In 1765, one of the longest, largest, and most formidable urban insurrections of eighteenth-century Spanish America occurred in Quito. Throughout that year, the city was affected by a conflict which touched virtually every level of its society, shook the foundations of government, and eventually required a military expedition fully to restore royal authority. It was not the only challenge to government authority to occur in the Audiencia of Quito during the eighteenth century: there were other incidents of civil disorder of varying proportions and potency, mainly from among the large Indian population of the Ecuadorian highlands.1 But in terms of its scale, duration, and the directness of the challenge that it presented to the colonial government, the insurrection of the capital city was without precedent or parallel. The Quito rebellion was, moreover, a significant episode in the history of late colonial Spanish America, for it was the first of the major insurrections provoked by the Caroline reforms of the later eighteenth century and one which, in some respects, prefigured the later rebellions of the Comuneros in New Granada and Túpac Amaru in Peru.

Yet, like much else in the history of Ecuador, the Quito rebellion has attracted relatively little attention from historians. In Ecuadorian historiography—where it has become known as the “rebellion of the barrios” and is regarded as an early avatar of independence—the events of 1765 have never been fully reconstructed, and analysis of their significance has been confined within a national framework.2 The only recent work has been that of Joseph Perez, a French historian. Drawing on the rich and previously unused documentation in the Archivo de Indias, Perez provided both a more detailed account of the rebellion and a broader interpretation of its significance, linking it to the other major rebellions of the later eighteenth century.3

There is, however, considerable scope for enhancing and revising our view of Quito’s “rebellion of the barrios.” First, the nature of its causes has yet to be adequately explored. A view commonly taken at the time, and one that has been echoed by historians since, was that the city’s poverty, brought on by economic decline, goaded its people to react fiercely to the threat of more taxation. This explanation is, however, inadequate in two respects. It fails to show why changes in the excise brought such a powerful and widespread rejection in 1765, when previous changes— such as the introduction of the aguardiente estanco years earlier—had been made without evoking a similar response. It also fails to show why the reforms provoked such widespread antagonism, ranging across a social spectrum that reached from the urban patriciate to the plebeians of the city’s popular barrios.

Another aspect of the rebellion which deserves reexamination concerns the political culture within which it emerged and developed. While identification of economic discontent and material interests is a necessary condition for explaining the rebellion, it is not sufficient. Economic grievances and social resentments were not new to Quito: it required the interaction of other elements to channel them into sustained insurrection against the colonial government. Here an element hitherto absent from analysis of the rebellion is that of ideology. What were the ideas, beliefs, and attitudes by which the rebels understood and justified their actions? Can we detect any coherent ideology behind their behavior and, if so, where did it come from? How did ideas and aims vary between social groups, and how did they emerge and develop during the course of the rebellion?

Like any large-scale rebellion, that of Quito was based on a mobilization of elements of the lower classes. And yet the popular dimension of the rebellion has been virtually ignored. To the official mind, searching for scapegoats, only one explanation seemed possible: that there was a hidden agency behind the popular uprising, composed of creole conspirators who sought to manipulate mob violence when they failed to achieve their political objectives by peaceful means. However, this judgment— although it has appealed to historians of the Quito rebellion—is far from adequate. It simply reflects contemporary social prejudices which perceived the plebeians of Quito as an ignorant and manipulable mass, stirred by spontaneous passions and without independent ideas or organization. To reexamine this position requires a closer focus on the “people of the barrios,” on their behavior and their goals, and, thus, on the values and beliefs which shaped their actions.

What, then, stood at the heart of the Quito rebellion, and what was its significance? Did it present a precocious challenge to Spanish sovereignty, or were its aims more limited? Was it one movement, in which an entire community stood together to defend its interests against new taxation, or was it several, expressing social conflicts within the community? What held it together, and what did it ultimately achieve? To examine these issues, this essay will draw on contemporary accounts of the rebellion to reconstruct its history, and, by blending a narrative of its development with an analysis of its content, seek to throw some fresh light on its character and comparative significance.4

Patrician Politics: The Conflict of Words

The outbreak of violent action that was to mark the beginning of rebellion in Quito occurred on May 22, 1765, when a crowd of rioters stormed and ransacked the royal sales tax administration and aguardiente distillery. The rioters’ targets reflect the immediate cause of the disturbance: the efforts of Viceroy Pedro Messía de la Cerda to reform Quito’s excise administration.

Since the reestablishment of the Viceroyalty of New Granada in 1739, the Audiencia of Quito had come under the fiscal and military jurisdiction of the viceroys in Bogotá, and, as a result, Quito was exposed to the process of administrative revision and reform that was affecting New Granada itself. And, in Quito as elsewhere, the viceroys’ main concern was with enlarging the flows of revenues available to meet their rising expenditures. Indeed, in the field of crown finance, Quito was an area of special interest for the viceroys, since its revenues provided the subsidies vital for maintaining the military establishment of Cartagena de Indias, New Granada’s principal port and bastion for coastal defence. The reassessment of Quito’s fiscal organization began during the 1750s, when Viceroy Solis investigated irregularities in Quito’s treasury and made a preliminary, apparently unsuccessful effort to remedy them.5 However, after his successor Pedro Messía de la Cerda took office in 1760, the reform of the Quito treasury was to begin in earnest.

On investigating the fiscal affairs of Quito, Messía de la Cerda discovered that much of its revenue was kept by the tax-farmers who collected it, in a fiscal administration already undermined by widespread and habitual tax evasion.6 The aguardiente monopoly and the alcabalas collected in the city of Quito seemed to show particularly obvious signs of mismanagement, since they yielded only a third of the revenues generated by their counterparts in Santa Fe de Bogotá, a city of comparable size. Hence, apparently acting on his own initiative rather than on direct instructions from Spain, Viceroy Messía de la Cerda ordered that both the state monopoly of aguardiente sales and the alcabala tax in the city and its province be removed from administration by private tax-farmers and passed into direct management by royal officials.7 To carry out this task, the viceroy appointed Juan Díaz de Herrera, a peninsular Spaniard who had successfully operated a similar administration in Bogotá. Díaz de Herrera was ordered to go first to the city of Popayán, to put its estanco and alcabala administrations under direct crown management and then, having carried out this task, to move on to Quito, to repeat the exercise. This, in the view of the viceroy, was to be an important step toward improving royal revenues in Quito, a source of income which had assumed a new importance as the viceregal government sought to sustain and expand military expenditure.8

It was, however, easier to plan reform than to implement it. When Díaz de Herrera set about his work in Quito, he met stiff opposition. Any change in taxation was likely to be a delicate and difficult matter, for as one contemporary was later to comment, “there is no American who does not reject any novelty whatsoever in the management of taxation.”9 And the viceroy’s reforms in Quito touched two particularly sensitive and potentially controversial areas of taxation. Both the estanco de aguardiente and the alcabala affected large sectors of the city’s population, as producers, traders, and consumers alike. Thus, the proposed changes had repercussions which crossed class lines. But, if reforms in these areas were generally disliked, each of them encountered its greatest opposition among different social groups. The proposed reorganization of the estanco appears to have excited antagonism primarily among the hacendados who produced the sugar from which aguardiente was distilled, while the alcabala reform provoked most intense hostility among the small householders and traders of the city’s popular barrios. As we shall see, this difference helps to explain both how peaceful protest, originating in patrician political circles, was transformed into rebellion and how, once launched, the rebellion was able to merge disparate groups in a common endeavor.

The Mobilization of the Elites

Of the two elements of fiscal reform, it was the reorganization of the aguardiente monopoly which provoked the first wave of opposition, leading to a confrontation between Quito’s urban patriciate and colonial government. This was not surprising, as the monopoly had already aroused dissension and discord long before the viceroy’s reform. In 1752, the cabildo had sought to have it extinguished and when this attempt to end the monopoly failed, dispute shifted to the question of who should control it. Indeed, in March 1764, at the very time that the viceroy decided on reform, a quarrel over control of the monopoly administration was already in progress, generating conflict within the Quito patriciate.10 Two men— one acting for the cabildo and the other in his personal capacity—claimed that the recent leasing of the estanco administration had been fraudulently organized, and was contrary to both the public interest and the interests of the hacendados who produced sugar cane. The cabildo’s representative alleged that the successful contractor, Don Melchor de Rivadeneira, was an impoverished lawyer whose bid was simply a front for other interests, probably those of the town of Ibarra, whose hacendados wanted to take over supplying the estanco in Quito, to the great detriment of Quito’s landowners.11 The other complainant also alleged a conspiracy to take control of the estanco, but argued that Rivadeneira was the creature of the fiscal José de Cistué and his ally, the previous contractor, Don Antonio de la Sala.12 It seems that Sala, backed by Cistué and Oidor Félix de Llano, sought to prevent the monopoly from passing into new hands.13 Whatever the truth of the matter, it is clear that the aguardiente monopoly and its management already stood high on the local political agenda, and was an issue capable of generating friction both between the Quito patriciate and government and within the ranks of each.

As soon as Díaz de Herrera arrived in Quito in late October 1764 to begin reorganizing the city’s excise taxes, he encountered stirrings of creole dissent. This was first publicly expressed within the cabildo of Quito, the political instrument of the creole patriciate and a body which had long played a part in conflicts between peninsular and American factions in the city.14 At the end of October, Regidor Luis de la Cuesta complained to the viceroy that Francisco de Borja was arousing opposition to the projected reform, on the “affected pretext that it would be harmful to the common interest.”15 He also called for Borja’s expulsion from the cabildo, on the ground that his recent cooptation to it contravened municipal law. Borja, however, remained an active and very effective member of the cabildo, and, in the months that followed, he stood at the center of a vigorous campaign against the viceroy’s reform, seeking by various methods to delay and ultimately to prevent its implementation.16

Borja’s recruitment to the cabildo signals the start of the first phase of Quiteño resistance, a phase in which the urban elites formed an alliance to reverse the reforms through a coordinated political campaign. For Borja —who had been brought into the cabildo as a substitute for his father-in-law, Alférez Real Juan de Chiriboga—was to act as the representative and spokesman for an important section of the creole patriciate. Through his family ties, Borja formed part of a network of rich and noble families which dominated Quito’s economy and society. His connections included some of the most illustrious and aristocratic names in the city, such as the marquises of Villa Orellana, of Villarocha, of Lices, and of Solanda, all members of a creole oligarchy that had built its fortunes on the ownership of great estates and, in some cases, investments in textile workshops and hat factories.17 Furthermore, his interest in the aguardiente economy was very direct, as his father-in-law was one of the largest producers of sugar cane in the region.18 Thus, while he posed as the spokesman for the “común” or community of Quito, Borja was the mouthpiece for both a family with a strong interest in the aguardiente economy and an aristocratic landowning elite of which he was a prominent member.

As opposition took shape in the secular ranks of the urban elites, it also spread to their ecclesiastical wing. On November 14, 1764, the prelates of the city’s clerical establishment petitioned the municipal council to convene a cabildo abierto in order to discuss the proposed reform.19 For the cabildo, this move by the leaders of the clergy must have been doubly reassuring. Not only did it signal the allegiance of an influential section of city society, but it also enabled the cabildo to present its case as a matter of public, rather than purely private, interest. The petition was accordingly welcomed by the cabildo, whose procurador general duly passed it to the Audiencia for a decision. The Audiencia responded favorably and, on November 22, named the time, place, and membership for a cabildo abierto.20 The stage was thus set for creole opposition to move into a new arena, away from the relatively narrow institutional base afforded by the city council, into the wider setting of a more general congress that purported to represent the interests of the whole community.

Why, when the proposal for a cabildo abierto seemed to strengthen the cabildo's challenge to the viceroy’s policy, did the Audiencia agree to permit it? The fiscal, José de Cistué, advised the Audiencia that, provided it was presided over by an oidor who would support the viceroy’s policy, a cabildo abierto should be permitted. To refuse, he argued, would not only convey the misleading impression that the viceroy was seeking to impose new taxes, but would also ignore precedent and deny to the Quiteños the “facilities for defense permitted by divine and human law in representation to superiors.”21 Clearly, there was a case in both law and politics to allow open discussion of the viceroy’s plans. It is unlikely, however, that the Audiencia was swayed by these considerations alone.

For a number of reasons, the Audiencia had little cause to welcome the viceroy’s reformist initiative. Indeed, there was at least as much scope for conflict as there was for cooperation between the viceroy and the oidores of Quito. Composed of four oidores (one of whom acted as president) and a fiscal, the Audiencia also included one supernumerary oidor in 1764-65, and it had a majority of creole judges.22 Of the six serving ministers, four were Americans: Luis de Santa Cruz, Gregorio Ignacio Hurtado de Mendoza, and Félix de Llano were all from Lima, while Juan Romualdo Navarro was from Quito itself. All had initially purchased their positions as supernumeraries, and all—except Félix de Llano—had served in Quito for long periods, ranging from 15 to 19 years. The two peninsular Spaniards were Manuel Rubio de Arévalo and José de Cistué, respectively the most senior and the junior members of the Audiencia. Rubio de Arévalo was an established member of Quito’s patrician society, having spent his entire career in the city, and, as senior oidor, he had also been its acting president since the death of the Marqués de Selva Alegre in 1761. He had first been appointed in 1720 and, though suspended and heavily fined for professional misconduct in 1747, had remained in Quito and been granted a dispensation to hold property there.23 The other peninsular Spaniard— José de Cistué—had spent less time in Quito, though, with 7 years as fiscal, he was also well established in the city’s social and political life.

Thus, all but one member of the Audiencia—Félix de Llano—had served for long periods in Quito and were very familiar with, if not sympathetic to, the preoccupations and interests of the local upper class. For this reason, the viceroy in Bogotá did not regard these ministers as reliable instruments for implementing his policy innovations. Indeed, he was later to blame them for the breakdown of order in Quito, because the oidores’ overriding aim was “to promote their private interests and to avoid displeasing the vecindario because of the friendships and relationships which they have with its distinguished individuals.”24 Messía de la Cerda did not consult them about his new policy, nor adequately inform them of the manner in which they were to proceed. Instead, he made his decision in consultation with the Tribunal de Cuentas in Bogotá, and gave the power to implement it to his commissioner, Juan Díaz de Herrera. The latter was responsible directly to the viceroy and, in turn, did not display any great respect for the Audiencia, nor make an effort to engage the oidores’ support. Indeed, he portrayed the Audiencia as a major obstruction to the process of reform, and identified two of its ministers as his main enemies.

