The approximately thirty-year period of Mexican history following the defeat of Tenochtitlán and conquest of central New Spain witnessed the shift from patterns and activities closely linked to the earlier Spanish experience in the Caribbean as well as the formation or evolution of institutions and forms of organization that would shape society in New Spain itself. Nonetheless, many aspects of Spanish activity in those years have yet to be examined systematically, and our lack of knowledge has given rise to the impression that the efforts of the first generation of Spaniards in Mexico served chiefly as a backdrop and steppingstone to the prosperity and consolidation so notable from around 1550 onward. Although that assumption may well have some merit, the process of transition from the conquest generation to the later sixteenth century remains obscure.

A reconsideration of the literature on the early postconquest period pinpoints the shortcomings in our understanding. With some important exceptions, such as the great demographic and economic studies by Woodrow Borah and Sherburne F. Cook,1 much of the work on early Mexico has been primarily institutional in focus, although a number of key studies reveal and incorporate much material on social structures, social and cultural preservation and change, economic organization, and career patterns.2 For the encomienda and early estates we have the studies of Leslie Byrd Simpson and Silvio Zavala, the monumental work of Charles Gibson, José Miranda’s brief but important examination of the early years of the encomienda, G. Micheal Riley’s study of the Cortés estates, and Robert T. Himmerich’s prosopographical study of encomenderos. For architecture and construction there are the works of George Kubler and John McAndrew. For many years our knowledge of the early church and clergy went little beyond Robert Ricard’s work on the mendicant orders, but Richard Greenleaf’s research on Zumárraga and the Inquisition and, most recently, John F. Schwaller’s on the secular clergy and church wealth have greatly expanded the picture of ecclesiastical activity in early Mexico. The main chronological thrust of much of this literature, however, lies well beyond the period in question.3

Despite the generally acknowledged hegemony of Mexico City, especially in the sixteenth century, few of the above works focus on patterns and trends in the capital.4 Studies of other areas do reveal, at least indirectly, a good deal about the function and centrality of Mexico City, although Provinces of Early Mexico, edited by Ida Altman and James Lockhart, which takes a regional approach to the history of colonial Mexico, still lacks its obvious counterpart, a systematic consideration of the capital. In any case, the studies included in the volume for the most part treat the period from the late sixteenth century forward.5 One of the few studies that does focus on the capital in the early postconquest years concerns residential patterns and chinampa agriculture among the Indians of Tenochtitlán.6 Notwithstanding the promising work of ethnohistorians, however, we know even less about Indians in Mexico City than about Spaniards for the period in question. In sum, the existing historical literature has set out the broad outlines of Spanish organization and activity in early Mexico (especially in the sense that we can discern the general direction of development from the early period, since the post-1550 historiography is stronger), with some and even considerable detail in many areas; but much is still lacking.

This study examines people and activities in early Mexico City to illuminate aspects of socioeconomic development up to around 1550, to relate the patterns identified both to the previous phase of Spanish experience in the Caribbean and to the future growth and consolidation of the capital and colony, and to draw comparisons with early Spanish Peru.7 This examination is far from definitive. Because of the scarcity of documentation for the early years,8 we may never have sufficient information on individual and collective patterns of association, mobility, and economic activity to reach solid conclusions on such developments. Nevertheless, looking at socioeconomic development from a noninstitutional point of view (and even at the personnel of institutions in socioeconomic terms) can point to some of the factors that must be taken into account in considering the formation of Spanish American society in Mexico.

That society had its roots in the Iberian peninsula, the experience of Spaniards in the islands and Tierra Firme, and the peoples, cultures, and ecology of Mexico itself. Ignoring long-term developments and earlier precedents when examining the history of Mexico and other Spanish American societies risks distortion by fostering inferences and conclusions that are made post hoc. The practice also masks or only partially accounts for processes of transmission and transformation that shaped the new societies of the Americas from cultures that had developed in isolation from each other.9 The activities of the early years following the conquest are critical to those processes and should not be relegated to obscurity just because we know a great deal about their eventual outcome. Neither is it acceptable to assume that early Mexico will emerge as the exact counterpart of early Spanish Peru. Mexico is too central to the development of Spanish society in the Indies not to merit the scholarly attention that either would confirm the truth of that contention or, more likely, would modify it in some respects.

Government Officials and Institutions

The role played by governmental institutions and officials reflects how the rapidly expanding economy that tied Mexico City to the human and natural resources of the countryside proved substantial and dynamic enough almost from the beginning to satisfy most of the interests and elements that composed early Spanish society in Mexico. The imposition of royal rule and the early alleviation of overt and potentially destructive political conflict in New Spain also offer some contrasts to the situation in early Peru.

The fifteen-year period following the conquest of Mexico and the establishment of the capital of New Spain at the site of the center of the Aztec empire saw a steady increase in government agencies and the intensity of crown efforts to assert or maintain control over colonial administration. The cabildo of the Spanish capital came into existence almost immediately, its members—regidores and alcaldes—chosen by Cortés or his lieutenants until 1526. In that year the crown appointed two regidores perpetuos, and by the 1530s all appointments to the cabildo had to be approved by the crown.10 Royal treasury officials were present from the earliest years, and the first audiencia, under Nuño de Guzmán, was established in 1528. The first viceroy of New Spain, Antonio de Mendoza, arrived in 1535.

Mexico experienced nothing comparable in scale to the civil wars and turmoil of Peru’s early period. Nonetheless, the first governor, Cortés, cabildo members, treasury officials, and audiencia judges in the 1520s became involved in factionalism, infighting, and often complicated alliances of political and economic interest. Such entanglements indicated both the existence of significant power struggles within the conquistador group and a high degree of involvement from the outset of government officials in the politics and economy of the new colony. If later the cabildo came to represent local and in particular encomendero interests, the substantial local interests of other officials during the period must also be borne in mind. Thus not only were the majority of cabildo members encomenderos, but so were most royal officials, including a number of judges on the audiencia, treasurers Alonso de Estrada and Juan Alonso de Sosa and other treasury officials such as the notorious factor Gonzalo de Salazar, the viceroy Antonio de Mendoza, and even the archbishop of Mexico, Fray Juan de Zumárraga. They not only held encomiendas but also acquired landholdings and invested locally in mining, stockraising, sugar cultivation, textile production, and commerce, and either they or their relatives married into local society.11

These involvements need not imply that royal officials and appointees necessarily circumvented royal policy or neglected the interests of the crown, although the members of the first audiencia were so notably corrupt and aggressively acquisitive that they created an uproar in local society.12 But royal officials did enter fully into the local economy and society, and the political struggles and clashes of the audiencia and other officials with the interests of Mexico City’s cabildo and upper class must be viewed in light of these activities as well as of crown policy and prerogatives.13 Even the role played in the early years by the Inquisition, never a powerful institution in New Spain, faithfully reflected the complex interplay of political and economic forces, which included the rivalry between Dominicans and Franciscans.14 The political situation in Mexico City was hardly unique, of course; the patterns that emerged in the capital recurred elsewhere, as powerful political and economic interests converged.15

As early as the mid-1530s an increasing accommodation took place among the contending groups in New Spain. As the authority to grant land was centralized under the viceroy and audiencia after 1535 (in earlier years the cabildo made grants as far away as Michoacán), and as restrictions increased on the holding and perpetuation of encomiendas under the New Laws of the 1540s, the local upper class no doubt underwent a pragmatic readjustment to the regulation (if not absolute limitation) of its economic opportunities and the curbing of the prerogatives of its institution, the cabildo. Royal officials for their part showed greater willingness to respond in some degree to local interests. Viceroy Mendoza used political patronage to grant many Spaniards pensions or appointments as corregidors or alcaldes mayores; from the outset many corregidors were encomenderos or the sons or relatives of encomenderos.16 Political infighting and clashes of interest did not disappear, of course; but by the 1540s major adjustments and accommodations, if sometimes uneasy, had been at least partially realized.17

Encomenderos and Encomiendas

There exist several fundamental works on the early encomienda. Himmerich’s work, for example, not only provides a wealth of information on the individual histories of New Spain’s encomiendas and their holders, but also shows the existence of a countrywide network of encomienda holding based in Mexico City, where nearly half the 506 encomenderos actually lived. The documentation that would make it possible to produce the kind of detailed analysis of a Mexican encomendero’s enterprises that Trelles Aréstegui provides for Peruvian encomendero Lucas Martínez is mostly lacking.18 Taken together, however, the existing studies and records do tell us a great deal about how the encomiendas functioned to underwrite Spanish enterprises in New Spain and concentrate wealth and resources in the hands of a relatively small group (mostly residing in Mexico City), while at the same time they contributed to the development of alternative forms of economic activity, use of Indian labor, and administrative organization that would long outlast the institution itself.19

The encomienda, or grant of Indian labor and tribute, was the principal economic and political institution of the early years in Mexico. Though almost from the beginning merchants, artisans, and humbler Spaniards far outnumbered the more visible and wealthy encomenderos, many or even most of them depended directly or indirectly on the wealth that the encomenderos extracted from the Indians or generated through their enterprises. Furthermore, Himmerich’s work shows New Spain’s encomendero group to have been more varied and broadly representative than generally thought. The rather high rate of reassignment of grants (as many as thirty a year) meant that the number of individuals holding encomiendas at some time also was higher than often assumed.20

Probably the majority of the original conquistador group received encomiendas in New Spain, as did many other individuals—pobladores—who arrived some time thereafter; but not all grants were equal in size and value, nor did all individuals who obtained encomiendas succeed in keeping their grants. The encomendero group was heterogeneous both in its origins, ranging from artisans and miners to powerful political figures, and in its unequal access to capital, resources, and political favor. Encomiendas varied greatly in size and income. Thus while almost all wealthy and powerful individuals in early Mexico City were encomenderos, not all encomenderos were wealthy. Those encomenderos whose grants yielded only small incomes, or who lost their encomiendas with the eclipse of Cortés’s authority in the late 1520s, tended to fall out of Mexico City’s upper class entirely as they were forced to seek other sources of livelihood and income.

Nonetheless, the encomienda was crucial in providing labor for agriculture and mining enterprises and in generating a range of employment opportunities for Spaniards. The stewards and managers of encomiendas—the mayordomos—though ranking lower than their encomendero employers, could be figures of some importance and independence, particularly in the early years when managerial expertise and competence were at a premium, as Lockhart has shown for early Peru as well.21 Riley’s study of the Cortés Marquesado and encomienda in Morelos, which probably was atypical more in size than in organizational structure, suggests the variability of status within the encomienda system. Francisco de Terrazas, a close associate of Cortés who was a vecino of Mexico City and an encomendero in his own right, served as mayordomo of the Marquesado, as did Diego de Ocampo and Francisco de Herrera, also encomenderos. Another Cortés mayordomo, Francisco de Santa Cruz, was a vecino of Mexico City and held an encomienda in the Valley of Mexico through the 1550s, passing it on to his son.22 The mayordomos of more modest encomienda establishments were, of course, humbler individuals, although they too could use their positions and rural base to develop their own enterprises.

The most successful encomenderos acquired other assets and expanded their economic bases. They invested in sugar cane production, textiles, mining, and livestock enterprises; they acquired landholdings. Of 23 grants of land (excluding city plots for houses or gardens) made by the cabildo from late 1525 to mid-1528, 14 went to encomenderos; and of 218 such grants made by Mendoza in 1542-43, encomenderos obtained considerably more than half.23 A large number of Valley encomenderos acquired landholdings within or near the areas of their encomiendas; they also obtained corregimientos and gained access to repartimiento labor.24 New Spain’s encomenderos were never able to channel encomienda labor as directly and effectively into mining operations as would their counterparts in Peru, but early mining in Mexico was closely related to the encomienda, as will be seen.

Beginning with its rather rudimentary origins in the islands of the Caribbean, the encomienda changed almost continuously in Spanish America. Given the greater size and wealth of Mexican provinces, the encomienda took on new substance when Spaniards transferred the institution to New Spain. Yet that same wealth had the effect of attracting many more immigrants than had moved to the islands.25 Since the encomienda system was, after all, inherently limited by the number, size, and nature of the indigenous entities at its base, the growing numbers of Spaniards who were excluded from its benefits put the institution under increasing pressure. Himmerich has found that only five persons who received encomiendas in the period he studied arrived in Mexico after 1531.26 The rapid reduction of Indian populations, especially after the epidemics of the 1540s, and the desire of the crown to check the development of a potentially powerful and politically independent upper class in New Spain also worked to modify the form and potential, and hence the significance, of the encomiendas by the midsixteenth century.

Miners and Mining

While the significance of the encomienda and the dynamics that worked to modify its function and position are now fairly clear, the importance of mining from the very earliest years in postconquest Mexico is often overlooked. Spaniards in Mexico first went into gold mining, just as they had in the Caribbean and Tierra Firme, underscoring the similarities between early developments in Mexico and the Spaniards’ previous experiences in the Caribbean.

Until the mid-1530s, mining interests in New Spain were relatively small-scale as well as mostly focused on gold, although some very small silver mines were being worked by the late 1520s.27 Capital investment for gold mining was modest and went mainly to purchase tools, equipment (bateas, picks, hoes), and Indian and black slaves; nearly every mining operation had one black slave.28 Even if not highly profitable, the gold mines, located in areas such as Oaxaca and Michoacán, formed an important link between Spanish society in Mexico City and the resources and population of the countryside. Encomiendas and mining interests were closely related; probably most, if not all, early encomenderos were involved in gold mining. Encomienda tributes provided encomenderos the income and supplies needed to acquire and maintain a slave labor force to work the mines, and encomienda labor might be illegally employed in mining or used indirectly to support the operation.29

The typical gold-mining enterprise of this period included a Spanish or Hispanized managerial-administrative staff and a large Indian labor force. The Spanish minero was assisted by one or more “mozos” and a black slave. The bulk of the labor force consisted of groups or gangs (cuadrillas) of Indian slaves (usually between forty and a hundred), sometimes replaced by encomienda Indians. In either case, capital investment in labor was not large; Indian slaves generally sold for three to five pesos each or even less. When encomienda labor was used, illegally in direct working of the mines or else in an auxiliary function, the required investment in labor was even less.30

Mining ventures frequently were joint undertakings of encomenderos or of encomenderos in partnership with other entrepreneurs.31 Such partnerships to exploit Mexican mines and the use of encomienda labor for mining found their parallel in gold and silver mining in Peru, where once again the earliest mining operations involved gold. In Peru, as in New Spain, early miners most likely arrived with experience gained elsewhere—in the Caribbean or Tierra Firme or even in Mexico itself.32 The black slaves assisting them may also have had prior mining experience; one Mexican slave named Antón is in fact called “minero” in a 1527 record.33

A large number of miners, identified as such, appear in the notarial records of the mid-1520s (a total of 45 for 1525, 1527, and 1528), but very few in the 1530s, likely because they were technicians of gold rather than of silver mining and refining. Almost never vecinos of Mexico City, they nonetheless came frequently to the city, usually to make year-long contracts, and then left for the countryside and the mines. Their work arrangements were almost always based on shares rather than salary,34 yet on occasion they bought Indian slaves or tools, suggesting that they might have worked part-time on their own behalf.

With its more complex technology and greater capital requirements, silver mining soon eclipsed gold mining in early New Spain, but its rise was coincidental rather than directly contributing to the diminished importance of gold. High labor costs and falling returns had curtailed gold mining in one part of the Caribbean after another, and similar processes probably affected gold mining operations in New Spain as well.35 The very low prices for which Indian slaves were being bought and sold strongly suggest that they were numerous in the early years, as well as suffering high mortality rates, but the use of Indian slave labor may have already been declining in the 1530s (at least in central New Spain) with increasing legal restrictions and prohibitions. The illegal and indiscriminate use of encomienda Indians in gold mines also came under control, although in the 1530s encomienda Indians were still being rented out for mine labor in Taxco.36

Following the discovery of silver mines at Taxco, mining began to take on a new dimension in New Spain. Investments grew larger, new technicians were needed, mine owners began to spend at least part of their time at the mines rather than sending out Spanish miners to supervise operations, and successful merchants began to invest.37 Still tentative during the 1530s and 1540s, these developments emerged more clearly in the 1550s after the discovery of mines in the north.38

In the 1530s, mining operations, if not ownership as such, were assuming a certain independence from society in Mexico City, even before the major discoveries of silver in the north. Only four persons are identified as “mineros” in the notarial records of 1536-38, and one of these clearly owned mines in Taxco.39 Nonetheless, ties between the mines and Mexico City persisted. Several individuals who claimed to he vecinos of Mexico City in the 1540s stated that they lived in Taxco or Zumpango; in 1539 Juan de la Peña Vallejo, who at one time served as alcalde mayor in Taxco, acted as representative of the mining interests in Taxco, protesting some of the new mining ordinances before Viceroy Mendoza. He claimed to be a vecino of Mexico City and was an encomendero from the late 1530s.40 Cortés, the Marqués del Valle, made a substantial investment in mining in 1536, buying up shares in a mine and Indian and black slaves in Sultepec from three other men for a total of over 28,000 pesos; he then made one of the three, a vecino of Mexico City named Melchor Vásquez who had just sold his interests for 12,000 pesos, the mine’s administrator. The royal treasurer, Juan Alonso de Sosa, also was involved, forming a partnership with Cortés in the 1530s to work mines in Sultepec.41

Merchants and Trade

The frequent appearance of merchants (mercaderes) in the notarial documents of the early years attests to a considerable degree of commercial activity in Mexico City. Although the sources used do not provide a full description of the operation of commercial networks that linked New Spain and Mexico City to Spain and Seville, they certainly suggest that already-established networks and organizations that served Spaniards on the islands were extended or transferred to Veracruz and Mexico City. The presence of merchants and factors from northern Castile seems to have been still strong in the early years, as was true in the islands and in Peru at least in the 1530s. At the same time new individuals, firms, and organizations undoubtedly began to participate, particularly in the late 1530s and 1540s with the discovery of the silver mines.42

Fifty-six merchants are identified in the records for 1525 and 1527-28, and 107 for the period 1536-38.43 Of the group of 56, 8 were vecinos of Mexico City; one of these was still present in the capital ten years later. Of the group of 107, 16 were vecinos during the period 1536-38, 4 more had become vecinos of the capital by the mid-1540s, and one appears in cabildo records of 1555 as a vecino.44 In all, only 5 individuals from the second period were definitely present in Mexico City a decade later, suggesting transience and fairly rapid turnover. Such instability might be expected, given that most of the period in question antedated the discovery of substantial silver deposits in the north, which would bring the beginnings of real wealth to New Spain and attract and support a more stable—and better financed—commercial establishment in succeeding decades.

Merchants formed and dissolved numerous partnerships and designated representatives in other towns or provinces. Their commercial dealings entailed a number of items common in the Indies trade at the time, European cloth and clothing above all, but also wine, oil, black slaves, and horses. Since they were not conquistadors or encomenderos, and only infrequently vecinos of Mexico City, most of the available information on merchants concerns their economic activities. Two merchants of the 1520s, the brothers Gonzalo and Diego de Morales, are familiar because of the Inquisition trials of 1528, in the course of which they were tried for heresy and blasphemy. Little is known about Gonzalo, who was burned at the stake with the blacksmith Hernando Alonso. Diego, however, born in Seville, was a vecino of Mexico at the time of his trial and was both a merchant and a miner.45

Other individuals illustrate some of the possible involvements and activities of the merchant group.46 One Miguel de Ibarra, whose name appears frequently in the records of 1527 and 1528, maintained rather diverse commercial interests. Directly engaged in importing merchandise and selling wholesale to other merchants, he formed a partnership with a shipmaster based in Seville. Ibarra at some time owned property in the capital, bought and sold small quantities of wine and pack animals, and in 1528 purchased half of a caravel docked in Pánuco along with a hundred Indian slaves, who were probably to be sold in Hispaniola. Most of his associates and business partners were from northern Spain, reflecting his own regional origins. Despite the diversity of his operations, most were fairly small-scale and did not involve large capital investments. He purchased the Indian slaves for 4 pesos each and half the caravel for 160.

Juan de Soldevila was a somewhat more substantial merchant than Ibarra. Involved in internal trade, he first appears in the notarial records in 1525, while trying to recover some money on the loss of merchandise and houses (probably shops or warehouses) that had burned in Veracruz. The scope of his business dealings during the next couple of years included locations on the periphery of New Spain such as Colima and Zacatula. In 1527 he bought a black slave and hired a muleteer with five pack animals to travel between Mexico City, Veracruz, and Medellín (the ephemeral settlement near the east coast). The following year Soldevila purchased nine shops in the capital for a fairly substantial sum (1,000 pesos de oro de minas and 1,225 pesos del corriente).47 The investment represented more a real estate than a commercial venture, as he rented the shops shortly after purchase.

First called a tendero (shopkeeper), Pedro García Moreno was a fairly active entrepreneur who demonstrated a degree of upward mobility. In 1527 he formed a partnership with Juan de Salamanca to buy a shop and merchandise in the capital (he contributed 460 pesos, Salamanca 260), and the following year he was recorded as a mercader. In April 1528 he bought seven mules, a black slave named Pedro, and twenty wineskins for a little under 1,300 pesos. Then he hired an arriero named Gonzalo Gil, who agreed to travel between Mexico City and Veracruz with the mules and the assistance of Pedro, provided he could ride on one of the animals (if it could carry a burden of four arrobas in addition). The records for the same year show that Moreno bought up all the tallow from the slaughterhouses of Mexico City for the year 1528 at four pesos per arroba and agreed to sell the entire quantity to another merchant or his son to make candles.

Gregorio Yáñez de Burgos maintained a number of mining and commercial activities in the 1530s. He had silver-mining interests in Taxco, formed a partnership with Gregorio Montero in 1538 to buy additional mines and slaves, and rented forty Indians from the encomendero Francisco de Zamora in 1536 to work his mines. Evidently he was involved in the import business, because he had a representative in Veracruz to receive slaves and merchandise arriving from Seville and formed a partnership with a muleteer who traveled between Mexico City and Veracruz with eleven mules and a black and an Indian slave. In 1537 Gregorio Yáñez imported five black slaves from Seville, doubtless for resale. He also rented several shops in the portales of the city. Yáñez had extensive dealings with other merchants and a number of partners, most of whom were from northern Spain like himself.

A last interesting figure of this period was Juan Henche, also called Juan Alemán. His partners were two merchants named Lázaro Nuren-berger and Cristóbal Reyser living in Seville, against whom Henche would write drafts for merchants returning to Seville. Henche and his partners had mining interests in Sultepec.

Evidence on merchants from the notarial records, albeit sketchy, suggests a probable increase in scale and sophistication of commercial activity in Mexico City over the ten-year period from the mid-1520s to the mid-1530s. This pattern is consistent with the initial postconquest lag in economic activity. Spaniards failed to find a very lucrative source of liquid wealth immediately after the conquest, but by the mid-1530s the discovery of silver mines at Taxco already had begun to change the economic picture. As commercial activity expanded and accelerated, merchants themselves became more directly involved in mining investments.

Commercial activities and investments were not, of course, limited to self-declared merchants. Audiencia judges Lic. Francisco Ceynos and Lic. Lorenzo de Tejada both were involved in the sale of wine in Mexico City, the latter with his nephew, the merchant Juan de Manzanares. Tejada had ties with other merchants as well, in particular Gerónimo de León, who maintained a store in Taxco. Tejada at one time assigned one hundred Indians from the jails of Mexico City to work in León’s obrajes.48 Juan de Mansilla, a vecino and regidor of Mexico City in the 1530s, was said to have a mercantile partnership with the merchant Luis de Córdoba to supply the mines in Taxco.49 Such commercial arrangements involving officials were not at all unusual.

The conquest of Peru and its rising importance also stimulated commercial activity in Mexico.50 Even the scanty evidence from the notarial records of the 1530s points to an early participation of Mexico City merchants in the Peruvian trade. Ventura del Espinar and Diego del Espinar entered the trade in 1536, the year when the Indian uprising in Peru brought urgent appeals to New Spain for supplies and help. Merchandise designated for Peru included horses, tools, and hardware, two black slaves, and two moriscas. Ventura financed the venture, and Diego agreed to make the trip to Peru.

Because of Mexico City’s size, unique topography, and distance from both coasts, internal trade routes and transport activities were crucial from the outset. In addition to the Indian tamemes, or carriers, who remained an important means of transport for a number of years after the conquest,51 a system of pack trains under Spanish muleteers came into existence almost immediately, followed by carters in the 1530s with the improvement of wagon roads. Nine major trade routes linked the central valley with the rest of New Spain and brought supplies to the capital.52 Construction of inns and the increasing presence of Spaniards in Indian settlements were concomitants of the development and growth in importance of these trade routes.

A total of 49 muleteers appear in the notarial records of 1525 and 1527-28, and 12 muleteers and 8 carters in the 1536-38 records; cabildo records of the 1540s and 1550s include an additional 2 muleteers and 3 carters. Most of the muleteers did not own their own animals or equipment but contracted with other individuals—merchants, miners, and encomenderos—to work for a year for a certain salary or to be paid a fixed amount per trip. Muleteers nevertheless showed signs of mobility and independence; many eventually did buy horses or mules, acquire black or Indian slaves, enter into partnerships, or become involved in renting and maintaining inns along the transport routes. Carters worked under similar conditions in the 1530s. Possibly by midsixteenth century Indians also had begun to enter into the transport trade previously monopolized by Spaniards, and a greater number of Spaniards engaged in these trades were able to work independently as the high costs of horses and mules in the early period began to decrease.53

Trades and Professions

From the beginning artisans were prominent in Spanish society in Mexico City. Their early presence and activity suggests that many came to New Spain from the islands. Artisans of all trades formed partnerships, bought or rented houses or shops in the city or rented out their own urban real estate, purchased black and Indian slaves, and invested in mining and stockraising.

Examination of the notarial records for 1525, 1527-28, 1536-38, and the very incomplete records of 1551-53, together with the cabildo records for the period, yielded a total of 440 artisans working in sixty trades (see Table 1). The table indicates the range of artisan trades found in Mexico City and the possible proportions in which these trades were represented, but the incompleteness of the records means that only part of the artisan group has been identified, perhaps as few as a third for the period. If the Spanish population of Mexico City grew to around 8,000 by 1550,54 and the total number of Spaniards who arrived in the city during the entire period was at most twice the size of the 1550 population, then perhaps one in twelve individuals was an artisan. This estimate is somewhat lower than Lockhart’s estimate of one in ten for Peru during the years 1532-1560 and lags well behind the figures for Puebla de los Ángeles—15 percent in the early 1530s and 18 percent in the 1550s.55 Given Mexico City’s key role as a center for trade and services from the time of the conquest, it seems unlikely that its share of artisans was notably lower than Puebla’s. In any case the proportion of adult males who were artisans would have been greater than one in twelve, and more on the order of 15 percent—one in seven—or higher.

Cabildo records show that tailors in Mexico City began to regulate the examination and licensing of individuals in their trade in the early 1520s, and other artisan groups followed their example by the 1530s or 1540s. In 1525 three tailors—Gaspar Ramírez, Juan del Castillo, and Francisco de Olmos—complained to the cabildo that their authority to license new tailors was not being respected. In the following year the latter two, elected “alcaldes de los sastres de esta ciudad,” requested two plots of city land to construct a hospice for the poor and needy, which would also serve as the gathering place for the city’s tailors participating in the annual procession of Corpus Christi.56 Some members of this group became active entrepreneurs. One Juan de Villarte, who lived in Mexico City from at least 1536 to 1553, owned black slaves and sheep, hired another tailor to work for him in 1536 for 65 pesos in salary, and was the principal investor in a partnership with two other men to sell goods in Santiago de Guatemala and buy cacao.57 Tailors and hosiers were closely allied. In the 1540s silkweavers also formed a tightly knit group, organized on a trans-Atlantic basis. Records from Seville in 1542 show that one of them, Alonso Gómez, agreed in advance of his passage to New Spain to work for Juan Marín and Juan de Molina in Mexico City for two years; in 1543, also in Seville, Francisco Jiménez de Espinosa contracted to work for Juan Marin in Mexico.58

Members of the building trades—carpenters, stonecutters, masons, and bricklayers—were often key figures in local society, particularly in the first decade of intense construction in the new capital. Some of these men served the cabildo as maestro de obras, a position that involved supervision of the repair and maintenance of public works (roads, bridges, and water supply systems) and occasional new construction of municipal buildings. Besides supervising Indian labor in a spectrum of projects for the reconstruction and maintenance of the city, some of these artisans trained Indian artisans in Spanish construction techniques. When the Augustinians of Tiripitío (in Michoaeán) began construction of a large church and monastery in 1537, they not only brought Spanish artisans from the capital to teach Indians stonecutting and joinery but also sent Indian artisans to Mexico City to be trained.59

Blacksmiths, horseshoers, silversmiths, and other metalworkers were prominent and active; not surprisingly, many were involved in mining, either as investors or as technicians. The well-known blacksmith Hernando Alonso, executed by the Inquisition as a heretic in 1528, was an associate of Cortés who arrived in New Spain via Cuba. A wealthy encomendero, he formed one partnership to exploit mining interests in Michoaeán and another to raise livestock. In connection with these enterprises, he employed his nephew as a miner and in 1527 contracted to supply meat for the capital.60 Another figure active in the 1520s, Pedro de Sepúlveda, limited his enterprises to metalworking. Variously identified as a fundidor (smelter) and blacksmith, in 1528 he bought a blacksmith’s forge with three artisan slaves (two black, one Indian) for 300 pesos and then formed a partnership with another blacksmith, who agreed to work in the shop and supervise the artisan slaves and twenty Indian employees.61

A number of gardeners (hortelanos) worked or owned garden plots along the narrow canal that brought fresh water from Chapultepec, having obtained permission from the cabildo in 1527 to irrigate their plots from this source. Gardeners worked under a variety of arrangements, but few appear to have owned their huertas outright, normally the case in Castile as well. Irrigable land suitable for cultivating fruits and vegetables that was located within or very near to urban areas was valuable property, but gardeners themselves were fairly humble individuals; hence hortelanos typically leased rather than owned the plots they worked.62 In 1525 Fernando Vásquez formed a year’s partnership with Pedro Hernández de Plasencia to work a garden rented from Bachiller Alonso Pérez; Vásquez was to perform the gardening work and his partner to sell the produce in the city. Another gardener, Álvaro de Torres, made an agreement with Francisco de Lerma by which Lerma allowed Torres to use his house and huerta near the spring of Chapultepec for a period of two years; Lerma received two-thirds of the produce and Torres one-third, and the proceeds of the harvest were sold in Lerma’s shop.63

Barbers, surgeons, and pharmacists (the first two groups often identical) were closely allied by their ties to the medical profession and at the same time used association with each other for various kinds of enterprise. In the 1520s the pharmacists formed partnerships for mining ventures, and their commercial investments suggest that a range of non-pharmaceutical items of merchandise was available in their shops.64 But pharmacists and barbers, as well as surgeons, did administer medical treatment. In 1527 the cabildo of Mexico City authorized the wealthy regidor Dr. Cristóbal de Ojeda to visit the pharmacies of the city and license individuals for the practice of surgery and treatment of bubas (yaws, but probably meaning other diseases also, most likely including syphilis). In the same year a barber, Pedro Hernández, obtained from the cabildo a license to treat bubas, which the protomédico Pedro López had previously denied him; all evidence indicated that Hernández’s treatment of the disease was successful.65 Licensing to perform medical treatment was sometimes limited to the performance of certain procedures or the treatment of specified illnesses and generally fell under the supervision of professional medical practitioners; sometimes, however, officials set up by the barber-surgeons themselves were authorized to conduct examinations and inspections.

Early Mexico City did not lack formally educated physicians and lawyers. The majority were men of property, wealth, and status; some were even encomenderos. The prominent physician Dr. Cristóbal de Ojeda just alluded to was a member of the cabildo in the 1520s and had an encomienda in Michoacán; he may also have been involved in commercial imports.66 Eleven physicians with degrees appear in the records, all but two in the 1530s; four of them held the licentiate and the rest the doctorate. Lawyers, almost three times as numerous in the records as physicians, frequently appeared before or were officials or judges of the audiencia. Most were licenciados, although some—especially in the 1520s—were only titled bachiller.67 Despite diverse economic interests, almost all of those holding degrees in medicine and law seem to have engaged in the practice of their professions at least part of the time, in both private and public capacities.

It should be noted that the multiple economic involvements of artisans and professionals of all kinds in New Spain had well-established precedents among their counterparts in Castile. New opportunities encountered in the Indies doubtless contributed to the proliferation of economic activities. Nevertheless, typical of Castilian society were the blurring of lines between artisans and entrepreneurs and the diversification of investments on the part of professionals and tradesmen whose original occupation might position them to take advantage of economic opportunities with little direct relation to their vocation. These patterns repeated themselves not only in boom towns like Seville but also in smaller places where the local economies were far less dynamic.68

Royal and local government quite early generated a whole complex of legal technicians and minor officeholders in Mexico City, who were closely related to the professional and artisan groups. The cabildo, audiencia, visitadors, and other officials all employed the services of notaries.69 Sometimes the turnover among them was rapid. Notaries were often active in commercial enterprises; some, by virtue either of prior political and personal connections or of their official capacity with the cabildo or audiencia, found themselves in a position to secure property grants or other concessions. Juan de Cuevas, the son of a lawyer and son-in-law of Lic. Diego Téllez, was an associate of Cortés who became escribano mayor de las minas in the 1520s, a position he held at least through the 1530s. A vecino of Mexico City, Cuevas acquired the encomienda of Cuitlahuac sometime before 1544 and held it for more than twenty years.70

Mexico City’s many officials—appointed by the crown, viceroy, audiencia, or cabildo—ranged from the protomédico, assayers of the mint (silversmiths), and alarifes (masons or carpenters) to the more lowly constables (the alguacil mayor or chief constable, appointed by the cabildo, actually was an official of considerable authority), inspectors and guards of different kinds, and town criers. The petty officials, many of whom might have had no particular training or occupation and received low salaries, were most numerous and showed high rates of turnover.

Interpreters formed a sort of semi-official group whose abilities and functions could put them in positions of some influence. Three individuals who submitted depositions (informaciones) to the viceroy in the 1540s stated that they had served as interpreters for the audiencia: Juan Gallego, Francisco Muñoz, and don Hernando de Tapia. The last was an Indian, son of the principal don Andrés de Tapia.71 A Juan Freyle served as interpreter for the audiencia in the 1550s. Two other interpreters, at least one of whom probably was an Indian, appear in the records of the 1520s, and three others in the 1530s. Apparently the linguistic skills of one of the latter, Pedro García, led the cabildo to employ him as a supervisor of Indian labor in repairing bridges and causeways in the city.

The background of most early interpreters is obscure. In the Tello de Sandoval visita an interpreter named Antonio Ortiz figured in the proceedings against the oidores; another interpreter, Pedro de Molina, lived in Ortiz’s house. In a letter of 1547 Lic. Tejada, one of the oidores, complains about the procedures of the visita and specifically the part played by Antonio Ortiz, Marcos Romero, and Francisco Triana, whom he calls “moriscos e intérpretes.” Triana was present in Mexico City from at least the 1530s.72 In the 1540s and early 1550s interpreters—“lenguas” and “nahuatacos”—appear more frequently in the records, perhaps reflecting both an increasing frequency of bilingualism among Spaniards and Indians and a greater involvement of Indians in the Spanish legal system.

Activities of the regular orders in Mexico City and New Spain have been the subject of scholarly studies, as have more recently those of the secular clergy.73 The latter tended to concentrate in particular in the centers of Spanish society, mainly Mexico City and nearby mining districts, in the early years, while the regular clergy were more active in the Indian countryside; but the distinction was not invariable.74 Secular priests were present from the time of the conquest, and a number of them appear in the notarial records of the 1520s and 1530s, sometimes connected with the “Iglesia Mayor” of the capital, often seeking benefices in Mexico City “or any church in New Spain,” as one unemployed priest put it. The records used furnish only one case of a priest who contracted to serve as doctrinero of an Indian parish. In 1536 Bernardo de la Torre, while in Mexico City, made an agreement with the representative of an encomendero holding a grant in Michoacán to serve as priest in the encomienda pueblos for a hundred pesos a year.75 The clergy and religious orders more or less monopolized formal education; however, lay teachers not only tutored students but could obtain licenses to establish schools as well. Three such teachers appear in the records of the late 1530s and early 1540s.

Blacks, Moriscos, and Mestizos

Spaniards arriving in Mexico City from either the islands or the peninsula became part of an urban society whose members were heterogeneous not only socially and occupationally but also—and perhaps more strikingly—racially and linguistically. While contact with the indigenous peoples of New Spain was an entirely new experience for individuals coming directly from Spain, for most Spaniards the presence of Africans and persons of mixed racial descent would have been a familiar element, if not from their hometowns then certainly from the time virtually all emigrants spent in Seville before departing for the Indies.76

Black slaves were everywhere in early Mexico City. They almost invariably formed part of early mining operations and transport enterprises, working with Spaniards or under their supervision. They served as personal servants and housekeepers, in artisan shops, and under merchants, encomenderos, government officials, and entrepreneurs of all descriptions. The black slaves in Mexico from the early 1520s to the mid-1550s seem to have arrived from (or via) Seville or the islands but may have been African born in many or most instances.77 The notarial documents record a number of slaves as being from “Guinea” and occasionally from other places in Africa.

Prices for slaves in the 1520s were generally between one hundred and two hundred pesos, although they sometimes rose much higher. A twenty-year-old slave named Catalina, for example, was sold for three hundred pesos in 1528. Origin in itself did not necessarily determine a slave’s value, since a slave born in Africa still could be “ladinoized” or trained in a trade. In 1527 a slave named Cristóbal from Guinea was sold by a confectioner along with some tools of his trade, in which the slave obviously was skilled, for two hundred pesos; in contrast another slave from Guinea was sold in the same year for only seventy-five pesos, quite a low price.78 In the 1530s prices for black slaves fell off somewhat, tending to average around one hundred pesos, but by the 1550s prices had climbed to over two hundred pesos.79

A black slave was valuable property. In several instances, as in Peru in the conquest period, runaway slaves who had not yet been recovered were sold for only slightly less than normal prices, and a slave named Alonso, described as a muleteer, was sold while still imprisoned for theft.80 The need and ability to pay for slaves in Mexico City probably far exceeded the volume of the slave trade, especially in the 1520s. Officials and wealthy individuals pressed for greater freedom in the importation of black slaves.81 In the 1530s and 1540s, while complaints about and fears of blacks and mulattos increased along with official attempts to restrict their activities and movements,82 little or no action to curb imports was taken. The contador Rodrigo de Albornoz himself obtained a license to import one hundred black slaves in 1535, and fifty more soon thereafter.83 Although Mexico City merchants as well as officials and other entrepreneurs were involved in the slave trade,84 no overall figures on the volume of the trade are available, and those for the black population of the capital during the period may be questionable.85

The sparse records of manumissions of black slaves in the early period may in part reflect the limitations of the sources, but slave owners were unlikely to have given up such rare and valuable property without compensation. As elsewhere in the Iberian world, slaves were sometimes able to buy their freedom, usually either by working for employers other than their masters or by agreeing to serve someone for a certain period. A black woman named Bárbola contracted to work two years for the confitero Francisco de Lerma, who agreed to train her in his trade and buy her freedom for 130 pesos, the balance of what she owed her master, Hernando Cortés.86

Whether the few free blacks who appear in the notarial records were manumitted slaves or arrived in Mexico as free individuals is not clear. Probably the best known was Juan Garrido, who claimed to have been the first person to plant wheat in New Spain. Doubtless brought to Europe by the Portuguese, Juan Garrido became a Christian in Lisbon and lived six years in Castile before coming to the Indies. He lived in Santo Domingo and Puerto Rico previous to going to New Spain during the conquest. Whether he spent any or all of his pre-Mexican career as a slave is not known, but he was a free man in Mexico. A vecino of the capital, married with three children, by 1527 he owned a house and garden in the city. He worked for the cabildo in 1524 in some rather menial capacities. He was paid thirty pesos a year as the cabildo’s porter, which involved summoning the council members and arranging tables and chairs, and he was hired for fifty pesos a year to guard the acequia that brought water from Chapultepec, keeping out animals and people. The latter duty was soon terminated; instead, a group of Indians was set to guard the water supply for five mantas and five fanegas (one and one-half bushels) of maize every ten days. In 1528 Garrido bought some slaves, some pigs, and equipment for panning gold, and in 1536 he dissolved a partnership with Francisco de Baena, together with whom he had owned Indian and black slaves.87

The moriscos were another slave group, possibly even closer to Spanish society than the blacks, who remained in some senses apart despite their often very high degree of acculturation. Numerically morisco slaves in Mexico were insignificant. Most were women who brought higher than usual prices, usually between two hundred and three hundred pesos. Often freed in wills, they were still being bought and sold through the 1530s. One reference to a morisco slave appears in records of 1540, when the encomendero Pedro Núñez de Roa arranged to have him brought from Seville.88 The origin of moriscas was sometimes recorded. One was identified as being from “Berbería,” another from “Oran” (both in 1528), and they were often called “white slaves.” A 1551 record in which a slave named Ana was sold for 270 pesos, however, describes her as a “negra atezada, de tierra de Berberya.”89 Whatever their origin, the morisco slaves formed a minor group in the Spanish society of early Mexico City.

Mestizos were not highly visible in Mexico City in these years. Wills, evidence of Spanish-Indian marriages and more frequent informal liaisons, official comments, and the establishment of the San Juan de Letrán school for mestizo boys and of an orphanage or convent for girls all attest to the existence of mestizo children, but the word “mestizo” itself hardly appears in the documents of the period. Treatment of mestizo offspring—like the treatment of illegitimate children in general in Spanish society—probably involved considerable fluidity and variety, with some children remaining within Spanish society and others blending unobtrusively into the Indian world of their mothers.90

Some Spaniards made elaborate provisions for mestizo children. Diego de Sanabria left his illegitimate daughter in the care of two men from his native city of Cáceres who were to take her to Spain to live with his mother or brother. In her will of 1537 Inés Hernández provided a dowry of fifty sheep for one of two mestiza girls whom she had apparently raised in her home (they are called “mestizas” in her will), and she left various items of cloth and clothing to both. In 1527 another vecino of Mexico City sent a representative to Cuba to find his mestizo son, whose Indian mother had died.91 Like Peru, Mexico had a small group of what might be called “mestizo aristocrats,” such as the children of Moctezuma’s daughters doña Leonor and doña Isabel.92 Because of mestizos’ relative invisibility, accurate population figures probably are not to be expected; a 1560 estimate suggests 2,000 mestizos in the city.93


With perhaps 75,000 Indian inhabitants in the mid-1550s, compared to a Spanish population of approximately 8,000, postconquest Mexico City was still very much an Indian entity, a fact the Spaniards must have recognized.94 They were still calling their capital Tenochtitlán in the 1520s and Tenochtitlán-México in the 1530s. Nonetheless, if one looks for much detail or substance regarding Indian life and society in the Spanish records of the period, what is most striking is the scant mention made of Mexico’s native inhabitants.95

Indians appear in the notarial records of the 1520s and 1530s mainly as slaves or in connection with encomiendas. Mining operations in the 1520s and ’30s possibly used the greatest numbers of Indian slaves, who also worked in such transport activities as pack trains and carting. Service by Indians in Spanish households or artisan shops was widespread throughout the period. Personal service embraced a wide spectrum of roles and activities—from women serving as part- or full-time housekeepers and mistresses, to men apprenticed and trained in Spanish crafts or trades— with concomitant implications for the degree and kind of acculturation. Prices of slaves and provisions in wills, while not extremely informative, are suggestive in this regard. In the mid-1520s, when groups of slaves were being sold for four or five pesos per slave, those selling for higher prices probably had more of the skills required by Spanish society. A slave named Juana was sold to a carpenter for twenty pesos in 1525; a muleteer bought another slave named Juana for thirty-one pesos in 1527; and in 1528 a twenty-year-old Indian woman named Catalina from Coatzacoalcos was sold for the unusually high price of one hundred pesos.96 These women probably were moving toward acculturation into the Spanish world. Likewise Ochoa de las Rivas in a codicil to his will freed his ladino (Spanish-speaking) slave from Guatemala, Luisico, with the provision that he live with Bishop Juan de Zumárraga until his marriage, suggesting that Luisico would remain a part of Spanish society, perhaps as much because he was a foreigner in Mexico City as because he was ladino. But even extensive contact with and knowledge of Spanish society did not imply a complete break with Indian culture. Inés Hernández, in freeing her Indian slave Catalina and the latter’s son Antonio in her will, left them a carga of cloth and specified that they were free to go wherever they wished. One might imagine that they turned toward the Indian world.97

If the available sources do not reveal much about the functions and roles of Indian men and women in personal household service, they say even less about Indians working in the Spanish crafts. A few Indian artisans appear in Spanish records. In 1528 a Guatemalan Indian slave and two black slaves were sold along with a blacksmith’s forge; a notarial document of 1536 records the sale of an Indian, “Juan, silversmith,” along with the silversmith’s shop; and a will of 1538 specifically refers to Bartolomé González, “Indian blacksmith.”98 There are a number of examples of Spanish artisans buying Indian slaves in ones and twos whom they probably used as apprentices or assistants.

The merging of similar Spanish and Indian trades, practically if not formally, probably began early. Two Spanish candlemakers lost their guild offices in 1535 not only because of their monopolistic practices and the apparently overemotional behavior of one, but also because they were using Indian workers rather than doing the work themselves.99 The secondary sources strongly suggest that Indians in Mexico City became involved in Spanish or Spanish-type trades early, a situation contrasting with that in Peru, where Indian practice of Spanish artisanry developed late and was not widespread even in the 1550s.100 The official royal policy of separation of Indian and Spanish sectors, with its implications for protection of the former, was unsuccessful even from the earliest postconquest years in Mexico City, which was a setting for maximum contact.101

The failure of the policy of segregation and protection of Indian property rights and lands was hardly unique to Mexico City, but the process of Spanish infringement upon and dispossession of Indian lands and rights was accelerated because of the intense pace and strength of Spanish colonization in the capital. Still, the preconquest entities of Tenochtitlán and Tlatelolco maintained their political and legal existence throughout the colonial period, each with its own barrio organization, cabildo, and Indian governor, and both retained their jurisdiction over settlements (estancias) located outside the capital.102 Calnek’s findings on the re-creation of preconquest residential patterns in Mexico City during the sixteenth century also point to a high degree of continuity despite the massive demographic, political, economic, and ecological changes the Indians of Tenochtitlán experienced during and after the conquest.103


The relatively few sources available for the study of early Spanish society in Mexico City suggest the rapid formation of an economically active community of Spaniards. Members of this community relied on the experiences and precedents brought from the islands and from Spain itself to organize mining, commercial networks, and agricultural and stockraising enterprises, mobilizing Indian labor and productivity in a variety of forms and using the skills and services of African slaves in intermediary positions. In doing so they quickly created the basis for economic prosperity and social stability for themselves. The small size of the Spanish community, fewer than 10,000 people at midcentury, and the availability and variety of economic opportunities (as well as, perhaps, their relative modesty, compared to Peru’s) fostered considerable interpenetration of economic and occupational sectors, a pattern typical of the Caribbean as well, where a mixed economy of agriculture and mining developed from the outset. Merchants, artisans, miners, and encomenderos have been discussed here separately, but many individuals moved within and between such categories with ease. People from a range of occupations (including governmental and ecclesiastical officials) became involved directly and indirectly in the operation (and profits) of gold and silver mining, and almost everyone seems to have been at least a part-time entrepreneur, as was true in early Peru as well.

While the lines of social ranking within the Spanish group did not disappear in this context, the openness and flexibility of opportunity worked to foster coherence, prosperity, and an almost precociously rapid development of Spanish society. Full institutionalization took place by midcentury; the University of Mexico first offered classes in 1553. The first thirty years after the conquest of Tenochtitlán and founding of Mexico City represented not a period of tentative experiment or disorganization but rather one in which the enduring socioeconomic and institutional structures of New Spain, centered principally on Mexico City, took root and developed. Increased prosperity followed the discovery of silver mines in the north at the end of this period, but the changes of that time represented extensions and elaborations of forms of organization and activity that had already developed and crystalized.

Consideration of Spanish society in early Mexico City almost inevitably suggests parallels with Peru. Because of the fragmentary nature of records for early New Spain, in making comparisons to Peru one sets Mexico against an area that is both better documented and more thoroughly studied in its early decades of development. Mexico and Peru shared a series of basic features—patterns of economic activity; representation of social and occupational groups; a tendency of institutions, economic enterprises, and prominent people to concentrate principally in one urban center; and institutional and other forms of interaction between Spaniards, Africans, and indigenous peoples. Most of the significant distinctions seem to have resulted from differences in specific local circumstances, rather than, for example, different governmental policies or different personnel. Certainly the very considerable analogies between Spanish society in Peru and Mexico through much of the colonial period are by now familiar.

At the same time, however, we must recall that at the outset substantial differences existed between the two situations. Spaniards reached central Mexico and appropriated the Mexica capital of Tenochtitlán a full decade before Pizarro and his followers captured and executed the Inca emperor at Cajamarca. That event, while doubtless signalling the end of Inca dominance and the beginnings of Spanish control of Peru, did not complete military conquest nearly so definitively as did Cortés’s occupation of Tenochtitlán. But if the events at Cajamarca were more ambiguous, the immediate payoff in wealth was spectacularly greater than anything Spaniards had experienced elsewhere, including Mexico. This wealth engendered the deadly factional strife so notable in early Peru but virtually absent in Mexico.

Because of the relative lack of immediate wealth in Mexico, and the historical and geographical connections between the first generation of Spaniards there and Spanish society in the islands, it is useful to consider early Mexico in light of its ties and similarities to the islands as well as to Peru. The limitations of the records for the early Caribbean make extensive comparisons difficult, although the most direct sorts of ties naturally did exist.104 The conquest of Mexico was virtually a Cuban undertaking, even if many of the men from Cuba also had spent time elsewhere. One of the oidores of the first Mexican audiencia, Licenciado Matienzo, previously served as oidor in Santo Domingo. But beyond such connections other similarities suggest themselves. Neither the islands nor Mexico offered a great windfall of treasure. The lack of wealth probably underlay the ephemeral existence of many of the early towns founded mainly in connection with mining activity in the islands and New Spain. Most of these towns rapidly lost ground to a dominant urban center (Santo Domingo on Hispaniola, Mexico City in New Spain). The initial proliferation of towns and active participation of Spaniards in local politics would suggest, however, that the emergence of a dominant city was not necessarily a foregone conclusion. This was not the contemporary Spanish pattern; Castile in many senses still was an aggregate of cities and their subregions. But the nature of the economy and levels of Spanish emigration could not support a fully developed network of Spanish cities and towns in the early years.

Early Spanish society in the islands might well have been more diverse in its socioeconomic composition and more demographically balanced than generally has been thought. Even given the notable mobility of Spaniards in the islands, towns there rather quickly developed a stable core of vecinos who held offices and repartimientos and engaged in a mix of economic pursuits (mining and stockraising and later sugar cultivation), using black slaves in supervisory and skilled capacities and an Indian labor force whose status (whether encomienda, slave, or naboría) probably varied more in theory than in fact, all much as in early Mexico. This fairly stable society in the islands soon attracted Castilian women. According to the repartimiento of 1514, 180 vecinos of the total of 371 on Hispaniola who received Indians were married to Castilian women and only 62 to Indian women.105 Squabbles between local and crown officials and the extensive involvement of all of them in the local economy (including trade in Indian slaves) and encomiendas, ties based on kinship and common point of origin, and the claims and presumptions of the Colóns and first conquerors all played a prominent part in ordering society in the Caribbean, as would similar factors in early Mexico and Peru.

In thinking about the relationships among the different centers of early Spanish activity in America, then, it might be helpful not only to point out similarities but also to question how it was that Europeans were able to establish such seemingly identical economic enterprises and social and political forms and institutions in the Caribbean, Mexico, and Peru—locales that at the time of contact, conquest, and early settlement were so strikingly different in their geography, accessibility, indigenous populations, resources, and numbers of Spaniards present. That they managed to do so is, of course, testimony to the Spaniards’ single-mindedness of purpose and relative imperviousness to much of the richness and complexity of the indigenous world of the Americas. This imperviousness in turn helps to explain how, with the tragic exception of the islands (where within a generation the native population began to disappear), the real changes wrought by the Spaniards’ advent often were far more limited and superficial than perhaps they ever realized.

The author wishes to thank James Lockhart for his encouragement and advice in revising this study and the readers of the manuscript for their valuable comments and suggestions.


See Woodrow Borah and Sherburne F. Cook, The Aboriginal Population of Central Mexico on the Eve of the Spanish Conquest (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1963); The Population of Central Mexico in 1548: An Analysis of the “Suma de visitas de Pueblos” (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1960); Price Trends of Some Basic Commodities in Central Mexico, 1532-1570 (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1958); and The Indian Population of Central Mexico, 1531-1610 (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1962).


An important recent addition to the bibliography is the work of Ethelia Ruiz Medrano, “Gobierno y sociedad en México. Audiencia y Virreinato, 1530-1550” (Ph.D. diss., Universidad de Sevilla, 1990), which uses the residencias and visitas of the 1530s and 1540s in the Justicia section of the Archivo de Indias to examine the economic activities of some key governmental figures of the period and the early development of the corregimiento system.


Lesley Byrd Simpson, The Encomienda in New Spain: The Beginning of Spanish Mexico, 3d ed. (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1966); Silvio Zavala, La encomienda indiana (Madrid, 1935); Charles Gibson, The Aztecs Under Spanish Rule: A History of the Indians of the Valley of Mexico, 1519-1810 (Stanford, 1964); José Miranda, La función económica del encomendero en los orígenes del régimen colonial(Nueva España, 1525-31), 2d ed. (Mexico City, 1965); G. Micheal Riley, Fernando Cortés and the Marquesado in Morelos, 1522-1547 (Albuquerque, 1973); Robert T. Himmerich, “The Encomenderos of New Spain, 1521-1555” (Ph.D. diss., University of California, Los Angeles, 1984) (Himmerich’s book of the same title will be published by University of Texas Press, 1991); Ruiz Medrano, Gobierno y sociedad,” which includes a great deal of material on encomiendas and the relationship between encomiendas and corregimientos; George Kubler, Mexican Architecture of the Sixteenth Century, 2 vols. (New Haven, 1948); John McAndrew, The Open Air Churches of Sixteenth Century Mexico (Cambridge, Mass., 1965); Robert Ricard, The Spiritual Conquest of Mexico (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1966); Richard E. Greenleaf, The Mexican Inquisition of the Sixteenth Century (Albuquerque, 1969) and Zumárraga and the Mexican Inquisition, 1536-1543 (Washington, 1961); John F. Schwaller, The Church and Clergy in Sixteenth-Century Mexico (Albuquerque, 1987) and Origins of Church Wealth in Mexico (Albuquerque, 1985).


Gibson, