In this penetrating analysis of late colonial Antioquia Province, Ann Twinam explores the origins of enterprising, entrepreneurial behavior characteristic of the inhabitants of this region since the seventeenth century. Twinam bypasses ethnic and psychological interpretations for this behavior, interpretations that are spelled out in a most interesting introductory historiographical chapter, and reaches satisfying historical explanations. The analysis is founded on a careful, thoughtful, and, most of all, skillful use of documentary sources, several of which have not been used heretofore in studies of colonial Latin America. It is in this regard that Twinam’s short book (150 pages of text) is a pioneering research effort of the first order.
Gold was Antioquia’s principal resource; miners and merchants coveted it, the crown demanded a share of it, and the configuration of the region’s social order was determined by it. Twinam makes critical use of smelting house (fundición) records to provide a rough guide to the rapidly rising quantity of wealth generated by the mining sector of the Antioquia economy. The fundición records distinguish between ore brought for smelting and taxation by miners and that brought by merchants. Twinam has identified these miners and merchants by name, summed the total gold registered, and thereby created both an index of rapidly increasing local capital and the range of individual wealth in booming Antioquia. In comparison with other places and other occupations, “What is clear is that Antioqueño miners fell somewhere in between Mexican silver miners and New Granadan nonminers, for there was enough capital to encourage investments in commerce and agriculture, but not enough gold dust for miners to retire to haciendas or to live in style in Medellín or Bogotá” (pp. 44-46).
In the second half of the eighteenth century, as the quantity of gold brought to the Medellín smelting house increased dramatically, the merchants’ share of the gold smelted and taxed rose to and remained at 90 percent of the total amount. Merchants who brought merchandise into Antioquia had to pay excise and sales taxes on their goods, and, in addition, they were allowed several years to convert their goods to gold dust and then they were obliged to bring to the fundición gold equal to the value of their merchandise. The royal quinto was then paid on that amount of gold. Using the registers (from Antioquia City, Medellín, Ríonegro, and the mining camps of Marinilla and Santa Rosa) that recorded the merchants’ merchandise, its monetary value, and the merchants’ tax obligations, Twinam constructs an estimate of the total legal provincial import trade from 1733 to 1810. Merchant registers and the fundición records correspond closely, as “merchants rode the mining boom created by their bullion producing colleagues” (p. 50). The rich register documents allow the author to consider in detail the kinds and values of commodities imported. An exciting section on consumption patterns shows that the gold boom brought an increase in popular, and rarely luxury, consumer goods. Merchant records confirm contemporary observations that Antioqueños, including the elite, apart from a strong addiction to chocolate and tobacco, were given to moderation, simplicity, and were little responsive to fashion.
Twinam’s basic technique, which is brought to bear on each of the several document sets that form the core of this book, is to identify individuals by name and to rank them by wealth, by quantity of merchandise traded, and by property and offices held. This method provides several large data bases, which allow for comprehensive observations that are much richer in social analysis than the aggregate statistics alone would allow, and at the same time beyond the range of most prosopographical studies in terms of the number of individuals for whom pertinent information has been gathered. Close study of landholding and use in the Medellín Valley in 1787 shows that farmers did not often produce for export, that there was insufficient labor for a wage-labor hacienda system to develop, and that farmers, most of whom were self-sufficient owners of small-acreage plots, were not often the same miners and merchants identified earlier. Farmers were often losers to the miner-merchant interest in town council disputes over the price of agricultural commodities. For these reasons, Twinam concludes that: “Unlike other regions in Latin America, such as the central Mexico valley, Guanajuato, Popayán, or Arequipa, prestige and power in Antioquia did not necessarily accrue to those based on the land. Rather, the particular presence and absence of human and natural resources created an environment which encouraged Antioqueños to maintain their capital fluidity and eschew life on the estate” (p. 109).