In 1772, geographer and mariner Francisco Millau wrote his Descripción de la Provincia del Río de la Plata, the result of his travels and trips in the River Plate territory, during an assignment given to the Marquis of Valdelirios. Although he was extremely surprised by the fertility of the land, he indicated that the products derived from the abundant River Plate livestock were sold at an extremely low price.1 Three decades later, at a time when Félix de Azara was writing his famous Memoria sobre el estado rural del Río de la Plata, leather and other cattle products had acquired such a price that this celebrated Aragonese writer did not doubt that the future of this region would lie in its livestock.2 The calculations that he made of the comparative yields of investing in agriculture and livestock (although, as we will see, these are based on excessively pessimistic assessments of agricultural productivity) seem to support his opinion clearly. At least for a number of decades, the Litoral would grow on the basis of its livestock wealth.

A great deal happened between the appearance of Millau’s and Azara’s books: the reaffirmation of the role of the River Plate garrison as a military bastion; the creation of the Viceroyalty of the River Plate; the proclamation of free trade. Buenos Aires was definitely consolidated as the most dynamic pole of the whole hinterland, and it is undoubted that a substantial share of this dynamism was due to its livestock. Even though this growth of the Litoral is a fact, however, we should avoid falling into the trap of oft repeated and facile generalizations. This progress not only affected the different regions of the viceroyalty in different ways, but, even in those areas that, in the long run, saw the triumph of the new economy (which was directed toward the Atlantic), the upward movement was not dramatic: there were ups and downs (and differentiations), which should be noted. Furthermore, as has been indicated by other authors,3 not all the regions grew as a result of the Bourbon reforms. On the contrary, some suffered from hard contrasts that it is of utmost importance to mention; delineating those contrasts will be the fundamental purpose of this article.

Growth of the Livestock: Some Clarifications

The majority of the studies on this topic in the River Plate area have been limited to the context of trade, showing us the increase in the exports of leather, tallow, and other cattle subproducts. This movement was undoubtedly positive and reflects an appreciable growth in livestock; but, a number of exorbitant figures have been cited that must be criticized.

Ricardo Levene, for example, spoke of an annual average of 800,000 hides sent to Europe during the period between the proclamation of free trade and the Peace of Versailles in 1783; in fact, between 1779 and 1784, we have recorded an average annual exportation of only 446,757 hides;4 again Levene, referring to the period following the United States Revolutionary War, indicated the total of 1,400,000 hides per year; however, the data from Azara for the years 1792–96 (probably the best years for colonial exports before the disaster of the Napoleonic Wars) only reach about half this figure, with 758,117 units per year.5 And, if we are guided by the figures contributed by Woodbine Parish, the quantity quoted by Levene would only just have been reached by 1822–29.6 Here, therefore, is a first need for clarification: we should look more carefully at the figures that refer to this boom in River Plate cattle exports.

Two other facts of capital importance must be presented. First, of the total quantity of hides exported from the River Plate (and this is what is mentioned in the figures quoted above), only a part refers to Buenos Aires. The rest belong to Montevideo. Second, even in this percentage of hides exported from Buenos Aires, those that did not originate in the region belonging to this city occupy a far from meager place.

Let us take a quick look at some details related to our first point. During the period 1779–84, 47 percent of all the hides exported from the River Plate, i.e., on average, 209,667 units, corresponded to Buenos Aires, with the remainder coming from Montevideo.7 We do not possess many data for the following years, but the figure quoted in the manuscript of the diary of Juan Francisco de Aguirre for 1790 seems to confirm grosso modo the respective percentages of Buenos Aires and Montevideo—the former accounting for 44 percent of the total number of hides exported to Europe.8

The second fact is much more problematic, given that the directories of sales taxes on products from the land kept by the capital’s customs house do not include the products coming from the immediate countryside; and so, it is not possible to know, with any degree of accuracy, the origin of all the hides received in Buenos Aires. Nevertheless, we can get some approximate figures. During the period 1781–90, an average of almost 100,000 units entered the city each year, not including, we repeat, the hides from the immediate countryside.9 To these we must add the hides obtained from the cattle slaughtered to supply the city itself and its surrounding countryside. Aguirre gives us very accurate data on the supply of the city, and for the years 1783–92, we have an annual average of 38,000 animals.10 If we add the cattle slaughtered in the country, we reach a total of 70,000 head per year.11 Thus, to summarize for this decade, we have a figure that is about 170,000 hides per year (the alcabala registers plus the supplies for the city and immediate countryside). We could say, therefore, that the difference between this last figure and the average quantity exported to Europe would give us the approximate sum of the hides received from the countryside. We have said approximate because it is obvious that some of these hides were used in the city and would never have been exported. But, let us continue. If, in the period 1779–84 about 209,667 hides were exported annually, the share of the countryside would be equivalent to some 40,000 to 50,000 hides; and as the quantity of exports grew to reach the figure given by Félix de Azara for the years 1792–96, the share of the countryside would have attained a maximum total of 120,000 hides per year.12

To summarize, the countryside around Buenos Aires must have accounted for approximately 30 percent of the total number of hides sent to Europe in its time of maximum expansion, before the end of the colonial era. And it is obvious that we now have to add to this percentage the hides from the countryside plus those from the meat supply.

But where did those 100,000 hides, not from the countryside, come from? During the period 1781–90, the porteño sales tax directories give us accurate data: 46 percent came from the Banda Oriental,13 22 percent from Misiones, 12 percent from Santa Fe, and almost 10 percent from Córdoba.14

The reader will forgive this mass of figures. It was absolutely necessary to look a little more closely into this panorama of growth of the River Plate region at the end of the eighteenth century. We should abandon once and for all the idea of an immediate area around Buenos Aires teeming with thousands of animals and populated exclusively by enormous ranches with an abundance of cattle. There was undoubtedly an increase in the total number of livestock, but, first, it was still not so dramatic; and second, it did not reach its maximum extent in the coastal countryside, which was the first to be colonized.

In fact, we feel that the information on tithes that we will present below should contribute to a clearer understanding of the picture in more realistic terms. Furthermore, this material will help us show, on the basis of some quantitative evidence, the true nature of the process of regional differentiation that the Bourbon reforms, added to the international events occurring at the end of the eighteenth century, created in the whole of the territory that later became the land of the Argentinians.

1. The sources

Before beginning, it is necessary to outline the nature of the sources that we have used. We have worked with a series of data on the tithes for all the regions in different periods,15 but we should above all refer briefly to some of the methodological and interpretative problems that they present.

First, in almost all the tithe headshowns (administrative centers for collection of tithes), the tithes were leased and not collected directly by the church; thus, the lessees proposed a certain sum in the hope that they would later gain fat profits by selling the products of the tithe harvest in the market place. The curve constructed from these data thus expresses several different things at the same time: the movement of the prices of the tithe products; the movement of agricultural production and livestock farming; and, finally, the possibilities for profit of those who leased the tithes. And it is obvious that it is not an easy job to measure accurately the weight of each of these factors.

A recent study, centered on a particular agricultural region in Upper Peru, the valley of Cochabamba, shows us the difficulties encountered in this type of series, but also, its utility as an indirect indicator of the movement of production and of agricultural and livestock prices. We refer to the study by Brooke Larson, “Rural Rhythms of Class Conflict in Eighteenth-Century Cochabamba.” The author shows us that an inverse correlation exists there between the years of the highest tithes and the good harvests. That is to say, in the years when the figure, in pesos, for the tithes is the highest, the harvest is a disaster.16

We have tried to trace some type of relationship between these two variables for the case of the Litoral and, more specifically, for the case of the tithe headshown corresponding to Buenos Aires; but this region seems rather odd in this regard. Thus, we know from some accounts that in 1790 the harvest was a failure17 and, as can be seen in graph 7, the total of the tithes was relatively high. That is to say, in this case it would coincide with the behavior observed by Larson in Cochabamba. The years 1796 and 1799 present, however, a totally different picture. These two years had excellent harvests18 and the total in pesos of the grain tithes is also high—in fact, the one corresponding to 1796 is the second highest of the entire period studied, as can be seen in graph 7. Of course, we could infer that the tithe payers and receivers “made a mistake” and did bad business in those years, which is always possible (but were they playing bulls or bears?). We believe, however, that we are here faced with the particular behavior of a grain market that is tied to an open agricultural economy and that has no real experience of a subsistence crisis. In any case, we cannot guess at too definite an explanation from the data we have at hand. We can only emphasize this type of source as an indirect indicator of the general movement of production and prices.

