more readily available for seasonal labor.24 Alterations in existing patterns of water usage created the illusion and frequently the fact of scarcity, even though the region’s population in 1791 reportedly reached less than 10 percent of its preconquest or present-day levels.25

The history of Oaxtepec and its relations with the nearby Hacienda Pantitlán clearly illustrates the competition between peasant cash crops and ascendant sugar plantations. Because Pantitlán’s mill had been idled for at least two (and perhaps as many as four) decades during the first half of the eighteenth century, the villagers of Oaxtepec had enjoyed exclusive use of water from a spring behind their parish church, a source previously shared with the hacienda. This water enabled them to expand their production of bananas and sugarcane until Pedro Valiente acquired the decrepit hacienda and began its renovation in 1752.26 The installation of his new wheel, powered by water taken from Oaxtepec’s spring, inaugurated a half century of litigation, occasionally punctuated by threats of violence.

The villagers and Valiente struck a compromise; in return for his promise to leave them enough water for their fields, the Indians rented him a piece of land adjoining the hacienda. By 1776, however, this settlement proved no longer workable. Valiente’s successor claimed that the villagers had taken more than their fair share from the spring, idling his mill at the height of the processing season. Protracted litigation and several attempted out-of-court settlements over the next two decades failed to produce lasting accord between the village and the hacienda. Finally in 1797 a militant faction of villagers went to court seeking exclusive control of the water for the town. The local alcalde mayor rejected Oaxtepec’s claim, but was able to enforce his decision only after local hacendados mustered a force of sixty armed men to fend off the defiant villagers, who had vowed to die rather than yield. While rumors circulated that with their priest’s help they were plotting a general uprising along with other pueblos in the area, town officers appealed the verdict to the audiencia. Before the high court ruled, however, the village and the hacienda reached yet another compromise, which constituted an essential victory for Oaxtepec. The hacienda’s owner agreed to build a new aqueduct to draw his water from the Yautepec River instead of from the disputed spring. The villagers’ only concession was to allow a portion of the conduit to cross their land. Significantly, the villagers’ case against Pantitlán, as well as an equally protracted and bitter dispute with Cocoyoq, received enthusiastic support from non-Indians who rented village lands, and from the town’s curate and surgeon, both of whom cultivated substantial numbers of banana plants.27

Many other complaints voiced by corporate villages centered on the hacendados’ diversion of water, without which the villagers’ intensively cultivated orchards and gardens died. Villagers boldly damaged aqueducts in order to redivert water to their own crops, often halting the ingenios at critical times.28 Indeed, Antonio Velasco de la Torre of Cocoyoq insisted that the villagers of Oaxtepec maliciously tapped his water whenever they learned he was about to begin milling.29 In 1793 the owner of Hacienda Miacatlán charged that residents of the village of the same name had made more than twenty apertures in his principal conduit, causing his mill to stop. The villagers, both Indians and gente de razón, retorted that the hacienda had appropriated the water they had always used to irrigate their fruits and vegetables.30 In November 1807, a similar dispute between the village of Atlacholoaya and burgeoning hacendado Vicente Eguía sparked a confrontation that resulted in injury to one of Eguía’s employees. Three years later Eguía and Atlacholoaya reached a compromise reminiscent of the Oaxtepec-Pantitlán accords. Eguía agreed to sacrifice a small amount of canefield in order to build an aqueduct to serve the villagers’ needs, with the understanding that they were to pay him fifteen pesos per year for this concession.31

Population pressure prompted villages to challenge the haciendas’ appropriation of land as well as of water. Village leaders demanded that haciendas respect their rights to the 600 varas of land in all directions guaranteed by colonial law to Indian villages,32 as well as to additional lands for which they held viceregal mercedes or other titles. Because village claims might include the very ground on which the hacendados’ costly capital installations stood, hacendados viewed these demands with considerable apprehension. Even more disturbing to many hacendados were the attempts by unincorporated communities to settle and form duly constituted pueblos on hacienda lands. One such community was Zahuatlán, whose aspirations to achieve pueblo status on lands claimed by the Dominican plantation Cuahuixtla served to deepen the paranoia shared by other Morelos landowners during the closing years of colonial rule.

Once an outlying sujeto of Yecapixtla, Zahuatlán was incorporated into that town as the barrio of “Zahuatlán el Nuevo” in the governmentally ordered resettlement (congregatión) of 1603.33 Some time during the late seventeenth century, barrio residents began cultivating lands at the abandoned pueblo, within sight of the vestiges of their old church and homes. Finally, in the 1730s an Indian named don Gregorio took his large family to live permanently at Zahuatlán el Viejo, which lay well within Cuahuixtla’s bounds, according to the Dominicans.34 Although the Dominicans repeatedly attempted to eject them, don Gregorio and his numerous descendants and associates remained at the spot for more than half a century, numbering 48.5 tributaries in the count of 1788. The Dominicans’ legal maneuvers yielded favorable rulings from the audiencia, but failed to dislodge the community from its isolated redoubt, surrounded by steep barrancas and inaccessible to civil or ecclesiastical authorities. The residents doggedly ignored all court subpoenas and were said to “fear no one.” Finally, in 1793, when faced with the prospect of a full-scale tumulto, or riot, by the residents of Zahuatlán, local authorities yielded to the Dominicans’ pressure to have the settlement burned to the ground.35

A similar challenge posed by a barrio of Cuautla, called Ahuehuepa, nearly evoked an equally violent response from the proprietors of Hacienda Hospital. Though declared a barrio in 1603, Ahuehuepa had won permission to remain on its original site one league from Cuautla.36 By the late eighteenth century, Ahuehuepa’s residents supported themselves by cultivating a few lands of their own and by pasturing livestock on lands made available to them by Hospital and other haciendas, presumably in exchange for labor, rent, or at least “good behavior.” Beginning in 1790, a faction of residents began pressing for title to the six hundred varas. Brother Antonio Bodríguez, administrator of Hospital, reacted with alarm, allegedly threatening to obliterate the community.37

Documents airing the views of Fray Antonio and other late colonial hacendados reveal a genuine sense of being under siege. With remarkable candor, the hacendados acknowledged the vulnerability of their waterworks and other capital installations. In 1788, for example, the Dominicans charged that the government’s unwarranted solicitude for such upstart communities as Zahuatlán could easily result in tyranny over the hapless owner (“pobre dueño”) whose hacienda might be dismantled in order to honor villages’ claims. Hacendados’ petitions readily invoked Enlightenment doctrines of efficient government and material progress in order to impress upon those in authority the substantial contributions made by hacendados to the well-being of the realm. These self-justifications repeatedly cited the tax and tithe revenues the haciendas generated, their role in providing essential foodstuffs for the growing population of New Spain, and the employment they offered to persons who might otherwise have no livelihood.38

Hacendados’ manifestos also uniformly maligned those peasant communities that challenged their claims to land and water. In virtually every lawsuit pitting villages against hacendados, the latter recited a familiar litany, belittling whenever possible a community’s claim to pueblo status and charging that those who initiated village demands were “outside agitators” and racial mongrels who had fled tribute payments, punishment for crimes, and the customary restraints of civilized society in their native communities.39 Often with considerable validity, the hacendados touted the obsolescence of the colonial social order, predicated on governmental solicitude for Indian communities supposedly insulated from Spanish society except for the presence of civil and church officials. The Dominicans, for example, asserted that Cuautla no longer merited special treatment as an “Indian” town, because the house sites, gardens, and orchards of gente de razón occupied most of the space between the center of town and the canefields of neighboring haciendas.40

Documentary evidence supports the hacendados’ contention that in many of Morelos’s supposedly “Indian” communities, the gente de razón substantially outnumbered Indians by the end of the eighteenth century. According to an ecclesiastical census of Cuautla in 1797 (see Table I), Indians made up only 16.6 percent of the town’s communicants.41 Tribute records of 1796 reveal that only 128 of Cuautla’s 253 Indian tributaries lived in the town and its three outlying barrios; the rest had taken up residence on nearby haciendas.42 The late colonial census published by Manuel Mazari shows many other communities where Indians constituted a minority of the population (see Table II).43 Nevertheless, because many of these communities lay in the tierra caliente, adjacent to expanding sugar plantations, their leaders continued to demand the special protection theoretically accorded to “Indian” communities with even greater vigor than their counterparts in more isolated and therefore more predominantly Indian villages.

In place of the allegedly outmoded system of insulated corporate villages, the hacendados proposed a new social order based on permanent hacienda residence for Indians and other lower-class people. In 1796, Angel Puyade, owner of Hacienda Santa Ana Cuauchichinola, concisely articulated the hacendados’ vision of the new order. Denouncing the scandalous conduct of residents in a nearby settlement, also called Cuauchichinola, Puyade denied its assertion of pueblo status. He suggested instead that its land should be declared property of the Marquesado del Valle and therefore available for perpetual lease by some hacendado (namely, Puyade himself) who could ensure that the people behaved themselves and paid their tributes. In other words, Puyade was arguing that an hacendado could effectively fulfill the disciplinary and fiscal functions assigned to civil and ecclesiastical officials under the old order. A lawyer reviewing the proposal on the Marquesado’s behalf admitted that the plan offered a more reliable guarantee of peace and stability than acknowledgement of the settlement’s bid for pueblo status. Puyade’s scheme, in the lawyer’s opinion, promised “all that we could desire,” especially since it would be impossible to force the community’s ten Indian and eight non-Indian families to return to their places of origin.44 In arguments rebutting Cuautla’s petition for six hundred varas, the Dominicans echoed Puyade’s proclamation of a new social order, claiming that the Indians who had abandoned Cuautla to live at Cuahuixtla and other haciendas found far greater comfort than they had enjoyed in the town.45