One of these was the oidor Félix de Llano, who, having been appointed as juez conservador of the new estanco administration, struggled to be relieved of the post and regaled the viceroy with arguments against the reform. The reform, he asserted, would not only be damaging to the hacendados of the area; it would also threaten public order by provoking disorder among the students, friars, and plebeians of the city, already notorious for their turbulent dispositions.25 Llano’s companion in opposition to reform was the fiscal, José de Cistué. According to Díaz de Herrera, these men prevailed on the Audiencia to obstruct the alcabala reform because they feared that more rigorous collection would uncover the “interests which the fiscal and Llano (who are those that direct and dominate the others) manage by means of cajeros, servants, household members, and followers,” as well as revealing smuggling of prohibited goods from Lima.26 Díaz was less specific in his condemnation of the other judges, though no less dismissive. They were, he told the viceroy, arrogant and conceited men, anxious for flattery and unable to tolerate contrary opinions.27

Such allegations do not mean that the ministers of the Audiencia were disloyal to the crown; supplementing a salary with earnings from local business interests was not unusual among colonial officials, and it was also common for audiencia judges to form strong local ties during long periods of office in a particular capital. However, in this case the existence of such private interests and local ties was to have important repercussions, because it impeded the progress of reform and opened up divisions in the highest ranks of colonial government. While the viceroy and his administrator were determined to push ahead, the judges of the Audiencia put up obstacles, apparently in the hope that, by slowing reform, they might eventually stop it. At the very least, as Díaz de Herrera observed, the Audiencia’s tactics gave the creole opposition led by Borja time to organize a strong resistance.28 And, at most, it provided that opposition with the encouragement of knowing that they had allies within the upper tiers of government. Certainly their equivocations on the issues confronting them helped to create an atmosphere of division and indecision at the apex of government which, in turn, undermined authority and thus contributed to widening the political path that was ultimately to lead to open rebellion.

It was against this background that the main currents of opposition converged in the cabildo abierto of December 7, 1764. Under the chairmanship of the senior oidor, Manuel Rubio de Arévalo, this meeting convoked deputies to speak on behalf of all sections of the community. The protector de indios was to speak for the Indian population, deputies from the ecclesiastical cabildo were to represent the secular clergy, various prelates were to speak for the monastic orders, while members of the cabildo, together with deputies for agricultural and commercial interests, were to present the opinions of civil society. When the cabildo abierto took place, it was brief, restrained, and contained little that was spontaneous or improvised. The meeting consisted of a succession of short speeches from clerics, denouncing the evils of aguardiente drinking, especially among the Indians, and pronouncing support for the petition previously presented to the meeting by Francisco de Borja. Their recommendation was unanimous, and so was the decision of the meeting. It called for an end to the estanco and agreed that a representative should be dispatched to intervene with the viceroy, and sent to Spain if necessary.29

As Francisco de Borja, with his strong connections to the landowning elite, played a central part in organizing and orchestrating the cabildo abierto, and given that this meeting had concentrated on the issue of the aguardiente monopoly, it seems that it was the hacendados involved with sugar production who were the driving force behind opposition to the viceroy’s plans. It would be a mistake, however, to regard the developing protest as simply the defense of a narrow, upper-class economic interest, camouflaged as an issue of public concern. Other sectors of city society were also involved because of their connections, direct and indirect, with the aguardiente economy. These included the small traders—the tenderos and the pulperos—and the monasteries, as both groups were engaged in distilling and selling aguardiente.30 Indeed, according to Oidor Llano, the city was filled with bootleggers, as virtually everyone was involved in distilling aguardiente “without exception of person, class, or estate, including even monasteries and leading families.”31 Consumers of aguardiente might also have regarded stricter regulation of distilling and distribution with suspicion, since restriction threatened to increase prices. And, as the main group of consumers was, according to a contemporary, the “craftsmen, Indians, and mestizos of all trades,” these represented a potentially formidable source of dissent.32 Thus, the proposed reform of the monopoly was itself enough to call up a broad spectrum of opposition, spanning the city’s social classes. In early December, the publication of pasquinades in the city’s barrios gave warning of clandestine efforts to mobilize this opposition.33 Initially, however, the initiative was taken by members of the city’s creole elite led by Francisco de Borja, and opposition concentrated on negotiation rather than intimidation. For the moment, opposition met in the cabildo abierto rather than on the streets.

Elite Economic Grievances

Behind the objections set forth during the meeting of the cabildo abierto lay a series of petitions from the different groups represented, and it is in these, rather than in the peremptory verbal statements made at the meeting, that the main arguments against the reform were rehearsed. Each group representative advanced a detailed account of the group’s objections to the reform, in written submissions supposedly based on prior canvassing of opinion. The careful attention to detail in the submissions reflects a degree of political sophistication, and an expectation that reasoned argument would produce results. Rather than simply make sweeping objections, they were at pains to show why the new measures were not only damaging to the economic interests and welfare of their groups, but were also unworkable and counterproductive to the very royal purposes which they were supposed to serve. There was, moreover, one common theme running through all the presentations; the problems of the economy of the Audiencia of Quito in general, and the poverty and misery of the inhabitants of the city of Quito in particular.

The first petition submitted to the cabildo abierto was that of Francisco de Borja, the spokesman designated for the “vecindad” or the “común.” Drawn up and circulated before the cabildo abierto, Borja’s petition was evidently intended to serve as a manifesto, deliberately, if discreetly, designed to rally all sections of elite opinion against the viceroy’s plans.34 Directed against the aguardiente monopoly, it was clearly concerned primarily with defending the threatened interests of the urban elites.

In his presentation, Borja sought first to impugn the legitimacy of the viceroy’s intention to bring the aguardiente monopoly under direct crown administration. He recalled that the monopoly had been introduced as a purely temporary measure, to cover the costs of rebuilding the Audiencia palace, and that it had outlived this purpose. Though the monopoly thus was not new, Borja argued that its reorganization was tantamount to imposing a new tax on the city, since it aimed to increase net revenues. This assault on the legality of the viceroy’s policy was buttressed by an attack on its morality. The monopoly, Borja asserted, was indefensible in law because, by encouraging the spread of drunkenness, with its attendant vices, it promoted sin and scandal. It would also be counterproductive to royal interests because of its impact on the local society and economy. Heavy drinking among the Indians increased their mortality and thereby damaged royal revenues from tribute. The monopoly would damage the province’s agriculture, because it was ill adapted to the conditions of local sugar production and threatened to reduce the price paid for sugar products. Finally, Borja pleaded the poverty of the province, stating that the depression of the textile trade caused by competition from European imports in Peruvian markets had deprived its people of their sole reliable source of income.

The themes raised by Borja were echoed by the other petitions presented to the cabildo abierto, in which the other representatives supported his contentions without reserve. The economic arguments were taken up by the representatives of civil society, testifying to the province’s economic depression and outlining their own particular difficulties. The vecinos of Latacunga opposed reform both of the alcabala and of the estanco on the grounds that it would impose intolerable burdens on an economy whose agriculture had been afflicted by volcanic eruptions and earthquakes (the most recent in the area of Quito had been in 1757), and where many obrajes had been ruined by competition from imported English cloth.35 The landowners and sugar producers argued that the aguardiente monopoly would send agriculture into a spiral of decline that would ruin all who depended on the land for their living and even affect the dead, since damage to agriculture would undermine the chantries devoted to prayer for departed souls.36 The merchants of Quito joined this chorus, arguing that the reorganization of taxes would aggravate the already chronic shortage of specie that resulted from the decline of Quito’s textile exports to Peru.37

Borja’s denunciation of social and spiritual corruption, on the other hand, provided an appropriate theme for the clergy. The leaders of the city’s ecclesiastical establishment detailed the pathology of aguardiente, warned that drink led to damnation, and duly called for the aguardiente monopoly to be suppressed in the interests of public health, both physical and moral.38 However, despite their denunciation of drink, the clergy called for suppression of the state monopoly, not for a ban on private production, much less consumption, of aguardiente. Clearly, there was more at stake than the sturdy values of temperance. Although they did not admit it, the clergy had a strong material interest in sugar and aguardiente production, both as owners and holders of mortgages on haciendas, and as distributors and consumers of aguardiente.39

Thus, under the leadership of Francisco de Borja, a united front was formed in Quito to oppose reform, composed of all the leading sectors of its society, enjoying the sympathy of some members of the Audiencia, and claiming to speak for the whole community. Behind the rhetoric about public interest, there was certainly some special pleading by patrician and clerical economic interests. Long sheltered from efficient taxation, these interests, together with those who profited from the private administration of the excise taxes, were naturally opposed to any fiscal innovation that threatened to interfere with their business. But their pleas of poverty cannot simply be dismissed as specious rhetoric. Resentment at fiscal reorganization was undoubtedly sharpened by the experience of economic decline, associated primarily with the problems of the textile industry.

This decline had begun many years before, with demographic crisis in Quito during the 1690s.40 But the industry’s problems had grown worse during the eighteenth century, as it was increasingly affected by competition from Spanish and foreign contraband imports. This competition had intensified around midcentury, causing the number and output of Quito’s obrajes to fall considerably.41 The recent contraction stemmed from changes in commercial policy which, by opening Cape Horn, permitted direct maritime contact between Peru and Spain, and thereby made it more difficult for Quito textiles to compete in Peruvian markets. Furthermore, the problems caused by the redirection of transatlantic trade were particularly acute at the very time that the viceroy was pursuing his reforms. For, having been severely disrupted by war in 1762 and 1763, Spanish transatlantic commerce increased sharply in 1764 and 1765 to restock markets depleted by war.42 Thus, in the years before the rebellion, prospects for the Quiteño economy looked especially bleak, and Quiteños could attribute this decline to recent modifications in crown policy. In such conditions, fiscal innovations which threatened to increase the real burden of taxation heaped insult on top of injury. Indeed, in such depressing economic circumstances, the Quiteños were looking to the crown for policies that would provide economic relief rather than fiscal rigor. And, if they had good cause to criticize crown economic policy, such criticism interacted with, and was reinforced by, a set of political ideas which helped both to inspire and to shape resistance to reform.

Political Issues and Constitutional Conflict

In opposing reform, the Quiteño elites evidently sought to protect their economic interests. But the means by which they did so, the arguments which they deployed, and the alliance which they formed suggest that their campaign also involved issues of a political order. Their conflict with the viceroy was precipitated by fiscal reform, but it was not simply about reorganization of the aguardiente monopoly. For, as they mobilized in defense of their economic interests, the creole elites of Quito also drew on a set of political ideas which, though not set out in any systematic formulation, clearly influenced their attitudes toward reform and justified their campaign of resistance.

From the start of this campaign, the Quiteño patriciate claimed a right to participate in government as the representative of the community as a whole. To exercise this claim, the creole leadership had called for the convocation of a cabildo abierto, an institution which, by its very nature, embodied notions of urban autonomy and corporate representation.43 Like its Spanish medieval predecessors, Quito’s cabildo abierto reflected the belief that the community might represent its interests directly to the crown, and thereby share in the deliberations of government when they touched on matters of pressing local concern. By setting itself to deliberate on “the public good, on justice, on the Christian and natural law, applying itself to find the means of invigorating the life of a moribund republic,” the cabildo abierto in Quito appealed to a concept of government by negotiation, and implicitly rejected the arbitrary exercise of royal power.44 It also claimed to represent the whole community, invoking the concepts of the “común,” the “bien común,” or the “bien público.” And, to fortify this claim, the cabildo abierto rested on a representative principle, derived from the medieval practice of representing the estates or orders of a society through delegates chosen from their most distinguished members, duly adjusted to suit colonial circumstances.45 Thus, while the clergy, the hacendados, and the merchants were represented by leading members of each group, the delegate for the Indians was the protector de indios, and the mestizos and common people in general were also represented indirectly, through the patrician Francisco de Borja who was deputed to speak for the común. Last but not least, the cabildo abierto included the leading member of royal government in the city: it was both convoked and moderated by the president of the Audiencia.

If, as an institution, the cabildo abierto implicitly embodied a traditional view of government—in which leading members of the community might represent the “public good” in order to influence royal policy—that view was advanced explicitly in the arguments that were raised against reform. These sought to identify the limits of governmental power in various ways. First, in attacking the aguardiente monopoly, Francisco de Borja claimed that the king’s ministers should suspend any royal order which might, under certain conditions, lead to sin or scandal.46 The notion that laws which encouraged offenses against morality were indefensible was unexceptionable enough. More interesting is the implicit argument that local authorities had a responsibility to change royal orders in accord with local circumstances, a line of reasoning that was most clearly adduced by the procurador of the Quito cabildo, Lasso de la Vega. He contended that laws had to be clearly promulgated if they were to command obedience. Thus, he not only sought to defend refusal to comply with the new excise arrangements on the ground that they had not been explained to the public, but, by stating that the government had to explain its measures, he also implied that it must justify them to its citizens. Finally, he advanced the argument that when formulating policy the crown should take account of local practices and customs. Calling attention to the differences between Bogotá and Quito “in styles, manners, and customs,” as well as in physical and climatic environment, Lasso de la Vega argued that a law that was beneficial in the viceregal capital might be harmful in Quito. Indeed, he elevated the customs of the province of Quito to the level of established laws or entrenched privileges, likening them to the fueros of the Basques and Aragonese, the ordenanzas of Peru, and the municipal laws of the Indies.47

This was not an unorthodox reading of the law. It was also stated with great clarity by a senior oidor of the Quito audiencia, Luis de Santa Cruz, to support his opposition to viceregal reform. Early in 1765, Santa Cruz refused to publish the proclamation announcing the reform of the alcabala administration, arguing that it was essential to modify these plans in accord with “the circumstances in which we find ourselves and the deplorable state of this province.”48 He also claimed that local officials like himself were better acquainted with the province and the customs of its inhabitants, and that their advice should be heeded to ensure that policy was suitable to local conditions. There was no law, he asserted, that was universally applicable: even in the same country, there were laws which could not be applied in all cases, at least not without risk of perpetrating injustice and promoting disorder. On these premises, Oidor Santa Cruz raised several specific objections to the viceroy’s project. He pointed to the injustice of taxing landowners without regard for their ability to pay, to the problem of levying taxes on ecclesiastical property, and to the threat of violent reactions from a plebeian society renowned for its insolent manners. The significance of these statements deserves emphasis. Behind these practical points lay an organizing notion of what constituted good and just government. Appealing to the authority of the seventeenth-century jurist Juan de Solórzano, to all the most celebrated political theorists (regnícolas) who had interpreted the public law of the Spanish kingdoms, to the ancient laws of the Siete Partidas, and to canon law, Santa Cruz concluded that the law had to be adapted to the needs of specific societies and to the customs and welfare of their peoples. Thus, like the petitioners for the cabildo abierto, the oidor appealed to a traditional theory of the state, in which monarch and subject were joined by mutual obligations and in which the monarch’s interests were identified with the preservation and prosperity of his subjects.