And this brings us, appropriately, to our second problem. As the reader will have realized, the data are expressed in pesos, and, thus, the ideal solution would be to deflate these indices. But, in order to do this, we would need to possess price series for all the tithe products region by region (or at least a series that corresponded to the most important tithe products for each headshown). For example, we would need a series for grape must and wheat in Mendoza, for must in San Juan, for wheat and corn in Santiago del Estero, for wheat and cattle in Buenos Aires. We have no basis for supposing that, if wheat went up in Santiago del Estero, an area of irrigated wheat between the Salado and Dulce Rivers, the same would have been true in the foothills of the Andes in Cuyo or on the porteño coast of San Isidro. Furthermore, it is obvious that if we had at our disposal a list of prices such as has been described, with this alone, we could have produced a memorable study.19

Growth and Regional Differentiation: A Preliminary Outline

Between 1786 and 1802, dates for which we possess the full tithe data for all the regions, the sum total grew by 59 percent. Always remembering what has been stated previously about the influence of prices, it appears evident that we are faced here with real growth in production.

Logically enough, this growth was not achieved at the same pace in all regions, and even some areas such as Cuyo and the old Litoral of Corrientes had a considerably reduced relative share of the grand total. Tucumán, on the other hand, showed the highest growth index of all the regions, increasing by 246 percent between the two dates mentioned; followed by Santa Fe with 153 percent, and Buenos Aires, far behind, with 35 percent. This would obviously give us a substantial change in the relative share of each region in the grand total. Graph 1 shows us these differences between the data for the two dates mentioned, in a clear fashion.

As can be seen, the increase in the share of Tucumán and Santa Fe is perfectly evident; in the same way, the net reduction in the share of Cuyo, Corrientes, Montevideo, and even Buenos Aires is revealed. Once more, let us repeat that we are discussing their relative shares and not net growth; even though Buenos Aires and Montevideo grew between these two dates (by 35 and 18 percent, respectively), this growth was much less than that of Tucumán, and their percentile share in 1802 less. It seems evident that this first approximation, which has been estimated from raw data with no breakdown, can only partially help us to understand the problem facing us. But here we have already shown a first new conclusion: Tucumán is the region that experienced most relative growth between these two dates.

Graph 2 expresses the totals in pesos for all regions, and here we have carried out a process of aggregation,20 which gives us more detailed data.

As can be seen, in the period 1788–92, Buenos Aires and the Banda Oriental are the clearly dominant areas, followed by Córdoba. Mendoza and San Juan are in one of their worst moments of the whole second half of the eighteenth century. The sum total of their tithes is lower than those of the Catamarca Valley and San Miguel de Tucumán. The Nuevo Litoral is at an impasse.

Let us now turn to the period 1798–1802. The growth experienced by Córdoba between the chosen periods was enormous. It was now the second most important tithe capital in the whole of the River Plate region. We were already aware that Tucumán had been the area of greatest relative growth and we now find that this positive movement was due almost exclusively to the enormous advances made by Córdoba. In the second place, we can observe the boom of the Nuevo Litoral, which had now left Corrientes behind. In both cases, i.e., in Córdoba and in the Nuevo Litoral, it can clearly be seen that they have moved away from their immediate followers in their respective regions.

Although we are still working in too short a time frame, we can briefly summarize these initial conclusions. In the period 1788–92, we are faced with an unsurprising fact: the almost complete dominance of Buenos Aires within the regional whole. But two phenomena stand out: on the one hand, the impasse in the advance of the Nuevo Litoral (as shown by the still fragile image given by this livestock farming frontier); and, on the other, the critical situation in Cuyo. During the period 1798–1802, we must first recognize the spectacular advances made by Córdoba and then the Nuevo Litoral, followed by Buenos Aires and the Banda Oriental. It is also possible to see a slight recovery of Cuyo, due, in large part, as we shall see, to the behavior of San Juan. The rest of the areas show a more or less stable condition.


At this point it is necessary to carry out an analysis by region that encompasses a longer time scale. We shall do so by distinguishing three large regions into which we have divided the immense territory that stretches from the ravine of Humahuaca to the Banda Oriental. We will begin with Tucumán, as that is the region that showed the greatest (and most surprising) growth during the whole of this period.


Graph 3 illustrates the different growth rhythms shown by the diverse tithe areas in Tucumán between 1775 and 1803.

Something that stands out immediately is the situation of Córdoba. If, during the period from 1775–80 to 1788–92, its behavior was similar to that of the rest of the areas (in fact, San Miguel de Tucumán was on its heels during the time interval), the Córdoba take-off during the period 1788–92 and 1800–03 was impressive, and we have already seen how it did in fact become the second most important tithe headshown in all of the Tucumán—River Plate territory. Another interesting fact is that a region that fell behind was the Valley of Catamarca, which was overtaken by San Miguel de Tucumán and even seemed to lose its historical position of being second to Córdoba. We say “seemed” because, in fact, data from the years 1804, 1805, and 1807 restore it to second place.21 In any case, the advantage that Córdoba had gained over its followers at the end of the century was indeed remarkable. Paradoxically, however, this is an almost exact repetition of the regions’ positions of a century before, at the end of the seventeenth century, when Córdoba only contributed 41 percent of the total sum of Tucumán tithes. If we compare the data for 1800–03 with those that refer to 1691–92, the similarity of the relative positions is surprising.

We should avoid drawing conclusions that are too definitive (we are comparing the isolated data drawn from one year with the average for four years from a century later); however, some commentary is required. First, there is the predominance of Córdoba. If the figure that corresponds to 1691–92—and we emphasize that it is just one year, as the tithes were received from June 24 to June 23—were representative, it would serve to verify the effects of the so-called seventeenth-century crisis on Córdoba: at the two ends of the long century that runs from 1691 to 1803, the Cordoban capital occupied an exceptional place, with 41 percent of the total tithes for the entire region. On the other hand, during the period from 1775–80 to 1788–92, it only accounted for 31 percent of this total. Second, Catamarca still occupied second place; but, if in 1691–92 it accounted for a 16 percent share, at the end of the eighteenth century this had decreased to only 13 percent. And, third, if we total the percentages for Catamarca and La Ríoja (two areas that are similar, at least in production of brandy and cotton), we can see that, at the end of the seventeenth century, they accounted for 27 percent of the total volume and, in contrast, in the years 1800–03, they reached only 20 percent of the total.

These percentages seem to show a very obvious crisis for brandy and cotton cloth in the Valley and La Rioja, in both coastal and inland markets throughout the eighteenth century. Initially, products coming from San Juan contributed to the progressive decline of brandy made in Catamarca and La Rioja in those markets. Later, with the Bourbon reforms and the entrance at a good price of dimity from Barcelona and the products that derived from the Spanish Mediterranean agriculture, this crisis simply worsened. These two regions would stay definitively behind and during the nineteenth century would occupy a notable place as a breeding ground for peasant revolts.

Finally, there was another important fact: Santiago del Estero, which had a much larger population than La Rioja or Salta, for example, invariably occupied last place. But, we cannot overlook an element that could belie this fact. Did the Indians from Santiago pay tithes? We do not know; the only thing that is sure is that this jurisdiction was the most important one, from the point of view of the indigenous population, in the whole of Tucumán, from the end of the seventeenth century onward. That is to say, Santiago del Esteros last place may be corrected when we know more about the status of the indigenous population with regard to the payment of tithes.

The Region of Cuyo

We will now move on to Cuyo and begin with graph 4. Here we see expressed the annual averages of the tithes from Mendoza and San Juan for different time periods. In the middle of the eighteenth century, when the demographic growth of the city of Buenos Aires had given considerable solidity to this urban market, Cuyo presented a flourishing picture. If we had data available for this period at mid-century for all the areas here studied, it is more than likely that Cuyo would represent (after Buenos Aires, of course) the most important tithe headshown.

On the other hand, the data for the period 1788–91 clearly show the disastrous effects of Bourbon free trade on the agriculture of Cuyo; just counting Mendoza and San Juan (we lack data on San Luis for the years 1755–56), it is easy to confirm that the tithes diminished to less than half what they had been in the middle of the century. We do not know the composition of the San Juan tithes; but, in the case of Mendoza, an isolated reference permits us to verify something that we had already supposed: grape must is the foremost tithe product, followed distantly by wheat, and at a totally secondary level, muscatel raisins and figs.23

The alternatives of the porteño and Litoral markets, now invaded by liquor and dried fruit from the Spanish Mediterranean, show us in what way the Bourbon measures, although they contributed to the solution of some problems of accumulation in the dynamic Spanish periphery, destroyed the beginnings of an internal market in the dominated areas.

We have few data on the entrance of Mediterranean brandy and wines into the River Plate region,24 but, from what we know from other regions of Hispanic America, like Mexico, we can glimpse the important role that these products played in exports from the peninsula. In the period 1802–04, for example, brandy and wine occupied the second place by value of goods received at Veracruz, composing almost 12 percent of the total value of imports.25

The concrete effects of this invasion of Spanish liquors (and probably the brandy that arrived from Brazil) can be clearly seen in the most important market that the products of Cuyo had in the whole of the River Plate region: the city of Buenos Aires. Graph 5 clearly illustrates this fact.

From the years 1781 and 1782, which, because of the disruption of the Atlantic trade caused by the United States Revolutionary War, can be considered equivalent grosso modo to the years preceding Free Trade, the index that refers to quantities received by Buenos Aires of barrels of brandy and wine, shows a sharp decline, to about 50 (this, in 1784, with the base of 100 corresponding to the years 1781–82). And the indices that express the total in monetary value of the goods from Cuyo received by the city drop even more, to about 48 for Mendoza and 39 for San Juan. Given that wine and brandy constituted, by far, the most important products that this region sent into Buenos Aires, these curves are, furthermore, a clear sign of the fall in the price of such markets.26

In the Buenos Aires market (which, for all purposes, functioned in unison with that of Montevideo, since a part of the produce of the land taken to the capital was then re-exported to the neighboring shore), brandy from Cuyo is, after maté, the most important product of the land recorded in the alcabala registers. In the years covered by graph 6, more than 90 percent of the total number of barrels of brandy received in Buenos Aires were from San Juan. The production from La Rioja, which years before was brought to the coastal cities, had been completely pushed aside by that from Cuyo; transport for the inhabitants of La Rioja and Catamarca was a heavy burden, as it was necessary to make the journey, at least until Córdoba, on mule back and over terrible roads. Thus, the brandy from La Rioja during this era was necessarily restricted to the small markets of a few upriver settlements and some in the Northwest.27

When this crisis of the porteño market became evident to the producers of San Juan, the merchants and harvesters decided to redirect their commerce and began to approach other markets. In 1783, for example, even though 73 percent of the exports of brandy from San Juan were still directed toward Buenos Aires, 10 percent already went in the direction of Potosí and Upper Peru and 6 percent to Salta, Jujuy, and the small mining centers near these cities.28 But, this attempt at a new direction was of doubtful outcome, not only because of the effect of the enormous distances on such a perishable product as brandy (especially as it was carried on mule back and in country-made wine skins),29 but also because of the competition from much closer regions with superior productive capacity.30

If we go back for a moment to graph 5, we will see that there is another fact that should be emphasized: at the beginning of the nineteenth century, it was San Juan that dominated Mendoza, with a much larger share in the Cuyo tithe total; and, according to our sources, this tendency was maintained at least until 1808.31 Hence, in spite of the fact that Mendoza had the possibility of a much greater diversification than San Juan (this is clearly seen in the entries for the decade 1781–90, when, in order to lessen the wine crisis, Mendoza turned to wheat, figs, grapes, and even preserved pears, while San Juan seemed to have been tied to the destiny of its brandies), from the end of the 1790s, the profile of the porteño market for brandy seems much more favorable than that for wines—we emphasize that just as San Juan dominated in brandy, Mendoza did so in wine. Not unrelated to this fact is the extremely complex panorama presented by the exchanges with Europe from these years until the War of Independence.

The Litoral and the Banda Oriental

We will now study the region for which we have the most detailed information. This will permit us to make a much more profound analysis of the differential development of the total tithe products and their internal exchanges; and will permit a more precise evaluation of the true role of the growth of livestock in these years. Graph 6 shows some initial general data.

As we can see, from 1761 to 1765, the dominance of Buenos Aires is total in each of the periods analyzed. (The data are broken down according to the criteria expressed in note 20 only for the periods 1782–86 and 1798–1802, as our sources do not break down the quantities owed by those regions in the Banda Oriental dependent on the bishopric of Buenos Aires during the period 1761–65.) Another fact that should be noted is that the real moment in the growth of the tithes from the Banda Oriental was reached in the years between 1761–65 and 1782–86, while the total tithes that corresponded to Buenos Aires grew much more in the period from 1782–86 to 1789–1802. The strange behavior of the tithes from Santa Fe should also be underscored: a decline in the years from 1761–65 to 1782–86 (a fact that is confirmed in itself by other sources32) and an enormous growth at the end of the eighteenth century. Exactly the reverse is true of Corrientes; while it surpassed Santa Fe in the years 1761–65 and 1782–86, it was decidedly behind at the end of the century.

A first general conclusion, which we already touched on in the introduction, is the evident growth of the Litoral, but this was not experienced equally during the same periods in all of the areas in question. There were delays and discontinuities that point up the difficulties of this cattle-ranching frontier.

Furthermore, the documentation on the Litoral and the Banda Oriental is much richer. Table 2 presents the data on the internal composition of the total volume of products by grains, cattle, and orchard products.

As can be seen, there is a clear differentiation between, on the one hand, Buenos Aires and the Banda Oriental, with an evident predominance of grain—mainly wheat—and, on the other, Santa Fe and Corrientes, where cattle are more important than grain. Logically, as Buenos Aires and Montevideo were the largest tithe headshowns in the whole Litoral, the predominance of grain over cattle would have been quite clear if the data were regrouped for all the region: 67 percent in grain against 26 percent in cattle and 7 percent in the products received from the orchards and small holdings of the cities and their surrounding countryside.

We could thus say that there is a clear separation between the countryside that was the first to be colonized, i. e., Buenos Aires, and Montevideo, where the predominance of wheat was total not only in the districts surrounding the city, but also in Maldonado, and the new Litoral frontier. This frontier included the districts of Paraná, which corresponded to Santa Fe; those of the southern bank of the Corrientes River, which corresponded to the city of the same name; and those that lay between the River Yi and the River Negro on the Banda Oriental, which were dependent on Montevideo, in all of which cattle were the most important product.

Map 1 shows us this regionalization in a more illustrative fashion. It should be remembered that a cattle region of great importance, the territory of the old Jesuit missions, is not shown on this map or in the rest of the material that refers to tithes, as the Indians from these villages generally were not obliged to pay tithes or paid minimal ones. If data were available on this area, the share that corresponded to cattle ranching would show an appreciable increase, given that we know that especially the eastern territories of the two mission villages, Yapeyú and La Cruz, were very rich in semi-wild cattle, a wealth constantly sacked by the village administrators, by the General Administrator, and by clandestine slaughterers33; so this represents a large gap in our data.

Let us discuss in a little more detail the predominance of grain that we have already pointed out. We think that this played an important role in the growth of cities like Buenos Aires and Montevideo, as it contributed, together with the very low prices of meat, to the very low cost of living that authors writing at the end of the colonial era continually emphasized. With a harvest for the Buenos Aires countryside estimated at some 210, 000 Castilian fanegas (1 fanega = 1. 60 bushels) on average for the end of the eighteenth century, and an approximate annual consumption of 150, 000 to 160, 000 fanegas, 34 it is evident, if we compare this to other cases, that this zone was one of the most important areas of wheat production and consumption in the Spanish American continent. In fact, according to Lyman L. Johnson, the consumption of wheat bread showed patterns similar to the European ones of the era. 35

If we are talking of consumption, the few data that we have for other cities need no comment. For example, Guadalajara, with a population that could be estimated at 15 percent less than that of Buenos Aires, consumed in 1780-1800 some 16, 000 fanegas of wheat and flour per year; Puebla, in the second decade of the nineteenth century, and with a population similar in size to that of the port city in these years, reached a consumption of 126, 000 fanegas per year and must have been the Mexican city with the largest consumption of wheat flour per capita. 36 We should obviously not forget the role of maize consumption in Mexico. In fact, the nearest cases, with regard to consumption figures, must be those for Lima, if we have correctly interpreted data taken from the Mercurio Peruano. 37

If we are talking of production, we see that in the largest wheat-growing areas of Spanish America at the end of the eighteenth century, the levels attained in the countryside around Buenos Aires are rarely equalled, even in the cases of the Bajío and the Valley of Atlixco in Mexico or the most fertile areas of central Chile. 38 And we should emphasize that in both the Mexican and Chilean examples, irrigation was almost always of prime importance.