Persons who chose hacienda residence, either as terrazgueros or as full-time hacienda employees, presumably had fewer reasons to challenge hacienda claims to land and water than persons who remained in corporate villages. In fact, tenants favored and perhaps incited haciendas’ usurpations of Indian lands. In the case of Zahuatlán, for example, the Dominicans wished to rent to others a portion of the lands cultivated by that community.46 It was the pretentions of these Indian and pseudo-Indian communities to time-honored prerogatives that late colonial hacendados found so distasteful, not the presence of the people themselves. Indeed, on one occasion the Dominicans modified their usually inflexible attitude toward the people of Zahuatlán, offering to allow them to remain on their lands provided they did so as tenants of the hacienda and abandoned their corporate identity as an “Indian” village.47

What the hacendados proposed, and to a certain extent achieved, was the de facto creation of the social order given juridical sanction by the Liberal Reform over half a century later. By encouraging Indians and others to settle on hacienda lands, hacendados attempted to hasten the coming of that new order. A peujalero or full-time hacienda employee faced the hacendado as an individual, stripped of the legal protection accorded to members of indigenous communities. His relationship with his landlord or employer was a tenuous, one-to-one affair, subject to alteration or termination at the hacendado’s whim.48 The new order also provided hacendados with a source of labor to replace their dwindling slave forces. Because terrazgueros produced only temporal (rainy-season and therefore nonirrigated) crops unless their landlords disposed otherwise, they were presumably available to help with harvesting and processing cane in winter months.

Against a social order based on hacienda residence, the villages offered the profoundly conservative model of the Indian pueblo supported by all of the guarantees enshrined in royal legislation of an earlier era. The actions of such communities as Zahuatlán and Ahuehuepa represented conscious efforts to reverse two centuries of colonial rule in order to return to the status quo that predated the congregaciones of 1603. Land petitions of pueblos and of communities aspiring to pueblo status usually reflected an accurate understanding of the history of rural society in Morelos, with references to the epidemics that had substantially reduced the indigenous population, the subsequent congregaciones, and the incursions into erstwhile Indian lands by sugar estates.49

In this conflict between two antithetical social orders, the hacendados clearly held impressive advantages. Local officials, many of whom apparently aspired to hacienda ownership themselves, usually supported hacendados over villagers. Like the hacendados, they feared the threat to the peace posed by such communities as Zahuatlán.50 Though officials in Spain and Mexico City continued to pay lip service to the guarantees accorded to Indian communities, the Bourbons’ sustained emphasis on the production of tropical staples precluded any meaningful application of those guarantees. Such royal gestures as a cédula issued in 1785 upholding village claims to the six hundred varas undoubtedly prompted the villagers of Jantetelco to shout the praises of their sovereign as they marked off the lands usurped from them by hacendado Nicolás de Icazbalceta. Local officials, however, quickly overruled the villagers’ action, and indeed the king himself had more to gain from Icazbalceta than from Jantetelco.51

Cleavages within peasant communities often facilitated the hacendados’ attack upon village prerogatives. While carrying on their campaigns against surrounding haciendas, both Ahuehuepa and Cuautla were torn by bitter factional disputes. Whenever possible, hacendados exploited such divisions and attempted to manipulate village politics in order to secure continuity in office for those leaders most amenable to hacienda interests.52 Moreover, the unequal allocation of land by village leaders, apparently a common characteristic throughout central Mexico in the late colonial period, forced many persons to leave their villages in favor of permanent hacienda residence.53

Yet despite formidable factors favoring the haciendas, the villages showed remarkable resilience, tacitly acknowledged by hacendados in such compromises as the Oaxtepec-Pantitlán agreement. Persons who remained in the villages, either as “Indians” (regardless of their actual ethnic origins) or as tenants of community lands, benefited from the exodus of surplus population to the haciendas. As long as they retained access to water and land, village dwellers profited from cash-crop production and persisted in their demands for traditional village prerogatives even though their communities no longer resembled the pueblos envisioned in colonial law. Indeed, the very pursuit of such demands may have served to reinforce community cohesion by directing villagers’ discontent toward abuses committed by haciendas and other outsiders rather than toward the self-serving conduct of community leaders. Conflict with outsiders thus preserved village solidarity despite the presence of such potentially divisive factors as economic and ethnic differentiation within the communities.54