There was, then, an important political dimension to the conflict over fiscal reform in Quito, embracing constitutional claims whereby leading members of the local social and political hierarchy asserted the right to consultation in the decisions of royal government, and called for local approval of new taxation. In this sense, the dispute in Quito was a striking example of that “indigenous tradition of no taxation without bureaucratic representation” which John Phelan found at the heart of a later rebellion in the viceroyalty, that of the Comuneros of New Granada in 1781.49 Like the Comunero leadership nearly two decades later, the Quiteño patriciate drew on an ideological tradition fed by the concepts and conventions of Hispanic political theory in the Golden Age, rather than by the new ideological currents emanating from the European Enlightenment.50 For the creole elites, the viceroy’s fiscal reform not only threatened their economic interests; it also challenged their right to negotiation and consultation within the colonial bureaucracy. And such opposition was not confined to the creoles; it also included the political establishment of the colony, the judges of the Audiencia, who saw their own authority and role as power brokers being threatened by the viceroy’s intervention, and who accordingly tried to defend their traditional autonomy. This was not a defiance of the crown’s authority; it was rather an attempt to use and defend an existing system of government, inherited from Hapsburg practice, against Bourbon innovation. Only when this aim was frustrated, by a viceroy determined to pursue his plans, was negotiation superseded by rebellion.

Plebeian Insurrection: The Conflict of Arms

Initially, it seemed that negotiation would bear fruit, as the petitions of the cabildo abierto were passed on to Bogotá for the viceroy’s consideration. But, unknown to the Quiteños, Viceroy Messía de la Cerda never had any intention of abandoning his scheme. By February 1765, he had already decided to take a tough line. If necessary, he was ready to enforce obedience to his orders, and he called on the metropolitan government to provide for a contingent of two hundred troops to be drawn from the cities of Quito, Cuenca, and Guayaquil.51 As for the deliberations of the cabildo abierto and the arguments of the Quito oidores, the viceroy refused to take them seriously. There was a lapse of five months before he announced his opinion, and, when he did so, he gave short shrift to the arguments emanating from Quito. He scornfully dismissed the proposal that the aguardiente monopoly be abolished, observing that pious condemnation of the evils of alcohol was a flimsy cover for unwillingness to pay taxes. The subsidiary proposal—that Quito might send a representative to plead its case in Madrid—was conceded, though not without a snub. The cabildo’s favorite candidate, Francisco de Borja, was specifically barred from holding this commission.52

When the viceroy made his pronouncement, he was probably persuaded that the opposition in Quito had weakened. Certainly, there were signs that it had slackened after the flurry of antireform activity in late November and early December of the previous year, when Díaz de Herrera had been threatened with violence and the clergy and the Audiencia had hindered his efforts to prepare the new excise administration.53 In the new year, opposition seems to have receded, as the Audiencia temporized by placing petty procedural difficulties in Díaz de Herrera’s way, and the patriciate awaited the viceroy’s response to the cabildo abierto.54 In the early months of 1765, the first steps toward the new administration went ahead until, on March 1, Díaz de Herrera opened the aguardiente monopoly and its distillery.

At first, sales were slow, as rumors circulated that the aguardiente was adulterated and the Audiencia still refused to cooperate with its administrator.55 However, presented with this fait accompli, opposition seems to have faltered. Early in May, Oidor Juan Romualdo Navarro replaced Félix de Llano as juez conservador of the aguardiente estanco, thus removing a leading opponent from the workings of its administration.56 In mid-May, Díaz de Herrera confidently reported that the new arrangements were working smoothly, with cooperation from prominent hacendados and no signs of the predicted popular uprising. Quito, he concluded, had no stomach for rebellion.57 However, as soon as Díaz de Herrera proceeded to reform the administration of the sales tax, he was proved wrong.

The Entry of the Plebs

On May 22, the long-anticipated popular reaction against the viceroy’s reform finally began. The protests of the elites, expressed through petitions and meetings, were now superseded by direct and forceful action. After failing to achieve their goals by peaceful persuasion, the Quito patricians now found allies among the plebeians who joined in the riot that began the first phase of Quito’s rebellion.

While Quito’s elites opposed the aguardiente monopoly, plebeian antagonism was triggered by reform of the sales tax administration. Following his success with installing the aguardiente administration, Díaz de Herrera had moved to reform the alcabala and almost immediately aroused popular anger. On May 15, he set up a new machinery for assessing and collecting the sales tax; on May 20, he published a proclamation outlining the penalties for evasion; on May 21, his subordinates registered all plots of land in the parish of San Roque for tax purposes, and began the same task in the parish of San Sebastián. They imposed a tax of four pesos per solar, in spite of protests that these lands were inadequate, even for domestic uses. The tax collectors also began to enforce alcabala payment in areas previously exempt. Payment of tax was demanded from clerics, on foodstuffs which the latter regarded as alms and gifts. The Indians who came to the city market were also forced to pay taxes on small quantities of salt, vegetables, peppers, eggs, and other provisions, and their goods were confiscated if they did not pay. Popular remonstration with the tax collectors evoked an unsympathetic response, with threats to erect a gibbet in each parish to deal with complaints. Such official intransigence no doubt encouraged the circulation of wild rumors among the populace during these days before the riot. It was said that there were plans to impose high land taxes; tribute on children in the womb; taxes on the river stones used by washerwomen; and to create government monopolies on salt, tobacco, potatoes, sugar, and maize.58

The circulation of such rumors suggests that the reform of the sales tax evoked strong feelings among several lower-class groups and created a fertile recruiting ground for riot. The assessment of small plots of land for tax was first carried out in the predominantly plebeian barrios of San Roque and San Sebastián, which housed concentrations of mestizo artisans and Indian weavers and which were to play a leading role in the rebellion.59 For such people, new taxation was bound to be a potent source of disaffection. More rigorous collection of taxes on sales would affect the products of their workshops and their plots of land, aggravating the problems already present in a city where the main industry was in decline. It would likewise have antagonized the petty traders, mestizo and Indian, who ran small liquor stores and retailed foodstuffs in city markets.

The authorities were ill-prepared when the riot broke out on the night of May 22.60 Although the city had a population of about 30, 000, Quito, like most colonial cities, lacked any strong policing apparatus. Without a regular army garrison—a feature of urban society still mainly confined to ports on strategic coastlines—for public order government relied on the usual municipal officials and the support of the white citizenry. When the riot began, it was soon apparent that the government was without such support, and was, accordingly, virtually defenseless.

The riot began at about eight in the evening, when the concerted ringing of parish bells sounded the alarm in the barrios of San Blas, San Sebastián, and San Roque, and brought their people into darkened streets. The riot focused on the plazuela of Santa Bárbara, where crowds from the barrios converged to concentrate around an attack on the royal excise office and aguardiente distillery. Faced with this tumult, the Audiencia, together with the corregidor and alguacil mayor of Quito, sought to restore order with the only means at their disposal. They sent a small force of about two dozen men to confront the rioters, gathered arms for the defense of the Plaza Mayor, and appealed to the vecinos for support, calling on them to take up arms and to illuminate the streets by lighting their doorways, windows, and balconies. However, none of these measures produced the desired effect. The vecinos failed to cooperate, while the rioters proved uncontrollable. The patrols, led by Oidor Hurtado de Mendoza and by the fiscal Cistué, were showered with stones and forced to retreat. Both men reported that they gave orders to fire on the crowd, but were disregarded and deserted by their men.61 Oidor Romualdo Navarro, accompanied by the Conde de Selva Florida, tried to parley with the rioters, but these overtures were rejected, and they, like the other ministers, were forced to retreat to the audiencia palace.62

Having failed to quell the riot with a show of force, the Audiencia called on the leaders of Quito’s religious communities to deal with the rioters. Jesuit intermediaries were sent to the Plaza de Santa Bárbara, and, though they were too late to prevent the rioters from breaking into the excise office, spilling its stores of aguardiente in the streets, and destroying its contents, including the sales-tax records, they did eventually succeed in establishing a dialogue with the crowd. In their efforts to restore order, and presumably in response to the demands of the rioters, the clerics promised that a general pardon would be granted if the crowd dispersed. The crowd then insisted that Oidor Romualdo Navarro and the Conde de Selva Florida publicly ratify this promise. Navarro duly appeared before the rioting crowd, which he estimated at around eight thousand men, armed with lances, sticks, stones, and other weapons, and promised them a pardon in the king’s name. Finally, the crowd dispersed in the early hours of the morning, after warning Navarro and his companions that failure to honor the promised pardon would cost them their property and their lives.63

The end of the riot and the promise of pardon did not immediately restore public order. Having failed to impose its authority by force, the Audiencia now had to submit to a humiliating process of negotiation with a turbulent populace, in an atmosphere charged with excitement, fear, and suspicion. The destruction of the excise office, begun on the night of the riot, continued on the following day until it had been completely demolished, stone by stone. Although this demolition was later attributed to the “Indians,” in order to acquit the people of the barrios of any accusation of wanton vandalism, the act clearly had great symbolic importance for the rioters and signalled popular determination to see an end to the new administration.64 At the same time, the city’s parishes remained in such an agitated state that the Audiencia feared another uprising, this time in confederation with the largely Indian villages of the city’s hinterland.65

To forestall further disturbances, the leaders of the religious communities, together with the bishop of Quito, toured the parishes in order to reassure the populace that neither the king nor the viceroy wished to harm common interests. But the barrios remained distrustful, and demanded that the clerics persuade the Audiencia to give solemn and official assurances that the new fiscal plans would be abandoned and a general pardon extended to all the rioters.66 The Audiencia was reluctant to meet these terms, but agreed to publish an auto de perdón. This was initially couched in vague and ambiguous terms, as the Audiencia tried to win time while leaving the way open for later punishment of the rioters.67 This failed to deceive the rebels, who pressured the oidores to make real concessions. It was agreed that the bishop should go to the barrio of San Roque—described as the most populous of the city’s parishes—and talk with the rioters. After preaching a sermon of peace and reconciliation, the bishop conferred with the assembled people and relayed their message to the Audiencia. This called for a general public meeting in the city’s main square, the Plaza Mayor, where they would declare their loyalty to the king in return for clear ratification of the general pardon and of the abolition of the new fiscal administration.

To meet this demand, the judges of the Audiencia assembled in the courtyard of their palace, together with an armed escort and flanked by artillery primed to fire. In their presence, the bishop went forward with Oidor Romualdo Navarro to confront the “multitude of people” congregated in the square. They announced a general pardon and suspended the aguardiente monopoly and the new alcabala administration. When told that this decision needed viceregal confirmation, the crowd was distinctly displeased. However, after Romualdo Navarro insisted that the Audiencia had gone to the limits of its power, the assembled people dispersed and returned to their homes.68 An uneasy calm now settled on the city.

The Crowd and its Composition

The riot had opened a new phase in the protest against the viceroy’s fiscal reforms, in which patrician negotiation gave way to popular action and new actors entered the political arena. However, the numbers involved in the riot cannot be accurately gauged: estimates vary from a credible 3-4, 000 to an improbable 16—18, 000; contemporary estimates indicate only that the crowds were impressively large. The social identity of the rioters is also difficult to determine, as contemporary descriptions are vague, and we have no trial records to provide even a sample of those who took part. In describing the rioters, contemporaries refer to the “plebeians” or to the “people of the barrios,” but, as these terms are not clearly defined, the composition of the crowds remains rather blurred.

Contemporary commentators agreed that the riot was the work of more than one social group. The Audiencia stated that “the conspiracy was general among all classes and orders.”69 The corregidor of Quito, Manuel Sánchez Osorio, was equally convinced that leading citizens were responsible for the riot. He not only denounced Francisco de Borja and other cabildo members for stirring up popular feeling with their campaign against the monopoly, but he also alleged that “people of the better sort” must have been implicated in the riot, as the rabble was incapable of such organized action.70 Contemporary references to a secret investigation of the riot, conducted by Oidor Hurtado de Mendoza, also suggest that prominent members of Quiteño society had been involved, although, as no action was ever taken against any such individuals, these allegations remained unproven.71

Whatever its leadership, the main body of the rioting crowd was drawn from various segments of the city’s population. The riot started in the slaughterhouse district, and according to Juan de Velasco it was started by a group of some 60 butchers. When they attacked the excise house, they were then joined by some three to four thousand people from other barrios.72 The “plebeians” who rioted were also joined by Indians who, on the following day, dismantled the excise building and carried away its materials. The riot itself, however, seems to have been mainly the work of “plebeians,” so called because they were mestizos and poor whites rather than Indians.73

The riot was not, then, simply the work of a disorganized rabble drawn from the lowest ranks of city society. While a lumpenproletariat of transient workers, vagabonds, and beggars may have been drawn into the riot, its driving force came from the artisans, small tradesmen, and shopkeepers who were the bedrock of the city’s business.74 These were the people who felt most threatened by the viceroy’s projected reforms, particularly that of the sales tax, since they promised to place new burdens on the most common forms of exchange. And, because they were associated in guilds and confraternities, and in daily contact through their economic activities, such groups had an organizational basis which could be mobilized for political ends when necessary.

The plebeians who rioted must also have been aware that they enjoyed widespread sympathy among the city’s population. Certainly, the behavior of Quiteños during the riot indicates a broad basis of support for the rioters’ objectives. During the riot, few complied with the Audiencia’s orders to illuminate the streets by lighting their houses, and, from a white population of several thousand, only about 20 prominent vecinos rallied to the Audiencia's call for aid. This indifference persisted afterward. Though measures were taken to raise militia companies in the days after the riot, militiamen failed to stay at their posts, while merchants and traders evaded enlistment by closing their shops and going into hiding, showing a disloyal attitude which, the Audiencia averred, was shared by the clergy and many private citizens.75 However, although officials were eager to show that there was elite involvement in the riot, their presumption that the plebeians were simply the instruments of a conspiracy within the creole “nobility” should not be taken at face value. The plebeians were not simply the manipulable instrument of upper-class cliques. They were, instead, part of an alliance between social groups, and though they may have been influenced by patrician patronage, they had their own grievances and objectives. This was reflected both in the timing of the first riot and in the subsequent movement toward rebellion when patrician objectives were overtaken by other issues and demands.

It is not entirely clear how these different social groups were brought together. The role attributed to the city’s butchers in promoting the riot suggests that petty tradesmen were the vital intermediary group, mobilizing and leading a popular tumult which linked with the patrician campaign against the aguardiente monopoly. Certainly the parish of Santa Bárbara— where the butchers had their shops and where the riot took place—had a greater social mixture than the more popular and more mestizo barrios of San Roque and San Sebastián, and was, accordingly, more open to creole political influence.

It is also possible that plebeian defiance of the authorities was legitimated, even promoted, by sections of the clergy, particularly the regular clergy who enjoyed close relations with lay society. When the Audiencia referred to the participation of all classes in the riot, it did not exclude the clergy, and there were strong suspicions that clerics, particularly from the monastic houses, were involved. As we have seen, elements of Quito’s large clerical population had strong motives for disliking the aguardiente monopoly reform, and their leaders had actively opposed the viceroy’s plan, disguising their material interest by appealing to moral considerations. Indeed, on the very day of the riot, the bishop issued orders to the abbesses of Quito’s convents, stating that under no circumstances should they participate in the now-illegal private trade in aguardiente.76 And if the monasteries were opposed to reform, the secular clergy, led by the bishop of Quito, were also involved at this time in a conflict with government, due to the efforts of the fiscal José de Cistué to curb clerical exploitation of the Indians.77

We have no direct reports on the role of the parish clergy or the monasteries in the popular uprising. But both, and particularly the monasteries, had abundant opportunities for spreading dissent to a wider population. Juan and Ulloa’s account of the Quiteño clergy suggests that the regulars, particularly the Franciscans, were intimately involved in the city’s social and political life. Not only did they have an essentially secular lifestyle, often living outside their monasteries, maintaining mistresses and fathering children, but they were also organizers of the “fandangos” which brought them together with lay men and women in dissolute drinking parties.78 Such social contact was paralleled by the overlap of civil and ecclesiastical politics. It was common, Juan and Ulloa observed, for disputes between clerical factions—often between Europeans and Americans —to spread outward into the lay population, arousing and dividing it into competing groups and creating discord.79 Indeed, there was a major in stance of such discord in 1747-48, when the plebeians of the barrio of San Roque mobilized behind a Franciscan faction in a protracted series of popular disturbances, the most serious to occur in eighteenth-century Quito before those of 1765.80 Thus, given the interest of monastic houses in the production and sale of aguardiente and their close links with different social groups in Quito, the regular clergy had both a purpose for encouraging opposition to reform and a position from which they might link those groups in a common movement.

The timing of the May riot certainly strengthens speculation about clerical involvement, for it fell within the period of preparation for the great festival of Corpus Christi, a time when the urban confraternities came together to organize and celebrate a major ritual event under the auspices of the clergy.81 In the days which followed the riot, popular preparation for this festival (which occurred on June 5 in 1765) could have provided an associational structure for extending and continuing the political organization of the populace in opposition to the authorities. It is clear that the organization behind the May riot did not dissolve with the suspension of the reformed aguardiente monopoly and alcabala administrations. For the riot had released emotions which were difficult to control, and the popular barrios remained in a volatile state. In the words of a contemporary observer, “The heat of victory gave off a smoke which filled their eyes and blinded them to the enormity of their crime.”82

Repercussions of the Riot

Recognizing the instability of the situation and aware of its isolation, the Audiencia proceeded cautiously in the weeks which followed the riot. After issuing the general pardon, it suspended all the usual demonstrations of government authority in the city. Street patrols were canceled, the new excise was inoperative, and Díaz de Herrera and his subordinates remained in hiding.83 Such caution was dictated by circumstances, for the barrios were still restive and threatening. On May 26, there was a commotion in the barrio of San Blas; this was followed by a general mobilization of all the barrios on May 29, when threats to stone or burn down the houses of officials were averted only by the intervention of clerics on both that and the following day.84 One of those threatened was Oidor Hurtado de Mendoza, whose efforts to conduct an enquiry into the riot met with intimidation of witnesses and threats to raze his house.85

This did not mean that order had broken down completely in Quito. On the contrary, the barrios called for the resumption of patrols to deal with petty crime, and were quite prepared to countenance the arrest of common criminals. This respect for the law was reflected in an incident which occurred in the parish of San Blas, when an alcalde arrested a local criminal. His brother, seeking to take advantage of the unstable political conditions, sounded the tocsin and called up a tumult in the barrio. However, the parishes of San Sebastián and San Roque offered to come to the magistrate’s aid, and when the people of San Blas discovered why the tocsin had been sounded, they not only restored order but also handed over the individual who had sounded the alarm.86 Thus, the barrios were ready to maintain order and were capable of doing so in an organized manner.

A consensus against common criminality did not extend, however, to government treatment of rioters as criminals. The rapidity with which the barrios assembled to the sound of the alarm indicates that they remained on their guard, ready to oppose any reprisal against the rioters of May 22, or other unwanted interference. There were other incidents, too, which mirrored this state of popular agitation. On June 8, pasquinades calling for the expulsion of peninsular Spaniards appeared in the city, followed by demands on June 14 for a proclamation announcing this expulsion.87 On June 18, a crowd from San Blas careered through the streets to demonstrate in front of the bishop’s palace, demanding a parish priest of their choice and refusing to disperse until the bishop acceded. On June 19, to the sound of bells and fireworks, San Blas rose again, and launched an abortive attack on the jail to try to release a prisoner recently taken into custody. This was prevented by Oidor Romualdo Navarro, who defended the jail with a heavily armed patrol and, after several hours of confrontation, forced the rioters to disband without achieving their objective.88

The increasingly agitated state of the barrios in mid-June suggests an incipient radicalization of the movement born in protest at fiscal reform. For, with the weakness of government revealed by the May riot, new issues were drawn in and anti-Spanish feelings were starting to surface. But the troubles of June must also be seen in the context of the city’s social and religious calendar. For the disturbances of mid-June occurred during the approach to a major festival, St. John’s Day, on June 24. An important date in both the secular and ecclesiastical calendar, and a time when the Indians paid a half-yearly installment of tribute, St. John’s Day was associated with a period of celebration which, under normal circumstances, would have called for more intensive policing in the city. However, in the aftermath of the May riot, any official show of force risked a strong response from barrios which had already shown their suspicion that policing would bring reprisals for the May riot. Thus, when, on the night of June 23, the corregidor of Quito conducted a patrol through the parishes of San Roque and San Sebastián, his behavior stimulated further agitation. The patrol rounded up dozens of prisoners and took them to the city jail, where fines were levied and whippings administered.89 At least one of those whipped by the corregidor was a creole, which seems to have aroused considerable anger and to have fueled the suspicion that the authorities were planning retribution for the May riot. The people of the barrios now began to mobilize once more, aided no doubt by the occasion of the festival. On St. John’s night itself rioting again broke out, in a major recrudescence of urban disorder. With it went all hopes for a gradual restoration of royal authority, and Quito now entered a more serious phase of rebellion.

The “Noche de San Juan”

The first signs of renewed rebelliousness appeared on the morning of June 24, when pasquinades posted in San Roque called for a union of all the barrios against the corregidor of Quito, and threatened to burn down his house. Throughout the day, rumors of a popular uprising swept through the city, facilitated no doubt by the drinking and carousing of a public holiday. In the late afternoon, the president of the Audiencia was warned of this danger, but was told by representatives from the barrios of San Roque and San Sebastián that the fears were exaggerated. He took no action until some hours later, when the corregidor arrived in alarm to inform him that about three hundred men from San Sebastián were moving to join forces with those of San Roque. Rubio de Arévalo ordered a cannon shot to be fired, as a prearranged signal for citizens to rally to the defense of the city. About a hundred men, including all the available peninsular Spaniards resident in Quito and many prominent creoles, assembled at the Audiencia palace. However, deciding that the tumult was no more than a rowdy affray like those of preceding nights, the majority decided to return to their homes.90

Had the matter been left there, nothing further might have happened. But among those who remained was an aggressive group of peninsular Spaniards, led by the corregidor Sánchez Osorio, who insisted that a patrol should be sent out into the city. Oidores Romualdo Navarro, Santa Cruz, and Hurtado de Mendoza argued against this, sensibly seeking to avoid confrontation. But the corregidor insisted that there was a riot in the barrio of San Sebastián, and prevailed on the Audiencia president to dispatch an armed patrol to contain it. Thus, at about 10: 00 p. m., the corregidor led his Spanish friends and allies to sally out toward San Sebastián. En route, they attempted to make some arrests, and when they encountered resistance, they opened fire on a crowd, killing two of its members. From this moment, events moved toward a swift and violent climax.91

After fighting with the crowd, the patrol was forced to retreat and headed for the protection of the Audiencia palace. Now popular antiSpanish feeling, already apparent before this riot, came into the open. The rioters first turned their attention to the house of Ángel Izquierdo, a Cádiz merchant reputed to have been one of those who had fired on the crowd. When Izquierdo learned of the danger to his home, he rushed a group of some 15 men and a mortar to defend his family and property. After a protracted fight with several hundred rioters who had seized his house, Izquierdo and his party were driven back by weight of numbers, losing their mortar in the process and leaving the crowd to ransack the house, destroying Izquierdo’s belongings, but allowing his wife and child to escape unharmed.92

By now, the main scene of battle had moved to the Plaza Mayor, and centered on the palace of the Audiencia and its small guard of officials, soldiers, and volunteers, most of whom were peninsular Spaniards. The rioters launched determined attacks on the Audiencia palace, dividing their forces in separate actions against its two entrances. The Audiencia later estimated that this attack involved ten thousand men, armed not only with sticks and stones, but with lances, swords, and some firearms. This figure was doubtless exaggerated, as the Audiencia, after its defeat, had every reason to overestimate the forces which it had confronted. Nonetheless, all contemporary reports indicate that the size of the mobs was very large, and far outnumbered the forces seeking to restrain them. Their attacks continued from around 11: 00 p. m. until 4: 00 a. m., leaving many dead among the rebels and several wounded among the besieged defending force.93 Near dawn, various bands renewed the assault and killed two of the defenders before retreating among their own dead and wounded. By now, the size of the rebel force had swelled still more, with groups of rebels spread all over the city and reinforcements coming in from the neighboring villages.

In the day that followed the “noche de San Juan,” there was a lull in the fighting. But the rising was not yet over, and its consequences had yet fully to be felt. The small force of 150 defenders in the Audiencia palace had managed to fend off repeated attacks, but, exhausted and facing overwhelming numbers, its position could not be sustained. Attempts were made to negotiate with the rebels, using clerical intermediaries. The bishop and other leading ecclesiastics went to the barrios of San Roque, San Sebastián, and San Blas, where they sought to persuade some “more rational” plebeians to mollify the fury of mobs which “moved by depraved designs . . . wanted to make the whole city the spoil of their ambition.”94 But efforts at peacemaking failed. By the close of the day, the Audiencia was told that more than 500 Indians had joined the ranks of the rebels in San Blas, that the entrances and aqueducts of the city were occupied, blocking food and water supplies, and that another great rising was being organized in the barrios. Deciding that their position was hopeless, the officials and their allies went into hiding, seeking sanctuary in churches, monasteries, and convents, and placing the royal treasury funds in the care of the Jesuits. At nightfall, crowds advanced again into the city center and, meeting no opposition, celebrated their victory.

The St. John’s night riot was, in one sense, simply an extension of the protest expressed in the first riot in May. It stemmed from the official efforts to reimpose the social discipline that had been broken in the May riot, and thus rekindled earlier antagonisms toward government. When the corregidor’s patrol provoked a street incident, the people of the barrios—still on their guard against reprisals for the earlier tumult—were quick to respond. But this second riot was also qualitatively different, for now the rioters were no longer just protesting against fiscal reform. The June riot was a more spontaneous and more violent outburst, born in different circumstances and with different aims. The corregidor’s draconian methods of reasserting his authority confirmed rumors that the Europeans planned to punish a populace that they despised, and fueled popular animosity toward them.95 Furthermore, while the occasion of a public festival provided a rationale for resuming strong policing in the streets, such a festival also provided a cultural context for expressing popular antagonism toward authority.96 In such an atmosphere of public suspicion and excitement, the corregidor’s tactics had the opposite of their intended effect. Far from dampening disorder, they provoked an incident which sparked a great riot, and drew disaster on the government.

Directed initially against the members of the patrol involved in the street clash, popular retaliation moved into a more general assault on the bastions of authority. As the European Spaniards, who had attacked the crowd in the name of authority and justice, sought refuge behind the shield of government, so the crowds, attacking the Spaniards in search of their own retributory justice, were drawn into an attack on government itself. Thus, Quito’s second great riot was not only more violent than the first; it was also anti-European and antigovernment, and, born in the popular barrios themselves, was laced with the enmity of the poor toward the wealthy. When the riot subsided, the damage done was not easily repaired. A major urban insurrection was under way, with a dynamic of its own, and it was to be some months before order was fully restored.

From Riot to Rebellion

Following the riot, the balance of power in the city changed dramatically. Gangs attacked the property of some of the Spaniards who had gone into hiding, and the authorities were unable to intervene.97 The Audiencia, defeated and bereft of authority, had no alternative but to negotiate. On the morning of June 26, the ministers convened a meeting with the bishop, only to have their weakness fully revealed. Soon after they arrived in the palace, a large crowd, estimated at more than two thousand people, surrounded the building and began to insult and threaten them. Francisco de Borja then appeared, together with two Jesuits, to mediate between the crowd and the ministers. The crowd demanded the surrender of firearms held in the royal stores. Eventually, a compromise was reached, after the oidores present had personally pleaded with the assembled people. It was agreed that clerics should conduct these arms to the monastery of Santo Domingo, and hold them there. It was also said that other demands were conceded, including the release of prisoners from jail, the exchange of prisoners taken by the crowds for those under sentence of death, and the removal of troops from the city.98 However, while the priests were allowed to carry off some small arms, the crowd soon broke its side of the bargain and carried off the cannons to the barrios.