There are three elements that should be taken into account and that emphasize the enormous wheat potential of the Buenos Aires countryside: the high yields; the relatively low population density; and the possibility of continuous extension of the area under cultivation. That is to say, it was possible to incorporate new fertile lands almost indefinitely into this expansion. We say “almost” because it is obvious that, in the long run, this expansive movement would have very definite limits. But, it was a long way from the approximately 25 to 30 leagues’ width by 150 leagues’ length of the Buenos Aires countryside at the beginning of the nineteenth century, to the 67 million hectares that the region of the Pampas would make up a century later. These limits cannot be compared, then, with those obtaining in other agricultural situations that were “closed,” as in Mexico. To increase the production capacity of areas such as the Valley of Atlixco, Cholula, or the Bajío, it was almost always indispensable to invest in great irrigation works; and these were not comparable, in social cost, to the “investment” required to enlarge the limits of the River Plate region. 39 Of course, a simple fact should be noted—each portion of land newly incorporated within the expanding limits of the River Plate region was virgin.

Let us now turn to the agricultural productivity of the Buenos Aires countryside. As is shown, agricultural productivity is related to several conditions, among which we should emphasize the quantity of seed used per unit of land, the proportion of area harvested to that sown, and the yield per unit of land. Here we will concentrate almost exclusively on the proportion of grain harvested to grain sown, because the other variables present difficulties (metrological and documentary) that are almost insurmountable, given the present state of research into the agriculture of the River Plate region in this epoch. If we compare the evaluative data that we have been able to glean with contemporary European data, we are able to appreciate the distance that separated these two agricultural situations.

We should emphasize that all the estimates refer to average yields in unirrigated cultivated areas; and we have no evidence that fertilizers were used. 41 In the cases in which we have descriptions of agricultural implements, the authors tend to call our attention to their rudimentary nature. 42 But, as a series of studies on this topic referring to the Mexican countryside demonstrates, it is imperative that these isolated estimates not be taken too literally and, also, that all calculations of productivity that are based exclusively on yields of grains harvested per grain sown be regarded with suspicion. 43 For example, the little we know about the quantity of seeds used per unit of land would indicate—if there is no metrological trap—that we are midway between the Mexican and European cases. The Buenos Aires farmers seemed to have had heavier hands than their contemporaries in Michoacán, but not as heavy as those of the peasants of Languedoc or L’Ile de France. 44 This could perhaps have resulted from the difficulties caused by the weeds in a climate of generous rainfall, as Jean Meuvret indicates in the case of the Paris region. 45 In any case, the present difficulties in following this line of argument are almost insurmountable and the lack of available material, overwhelming. For every hundred account books from Mexican haciendas, it is possible, though not in every case, to find only one for the River Plate. This says as much about the special conditions of farming in the River Plate region as it does of the traditionally bad administrative habits (and guilty consciences) of proprietors and their descendants.

Thus, we have no choice but to look to the estimates of yield of grain harvested per grain sown; after all, the collection of data of this sort has been the Herculean task of Bernard Slicher van Bath for more than forty years. Going back, then, to the figures presented in Table 3, and leaving aside the proportion proposed by Félix de Azara (as we said in note 40, this seems excessively low and probably arises from his deep-seated conviction, as an Aragonese, of the supremacy of cattle over agriculture in the future development of the region), we can compare the remaining figures with those prevailing at the time in the most advanced agricultural regions of Europe—regions using sophisticated rotation systems, fertilizers, and, in many cases, irrigation. Table 4 presents some of the data collected by Slicher van Bath.

The differences are very marked, especially if we remember once more the character of “open” agriculture that the Buenos Aires region possessed. It is quite easy to understand what the future of this region was to be; here was the potential for a substantial differential profit—just awaiting the existence of a market and an abundant labor force in order to be realized. In these years, the possibility of sending wheat and flour to outside markets was almost nonexistent; and even though these products were exchanged in the interior of the colonial area (wheat from Buenos Aires was sent to Córdoba if the local harvest failed, or produce from Santiago came to Buenos Aires when there was a drought in the coastal area), land transport charges made this commerce practicable only when local crises pushed the prices sky high. There was always the possibility of sending flour to Montevideo, Rio de Janeiro, and even to far-off Mauritius; but, during the entire colonial era, the effect of transport and labor costs, which the consumers’ large buying powers, paradoxically, merely served to aggravate, did not allow these sporadic exchanges to be profitable, unless, as we have said, truly exceptional circumstances prevailed.

Another fact requires emphasis, if only in passing, for in this article we cannot go into it deeply. The insistence of some authors on a “leather civilization” has left unremarked, with honorable exceptions, 47 all those men and women who made possible the cereal wealth of the countryside. These workers, in the main, tenants, were just campesinos, although this sounds strange in reference to Buenos Aires. In fact, if the calculations do not mislead us, we could venture to say that some 25 to 35 percent of the total average harvest was the result of the work of the poorest laborers, who were always trapped between paying their rent and the monopoly of a few merchants and bankers. 48

And where were these Buenos Aires farm laborers located? Table 2 has already shown us the figures indicating the total predominance of cereals over cattle in this entire region; but, if we look a little more closely, we can see this phenomenon in greater detail. Table 5 shows us the distribution of grain and cattle in the six partidos of the Buenos Aires countryside in 1787.

While the coastal area of San Isidro and Matanza accounted for 55 percent of the grain tithes, it yielded only 8 percent of those from cattle. Lujan and Areco seem to be divided remarkably equally between cereals and cattle. Arrecifes and Magdalena, however, account for 50. 5 percent of the total paid in cattle tithes and for only about 13 percent for grain tithes. Unfortunately, we lack complete data for grain, zone by zone, but, those we have for cattle, detailed by zone, confirm the tendency illustrated in Table 5. 50 If we wished to underline further the importance of grain in the countryside near the city, we should consider that, in 1787, the sum in pesos of the grain tithes in the two cereal zones surpassed the total amount collected in cattle tithes.

Nevertheless, agriculture, which was left very much to itself, had its difficulties. Graph 7 shows us the growth of the grain tithe curves for Buenos Aires and Montevideo, the two cereal areas of greatest importance in the whole coastal region. It is easy to see not only the coincidence between the curves—which points up the importance of climatic effects on the rotation of the agricultural cycle—but also, the steep fluctuations of the Buenos Aires curves, much more pronounced than those shown by Montevideo. This was an agricultural area that had great possibilities, but was greatly dependent upon the fluctuations of the climate.

If we now move on to data for the period 1798-1802, we can clearly see the marked advance of cattle over grain in the composition of the tithe volumes in the most important capitals.

Before commenting on these percentages, it is necessary to stress a problem that we have already mentioned; namely, that our sources show us tithes in pesos and not in amounts of goods. What happened to prices during the period from 1782 to 1802? Thanks to the work of Lyman L. Johnson, we can clarify some points from the case of Buenos Aires. According to graph 1 of the article we have cited, 51 it seems obvious that prices, during the interval between 1782-86 and 1798-1802, far from rising, actually fell significantly. We pass from a value of approximately 170 to one of about 130. We should also not forget that wheat and salt meat were the two most important components in the weighted index drawn up by Johnson. 52 Furthermore, this was a terrible era for Atlantic trade, which recovered, for a short while, from 1802 onward. So there is nothing to make us suppose that the price of raw hides acted very differently from that of wheat and meat before 1802. It is then obvious that in Buenos Aires the increase in tithe volume, which is cited for the years between 1782-86 and 1798-1802 (56 percent between these two periods), expresses a real increase in production. We evidently cannot generalize this to the whole of the Litoral and the Banda Oriental; but we believe that it does show a general tendency for the region.

In any case, we will now move on to analyze the data presented in Table 6. If we leave aside the special case of Corrientes (where there was a very pronounced decline in cattle raising), we can observe an accentuation of the clear division between the country districts around Buenos Aires, Montevideo, and Maldonado, with their clear predominance of grain, even though they experienced a recession in comparison with the period 1782-86, and the districts between Colonia and Soriano, lying toward what we have called the Nuevo Litoral, where the predominance of cattle was now total. In other words, the large growth experienced by the Nuevo Litoral was due almost exclusively to an increase in cattle stock. Map 2 shows us in more detail the relationships between grain and cattle in the different headshowns of the Litoral and the Banda Oriental.

If we compare the general data for the period 1782-86 with those of the period 1798-1802, this advance of cattle over grain is clearly shown.

The relative growth of cattle is evident, but grain continued to dominate the region. Furthermore, graph 8 shows, with the data for the two most important cattle headshowns (Buenos Aires and Santa Fe), what a slow increase it was, and how it became noticeable only at the end of the eighteenth century. The cattle wealth of the region is an undeniable reality, but it was still subject to some instability. 53

3. Tithes and population

In order to complete this sketch of the regionalization of the Tucumán-River Plate region at the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth, we have only a few more comments on the relationship between the increase in tithes and the growth of the population.

Even though reliable data on the demography of the different regions are not abundant, some rather provisional conclusions can be reached from the data already known. 54 Before going into this, it is imperative to remember that we will compare these two variables only in those areas where the indigenous population is in the minority or almost nonexistent, because, as we have already said, in many cases (and the topic would have to be studied region by region), the indigenous population did not pay tithes; and so the relationship between the tithes and the population would be misleading from the start.

Let us first look at two cases in which the population grew more rapidly than the tithe volume. Before referring to the tables, it should be pointed out that, unfortunately, the dates for the two variables do not always coincide. In the case of the tithes, we have invariably taken four- or five-year averages so as to cancel out the effects of the agricultural cycle— and thus, despite the lack of coincidence among some of the dates, and the fact that the figures are expressed in index numbers, the tendency we present seems plausible.

As can be seen in the two cases, the population grew more than the tithe volume. Clearly, if we had a series of prices with which to deflate the figures, we could firmly state that the tithe index, once deflated, expressed the behavior of production. In light of these data, however, it is necessary to underline the great difference existing between Buenos Aires and Cuyo. The port city still held a world of artisans, merchants of different types, and other tradesmen, all of whom did not depend exclusively on working the land or farming cattle. On the other hand, in Cuyo, with its heavily farming population, the highest number of inhabitants were closely related to agriculture. Here, the fact that the demographic growth outstripped (and by far) the tithe volume reveals a catastrophic situation. This is one more clear indicator of the decadence of Cuyo in these difficult years of Bourbon free trade.

Let us now move on to two examples of a totally different nature. Let us compare the situation of Córdoba with that of the Nuevo Litoral.

Here, the greater growth of the tithes relative to that of the population is clear; the increase in the tithe volume was several times that of the population. We already know that Córdoba was an area where tithes increased greatly during these years. Together with the Nuevo Litoral, it occupied first place, relatively speaking, although we do not know the internal composition of the total tithe. Nevertheless, it cannot be very farfetched to suppose that this growth was basically the result of an increase in livestock, both ganado mayor and ganado menor. Córdoba possessed considerable wealth in sheep, and, furthermore, was the prime exporter of raw hides from the interior to Buenos Aires. Moreover, we know that this region was a typically campesino one, where small and medium properties abounded, raising both cattle and sheep. This might indicate that the growth in total tithes, exceeding the population increase, signified a gain in income for many sectors of the population. Even though this is just a hypothesis, it is enough to compare Córdoba with the situation existing in the Nuevo Litoral to achieve a clear understanding of the differences. We find here a marked increase in livestock—exclusively cattle— in a region where everything would indicate that the predominant system in the rural areas was the large estate. There was undoubtedly a growth in wealth, but this upward movement had, apparently, social consequences that were different from those we might expect in the case of Córdoba.

4. Some conclusions

First, it seems obvious that the Bourbon reforms in this region had a tremendous effect in accentuating changes that, for some time, had been emerging in the space occupied by the future territory of Argentina and Uruguay. The role of Buenos Aires and the growth of what we have called the Nuevo Litoral are two elements already apparent before the reforms; and the latter served only to accelerate a latent process (as in the case of the Nuevo Litoral), which was already established—as was also the role that Buenos Aires had played for several decades vis-à-vis the vast interior. In the same way, it is necessary to emphasize that this growth of the Litoral, although real, was still very fragile. The different courses taken by Santa Fe and Corrientes show us as much. In fact, we can state that it is only at the beginning of the nineteenth century that stock raising became truly active in this region. Obviously, this strengthening of the cattle industry did not constitute predominance, and the importance that agriculture continued to have in the whole area of early colonization of the coastal region clearly showed this. We feel that the image of an immense pampa traversed by a handful of horse-riding gauchos, busy with their lassoes and strumming their guitars—a dearly loved simplification of a whole genre of representations of the past of our Litoral—is false. It would not have been easy to bring in a harvest of 200, 000 Castilian fanegas just by playing the guitar.

If we turn to another region, Tucumán, we find a novel fact that is worthy of mention: the fantastic growth of Córdoba at the end of the eighteenth century. We have already stated that we assume this positive movement was basically caused by a considerable increase in livestock in the whole region dominated by this inland city. Thanks to this, and as has been shown by Carlos Sempat Assadourian, Córdoba became a region exporting wool to the world market in the first half of the nineteenth century. 55 If we add to this the existence of a well-established farming community in the Cordoban countryside, we have all that is necessary to show a growth panorama that is quite distinct in its social effects, from the one that was developing in a parallel fashion in the Litoral—or, at least, from the one that has been painted for us as being typical of this region.

Finally, let us look at the other side of the coin in this process being accelerated by the Bourbon reforms. Both the cotton area (Catamarca and La Rioja, and at a secondary level, the Indian villages of the Jesuit missions) and the area of wines and brandies (Cuyo, Catamarca, and La Rioja) would move in the opposite direction from that taken by the Litoral. Although the decline of brandies from the valley and La Rioja must have begun well before the declaration of free trade in 1778, as we have already hinted, at the same time, it is evident that these commercial measures greatly aggravated the crisis. For cotton, another circumstance should be taken into account. When, from 1830 on, Córdoba, the most important producer of ponchos, coarse cloth, and blankets, saw the slow but sure decline of its market in Buenos Aires and the Litoral, this negative process was counterbalanced, in part, by the exports of hides and wool in bulk to the port city. But, in the case of Catamarca, La Rioja, and Misiones, this was totally impossible, as it was also in the case of Corrientes. And if Corrientes could try a tentative “sortie” with certain agricultural and cattle products, for the other towns, this was a dead end. Much has been said about the cattle wealth of La Rioja (and from what the tithes tell us, this “wealth” does not seem to have been very remarkable in the first decade of the nineteenth century). We should not forget that the raw cotton that these regions could have sent to Buenos Aires, as they in fact did at the end of the eighteenth century, did not have a promising future. Produced in the context of the campesino family, cotton could not compete in the international market with products from the United States or the Orient. Thus, for all these regions, the disappearance of the textile market of the Litoral and Buenos Aires was a great loss.

With regard to Cuyo, the data we present in the text seem to be highly significant. And if they were not sufficient, we should listen to the voice of one important actor in this story, don Diego de Oro, a member of an old family from San Juan, and a producer and merchant of brandies, who was involved in the San Juan crisis during the worst years of free trade. In 1787 he wrote to his fellow Sanjuanino don Jacinto de Castro, who at that moment was living in Buenos Aires:

Dear friend, I consider it wise that you have not sent your herd up to now, considering the miserable situation of wines and brandies . . . [and] according to all accounts, it is getting worse . . .; we are all tired of the brandies, the only trade in this unhappy country. And I assure you that I earnestly desire to get out of this area to take up some other business . . .; and I [also] desire to get rid of my brandies so as to be able to go to the city where you are... to rest for a couple of years from all my hard labors . . .. 56

As we have said, for Cuyo, the Bourbon reforms came as a true disaster.


This article stems from a paper presented at the Symposium on Bourbon Reforms organized by Lyman L. Johnson and Susan Socolow for the 44th International Congress of Americanists, Manchester, England, 1982. The following archival abbreviations will appear throughout the notes: Archivo General de Indias, Seville, AGI; Archivo General de la Nación, Buenos Aires, AGN; Archivo Nacional de Bolivia, Sucre, ANB; and Biblioteca de la Real Academia de la Historia, Madrid, BRAM.


“The estates in Buenos Aires do not produce the yield that should correspond to their size and the number of livestock, as the latter, because of its abundance, is sold at a very low price, and the exports of hides are small and could be much greater. . .” Francisco Millau, Descripción de la Provincia del Río de la Piata (1772) (Buenos Aires, 1947), p. 46.


Félix de Azara, Memoria sobre el estado rural del Río de la Plata y otros informes (Buenos Aires, 1943; the Memoria itself is dated 1801).


Tulio Halperín, in the first chapter of his Revolución y guerra: Formación de un élite dirigente en la Argentina criolla (Buenos Aires, 1972), presents a picture, to date not surpassed, of the evolution of the different regions of the River Plate area at the end of the eighteenth century.


The figure given by Ricardo Levene in Investigaciones acerca de la historia económica del virreinato del Plata, 2 vols. (La Plata, 1929), II, 73; the sum that refers to the period 1779–84 was taken from this author’s “El Río de la Plata en sus relaciones atlánticas: Una balanza comercial (1779–1784),” Moneda y Crédito (Madrid), 141 (June 1977), 97.


The data are from Levene in the work cited in note 4 above and from those of Félix de Azara in his Viajes por la América meridional (Madrid, 1969), p. 294.