The benign climate of Morelos further bolstered the resilience of the area’s corporate villages in the late colonial period. In 1749, and again in 1785, Morelos escaped the inopportune frosts that destroyed crops elsewhere in New Spain. Most illustrative is the case of the agricultural crisis of 1785-86, which Charles Gibson has called “the most disastrous single event in the whole history of colonial maize agriculture.”55 Though insufficient rainfall reduced Morelos’s 1785 maize harvest somewhat, the people did not suffer the terrible mortality that afflicted inhabitants elsewhere. Parish registers from Yautepec, for example, show a remarkable divergence from trends observed in León and Cholula by David Brading and Elsa Malvido respectively.56 As Table III demonstrates, burials in Yautepec were actually fewer in 1786 than they were in 1785. In Cholula the 1786 figure exceeded that of 1785 by 40 percent and in León the increase amounted to 300 percent. Marriages also rose in Yautepec in 1786, and baptisms showed only a slight drop. Morelos obviously did not escape all causes of widespread mortality in the late eighteenth century. For example, the table clearly shows the effects of the smallpox epidemic of 1779-80, whose casualties were meticulously recorded by the same priest who presided over parish functions throughout the ensuing decade.57 The agricultural disaster of 1785-86, however, is not reflected in the parish register figures for Yautepec.

Peasant agriculture therefore continued to demonstrate a vitality similar to that described a half-century ago by the Russian economist A. V. Chayanov in his theory of peasant economy. According to Chayanov, the peasant family’s economic decisions are governed by the desire to strike an acceptable balance between consumption and drudgery, rather than by considerations of profit. Because peasant families can compensate for low agricultural prices by increasing labor intensity, they are able to continue production in market situations untenable for the large farmer dependent on wage labor.58 In eighteenth-century Mexico, however, as David Brading recently observed, periodic agricultural crises interfered with the operation of this “Chayanov principle” and tipped the balance decisively in favor of the hacendados, who found a most effective means of weathering years of abundant harvests and low prices. They simply withheld their produce from the market, stored it in their ample granaries, and waited until a bad harvest brought opportunities for exceptional profits. Peasants, on the other hand, had no reserve to tide them over a crop failure. Many of them sold tools and livestock in order to purchase food, thus jeopardizing their ability to produce in future years. They could not look to hacienda jobs for relief. Hacendados, whose current production and need for labor were adversely affected by the famine, preferred to dismiss workers rather than pay the customary rations in maize.59

In Morelos, however, villagers had grain available for their own consumption during the late fall and early winter of 1785-86. Those with access to water for irrigation could produce winter crops and join the hacendados in reaping windfall profits in 1786. Meanwhile, hacendados searched in vain for additional workers to help harvest the irrigated maize. They pleaded with the authorities to enact coercive measures to force villagers to work for them.60 Hacienda profits during the crisis would definitely have been higher had it not been for the villagers’ ability to sustain themselves without recourse to hacienda labor. The fundamental tension between hacienda production and peasant agriculture identified by Chayanov thus remained operative in Morelos during the worst agricultural crisis of colonial Mexico.61

The inability of hacendados to depend on villages for seasonal labor62 produced a greater degree of hacienda-village antagonism in Morelos than in other parts of central Mexico during the closing decades of colonial rule. John Tutino has described in detail the unequal, but nonetheless symbiotic, relationship in which hacendados grudgingly tolerated the existence of Indian villages as convenient reservoirs of seasonal labor, and villagers looked to part-time hacienda work to obtain needed cash.63 The available evidence suggests the considerable attenuation of this relationship in Morelos. Those who remained in villages were often able to support themselves satisfactorily without recourse to unpleasant and arduous work on the sugar plantations. Not without a touch of envy did the Dominicans of Cuahuixtla note the relative ease with which at least the more fortunate of Cuautla’s villagers supported themselves.64