The situation now became still more confused and volatile. Several observers reported that large numbers of Indians from the surrounding villages started to move into the city, and that even larger numbers were assembled in the neighboring Valley of Anaquito. Oidor Hurtado, who stated that more than three thousand Indians had entered the city on June 26, feared that they would also rebel, refusing to pay tribute and killing the whites.99 While it is likely that large numbers of Indians came into the city at this time—St. John’s Day being both an important festival and the time for a half-yearly payment of tributes—it is not clear if there was any real threat that the disorders in Quito would encourage an Indian rebellion in its rural hinterland, or lead to an alliance between urban plebeians and indigenous peasants. Talk of such a threat may have been no more than an attempt by the authorities and their allies to distract the Quito rebels. Certainly, the Audiencia tried to use fears of an Indian invasion and rebellion in order to bring the urban populace back to order. Using parish priests as intermediaries, it sought to manipulate ethnic divisions, playing on the mestizos’ dislike of the Indians to persuade them that the Indians were a danger to all.100 But this failed to win the barrios over, or to convince them to return stolen arms. Indeed, it was said that the cannons were used to fortify the main entrances to the city in order to keep the Indians at bay.101

After the violence and excitement had subsided, the implications of the June riot became clearer. The city was in the hands of armed rebels who had effectively overturned the political hierarchy and who, because their power rested on the force of popular action, implicitly threatened the stability of the social order. But how serious was the challenge to the constituted political and social order? Was Spanish sovereignty in danger? Did the entry of the plebeians radicalize the rebellion, or introduce any sense of incipient social revolution?

Fernando de Echandía, a peninsular who had been in Quito throughout the period of the riots and stayed until July 2, took a very somber view of the events. He reported that government had been completely subverted and replaced by the rule of the people. The people, he said, “have made themselves magistrates, ordering gibbets to be built in various places, dealing with disputes, giving freedom to slaves and freeing the Indians from tribute; and, what is more, swearing allegiance to a new king. . . .’’ It seems that they had attempted to persuade the creole aristocrat, Conde de Selva Florida, to become their king, and, though he emphatically refused, they went on to depose “all which bore resemblance to royal justice,” replacing it with their own proclamations and laws, and showing disrespect even for the Holy Sacrament.102

This was almost certainly an exaggerated version of events. It was written by a man who had been among the Spaniards expelled from the city by the rebels, and who had every reason to view the rebellion in a dramatic light, colored by his personal experience of anti-Spanish feeling in the city. Nonetheless, other accounts also suggest that the antitax movement which had begun in May did take on a more subversive tone after the St. John’s night riot, as underlying social tensions came to the surface. Effective government had passed into the hands of local tribunes who enjoyed popular trust and acclaim. The Audiencia, clinging to the tattered shreds of its dignity, could do no more than bend with the prevailing political winds. On June 27, it was forced to divorce itself from the cause of the European Spaniards, and to order their expulsion from the city within a week.103 It was also forced to accede to demands for another general pardon, this time for the insurrection that was still under way.

The only concession that the Audiencia was able to obtain was that the expulsion order should not include those peninsulars who were married and permanently resident in the city. Otherwise its surrender was complete. It was, moreover, conveyed in full public gaze on June 28, in an extraordinary ceremony in the Plaza Mayor, in front of the Audiencia palace. A ceremonial bench was placed on its balcony, and the oidores, the dean of the cathedral chapter, the ecclesiastical cabildo, the prelates of the regular orders, some city councillors, and “vecinos nobles” were arraigned on it, looking out over the four or five thousand people from the barrios who filled the main square. A singular spectacle then took place. The president of the Audiencia called out “Long live the king,” bringing an enthusiastic response from the crowd. A speech from one of the ministers followed, pardoning the rebels, before the bishop gave them absolution, which they received on their knees. Finally, the crowd dispersed peacefully, amid a mood of reconciliation and with promises of future good behavior.104

This affirmation of loyalty to the crown did not, however, immediately restore order in Quito. For at least two months after the St. John’s night riot, the authority of colonial government in Quito was essentially titular, and the Audiencia lived in fear of further disturbances. In the immediate aftermath of the riot, anger focused on those who had fought with the crowds and who were thought to oppose the barrios. Oidor Hurtado de Mendoza went into hiding, in fear of the mob, as did Corregidor Sánchez Osorio, and the alguacil mayor, Antonio de Salas.105 The fiscal Cistué also took religious sanctuary, before fleeing the city in early July, seeking to escape to Bogotá.106 The nonresident peninsulars were also forced to leave, in accord with the agreement made between the rebels and the Audiencia. Government now passed into the hands of men acceptable to the barrios, who enjoyed an uneasy and conditional authority over the populace.

To restore its own authority, the Audiencia turned to the creole patriciate and the religious communities, particularly the Jesuits. The Audiencia chose prominent creoles to act as “captains” or “deputies,” giving them the right to police the city, and sent a Jesuit mission into the parishes of San Roque, San Sebastián, San Blas, and Santa Bárbara.107 By July 2, the captains of the barrios were in position, and, organized by the Conde de Selva Florida, they were instrumental in persuading the barrios to return stolen arms to the officers of the crown.108 On July 3, President Rubio de Arévalo also reported on the captains’ activity in the barrios, stating that their presence promised the possibility of negotiations and so gave reason for hope.109 Within a short time, this hope was fulfilled. On July 4, people from all the barrios convened once again in the Plaza Mayor and, amid protestations of fidelity and repentance, handed over the captured arms.110 The oidores were forced to restate the pardon which they had granted, and the arms were then solemnly returned, with much public clamor.111 Finally, as a symbol of the city’s loyalty, the royal standard was raised on the balcony of the Audiencia palace, to be kept illuminated for three days and nights.112 Thus, in the aftermath of the St. John’s night riot, an informal government emerged in the city, as the Audiencia was forced to rely on creole notables to sustain royal authority.113

This “aristocratic government”—as it was called by the Audiencia president, Rubio de Arévalo—was the only effective force in the city for the remainder of the year. The Audiencia was unable to do much more than tolerate popular demands, while secretly encouraging the efforts of the creole elites to restrain such demands. For, despite the Audiencia's initial optimism after the ceremony of July 4, the rebellion was still far from over. The people of the barrios continued to assert themselves, amid official fears that open insurrection might flare up again in the city, and that rebellion might spread to the provinces. Reports emanating from the city throughout August testify to these anxieties and the continuing problems facing the Audiencia. At the beginning of the month, treasury officials reported that they were having great difficulty in collecting taxes. Not only had revenues from the alcabala declined considerably within the city, but, due to the threat of violent rejection, they were unable to find tax-farmers for the rural hinterland and had been forced to suspend alcabala collection there.114 Toward the end of the month, the Audiencia reported that the city was quiet, partly as a result of an epidemic which had affected most homes. However, it confirmed the earlier report of a virtual breakdown in the taxation system, stating that the Quiteño plebeians had sent many emissaries out to the Indian villages, inciting them to refuse tribute, and that, as a consequence, the collection of taxes in the area of Quito, Latacunga, and Ambato was difficult and risky.115

Plebeian rebelliousness was, then, expressed mainly by refusal to pay taxes or to tolerate assertions of authority by European Spaniards; it showed few signs of seeking fundamental changes in the political and social order. There were, however, some signs that an incoherent lower-class radicalism had found space to develop in the aftermath of the June riot. For reluctance to pay taxes was not the only sign of continuing popular insubordination. The informal government headed by the creole captains also found it difficult to overcome popular disregard for other aspects of the law, and popular resentments were being openly expressed through delinquency and disobedience.

The captains reported a great increase in crime after the June riot which, as magistrates, they tried to combat by creating district militias to maintain day and night patrols. This was not welcomed by the plebeians, who, having “thrown off the yoke of Justice and broken the reins of Obedience,” threatened the lives and property of the captains, and challenged their decisions as magistrates. That the resentment of the poor underpinned this defiance is reflected in the comment of the barrio captains that it was difficult to convince all the plebeians “that being poor was not a safe-conduct for crimes, nor a passport for excesses.”116 Such popular inversion of the official version of justice was no doubt helped by the takeover of minor posts in municipal government by plebeian leaders, and the recognition that all such positions were “at the behest of the barrios.”117 Moreover, these barrio leaders sought to control the movement of Europeans in and out of the city, claiming the right to give licenses to peninsular merchants for specified periods, limited to the time necessary for their business.118 Differences over how Europeans should be treated were beginning to divide the rebels, however. In mid-September, Francisco de Borja and other leading captains had to order the “delegates and leading citizens of all the barrios” to help transfer the corregidor from the convent of San Francisco to the cabildo, as his life was being threatened.119

If plebeian autonomy within Quito was a major worry for the Audiencia, its anxiety was aggravated by the fear that the city’s example would be imitated in the provinces, spreading rebellion throughout the highlands. At the end of May and in early June, there were riots against the aguardiente monopoly and alcabalas in Ibarra, Otavalo, and Cuenca, all of them imitating the action taken by Quito’s barrios.120 Such action naturally aroused fears of a general rebellion in the provinces, and, to avert this danger, the Audiencia instructed all corregidores and justicias mayores to proceed with special caution, to avoid recourse to arms unless life and property were endangered, and to suspend the aguardiente monopoly, if it were necessary to preserve order.121

This conciliatory policy seems to have worked well, although, as the riots of Quito developed into rebellion, fears of a more general insurrection were not easily dispelled. Information gathered by the fiscal Cistué suggests that there were still some reasons for apprehension later in the year. In mid-September, he reported that in Riobamba popular solidarity with the Quito barrios had led to attacks on a tax official exiled there from Quito; unrest had also spread into ecclesiastical politics, when the convocation of the Franciscan chapter led to a popular riot in favor of a candidate related to the parish priest of San Blas in Quito. The town of Ibarra was said to have risen against European Spaniards, refusing them entry, while popular antagonism toward the aguardiente monopoly was creating insecurity in Cuenca.122 Thus, there were still grounds for official concern about the situation not only in the capital city, but also in the provinces.

The Restoration of Royal Government

In any event, insurrection in Quito did not spread to other areas of the Audiencia and become a great regional rebellion. Apart from the early imitative rioting in provincial towns, the Quito rebellion remained confined to its urban precinct and did not lead to serious disorder even in the surrounding rural hinterland of the “five leagues.” The Indian villagers of this zone around Quito did not strike up an alliance with the urban plebeians, and, rather than uniting the poor of town and countryside against the social groups which dominated them, the rebellion remained one of community rather than class.

The reasons for the rebellion’s truncated development may be explained by two factors. First, there seems to have been limited potential for solidarity between urban plebeians and Indian peasants. This was partly because many, if not most plebeians were mestizos, who would have considered themselves both different from and superior to the Indian peasantry. Equally, the city’s Indian population did not necessarily identify with the native people of the rural hinterland. While some were no doubt recent migrants who retained close contacts with nearby rural areas, others were long-established members of the city population, absorbed into its economy and society as artisans and tradesmen. That there were tensions between town and country was attested by the efforts of the Audiencia to exploit urban fears of an Indian invasion, as a means of controlling the rebellion and encouraging the rebels back to order, and by the report that Indian peasants were kept out of the city by the people of the barrios.

The potential for developing radical political ideas in Quito barrios was limited by the nature of local political culture. The plebeians, when joined in collective action, behaved like the classic urban mob in contemporary Europe. Indeed, the Quito crowd seems to fit the definition which E. J. Hobsbawm has given to the “city mob.”123 For, like the European “city mob,” the crowd in Quito was a “movement of all classes of the urban poor for the achievement of economic or political change by direct action—that is by riot or rebellion—but as a movement which was as yet inspired by no specific ideology; or, if it found expression for its aspirations at all, in terms of traditionalism and conservatism. . . .”124 However, as Hobsbawm has explained, for such a movement to be “prepolitical” does not mean that it is without ideas about politics. Typically, by its direct action, the urban mob makes a claim to participate in politics, tends to be directed against the wealthy and powerful, and tends to be hostile to foreigners.

These were precisely the characteristics of the crowd in Quito. By rioting, it made forceful, extralegal representation of its opposition to tax reform; by attacking official buildings, government officers, and wealthy Spaniards, it directed its antagonism against targets which symbolized the abuse of power and the inequity of the social order; finally, by focusing on peninsular Spaniards, the rioters combined animosity toward the wealthy with that xenophobia so characteristic of urban crowds. However, as we have seen, the rebels were also eager to avoid any suggestion of disloyalty to the crown and, indeed, sought to legitimize their rebellion by protestations of loyalty to the king and demands for royal pardons. Moreover, although by asserting their right to express their views to the king over the heads of his ministers, and by their resistance to new taxation, Quito’s plebeians voiced their political ideas in direct action, their behavior after the St. John’s night riot shows that they did not trespass beyond the boundaries of a traditional political culture, founded on deference toward the existing social and political hierarchy. The appointment of barrio captains, chosen by the Audiencia from among the creole elite, reflects this plebeian deference toward the traditional social order and customary methods of government. In accepting creole notables as their captains, the plebeians showed their acceptance of the normal methods of municipal government, whereby men were selected according to their rank and wealth. Nor was popular preference for local men in government and rejection of rule by outsiders in any real sense a radical departure from the axioms of the existing political culture. Conflicts between creole and peninsular factions had long been a major theme in the politics of the city, and popular involvement in such factional politics does not imply any protonationalist rejection of colonial rule. It was, perhaps, more akin to the “municipal patriotism” which Hobsbawn found to be common among the city mobs in Europe.

Another major factor which helped to limit the development of the rebellion was the conciliatory stance taken by those members of the Audiencia who remained after the June riot, and the growing willingness of leading creoles to cooperate in the restoration of normal government in the months that followed. After the defeat inflicted on the authorities and their peninsular allies on the “noche de San Juan,” the Audiencia had little choice but to conciliate, since it could not call on any military force to impose its will on the rebels. But, by formally conceding an end to fiscal reform, offering general pardons to the rioters and rebels, and expelling the European Spaniards whom the Quiteños had identified as their enemies, the Audiencia succeeded—as it had intended—in lowering tension and reestablishing the legitimacy and authority of government. This was, nevertheless, a slow process, and the cooperation of leading creoles was vital to its success. The reports of the creole captains show why this cooperation was forthcoming. Now that they no longer needed popular violence to oppose the reforms, and as popular “lawlessness” grew, they became alarmed by such behavior and anxious to reconstruct the old order.

Faced with a wave of crime against property, with disrespect for their own persons and property, and with popular questioning of their decisions as magistrates, the creole leaders sought to check the rebellion before it threatened their own privileged position. They did this by organizing militia companies in the main districts of the city, and by taking advantage of divisions within the populace. Thus, in seeking to repress those challenges which still arose from the ranks of the plebeians, the captains allied themselves with those elements that they considered “more rational, more obedient, and more committed to the obligations of vassallage,” and persuaded them that, if necessary, they should expel “the ungovernable and the vagabonds.”125 Furthermore, to pacify the populace, the creoles did not rely simply on persuasion by argument and appeals to deference. When Nicolás Calixto de Alarcón asked for permission to retire from his task as a barrio captain, he argued that he had not only exhausted himself in the effort of restoring government, but had spent much of his wealth on presents and bribes needed to win popular support.126

These efforts by the creole elites, working with the Audiencia, gradually bore fruit. In mid-September, the viceroy officially ratified the general pardon announced by the Audiencia in early July, and this seems to have marked a turning point in the rebellion. For, apart from some minor tumults, popular restiveness began to subside. By the beginning of October, the president reported that the city was stable and showed signs of submission to authority. Nonetheless, his optimism was still tempered by misgivings, for much remained to be done. Hundreds of illegal stills were operating in the city, turning out aguardiente at low prices, while an official agreement suspended the collection of revenues from the farmers of the aguardiente monopoly in Quito and its jurisdiction, for fear that any effort to operate the monopoly would lead to renewed disturbances. Rubio de Arévalo also testified to the continuing weakness of royal government, stating that it was unable to influence appointments to minor municipal posts, which had consequently fallen into the hands of “criminals.” Nor was he entirely confident of the future. Like the fiscal Cistué, who continued to send alarmist reports to the viceroy from his exile, Rubio de Arévalo lamented the erosion of deference and the decay of social discipline. The mob, he said, had triumphed, it had chosen its tribunes, and it would rise again whenever it was challenged.127

In fact, any renewal of confrontation was avoided. From December, when Rubio de Arévalo retired and was replaced as interim president by Oidor Santa Cruz, the Audiencia gradually restored its authority. This was partly because the rebels had achieved their objectives: the new excise had been suspended, a pardon had been ratified, and, so long as they were not provoked by any show of force or retribution, they had nothing left to fight for. Another factor in the restoration of the Audiencia was the diplomacy of its new president, Santa Cruz, who sought to coopt and cooperate with the barrios. Thus, when disturbances were threatened at the end of December, he called the delegates of the barrios to his house and negotiated with them; when there was a conflict in the election of alcaldes in January 1766, he resolved the problem by electing two extra alcaldes; and, when the corregidor refused to cooperate with Francisco de Borja, Santa Cruz not only ordered him to do so, but also showed his confidence in the creole Borja by placing him in command of the presidential guard, thereby converting an erstwhile opponent of government into its principal defender.128 Furthermore, to stiffen creole commitment to the pacification of Quito, Santa Cruz prevented the departure of leading citizens, on pain of confiscation of their property, and encouraged the return of those who had left, arguing that their presence contributed to containing “the pride of the mob.”129

With cooperation within the patriciate, as well as between the creole elite and members of the government, the city slowly returned to normalcy. It seems that, after the June riot had infused the antitax movement with dangerous popular animosities towards Europeans and colonial government, the urban patriciate chose to side with the Audiencia in order to bring the people back under control. Gradually, under the careful supervision of select members of the creole elite and the Audiencia, the popular parishes were brought to heel, a process no doubt helped by lax collection of sales taxes and the removal of controls on the manufacture and sale of aguardiente.

By the early months of 1766, the lingering symptoms of disaffection and fear of rebellion faded. In early March, an Indian rebellion in nearby Latacunga was rapidly suppressed without repercussion in Quito.130 At the end of March, news that a military expedition was being sent to the city, something which had previously been a closely guarded secret, was received in Quito.131 According to the exiled fiscal Cistué, this news brought a sharp change in attitudes, spreading apprehension and encouraging the “nobles” to shift blame for the rebellion onto the leaders of the barrios.132 In early May, Francisco de Borja reported to the viceroy that the city was quietly awaiting the arrival of troops, and he raised no objection to the sending of the military expedition.133 Other reports indicate, however, that there was still a groundswell of opposition among the lower classes. At the end of May, a Spaniard in Quito pointed to the dangers of another uprising, induced by popular rumors that the arrival of troops would lead to mass executions and the imposition of heavy tributes on the mestizos.134 However, the creole patriciate, working with the Audiencia, retained its grip on the city. On September 1, 1766, the troops entered the city, to be warmly received by its inhabitants.135 Command of the city was now transferred to the military commander, Pedro Zelaya, who, though he emphasized reconciliation rather than retribution, took the precaution of forming a battalion of Europeans to prevent any further plebeian insults to authority.136 After a respectable interval, the Audiencia was purged of all surviving ministers associated with the debacle of 1765, pending an investigation into the events of that year.137 And, on February 14, 1767, the aguardiente monopoly, source of so much discord, was restored without opposition from any quarter.138 Quito, now occupied by a garrison, had been brought firmly back under Bourbon control.


In his brilliant analysis of rebellion in a sixteenth-century French town, Ladurie has proposed two paradigms for classifying urban revolts; though they pertain to a quite different historical context, they provide a starting point for some closing comments on the Quito insurrection of 1765. The first—the “Ibn Khaldun paradigm”—approaches urban violence as a function of rivalries between families or clans, and their clienteles. The second—the “Karl Marx paradigm”—sees it as a class struggle, rooted in the conflicts of social groups with contradictory economic interests.139 While the Quito case cannot be accommodated within either of these models, analysis in their terms offers a useful perspective.

The “Ibn Khaldun paradigm” is useful because it draws attention to a common feature of urban political life in colonial Spanish America, and to its role in generating local political conflict: namely, the rivalries and enmities of leading families, often expressed in conflicts over municipal and bureaucratic office, in judicial disputes over property, and in other conflicts over local resources. Of course, in America such conflicts had an additional edge, for they tended to divide along the social lines which divided American and European Spaniards. Although the history of Quito remains to be written, the evidence available suggests that it was at least as prone to such divisions as was any comparable city, and that rivalries between creole and peninsular factions were intense. But, in the Quito case, the “Ibn Khaldun paradigm” must be adapted to its context in order to be useful. In Quito, the conflict within the elite cannot be reduced to that of rival families or clans: it was much more complicated, drawing on disputes between clergy and government, between officials within government, between cabildo and corregidor, and between European and American Spaniards. Nor was this simply a conflict between creoles and peninsulars as rivals within the dominant social group. The conflict also had an important political dimension, as the creole patriciate and its allies were evidently moved by a determination to resist the encroachments of a reformist and centralizing monarchy.

The rebellion in Quito was, then, in part the expression of several overlapping disputes within the urban elite and government. Indeed, for the viceroys of New Granada and Peru, this was all it was. Viceroy Messía de la Cerda finally concluded that it had stemmed from the “seditious spirit of the principal citizens of that city,” who had promoted hatred of taxes and Europeans, aided by the partiality of ministers in the Audiencia and by conflict between the secular clergy and the government. Thus, with Viceroy Amat of Peru, he concurred in attributing responsibility to the creole patriciate, whom they both saw as the “hidden hand” impelling and guiding an ignorant and disorganized populace for its own purposes.140 This official view of the rebellion is, however, only partly correct, and historiographical interpretations based on it need to be revised. For, while it is clear that the creoles colluded in the rebellion—if only by failing to defend the royal government against attack—the patriciate was simply one element in a loose coalition of social and corporate groups drawn into a temporary alliance. If factional quarrels within the dominant groups played a part in preparing the ground for rebellion, the rebellion also demonstrated the grievances of plebeian groups who were capable of organized collective action in defense of their own interests.

In this sense, the Marxian model of urban insurrection as a class struggle of artisans and city workers against merchants and nobles also has relevance to Quito’s rebellion. The latter was clearly not an undiluted class struggle, dominated by the clash of social groups with opposing economic interests. But there can be little doubt that the political mobilization of the plebeians owed much of its force to the strains imposed by recent economic dislocations. It was not economic decline in itself that generated rebellion: if contemporary reports are to be believed, this had been slowly crippling the city for many years. Much more important was the experience of a recent sharp downturn, described by the merchants’ delegate as a “profound depression,” which had undermined exports, reduced trade in the city to the exchange of basic necessities, and caught merchants and traders in a chain of credit where none could hope for payment.141 This economic squeeze brought class and ethnic tensions to the surface. The expulsion of peninsulars after the June riot was prompted by the desire to punish the Europeans for their behavior on St. John’s night, but it also reflected a division along class lines, in which plebeian artisans and tradesmen vented their anger on merchants. Europeans dominated Quito’s trade. Thus, as the importers of the very textiles harmful to the city’s economy—and possibly also because they stood at the head of the chains of credit which bound merchants to shopkeepers and shopkeepers to consumers—they could be identified as profiting from the city’s economic decline. There is, then, the possibility that the Quito rebellion was tinged by conflict between artisans and merchants, though not in the conventional European sense of a struggle between groups involved in the production and distribution of the same product. The attack on merchants would have been, rather, a sign that the rebels attributed responsibility for their economic ills to the Spanish government because of its changes in commercial policy, and to Spanish merchants because they not only were identified with this policy, but also appeared to be profiting from it. Thus, the revolt was not propelled by mere poverty, but given shape and direction by the identification of specific agents for Quito’s social ills.

In its later stages, the rebellion showed more direct symptoms of a struggle between rich and poor, as a wave of delinquency brought property under attack. But such activity remained on its fringes, and the rebellion cannot be regarded as a struggle between the upper and lower classes of urban society. Inevitably, in a society in which differences of ethnic status were at least as important as divisions defined by wealth and occupation, if not more so, conflicts of class gave way to conflicts rooted in differences of race. In this sense—and like most other rebellions in late colonial Spanish America—the Quito insurrection was the rebellion of a community rather than a class. In Quito, that community was an agglomeration of urban whites, mestizos, and Indians, who could unite briefly behind the common goal of resisting changes in taxation but could not find any lasting cohesion nor develop links which went beyond the urban community into its rural hinterland. With the European Spaniards to serve as scapegoats, with fears that the Indian peasants might enter and overwhelm the city, and with the moderating leadership of a creole patriciate anxious to retain its own privileges, there was little scope for popular resentments to build into an organized attack on the social order. Despite rumors of slave and Indian emancipation, plebeian discontents were channeled into retribution rather than revolution. Ultimately, the Quito rebellion remained a protest against a policy, not against the power from which policy emanated.

The rebellion did not put forward any written program nor any systematic account of the ideas which might have been held by participants. This should not, however, disguise the ideological currents present in the rebellion, nor shroud their importance. On the one hand, the arguments of the creole elites and their allies, both in the cabildo abierto and in supporting correspondence with the authorities, all allude to a belief in a kind of constitutionalism in the conduct of state business. It would be a mistake to dismiss the arguments concerning the need to recognize local needs, customs, and conventions as mere rhetoric, cynically employed to disguise selfish sectoral interests. Of course, the creole opponents of reform were concerned with protecting and defending their economic interests. But they did not need to disguise this, for they saw it as a right, facilitated and sanctioned by the traditional procedures of government, with their lengthy consultations, delayed deliberations, and tendency to respect the status quo. Thus, while the rebellion did not produce a manifesto, the letters and petitions of the leading opponents of reform reveal a patrician, primarily creole discourse concerning the distribution and exercise of power within the colonial state.

Another ideological dimension of the rebellion is found among the plebeians. This is much more difficult to identify and define, because it was not articulated in any written form, nor, without prosecution of the rebels, can we even attempt to trace it among the testimonies of defendants and witnesses at trials. Nevertheless, as E. P. Thompson has suggested in another historical context, glimpses of an unsophisticated and unsystematic “ideology” can be gained by studying the behavior of rioting crowds.142 Thompson found that the actions of the eighteenth-century English mob were underpinned by a sense of legitimacy—the belief that they were defending some rights or traditional customs—and that this was reflected in disciplined and directed action, governed by certain norms and geared towards certain goals.

The riots which provided the main expressions of plebeian participation in the Quito rebellion display such a notion of legitimacy. In the May riot, there were some references to the drunkenness and insolence of the mob, but, beneath its disorderly surface, the riot displayed elements of structure and discipline. That there was some drunkenness is hardly surprising: the rioters’ target housed a distillery and liquor store. But there was no indiscriminate violence or plunder. Damage was inflicted on the excise building, but in a manner which displays a purposeful attitude. Its contents were destroyed, not simply stolen, and the systematic demolition of the excise building suggests a deliberate symbolic gesture rather than a disordered attack. Throughout the period of the riot, the crowd remained in the area of the excise office, and, although the Audiencia took precautions to defend the Plaza Mayor, the riot showed no signs of turning into a general assault on government. Nor was there any deliberate assault on the persons of officials: Díaz de Herrera and his subordinates were able to escape and take religious sanctuary, and none of the officials involved in trying to restrain the rioters reported any direct attack against them. Clearly, the rioters had what they regarded as legitimate goals, signalled by their choice of targets and the restraint exercised in unleashing their anger on these targets. Furthermore, having directly vented its anger against the symbols of fiscal oppression, the crowd then emphasized its claim to legitimacy by seeking formal recognition for its rejection of the reform, using clerical intermediaries to negotiate with the authorities. Once its demands were met, the crowd disbanded peacefully.

The June riot was more violent, but displayed similar elements of structure. Rallied by the bells of the barrios’ parish churches, the rioters turned against the corregidor’s patrol because it represented a form and style of government which, in the wake of the May riot, had lost its legitimacy. Indeed, the crowd was drawn into an attack on government because it was itself attacked; though there was loss of life and property, the riot never became simply a destructive rampage by an infuriated and mindless mob. Moreover, though there were signs of growing indiscipline among the urban lower classes after the riots, especially in the weeks after the “noche de San Juan,\ not even the most prejudiced observers suggested that the city had been submerged by a tide of uncontrollable violence.

There were many facets of civil disorder and popular protest in late colonial Spanish America, among all ethnic groups and at different social levels. Rebelliousness was most evident, of course, at the lower ends of the social scale, among people of color, most of whom were poor. This included the rebellions of black slaves who took collective actions to improve their conditions or to secure their freedom; it also encompassed the many outbursts of agrarian communities against those they perceived to be predators, whether tax collectors, abusive officials, or competing communnities. Riots of urban mobs, again usually against tax collectors or other officials, fall within the same broad spectrum. More rarely, rebellion was actively promoted by relatively wealthy creoles as in the case of the Caracas rebellion of 1749-52, in which creole landowners protested against their economic subordination to a Spanish monopoly. Occasionally, these protests might cluster together within a short time span, to form a recognizable conjuncture of rebellion. Or, again on rare occasions, the disparate strands of rebellion might merge in time and space to produce great regional rebellions which blended the discontents of disparate groups, even different cultures, into prolonged upheavals which, as with the rebellions of Túpac Amaru in Peru or Hidalgo in Mexico, might become veritable civil wars.

Quito’s “rebellion of the barrios” did not become a great regional social and political movement, of the kind that was to occur in neighboring Peru and New Granada during the early 1780s. It has, indeed, been overshadowed by those great rebellions, especially by that of the southern Andes, where several overlapping revolts, mainly among the native peasantry, unleashed a conflict of unparalleled duration and violence. It was, nevertheless, a significant episode in the history of rebellion in colonial Spanish America. First, it was part of a cluster of rebellions that affected the southern regions of the Viceroyalty of New Granada during the early 1760s and signalled the first widespread, if scattered, resistance to Bourbon fiscal reform among both urban and rural communities.143 Thus, it stands as an important moment in a major regional conjuncture of resistance to that new phase of Bourbon reformism, associated with the government of Charles III, that started in the 1760s. By the same token, it also constitutes a striking episode in that wider, pancontinental movement of rebellion which developed during the final half-century of the colonial regime—a movement better known for its great regional exemplars in Peru and New Granada.

The Quito rebellion is also important because of its character as an urban movement. It was indeed the first in a series of urban uprisings directed against colonial government during the last 50 years of Bourbon rule. Such uprisings—of the kind found among townspeople in the Socorro region of New Granada and in towns in different parts of Peru and Upper Peru in the early 1780s—constituted important elements in the conjunctures of rebellion that occurred in this period, and contributed to the development of the larger, regional movements which challenged the crown’s new policies. Urban popular protests were, moreover, to play an important role in politics again in 1810, when urban mobs were frequently to engage in the political struggles that gave rise to the first movements for colonial autonomy.

This tradition of urban revolt—which has tended to be submerged in analyses of larger rebellions or political movements—deserves more attention from historians. For Spanish American towns, with their concentrations of population and more intense social stratification, were—like their contemporary North American counterparts—often more susceptible to economic change, and had a more active political life, than the small, scattered settlements of the countryside.144 Often, perhaps invariably, this political life was confined to small oligarchies, with the inevitable tendency for politics to decline into mere factionalism. But, as the Quito rebellion shows, there were moments when this narrow and exclusive political system could open up through conflict, revealing divisions within the community and providing some scope for wider political participation and for changing political attitudes. Although these urban movements were less violently disruptive in their impact and less radical in their implications than the great peasant movements, such as those found among the Quechua- and Aymara-speaking natives of the central and southern Andes, they are nevertheless important. Born in towns and cities, they were at the heart of colonial culture, where the tensions generated by economic change, political centralization, and ethnic and social rivalries were concentrated, and where, during the great crisis of imperial rule in the early nineteenth century, the final struggle between colonies and metropolis was to be played out.


See Segundo Moreno Yáñez, Sublevaciones indígenas en la Audiencia de Quito, desde comienzos del siglo XVIII hasta finales de la colonia (Bonn, 1976).


The earliest history of the rebellion appeared in 1789, in Juan de Velasco, Historia del Reino de Quito, 2 vols. (Quito, 1971 ed.), I, 136-149; another account is given in the classic nineteenth-century history of Federico González Suárez, Historia general de la república del Ecuador, 9 vols. in 3 (Quito, 1970 ed.), III, 1, 126-1, 139. A more recent account is found in Carlos de la Torre Reyes, La revolución de Quito del 10 de agosto de 1809 (Quito, 1961), 147-154.


Joseph Pérez, Los movimientos precursores de la emancipación en Hispanoamérica (Madrid, 1977), 46-63.


The main source for the rebellion used in this article is the collection of correspondence relating to the events of 1764-66 compiled by the secretary of the viceroy of New Granada, and now located in the Archivo General de Indias, Seville (hereafter AGI), Quito 398 and 399. The numbers of the documents cited here from the AGI Quito legajos conform to the numbers given in the original index, in Quito 398; the folio numbers conform to the modern foliation. This documentation has been supplemented by some material drawn from the Colombian national archives in Bogotá. Regrettably, I have not been able to use Ecuadorian archives directly. However, the two legs of documentation relating to the rebellion found in the Archivo de Indias do offer an unrivaled source. Indeed, their compilation of correspondence and other documents constitutes a kind of “official history” of the rebellion, which, because it contains so many first-hand accounts of events, provides a source unlikely to be surpassed even in the archives of Quito itself. The Quito archives would, however, undoubtedly be indispensable for a thorough analysis of the social and economic history of the city during this period.


Eduardo Posada and P. M. Ibáñez, Relaciones de mando: Memorias presentadas por los gobernantes del Nuevo Reino de Granada (Bogotá, 1910), 80–81.


Ibid., 99.


AGI Quito 398 (no. 1), fols. 32-35. The viceroy’s order was not officially approved by the crown until more than a year after it was issued. See Julián de Arriaga to Viceroy Messía de la Cerda, Aranjuez, June 5, 1765, Archivo Histórico Nacional de Colombia (hereafter AHNC), Impuestos Varios (Cartas), tomo 17, fol. 21.


Viceroy Messía de la Cerda, Oct. 10, 1765, AGI Quito 398 (no. 149).


Joseph de Cistué to Viceroy Messía de la Cerda, Apr. 1, 1766, AHNC Historia, tomo 3, fols. 33-34.


Cabildo of Quito to viceroy, Sept. 7, 1752, AHNC Impuestos Varios (Cartas), tomo 23, fols. 754-756.


Joseph Gómez Lasso de la Vega to viceroy, Mar. 5, 1764, ibid., tomo 22, fols. 761-764.


Pedro Guerrero y Otañón to viceroy, Mar. 8, 1764, ibid.. fol. 769.


Francisco de Borja to crown, Jan. 24, 1767, AGI Quito 399 (no. 423).


For general comment on the city’s politics from the 1730s until the 1760s, see González Suárez, Historia general, V, chaps. 3 and 4.


Luis de la Cuesta to viceroy, Oct. 29, 1764, AGI Quito 398 (no. 6), fols. 61-62.


Borja sought to delay the establishment of a royal aguardiente distillery on the ground that it interfered with the public water supply. He also persuaded the Audiencia that the corregidor of Quito should not participate in the cabildos deliberations on the new policy, as he was personally prejudiced. Díaz de Herrera to viceroy, Dec. 8, 1764, AGI Quito 398 (no. 148), fol. 601.


For some data on Borja’s social connections and their positions in the local economy, see Javier Ortiz de la Tabla, “Panorama económico y social del corregimiento de Quito (1768-1775),” Revista de Indias, 36: 145-146 (1976), 92-95.


AHNC, Impuestos Varios (Cartas), tomo 22, fols. 372-375. In a “Memoria de los individuos, en hacendados, quienes se han prorrateado de su libre voluntad por las quadras de caña dulce que tienen en sus haciendas de trapiches en donde se fabrican aguardientes de caña que se expende en esta ciudad y sus cinco leguas” drawn up in Aug. 1752, Juan de Chiriboga appears as the second largest contributor, after the Jesuits, with 150 cuadras devoted to the production of sugar cane.


“Testimonio del ocurso hecho por las Religiones y Commun del Vecindario de la Ciudad de Quito,” fol. 601, AGI Quito 398, no. 148.


Ibid., fols. 605-606.


Ibid., fol. 604.


Information on the Audiencia members is from Mark A. Burkholder and D. S. Chandler, From Impotence to Authority: The Spanish Crown and the American Audiencias (Columbia, MO, 1977), 219-221.


González Suárez, Historia general, II, 1, 054-1, 057.


Viceroy to Arriaga, July 5, 1765, AGI Quito 398 (no. 59), fol. 358.


Llano to viceroy, Nov. 20, 1764, ibid. (nos. 8 and 9). Llano’s fears of an uprising were not necessarily exaggerated: he had only recently returned from Riobamba, where his efforts to count the Indian population had sparked a local rebellion. See Moreno Yáñez, Sublevaciones indígenas, 42-107.


Díaz de Herrera to viceroy, Jan. 18, 1765, AGI Quito 398 (no. 21).


Díaz de Herrera to viceroy, Feb. 2, 1765, ibid. (no. 24).


Díaz de Herrera to viceroy, Dec. 8, 1765, ibid. (no. 12).


Ibid. (no. 35), fols. 205-215; Díaz de Herrera also reported that it had been agreed that the hacendados and vecinos of the province of Quito should raise six to eight thousand pesos by pro rata contributions, in order to meet the costs of sending Borja to Spain to present their case at court. Díaz de Herrera to viceroy, Dec. 13, 1764, ibid. (no. 16).


According to Díaz de Herrera, the monasteries regularly contravened the estanco regulations but could not easily be controlled because aguardiente was distilled in the cloisters, where guards could not enter and from which it was often taken out by women. Díaz de Herrera to viceroy, Dec. 8, 1764, ibid. (no. 10).


Llano to viceroy, Nov. 20, 1764, ibid. (no. 8), fol. 67.


Joseph Gómez Lasso de la Vega to viceroy, Mar. 5, 1764, AHNC Impuestos Varios (Cartas), tomo 22, fol. 760.


Díaz de Herrera to viceroy, Dec. 8, 1764, AGI Quito 398 (no. 12). These threats were serious enough for Díaz to ask for a guard to protect him and for the Audiencia to set up an investigation. See Díaz de Herrera to viceroy, Dec. 8, 1764, ibid. (no. 11) and Audiencia to viceroy, Dec. 13, 1764, ibid. (no. 17).


Borja, “Informe por el vecindario,” Nov. 28, 1764, ibid., fols. 215-225.


Informe de los vecinos de Tacunga, ibid., fols. 230-233. Of the two signatures on this document, one was that of the Marqués de Maenza who, it should be noted, had been involved in the recent successful bid for the aguardiente monopoly, as a guarantor for Melchor de Rivadeneyra. See AHNC, Impuestos Varios (Cartas), tomo 22, fol. 769.


Informe de los hacendados; informe de los trapicheros, ibid., fols. 238-244.


Informe del comercio, ibid., fols. 233-238.


Informes de la Compañía de Jesús, Fray Jacinto de la Cruz, and rector del Colegio Imperial de San Buenaventura, ibid., fols. 244-247.


In 1752, the Jesuits had headed the list of landholders contributing on the basis of their acreage under sugar production, with the convents of San Agustín and la Merced also being among the leading contributors. See AHNC, Impuestos Varios (Cartas), tomo 22, fols. 372-375. In the same year, the cabildo said of the haciendas of Quito that they were “so burdened with mortgages that their owners are in reality no more than mayordomos for the mortgagors,” ibid., tomo 23, fol. 754. For further comment on clerical involvement in the agrarian and urban economy of Quito, see Jorge Juan and Antonio de Ulloa, in Discourse and Political Reflections on the Kingdoms of Peru, John TePaske, ed. (Norman, 1978), 306-307.


After a major demographic crisis in the 1690s, the Quito textile industry had entered a phase of decline from which it never fully emerged. See John Leddy Phelan, The Kingdom of Quito in the Seventeenth Century: Bureaucratic Politics in the Spanish Empire (Madison, 1967), 66-71.


Robson B. Tyrer, “The Demographic and Economic History of the Audiencia of Quito: Indian Population and the Textile Industry, 1600-1800” (Ph. D. diss., University of California, Berkeley, 1976), 184-341. For a classic contemporary statement concerning the problems facing Quito around midcentury, see “Razón que cerca del Estado y Governación Política y Militar de las Provincias, Villas y Lugares que contiene la Jurisdicción de la Real Audiencia de Quito da... el Marqués de Selva Alegre" (1754), in Arbitraje de límites entre Perú y el Ecuador. Documentos anexos al alegato del Perú (Madrid, 1905), I, 138-169.

The view that Quito suffered economic decline during the eighteenth century has recently been questioned. Carlos Marchán asserts that there was no such general decline in the Audiencia of Quito, and that the image of general decline was propagated by the obraje owners of the north-central sierra in order to defend themselves from the competition of textile imports. It is indeed unlikely that the whole Audiencia of Quito suffered uniform economic decline, and it is true that the obraje owners were among those hardest hit by changes in external trade. But the fact remains that, when discussing the city of Quito and its hinterland, contemporary sources constantly reiterate the theme of depression, and invariably link it to the loss of specie caused by the contraction of Quito’s textile trade with Peru. Without new evidence to the contrary, the “depression thesis” for the economy of highland Quito stands. For Marchán’s arguments, see Leoncio López-Ocón Cabrera, “El protagonismo del clero en la insurgencia quiteña (1890-1812),” Revista de Indias, 46: 17 (1986), 109-112.


See Antonio García-Baquero González, Cádiz y el Atlántico (1717-1778) (El comercio colonial español bajo el monopolio gaditano), 2 vols. (Seville, 1976), II, 173.


For a general account of the cabildo abierto, see John Preston Moore, The Cabildo in Peru under the Hapsburgs (Durham, 1954), 125-135.


“El cabildo secular . . .,” AGI Quito 398 (no. 35), fols. 248-249.


On Spanish medieval practice, see José Antonio Maravall, Las comunidades de Castilla: Una primera revolución moderna, 2d ed. (Madrid, 1979), 117-118.


“El cabildo secular . . .,” AGI Quito 398 (no. 35), fol. 220.


“Informe del señor procurador,” ibid., fols. 227-228.


Luis de Santa Cruz to viceroy, Feb. 1, 1765, ibid. (no. 22).


Phelan, The People and the King: The Comunero Revolution in Colombia, 1781 (Madison, 1978), 35.


Ibid., 79-88.


Viceroy Messía de la Cerda to Arriaga, Feb. 1, 1765, AGI Quito 398 (no. 23).


“El cabildo secular . . .,” ibid. (no. 35), fols. 265-267.


Díaz de Herrera to viceroy, Dec. 8 and 9, 1764, ibid. (nos. 10, 11, 12, 13, 14) documents these antireformist activities.


Díaz de Herrera to viceroy, Jan. 18, 1765, ibid. (nos. 20 and 24).


Llano to viceroy, Mar. 4, 1765, ibid. (no. 26); Díaz de Herrera to viceroy, Mar. 22, 1765, ibid. (no. 27).


Llano to viceroy, May 3, 1765, ibid. (no. 29).


Díaz de Herrera to viceroy, May 12, 1765, ibid. (no. 33).


For an account of events leading up to the riot, see the anonymous “Relación sumaria de las dos sublevaciones de la Pleve de Quito,” Boletín de la Academia Nacional de Historia, 15: 42-45 (Quito, 1937), 103 and Domingo de Araujo to viceroy, July 13, 1765, AGI Quito 398 (no. 65).


Information on the social composition of these barrios is from A. M. Minchom, “Urban Popular Society in Colonial Quito, c. 1700-1800” (Ph. D. diss., University of Liverpool, 1984), 220-221, 236.


The following reconstruction of the May 22 riot is based on several first-hand accounts, all sent to the viceroy within days of the riot. First, from the Audiencia tribunal: AGI Quito 398 (no. 39), fols. 281-288; second, from Oidor Hurtado de Mendoza, ibid. (no. 38), fols. 276-280; third, from the corregidor of Quito, ibid. (no. 40), fols. 289-294; fourth, from the prelates of the religious communities, ibid. (no. 36), fols. 269-271; and fifth, from the bishop of Quito, ibid. (no. 37), fols. 272-275.


Biblioteca Nacional de Colombia, Bogotá (hereafter BNC), Sala de Libros Raros y Curiosos, Fondo Quijano Otero mss. 179, no. 5; Hurtado de Mendoza to viceroy, May 24, 1765, AGI Quito 398 (no. 38).


AGI Quito 398 (no. 67), fols. 426-431.


Ibid., fol. 429.


Domingo de Araujo to viceroy, July 13, 1765, ibid. (no. 65).


Audiencia to viceroy, May 24, 1967, ibid. (no. 34), fols. 281-288.


Bishop of Quito to viceroy, May 24, 1765, ibid. (no. 37).


Audiencia to viceroy, May 24, 1765, ibid. (no. 34).


Bishop of Quito to viceroy, May 24, 1765, ibid. (no. 37). This is the only account of this meeting.


Audiencia to viceroy, May 24, 1765, ibid. (no. 34).


Manuel Sánchez Osorio y Pareja to viceroy, May 26, 1765, ibid. (no. 35).


Hurtado recorded sending the results of this secret investigation to the viceroy in Aug. 1765, and said that it included the testimonies of 81 witnesses, from “all classes and hierarchies,” Hurtado de Mendoza to viceroy, Sept. 30, 1765, AHNC, Milicias y Marina, tomo 123, fols. 138-139. Unfortunately, this document is not included among the papers directly related to the rebellion, and though there are other references to it, it has not been found. The references suggest that it was sent on to the viceroy in Bogotá and subsequently to the Consejo de Indias, but, despite a search in the correspondence of the Audiencia of Quito, the viceroy of New Granada, and the Consejo de Indias, found in the archives of Bogotá, Seville, and Madrid, these papers have not been traced.


Velasco, Historia del Reino de Quito, I, 144.


Domingo de Araujo, who was later appointed as counsel for the barrios of San Roque, San Blas, and San Sebastián, referred to “mestizos and criollo plebeians,” whom he distinguished from the Indians who dismantled the excise building. AGI Quito 398 (no. 65), fol. 412.


For a description of the social groups of Quito, see Juan and Ulloa, A Voyage to South America, John Adams, trans. (New York, 1964), 135-146.


AGI Quito 398 (no. 42), fols. 297—305.


Bishop of Quito to viceroy, May 22, 1765, AGI Quito 398 (no. 34).


Viceroy Messía de la Cerda to Arriaga, Apr. 9, 1767, AGI Quito 399 (no. 419).


Juan and Ulloa, Discourse and Political Reflections, 283-286.


Ibid., 294-298.


Minchom, “Urban Popular Society,” 340-346.


On this festival, see Minchom, “Urban Popular Society,” 145-149.


“Relación sumaria,” 104.


Díaz de Herrera sought sanctuary in a Franciscan convent, where he remained until June 21, when he finally left the city under cover of darkness, with an armed escort provided by the Marqués de Villa Orellana, and returned to Bogotá. Díaz de Herrera to viceroy, Popayán, July 22, 1765, AHNC, Milicias y Marina, tomo 123, fols. 88-93.


BNC, Libros Raros y Curiosos, Fondo Quijano Otero mss. 179, no. 5.


Hurtado de Mendoza to viceroy, July 4, 1765, AGI Quito 398, fol. 341.


“Relación sumaria, ’’ 104.


BNC, Libros Raros y Curiosos, Fondo Quijano Otero mss. 179, no. 5.


AHNC, Milicias y Marina, tomo 125, fols. 93-95; AGI Quito 398 (no. 67), fol. 43.


Unless otherwise indicated, this account of events leading up to the June 24 riot is based on the report made by the Audiencia president. Rubio de Arévalo to viceroy, July 11, 1765, AGI Quito 398 (no. 62), fols. 391-400.


This was reported by Fernando de Echandía, a peninsular Spaniard who was personally involved in the events. “Relación del nuevo tumulto popular acaecido en la Ciudad de Quito,” AHNC, Milicias y Marina, tomo 123, fols. 93-95.


This reconstruction of the riot and events which followed is based on several sources: the report of the Audiencia (AGI Quito 398 [no. 52], fols. 324-335); that of Domingo de Araujo (ibid. [no. 65], fols. 409-417); and the anonymous “Relación sumaria" (pp. 105-109). Where other sources provide additional detail, they are cited separately.


A graphic personal account of the riot and the attack on Izquierdo’s house, including the ordeal of his wife, was given by Izquierdo himself. It is reprinted in “Noticia de los movimientos de Quito en el año de 1765,” Museo Histórico, 3: 9 (Quito, 1951), 37-54.


Eyewitness accounts of the fighting were given by soldiers who testified to the leading role of Alcalde Mariano Monteserin, in the defense of the palace. These are reprinted in “Sublevación de Quito por la Aduana y los Estancos,” Museo Histórico, 2: 7 (Quito, 1950), 25-37 and 3: 8 (1951), 16-31. Domingo de Araujo reported that between three and five hundred persons among the “gente miserable” were killed without the death of a single European. The two whites killed were both creoles. AGI Quito 398 (no. 65), fol. 417.


AGI Quito 398 (no. 52), fol. 327.


Domingo de Araujo argued that the riot would not have occurred if it had not been for the behavior of the “European faction. ’’ He explained that the Europeans, who despised American Spaniards in Quito and even more the plebeian mestizos and Indians, persuaded the corregidor to punish the rioters, using the street patrol as a pretext for violent retribution against the barrios for their pride and ardor. Ibid. (no. 65), fol. 412.


St. John’s Day was a “día de precepto,” a holiday when attendance at mass was obligatory. See “Notas históricas. Fiestas que se celebran en Quito a fines del siglo XVIII,” Boletín de la Academia Nacional de Historia, 7: 19 (1923), 262-266. As no contemporary description of the festival is available for the city of Quito itself, it is not clear what specific ritual activities it might have involved. However, in the provincial town of Otavalo, it was a major festival in which barrios competed, masks and disguises were used, and Indians engaged in dances and mock battles. See Pedro de Carvalho Neto, Antología del folklore ecuatoriano, 1653-1963 (Quito, 1964), 168-174.


AHNC, Milicias y Marina, tomo 123, fols. 93-95; AGI Quito 398 (no. 62), fol. 396.


“Relación sumaria.” 110.


AGI Quito 398 (no. 55), fols. 340-345.


AGI Quito 398 (no. 52), fol. 331.


Domingo de Araujo to viceroy, July 13, 1765, AGI Quito 398 (no. 65). Araujo was the only observer to detail the response of the barrios to the threat of an Indian invasion; he also stated that Indians attacked various entrances of the city. There is, however, no other evidence of such armed conflict between the Indian peasants and urban mestizos.


“Relación del nuevo Tumulto . . .,” AHNC, Milicias y Marina, tomo 123, fols. 93-95. Echandía was among the peninsulars expelled from Quito, and he sent his account of events in the city while in Pasto on July 11, en route to Popayán. It was sent to Pedro Agustín de Valencia in Popayán, who forwarded it to the viceroy.


“Relación sumaria,” 111. A list of 81 peninsulars was drawn up, of whom 25 were liable for expulsion.


Romualdo Navarro to Arriaga, July 24, 1765, AGI Quito 398 (no. 67), fol. 434.


Ibid. (no. 53), fols. 336-337; ibid. (no. 54), fol. 339.


Cistué to viceroy, Sept. 9, 1765, ibid. (no. 105), fol. 507.


Ibid. (no. 62), fol. 399.


Ibid. (no. 52), fol. 333.


Ibid. (no. 53). fols. 336-338.


Ibid. (no. 56), fols. 346-347; ibid. (no. 57), fols. 348-349.


Valencia to viceroy, Popayán, July 17, 1765, AHNC, Milicias y Marina, tomo 123, fol. 85.


AGI Quito 398 (no. 58), fol. 350.


Audiencia to viceroy, July 13, 1765, ibid. (no. 64). In this letter the Audiencia stated that these captains were “from the highest nobility" and that their purpose was to serve “as interlocutors and emissaries’’ with the “vulgo,” so that the latter might communicate its ideas. Those appointed were the Conde de Selva Florida (for the barrio de San Roque), Don Nicolás Calixto de Alarcón (for San Sebastián), Don Mariano Pérez de Ubillas (for San Blas), Don Joseph Lasso de la Vega (for Santa Bárbara), Don Manuel González and Don Francisco de Borja (for San Marcos). Two priests (Don Ramon Yepes and Don Ramón Monteserín González) were also involved in negotiation with the barrios. The two alcaldes ordinarios, together with some of the regidores of the cabildo, also played a part in government, but Corregidor Sánchez Osorio remained in hiding.


Sánchez Pareja and Juan Antonio Abel de Blas to viceroy, Aug. 3, 1765, ibid. (no. 92), fols. 480-481.


Audiencia to viceroy, Aug. 25, 1765, ibid. (no. 99), fols. 495-496.


Diputados de los barrios to viceroy, Sept. 19, 1765, ibid. (no. 106), fols. 519-522.


Cistué to viceroy, Sept. 8, 1765, ibid. (no. 105), fol. 509. In this letter, Cistué referred to mestizo leaders; his list of leaders includes several Indian names.


Ibid., fol. 511.


Phelipe Baquero, Sept. 19, 1765, ibid. (no. 110).


AHNC, Impuestos Varios (Cartas), tomo 22, fols. 94, 99, 723-725.


Ibid., fol. 100.


Ibid., fols. 513-514.


E. J. Hobsbawm, Primitive Rebels. Studies in Archaic Forms of Social Movement in the 19th and 20th Centuries (Manchester, England, 1959), 108-205.


Ibid., 110.


Bishop of Quito to viceroy, Sept. 19, 1765, AGI Quito 398 (no. 108), fol. 521.


Calixto de Alarcón to viceroy, Sept. 19, 1765, ibid. (no. 109), fols. 530-531.


Manuel Rubio de Arévalo to viceroy, Oct. 2, 1765, AHNC, Milicias y Marina, tomo 123, fols. 155–156.


Santa Cruz to viceroy, Dec. 29, 1765, AGI Quito 398 (no. 212), fols. 893-894; Viceroy Messía de la Cerda to Corregidor Sánchez Osorio, Feb. 13, 1766, AGI Quito 399 (no. 247), fol. 73; Santa Cruz to viceroy, May 17, 1766, ibid. (no. 339), fols. 215—216.


Viceroy Messía de la Cerda to Santa Cruz, Mar. 5, 1766, ibid. (no. 279), fols. 214-216.


Santa Cruz to Viceroy Messía de la Cerda, May 17, 1766, AHNC, Juicios Criminales, tomo 129, fols. 848-853.


Viceroy Messía de la Cerda to governor of Guayaquil, May 22, 1766, AGI Quito 399 (no. 283), fol. 263.


Cistué to Viceroy Messía de la Cerda, Apr. 29, 1766, AHNC, Milicias y Marina, tomo 123, fol. 114.


Borja to viceroy, May 2, 1766, AGI Quito 399 (no. 323), fol. 194.


Cistué to Viceroy Messía de la Cerda, May 29, 1766, AHNC, Milicias y Marina, tomo 126, fols. 258-260.


Baquero, Sept. 2, 1766, AGI Quito 399 (no. 397), fols. 363-366.


Audiencia to Arriaga, Oct. 12, 1766, ibid. (no. 404). A company of voluntary cavalry, made up of European residents in Quito, was established in Nov. 1766: ibid. (no. 416).


Real orden, Jan. 1767, AGI Quito 269. By this order, all the ministers of the Audiencia, with the exception of Santa Cruz, were suspended while an investigation of the rebellion took place, and three new oidores were appointed.


Zelaya to Arriaga, Apr. 3, 1767, AGI Quito 399 (no. 418), fol. 481.


Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, Carnival in Romans. A People’s Uprising at Romans, 1579-1580 (Harmondsworth, England, 1981), 269.


Viceroy Messía de la Cerda to Arriaga, Apr. 9, 1767, AGI Quito 399 (no. 419), fol. 483; Viceroy Amat to Gregorio Hurtado, July 16, 1765, AHNC, Historia, tomo 3, fol. 24.


Informe del comercio, AGI Quito 398 (no. 35), fols. 237-238.


E. P. Thompson, “The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century,” Past and Present, 50 (Feb. 1971).


On this conjuncture of rebellion, see Anthony McFarlane, “Civil Disorders and Popular Protests in Late Colonial New Granada, HAHR, 64:1 (Feb. 1984), 22–27.


These comments draw on the excellent and suggestive discussion of the urban polity in North America found in Gary B. Nash, The Urban Crucible. Social Change, Political Consciousness and the Origins of the American Revolution (Cambridge, MA, 1979), 27–53.

Author notes


The author would like to thank Warwick University and the British Academy for financial help which made research possible, Guy Thompson for his helpful comment on an early draft, and Martin Minchom for permission to consult his doctoral thesis. A slightly different version of this article will appear in Reform and Insurrection in Bourbon New Granada and Peru, John Fisher, Alan Kuethe and Anthony McFarlane, eds., which is to be published by Louisiana State University Press later this year.