According to Woodbine Parish, Buenos Aires y las Provincias del Río de la Plata (Buenos Aires, 1958), p. 511, in the years 1822, 1825, and 1829, an average of 700,000 hides left the city; if we suppose a similar quantity for consignments from Montevideo, we would arrive (forty years later) at the figure proposed by Levene.


Garavaglia, “El Río de la Plata,” 97.


In the manuscript of Juan Francisco de Aguirre’s diary, BRAM-9–21–6, vol. 93, account 15, for 1790, a figure is given of some 151,050 units that entered the city, and 332,401 sent from Buenos Aires; this means that, assuming a slaughter of 70,000 animals (46,736 for the city, and a proposed 20,000–25,000 for the countryside), we would have a share of hides from the countryside of little more than 111,000 units. The corresponding percentage for Buenos Aires in the total of the hides sent, taking the average figure of Félix de Azara of 758,117 units, would be about 44 percent.


Data taken from the books and directories of the alcabala registers of the Buenos Aires Customs, in AGN-XIII, files: 44–6–6; 44–6–8; 34–4–3; 34–6–3; 34–6–4; 34–7–1; 34–10–1; 34–11–3; 34–11–5; 34–2–5; 35–3–1; 34–4–1; 34–5–4; 35–11–5.


The Aguirre manuscript (BRAM-9–21–6, vol. 93, p. 92) gives the following figures for heifers and young bulls slaughtered for the supply of the city:

1783 33,896 1788 44,032 
1784 35,040 1789 44,001 
1785 36,120 1790 46,736 
1786 40,400 1791 46,816 
1787 35,408 1792 48,678. 
1783 33,896 1788 44,032 
1784 35,040 1789 44,001 
1785 36,120 1790 46,736 
1786 40,400 1791 46,816 
1787 35,408 1792 48,678. 


See the representation that the loyal officer of the city made in 1783 in Abastos de la ciudad y campaña de Buenos Aires (1773–1809): Documentos para la historia argentina, 22 vols. (Buenos Aires, 1914), IV, 48.


See note 8 above for the data given by Juan Francisco de Aguirre for 1790.


The alcabala registers include in the category of “la otra banda” not only the consignments from Colonia, Espinillo, Vivoras, or Santo Domingo Soriano, but also those from the small ports of the western hank of the Río Uruguay (like Arroyo de la China and others). There is no need to remind the reader that, in the independent era also, an important percentage of the hides sent from the capital of the United Provinces came from both sides of the Río Uruguay.


The above data have been taken from the alcabala registers cited in note 9 above, and from the files AGN-IX: 17–5–1; 17–6–6; 17–5–3; 18–4–5; 17–6–4; 17–7–1; 17–7–3; and 17–5–2, where there is a record of the consignments from the Indian villages to the missions.


The data for Buenos Aires, the Banda Oriental, Santa Fe, and Corrientes are taken from AGI-Audiencia de Buenos Aires 598 (the figures for 1789 are missing) and from the manuscript of Juan Francisco de Aguirre, in BEAM-9–21–5, vol. 94, fjs. 62. Those corresponding to Tucumán have been taken from the same AGI-Buenos Aires 598 and those that refer to Cuyo, from AGI-Chile 458 and Chile 459. In all cases, the figures are given in current pesos.


Brooke Larson, “Rural Rhythms of Class Conflict in Eighteenth-Century Cochabamba,” HAIIR, 60 (Aug. 1980), 407–430.


See Acuerdos del Extinguido Cabildo de Buenos Aires, series III, Vol. 9 (hereinafter Acuerdos), pp. 347, 357.


Cf. Acuerdos, III, II, pp. 120, 514.


On the most suitable way of deflating the tithe series, see, for example, the remarks of J. Goy and E. Le Roy-Ladurie in the “Présentations” of the book edited by them, Les fluctuations du produit de la dime (Paris, 1972), pp. 9–24. With regard to the problem that arises as the result of the lack of agreement between price movements for agricultural and cattle products in the different districts, it is interesting to check the inconsistency of the curves for Buenos Aires, Potosí, and Santiago de Chile, which we know today thanks to the work of Lyman L. Johnson, “Wages, Prices and the Organization of Work in Late Colonial Buenos Aires” (mimeo., 1982); of Nathan Wachtel and Enrique Tandeter, “Conjonctures inverses. Le mouvement des prix à Potosi pendant le XVIIIe. siècle, Anuales E.S.C., (May–June, 1983), 549–613; and of Ruggiero Romano, Una economía colonial: Chile en el siglo XVIII (Buenos Aires, 1965); obviously, these examples refer to cities that are rather far apart and that have clearly different spheres of commercial influence. But, we must ask, is it not true that one of the central characteristics of the marketing system of the colonial era was the fact that it was based on non-equivalent exchanges? In other words, exchange was based on “artificial” price differences among regions (or producers) isolated from one another? For this same reason, if we possessed a series of prices for agricultural and cattle products for the different regions we are studying, it would be possible to find out, applying the methodology tried by Emilio Sereni, the degree of constitution of a unified market in this zone; see Emilio Sereni, Capitalismo e mercato nazionale (Rome, 1966).


We have assumed the following regionalization: (a) Buenos Aires includes the six country regions of Luján, Areco, Arrecifes, Magdalena, Matanza, and Costa de San Isidro, as well as what is received for the category of fruit and alfalfa from the villas; (b) the Banda Oriental includes Montevideo, its orchards, the districts of the eastern strip of the River Plate belonging to the Buenos Aires bishopric (Vivoras, Rosario, Espinillo, Colonia, and Santo Domingo Soriano) and the two districts of Maldonado (San Carlos and San Fernando); also, by the 1798–1802 period, the tithes for cattle from the western strip of the River Yi were included in the Banda Oriental; (c) the Nuevo Litoral comprised the three districts of Santa Fe (Coronda, Arroyos, and Paraná, this last corresponding to the eastern strip of Paraná province), the orchards of the city, and the districts that were then forming and that would later be the territory of Entre Ríos: Gualegay, Gualeguaychu, Arroyo de la China, and the zone that stretches to the south of the River Corrientes, a region the sources originally counted in the Corrientes tithes.


In fact, according to AGI-Buenos Aires 598, the data for these years are:

Catamarca 6755.4 6755.4 7253.4 
SMTucumán 6333.4 6334.4 6584.4 
Catamarca 6755.4 6755.4 7253.4 
SMTucumán 6333.4 6334.4 6584.4 


The data for the four-year period 1800–1803 have been taken from the source cited in the preceding note and those for the year 1691–92 from Pablo Pastells’s collection Historia de la Compañía de Jesús en la provincia del Paraguay (Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Perú, Bolivia y Brasil), 7 vols. (Madrid, 1923), IV, 273–274.


Pedro S. Martínez, Historia económica de Mendoza durante el virreinato 1776-1810 (Madrid, 1961), p. 202.


According to the manuscript of Juan Francisco de Aguirre, in 1790, 4,516 barrels of brandy and 15,945 of wine came into the River Plate area from overseas (see BRAM-9–21–5, vol. 93, account 14). For merely comparative purposes, in the years 1781–82, a time of disruption of the Atlantic traffic, an annual average of 6,050 barrels of brandy and 9,498 of wine entered Buenos Aires from Cuyo (see note 9 above for the source of these figures).


Miguel Lerdo de Tejada, El comercio de México desde la conquista hasta hoy [1853] (Mexico City, 1967), accounts 15, 16, and 17.


According to the directories of land taxes of Buenos Aires, cited in note 9 above.


See, for example, the Telégrafo Mercantil of Oct. 4, 1801, where the prices of brandy from La Rioja in the Cordoban market are quoted.




The wines and brandies of Cuyo were transported in hogsheads with a capacity of about 6 barrels (the barrel equals 100 pounds); loaded in carts, or loads, with a capacity of two barrels of contents, but the physical vessels of which were often composed of wine skins or clay jars. Given that the road from San Juan to Upper Peru, via Valle Fertil, La Rioja, and Catamarca to reach the royal road in San Miguel de Tucumán, is a mule-track, it was inevitable that the brandy—loaded onto wagons, making long journeys in the hot sun, crossing fords and small rivers—would suffer a great deal of loss through evaporation.


In the 1770s, the region of the valleys of Moquegua, Mages, and Vitor had a production capacity of about 450,000 jars of wine (the local jar held 57 pounds) and this gives us a production of double distilled brandy, similar to that produced in San Juan, of some 8,550,000 pounds; see Kendall W. Brown, “A Evolução da Vinicultura em Arequipa, 1550–1800: Um Aspecto da Agricultura Colonial,” Estados Ibero-Americanos, VI (I) (July 1980), 39–52. We do not know exactly the total production capacity of San Juan, but, in 1783, some 8,737 barrels left the city for all destinations: in other words, a total of 837,000 pounds of double distilled brandy (see AGN-XIII-11–5–4); of this total, some 862 barrels went to Upper Peru. According to the Mercurio Peruano, Mar. 24, 1791, in 1790 the Peruvian valleys sent to Upper Peru some 68,000 quintals (equivalent to barrels) of brandy. With regard to wine, the nearness of Cinti made it impossible for Mendoza to make any attempt to send its liquors to Potosí.


In fact, according to AGI-Chile 458; we have the following data:

Mendoza 4550 6000 8181 6420 8250 
San Juan 7000 9000 9771 0679 12084 
Mendoza 4550 6000 8181 6420 8250 
San Juan 7000 9000 9771 0679 12084 


According to the scattered data that Manuel María Cervera presents in his Historia de la ciudad y provincia de Santa Fe: 1573–1853, 2 vols. (Santa Fe, 1907), II, 22–23, the tithes for 1773 reach 2,786 pesos (actually, Cervera makes a mistake and puts 2,931), those of 1774 reach 3,034 pesos, and those of 1777 a total of 3,315 pesos: that is, figures that are even lower than the average for the years 1782–86 (some 3,780 pesos) and that are far from those for the five-year period 1761–65, which reached 4,688 pesos, according to AGI-Buenos Aires 598, document dated, Buenos Aires, Jan. 16, 1766.


For more information about the activities of the eastern slaughterers and the cattle on the formerly Jesuit Indian settlements, consult Pivel Devoto, S. J., Raíces coloniales de la revolución oriental de 1811 (Montevideo, 1967) and L. Sala de Toulon. J. Rodríguez, and N. de la Torre, Evolución económica de la Banda Oriental (Montevideo, 1968).


Juan Francisco de Aguirre says: “Although it is not possible to find the exact supply of wheat, Buenos Aires usually needs the quantity of 80, 000 fanegas; and one can suppose that the supply from its countryside is of an equal amount,” in BRAM-9-21-5, vol. 94; the figure of 160, 000 fanegas as a total harvest seems too high, unless Aguirre is referring to Castilian fanegas (1 Buenos Aires fanega is equal to 2. 19 Castilian fanegas) and this would coincide, then, with another source. For example, Félix de Azara in his Viajes, p. 94, states: “the average harvest [is estimated] at 100, 000 local fanegas, which would make some 219, 300 Castilian fanegas. The annual consumption in Buenos Aires is 70, 000 local fanegas. . . .’’Also see the municipal port agreement of Apr. 14, 1795, which talks of a figure of 80, 000 fanegas for its supply; see Acuerdos, III, II, p. 120. Finally, all these data coincide with the opinion of the senior aiderman of the city, Gregorio Ramos Mejía, who in 1798 calculated the consumption of the city and its countryside to be about 84, 000 local fanegas; in Acuerdos, III, II, p. 351.


Johnson, “Wages, Prices,” 19.


The data on Guadalajara have been taken from Eric Van Young, Hacienda and Market in Eighteenth-Century Mexico: The Rural Economy of the Guadalajara Region, 1675-1820 (Berkeley, 1981), p. 60. For the case of Puebla in the 1820s, we have consulted the data presented by Francisco Téllez in his masters thesis La política económica del ayuntamiento de Puebla, 1819-1840 (Mexico City, 1984), which talks for these years of an approximate average of some 94, 000 Puebla fanegas, which would make some 126, 000 Castilian fanegas. Let us not forget that the city, after the cholera epidemic of 1813 and the revolutionary events, had lost a considerable number of inhabitants, and its population was between 40, 000 and 45, 000 inhabitants around 1825, which explains the fall in the consumption of flour (from almost 215, 000 Castilian fanegas during the first decade of the century when there were about 67, 800 souls); the data on the population of Puebla in the work of Carlos Contreras C. and Juan Carlos Grosso, La estructura ocupacional y productiva de la ciudad de Puebla en la primera mitad del siglo XIX,” in Puebla en el siglo XIX. Contribución al estudio de su historia (Puebla, 1983), pp. 147-149; for the figures for flour consumption in the first decade of the nineteenth century, see Reinhard Liehr, Ayuntamiento y oligarquía en Puebla, 1787-1810, 2 vols. (Mexico City, 1971), II, 52.


In fact, according to the Mercurio Peruano of Feb. 13, 1791, an average of almost 247, 000 fanegas entered the port of Callao from Chile for the years 1787-89; we know that the Chilean fanega was equal to a third of the Buenos Aires one and this would give us an approximate average of 82, 000 River Plate fanegas per year. We do not know if there were consignments of wheat and flour as well from surrounding valleys. In these years, Lima had a population of 52, 627 inhabitants (Mercurio Peruano, Feb. 3, 1791): that is, slightly higher than that of Buenos Aires, including city and countryside, in the same era.


During the seventeenth century, some areas of the Bajío, like Salamanca, appeared to produce 150, 000 fanegas (Castilian?), and about the same amount was produced in the valley of Atlixco; see Andrés Lira and Luis Muro, “El siglo de la ilustración,” in Historia general de México, 4 vols. (Mexico City, 1976), II, 108; in the eighteenth century, the same valley—not the whole district—of Atlixco produced 86, 000 Castilian fanegas (a personal statement by Roberto Vélez Pliego). With regard to Chile, in the 1780s Santiago produced more than 160, 000 Chilean fanegas, which would give us some 53, 000 River Plate fanegas, and the same amount again was produced in La Serena and Concepción, which would add up to 110, 000 Buenos Aires fanegas, or what would be the same amount, 240, 000 Castilian fanegas, for the whole of central Chile. See Marcello Carmagnani, Les mécanismes de la vie économique dans une société coloniale: Le Chili (1680-1830) (Paris, 1973), pp. 219-220, 243, 253.


For example, the valley of Atlixco maintained, at the end of the nineteenth century, almost the same amount of production, with its haciendas and ranches, as it had in the previous century (personal statement by Roberto Vélez Pliego); it seems clear, then, that we are confronted by what Pierre Chaunu has called a “closed” agricultural reality in his remarks made during the Troisième Conférence Internationale d’Histoire Economique, 2 vols. (Paris, 1968), II, 124-125 (hereinafter Troisième Conférence), discussing the work on Mexico of Jean-Pierre Berthe, “Production et productivité agricoles au Mexique, du XVIe au XVIIIe siècle,” in Troisième Conférence, II, 105-109.


These sources deserve to be mentioned in full; Félix de Azara, in Viajes, p. 94, says: “wheat produces an annual average of 16 [for 1] in Buenos Aires . . .”; we feel that this estimate is very low, and it does not coincide with those from other sources. The municipal agreement of Feb. 8, 1786, presents an exposé by the loyal executor that states: “as, according to the most recent news, the harvest for this year is not proving to be as abundant as it had promised, because having hoped that at least the yield would be thirty or thirty-five to one, it has been observed that it is not more than ten or twelve to one, such a small production that it is not capable of supplying the peoples consumption. . .,” in Acuerdos, III, VIII, pp. 38-39 (italics added). This was the opinion of Pedro Trapani, Woodbine Parish Papers, Public Record Office, F. O., 354/6, fjs. 65 (I wish to thank Samuel Amaral for this reference.) José Cardiel, talking in 1731 of the Buenos Aires countryside, tells us that “few people sow wheat as there is so much fertile land that it usually yields fifty to one and sometimes more . . .”; see his “Breve relación de la provincia del Paraguay,” in BRAM-9-11-5, n° 2271 (old signature). Alexander Gillespie, a very shrewd observer, on the occasion of a visit to an estate in San Antonio de Areco, a region of good wheat, relates the following: “Don Marcos Zavaleta kept a diary of his proceedings in all branches. . . . He established his average yield in fifty-six and singled out a piece of land that had been flooded by a river for some weeks and had produced eighty-nine . . .”: in Buenos Aires y el interior, observaciones reunidas durante una larga residencia (Buenos Aires, 1921), p. 108. With regard to the remark of Francisco Millau, he says: “Wheat is outstanding . . . [and] regularly yields seventy to one, although at times it reaches a hundred and more; and would be even greater if the land were given the benefits it enjoys in other places . . .”: in Descripción, p. 53. It would also be interesting to add the opinion of someone as authoritative as Vieytes, who in two articles published in Semanario de agricultura industria y comercio [1802-6], stated that the product of 1 to 25 was normal, and added in one of his articles “that a landowner with an average knowledge of farming could harvest fifty to one . . ..” See Juan Hipólito Vieytes, Antecedentes económicos de la Revolución de Mayo (Buenos Aires, 1956), pp. 216, 396. And, finally, to end this (long) note, we should not forget that, for example, in Santiago del Estero, a region of good wheat in its irrigated areas, but with yields much lower than those in Buenos Aires, as it is unnecessary to say, yields are recorded of almost ten to one at the end of the seventeenth century; see the declarations of the Indians on the estate of Sancho de Paz y Figueroa, in Guaipe, and of Miguel de Lezcano, in Tinogasta, 1693, respectively, in ANB-EC-1694-27, fjs. 113 and 127 vts.


Vieytes states that only the land destined for orchards was fertilized, as the farmer did not ever sow wheat “two consecutive years in the same place . . .”; see Antecedentes, p. 227. It is obvious that this peculiar system of rotation is only possible in the framework of the “open” agricultural conditions we mentioned earlier.


We do not wish to try the patience of the reader with another mile-long quote; thus, we will let Gillespie's description represent many others: “The only plough that I saw in that country . . . was wooden, with a simple stick that the farmer held in his hand to direct the operation and blade of the same material.” Buenos Aires, p. 108; also consult the opinion of Felix Weinberg in his introductory study to the work of Vieytes, Antecedentes, pp. 84-85.


“The yield of grains per grain is a simple indicator, but perhaps deceiving. It would be more exact to calculate the yield per unit of land,” states Claude Morin in Michoacán en la Nueva España del siglo xviii: Crecimiento y desigualidad en una economía colonial (Mexico City, 1979), p. 240. Coinciding opinions are found in David Brading, Haciendas and Ranchos in the Mexican Bajío: León, 1700-1860 (London, 1978), pp. 65-75, and in Roberto Vélez Pliego, “Rentabilidad y productividad en una hacienda mexicana: Hacienda y molino de Santa Cruz,” in the collective work, Puebla en el siglo xix, esp. pp. 300-301.


If we have correctly interpreted a passage from Vieytes, this would be the conclusion, but we underline that the metrological pitfalls are enormous. Vieytes says: “the poor lands demand more seed than those that have greater substance; in the former, three cuartillas (1 cuartilla equals approximately 1. 38 liters or 1. 24 quarts) at most in a square cuadra (1 cuadra equals 275 square feet); when in the latter it would be too much to sow more than half a fanega . . .”; Antecedentes, p. 398. Pedro Trapani also affirmed that three “cuartillas” would be the correct estimate of sowing if effected in May/June, and one fanega if it were done in July. See Woodbine Parish Papers, Public Record Office, F. O., 354/6, fjs. 65. If a square cuadra, of good quality, could accommodate a maximum of half a River Plate fanega, and three cuartillas, if the land were of average quality, then the figures recommended by Vieytes would be 42. 80 1/ha and 64. 20, respectively (we italicize because it is evident that the normal figures are much higher and Vieytes constantly complains of this practice). The contemporary figures for the Paris region are 270 1/ha to 350 1/ha and for the Languedoc, some 250 1/ha; see Michel Morineau, Les faux-semblants d’un démarrage économique: Agriculture et démographie en France au XVIIIe. siècle (Paris, 1970), pp. 37-38, and Emanuel Le Roy-Ladurie, “Les rendements du blé en Languedoc,” in Troisième Conférence, II, 75-79. The Mexican figures we know are lower than those for the River Plate; and Claude Morin, for example, talks of 21 1/ha for Michoacán at the end of the eighteenth century; see Michoacán, p. 241. Obviously, as well as the metrological problems we have already mentioned, neither do we know if we are talking about the same type of wheat: blanco, bermejillo, largo: each type has its specific density.


It is of interest to transcribe part of the remarks made by Jean Meuvret in the discussion on the problem of yields and productivity included in the Troisième Conférence, II, 90-92, and to compare these words with a text by Vieytes. Meuvret states, citing the authority of an agronomist who is an expert in wheat that “Les semences légères . . . c'est fort bien en théorie, mas en pratique, on obtient de hauts rendements en cultivant la terre le mieux possible, mais aussi en sement dru, parce qu’il coûte moins cher d'étouffer les herbes adventices avec une semence forte que de faire un sarclage”; Vieytes, in an article dated 1803, and now published in Antecedentes, pp. 210-212, with the suggestive title of “Benefits which accrue to the farmer who does not sow densely,” says: “I have heard it said not a few times by our farmers that they are encouraged to sow densely not only because of their desire to achieve a more abundant harvest, but also that of thus stifling and drowning the weeds because of the thickness of the wheat stalks.” In both cases, the italics have been added and prove that the most expert person is not always the one who is right, if it is a question of country matters. Vieytes, who had read most of the French agronomists of that era and who was acquainted with the works of Duhamel du Monceau, supposed that it would be more profitable to sow thinly; but, as Meuvret insinuates, if we are faced with a regime of constant and abundant rainfall, the fight against weeds—before the reign of weed killers— demands dense sowing. Also, we should not forget that the cost of manpower in the River Plate region made it unthinkable to have constant recourse to laborers to do the weeding.


B. H. Slicher van Bath, “Yield Ratios, 810-1820,” A. A. G. Bijdragen, 10 (1963), and idem, Historia agraria de la Europa occidental (500-1850) (Barcelona, 1974); it is easy to verify that the maximum figure that Slicher van Bath gives for Ostria—which is the highest for Europe in these years—is hardly higher than the lowest estimate for the River Plate area. If we wished to confirm this with another example, we should consider that, between 1715—20 and 1826-30, the yield of wheat in the Italian Piedmont was over 3. 60 to 4. 03 per 1, and in Lombardy was around 6 per 1; we are dealing, as is well known, with the two most advanced agricultural regions in Italy, at a time of growth in agricultural production; see the data in Alberto Carraciolo, “La storia economica,” in Storia d’Italia Einaudi, 6 vols. (Torino, 1973), III, 545-546. But it is necessary to insist, once again, that the estimates of observers are one thing and measurements of specific cases are another.


We refer to the “Estudio preliminar” of Félix Weinberg, which introduces the collection of texts in Vieytes, Antecedentes, pp. 9-133, and to the collective work, by Sala de Touron et al., Estructura económica, pp. 78-84.


In 1790 the purchase of 1, 000 fanegas of wheat is negotiated to give to the “Poor farmers who cannot buy it . . .” for the purpose of being used for sowing; see Acuerdos, III, 9, p. 347; with an average harvest of 100, 000 fanegas and an estimated yield that varied between 25 and 35 per 1, it is easy to suppose that the percentage which corresponded to the poor farmers in the total of this (supposed) harvest would be identical.


AGI-Buenos Aires 598, account n° 1 for the year 1787.


In fact, for the years 1788, 1791, 1795, 1796, 1797, and 1802, the cattle tithes are divided in the following way:

Costa y MatanzaLujánArecoArrecifesMagdalena
9% 18. 9% 21% 26. 8% 24% 
Costa y MatanzaLujánArecoArrecifesMagdalena
9% 18. 9% 21% 26. 8% 24% 

See the sources in AGI-Buenos Aires 598, account n° 1 for the corresponding years.


Johnson, “Wages, Prices,” 29.


In fact, of a total of 100 points, 45 correspond to wheat and salt meat; see ibid., 29, note b.


A confirmation of the frailty of this cattle frontier: in 1820 the local repercussions of the civil war left Entre Ríos in such a desperate state that its cattle stocks were reduced to a minimum and the inhabitants of the area were forced to eat meat from ostriches; see Tulio Halperin, “El surgimiento de los caudillos en el cuadro de la sociedad rioplatense post-revolucionaria,” Estudios de Historia Social, 1 (Oct. 1965), 128-129.


We have constructed the indices that refer to the population from the data presented by H. Difrieri in “Población indígena y colonial,” in La Argentina: Suma de geografía,? vols. (Buenos Aires, 1961), VII, 3-88; we have also used the work of J. Comadrán Ruiz, Evolución demográfica argentina durante el período hispano (1535-1810) (Buenos Aires, 1969), but it is evident that many of the data presented here should be seriously revised (for example, is it credible that this author states that the town of San Fernando del Valle in Catamarca had 6, 441 inhabitants in 1778 when Córdoba had 7, 283?).


See Carlos Sempat Assadourian, “El sector exportador de una economía regional del interior argentina, Córdoba 1800-1860. (Esquema cuantitativo y formas de producción),” Nova Americana (Turin), 1 (1978), 57-104.


Diego de Oro to Jacinto de Castro (Buenos Aires), San Juan, June 4, 1787, in AGN-IX-10-7-7.

Author notes


Translation of this article was made possible in part by funding from The Tinker Foundation of New York.