Fortunately for the hacendados, an alternative labor source came close to meeting their needs for sugar production, if not for the irrigated crops they produced in the winter of 1786. Generations of intermixture among slaves, free Blacks, mulattoes, and Indians had produced a large resident pardo population on most Morelos haciendas by the late colonial era. Invariably designated as trabajadores del campo (“field workers”) in the census of 1791, these pardos and their less numerous “Spanish,” castizo, and mestizo counterparts nearly met the hacendados’ needs for the field labor required for sugar production. Hacienda Hospital, for example, had 137 male residents described as trabajadores del campo. Ward Barrett has estimated Hospital’s productive capacity at 175 tons, which required field labor equivalent to that of 134 full-time laborers, working 315 days per year. Cuahuixtla, with an estimated capacity similar to Hospital’s, had 156 trabajadores del campo.65 Since the census of 1791 omitted Indians, these figures probably understate the numbers of field workers resident on these haciendas.66 On the other hand, the ecclesiastical census of 1797 includes Indians, but does not indicate the occupations of individuals listed. Table IV shows the numbers of adult male hacienda residents of all ethnic groups, excluding those who used the title “don” and were presumably indisposed to perform labor other than supervision. Since some of the residents were undoubtedly mill workers, the figures in column iv include both field and mill workers necessary to produce at the mills’ capacities, according to Barrett’s calculations. It is clear that on haciendas such as Tenextepango, Cuahuixtla, Hospital, Casasano, and Guadalupe the resident males were at least theoretically sufficient in number to maintain sugar production at the capacity levels estimated by Barrett.67 It is also quite possible that at least some of the female hacienda residents performed field labor.68 Because sugar cultivation required large numbers of workers at peak periods, however, it is impossible to determine with certainty how close the resident workers actually came to supplying the hacendados’ labor needs for sugar production. Nevertheless, the owners of most Morelos haciendas could reasonably envisage a day when they might recruit all of their workers from within the haciendas’ bounds, even if, for the present, some remained partially dependent on the villages for labor.

The vulnerability of the hacendados’ waterworks gave them still more reason to view the villages more as obstacles to their progress than as handy pools of seasonal labor. Because the villagers’ continued ability to benefit from agricultural crises and to support themselves without recourse to hacienda employment depended so crucially on access to water for their irrigated crops, their hostility toward the haciendas frequently focused on the costly aqueducts that conveyed water to the canefields and ingenios. These imposing structures not only appropriated water that might otherwise have irrigated the villagers’ croplands; at times they also inflicted both injury and property damage on the communities through which they passed. In 1801, for example, Hacienda Buenavista’s new aqueduct overflowed, inundating a barrio of Cuautla. On another occasion, a pregnant woman was killed and several persons injured when a portion of the same conduit collapsed.69

William B. Taylor’s recent study has shown that although late colonial villagers in central and southern Mexico frequently resorted to violence to eliminate perceived threats to traditional sources of community well-being, they lacked both the weaponry and the sense of identification with other villages necessary to achieve any revolutionary change in the social or political order. Instead, these “good rebels but poor revolutionaries” focused their protests on specific individuals or objects identified with particular abuses.70 The Morelenses clearly conformed to Taylor’s model, but, unlike villagers elsewhere in New Spain, they found in the haciendas’ aqueducts a set of targets ideally suited to their limited revolutionary potential. Angry villagers could easily imperil a recalcitrant hacendado’s profits by damaging his waterworks, even though they were incapable of mounting a sustained and coordinated assault on the hacienda system.

The distinctive features of Morelos’s agricultural and social history thus combined to make conflict rather than symbiosis the essential feature of hacienda-village relations during the late colonial period. The planters therefore proceeded to attack the villages with a vehemence usually attributed only to their descendants a hundred years later.71 In fact, the late colonia hacendados clearly anticipated the outlook and achievements of their successors. If the ruins of Cuauchichinola and Ahuehuepa “rotted into the earth”72 in Porfirian times, the process of decay was well advanced by the end of the colonial era. When Porfirian hacendados expressed their wish to see cane growing in the village plazas, they merely echoed the sentiments of their ancestors a century before.73 Meanwhile, villages that resisted absorption by the Porfirian haciendas owed their survival to the same generosity of nature and prospects for cash-crop production that sustained the late colonial pueblos.74 When a national revolutionary movement created a propitious climate for revolt, the villagers of Morelos, even less purely Indian than their late colonial forebears, voiced a familiar refrain in demanding restitution of land and water once guaranteed by ancient custom and viceregal merced to indigenous communities.


G. Micheal Riley, Fernando Cortés and the Marquesado in Morelos, 1522-1547 (Albuquerque, 1973), p. 7.


Ibid., pp. 18-21.


Henry Bamford Parkes, A History of Mexico (Boston, 1969), p. 26; Frances E. Calderón de la Barca, Life in Mexico (New York, 1973), pp. 300-310, 323.


Ward Barrett, “Morelos and Its Sugar Industry in the Late Eighteenth Century” in James Lockhart and Ida Altman, eds., Provinces of Early Mexico (Los Angeles, 1976), pp. 155-175.


John Tutino, “Creole Mexico: Spanish Ehtes, Haciendas and Indian Towns, 1750-1810” (Ph.D. Diss., University of Texas, 1976), pp. 30-31.


Ibid., pp. 148, 154-155, 161; Doris M. Ladd, The Mexican Nobility at Independence, 1780-1826 (Austin, 1976), pp. 47, 49, 116, 135.


Ward Barrett, The Sugar Hacienda of the Marqueses del Valle (Minneapolis, 1970), p. 24; Fernando Sandoval, La industria del azúcar en la Nueva España (Mexico City, 1951), pp. 47ff.; James D. Riley, “The Management of the Estates of the Jesuit Colegio Máximo de San Pedro y San Pablo of Mexico City in the Eighteenth Century” (Ph. D. Diss., Tulane University, 1972), p. 206. Some mills ceased to operate entirely during the first half of the Bourbon century. Two of the three mills established by the Hospital Order of San Hipólito during the seventeenth century were dismantled, and their adjoining properties became known simply as ranchos (Archivo General de la Nación, Mexico City, hereinafter cited as AGN, Hospital de Jesus, leg. 447, exp. 13; AGN, Tierras, vol. 1948, exp. 3) and the trapiche San Carlos Borromeo was declared “despoblado” in the 1720s (AGN, Tierras, vol. 2353, exp. 1). The Jesuits of the Colegio Máximo de San Pedro y San Pablo shrewdly converted their Haciendas Chicomocelo and Cuautepec to wheat cultivation in the early eighteenth century (see Riley, “Management,” pp. 80-86). Documentary references to the deterioration of haciendas during the first half of the eighteenth century are contained in descriptions of Cocoyoq in 1749 (AGN, Tierras, vol. 1973, exp. 5) and Dolores in 1738 (AGN, Hospital de Jesús, leg. 304, exp. 1). Haciendas subjected to concursos de acreedores (bankruptcy proceedings) during the first half of the eighteenth century included Atlihuayán in 1702 and again in 1708 (AGN, Tierras, vols. 239-240 and 2676, exp. 7); Temilpa in 1709 (AGN, Tierras, vol. 1940); San Carlos Borromeo in 1715 (AGN, Tierras, vol. 343, exp. 3); Hospital in 1720 (AGN, Bienes Nacionales, vol. 136, exp. 26); Pantitlán and Cocoyoq in 1730 (AGN, Tierras, vols. 1564-1569); Chiconcoac in 1730 and subsequently (AGN, Tierras, vol. 1969, exp. 1 and vol. 1979, exp. 3); the trapiche Nuestra Senora de los Dolores in 1736 (AGN, Hospital de Jesús, leg. 34, exp. 1); Cocoyotla in 1750 (AGN, Tierras, vol. 2202, exp. 1); Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe in 1752 (AGN, Tierras, vol. 1939, exp. 9); and Pantitlán in 1754 (AGN, Hospital de Jesús, leg. 298, exp. 10). By contrast, the indices for AGN, Tierras, and Hospital de Jesús list only four concursos involving ingenios or trapiches between 1760 and 1800.


Barrett, “Morelos and Its Sugar Industry”; Alexander von Humboldt, Political Essay on the Kingdom of New Spain, 4 vols. (New York, 1966), I, 236-237, II, 2-3; Apuntamientos sobre la necesidad de promover el cultive de azúcar y otros frutos (Mexico City, 1822), pp. 6-7; Viceroyalty of Mexico, Disposiciones varias, I-100 and I-102, Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley; Barrett, The Sugar Hacienda, pp. 104-105; Cheryl E. Martin, “Land and Water Disputes in Eighteenth-Century Morelos” (paper presented to the Southern Historical Association, Atlanta, Nov. 17, 1979).


David A. Brading, Haciendas and Ranches in the Mexican Bajío (Cambridge, 1978), pp. 95-114.


AGN, Alhóndigas, vol. 12, fols. 105ff.


AGN, Tierras, vol. 1938, exps. 6 and 7.


Barrett, The Sugar Hacienda, p. 121.


AGN, Hospital de Jesús, leg. 81, exp. 1.


AGN, Tierras, vol. 1974, exp. 4; vol. 2157, exp. 2.


AGN, Tierras, vol. 1976, exp. 9. A. fanega equals about 1.5 bushels; a fanega de sembradura is the area of land on which a fanega of seed is sown (for maize, about 8.8 acres). See Charles Gibson, The Aztecs under Spanish Rule: A History of the Indians of the Valley of Mexico, 1519-1810 (Stanford, 1964), p. 309.


AGN, Alhóndigas, vol. 12, fol. 110; AGN, Tierras, vol. 2048, exp. 1, vol. 2049, exp. 1. According to the Gaceta de México, May 5, 1784, p. 80, Hacienda Tenextepango went on sale in the spring of 1784. Chávez acquired it soon thereafter.


Archivo General de Indias, Seville (hereinafter cited as AGI), Audiencia de México, leg. 1418, microfilm in Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, reel M-270, frame 35.


AGN, Civil, vol. 1827; AGN, Alhóndigas, vol. 12, fols. 105ff.; AGI, Audiencia de México, leg. 1418, microfilm in Bancroft Library, reel M-271, frames 51-55; reel M-273, frames 17-18; José Antonio Alzate y Ramírez, Consejos útiles para socorrer a la necesidad de comestibles en tiempo que escasesen los comestibles (Mexico City, 1786); “Circular que acompaña representación y providencias de ciudadanos para esforzar las siembras de maíz, en las necesidades padecidas, y que de nuevo se recelan” (Mexico City, Dec. 13, 1785), in Luis Chávez Orozco, ed., La crisis agrícola Novo-Hispana de 1784-1785 (Mexico City, n.d.); Gaceta de México, Oct. 18, 1785, p. 414.


AGN, Civil, vol. 1708, exp. 1, fol. 1; exp. 10, fols. 1-3; vol. 1827; Gaceta de México, Nov. 8, 1785; Dec. 27, 1785; Feb. 14, 1786; Oct. 24, 1786; Luis Chávez Orozco, ed., Alzate y la agronomía de la Nueva España (Mexico City, n.d.), pp. 1-2.


AGN, Tierras, vol. 2353, exp. 2.


AGN, Tierras, vol. 2049, exp. 1.


Antonio Villaseñor y Sánchez, Teatro americano (Mexico City, 1746), pp. 167-198. Documentary references to the production of sugarcane by Indians in Oaxtepec and Yautepec in the early eighteenth century can be found in AGN, Tierras, vol. 1501, exp. 6, fol. 118; vol. 1541, exp. 2, fol. 49; and vol. 2353, exp. 3, fol. 102.


Alzate, Consejos útiles; Gibson, The Aztecs, p. 362.


Barrett, The Sugar Hacienda, pp. 46-47.


Barrett, “Morelos and Its Sugar Industry,” p. 157.


AGN, Tierras, vol. 1501, exp. 6; vol. 1541, exp. 2; vol. 1937, exp. 1; vol. 1938, exp. 5; vol. 1948, exp. 2.


AGN, Hospital de Jesús, leg. 81, exp. 2; AGN, Tierras, vol. 1538, exp. 4; vol. 1937, exp. 1; vol. 1948, exp. 2; vol. 1954, exp. 1.


AGN, Tierras, vol. 1486, exp. 1; vol. 1608, exp. 2, cuademo 3.


AGN, Tierras, vol. 1954, exp. 1.


AGN, Tierras, vol. 1233, exp. 2.


AGN, Tierras, vol. 1653, exp. 9; vol. 1975, exp. 1.


For a fuller discussion of the legislation affecting village land claims, see Gibson, The Aztecs, pp. 285-287.


AGN, Tierras, vol. 1958, exp. 1.


AGN, Tierras, vol. 1612, exp. 1; vol. 1958, exp. 5.


Ibid.; AGN, Hospital de Jesús, leg. 331, exp. 57.


AGN, Tierras, vol. 1513, exp. 7.


AGN, Tierras, vol. 1475, exp. 1; vol. 1487, exp. 4.


AGN, Tierras, vol. 1475, exp. 1, fols. 71-84; vol. 1504, exp. 2; vol. 1612, exp. 1, fols. 112ff.


Ibid.; AGN, Hospital de Jesús, leg. 304, exp. 46; leg. 332, exp. 1; Jesús Sotelo Inclán, Raíz y razón de Zapata: Anenecuilco (Mexico City, 1970), pp. 134-159.


AGN, Tierras, vol. 1504, exp. 2.


Archivo General de la Curia Metropolitana de México, Padrón de las familias del partido de Cuautla Amilpas en el año de 1797, Genealogical Society of Utah, microfilm, roll 641-728 (hereinafter cited as Cuautla Padrón, 1797).


AGN, Tierras, vol. 1504, exp. 2, fols. 138-139.


Manuel Mazari, “Un antiguo padrón itinerario del Estado de Morelos,” Sociedad Científica “Antonio Alzate,” Memorias, 48 (1927), 149-170. Although Mazari concluded that this census dates from the late seventeenth century, the hacendados’ names listed indicate that it dates in fact from the 1790s.


AGN, Hospital de Jesús, leg. 332, exp. 1.


AGN, Tierras, vol. 1504, exp. 2, fols. 68, 138, and 142-143.


AGN, Tierras, vol. 1612, exp. 1; vol. 1714, exp. 3.


AGN, Tierras, vol. 1612, exp. 1.


AGN, Alhóndigas, vol. 12, fol. 109.


See, for example, the testimony of witnesses supporting land claims of the village of Jantetelco, in AGN, Tierras, vol. 1608, exp. 2, as well as the abundant testimony offered in Zahuatlán’s behalf.


AGN, Tierras, vol. 1500, exp. 2; vol. 1513, exp. 7; vol. 1612, exp. 1; vol. 1939, exp. 4; vol. 1970, exp. 5.


AGN, Tierras, vol. 1614, exp. 5.


AGN, Tierras, vol. 1487, exp. 4; vol. 1499, exp. 10; vol. 1504, exp. 2, fols. 177ff.; vol. 1507, exp. 6; vol. 1596, exp. 8.


See, for example, the case of Yautepec in the early nineteenth century, in AGN, Tierras, vol. 1582, exp. 4. See also John Tutino, “Provincial Spaniards, Indian Towns, and Haciendas: Interrelated Sectors of Agrarian Society in the Valleys of Mexico and Toluca, 1750-1810” in Lockhart and Altman, eds., Provinces of Early Mexico, pp. 176-197.


See Eric Van Young, “Social Conflict and Agrarian Change in Eighteenth-Century Mexico: The Case of the Guadalajara Region,” paper presented at the Southwestern Historical Association Convention, Dallas, Mar. 1981.


Gibson, The Aztecs, p. 316.


Brading, Haciendas and Ranches, p. 190; Elsa Malvido, “Factores de despoblación y reposición de la población de Cholula, 1641-1810,” Historia Mexicana, 89 (1973), 23-51.


Yautepec Parish Registers, Genealogical Society of Utah, microfilm, rolls 655-837; 655-838; 655-851; 655-911; 655-912.


A. V. Chayanov, The Theory of Peasant Economy (Homewood, Ill., 1966), pp. xv-xviii, 81, 88-89, 239.


Brading, Haciendas and Ranches, pp. 10-11; Enrique Florescano, Precios del maíz y crisis agrícolas en México (1708-1810) (Mexico City, 1969), pp. 147, 183-189.


AGN, Civil, exp. 1, fol. 1; exp. 10, fols. 1-3.


Arturo Warman has referred in passing to the applicability of Chayanov’s theories to eighteenth-century Morelos. See “We Come to Object”: The Peasants of Morelos and the National State (Baltimore, 1981), p. 40.


It is hardly surprising that hacendados were unable to rely on debt peonage to lure villagers to hacienda jobs. Although estate owners extended cash advances to prospective workers, villagers often pocketed the money and then failed to appear for work as promised. See AGN, Tierras, vol. 1974, exp. 5; Barrett, The Sugar Hacienda, pp. 91-92.


Tutino, “Creole Mexico,” pp. 343-364; see also John Tutino, “Hacienda Social Relations in Mexico: The Chalco Region in the Era of Independence,” HAHR, 55 (Aug. 1975), 496-528.


AGN, Tierras, vol. 1504, exp. 2, fols. 145-147; see also Barrett, The Sugar Hacienda, pp. 87-88.


AGN, Padrones, vol. 8; Barrett, “Morelos and Its Sugar Industry,” pp. 163-168.


There is, however, the intriguing possibility that some of the “pardos” whose corta talla (“short stature”) exempted them from military service were, in fact, Indians who had abandoned their villages and therefore no longer functioned as “Indians” in the social order. Certainly it would have served the hacendados’ interests to have such Indians defined as pardos, undermining further their ties to the villages, provided, of course, that they were declared unfit for military service.


Cuautla Padrón, 1797; Barrett, “Morelos and Its Sugar Industry,” pp. 163-168.


Female slaves definitely performed field labor at the Hacienda Cocoyoq during the mid-eighteenth century. AGN, Tierras, vol. 1974, exp. 2. Therefore, it is at least possible that some free female hacienda residents were pressed into service when the need arose.


AGN, Tierras, vol. 1504, exp. 2.


William B. Taylor, Drinking, Homicide and Rebellion in Colonial Mexican Villages (Stanford, 1979), pp. 115-128, 145.


The best surveys of the Porfirian period in Morelos are Warman, “We Come to Object,” pp. 42-90, and John Womack, Zapata and the Mexican Revolution (New York, 1969), pp. 37-66.


Womack, Zapata, p. 46.


AGN, Tierras, vol. 1504, exp. 2, fol. 194.


For instance, the Villa de Ayala, “probably the most heavily armed rural municipality in Morelos” during the late nineteenth century and later the birthplace of Emiliano Zapata’s plan for agrarian reform, supported itself down to the eve of the Revolution of 1910 from the profits of “a small but direct truck trade with Cuautla and Mexico City”; Womack, Zapata, pp. 61-62.

Author notes


The author is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Texas, El Paso. Initial research for this article was undertaken during a seminar on Agriculture and Rural Society in Western Europe and the Americas, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities and conducted by Professor Richard Herr at the University of California, Berkeley, during the summer of 1979.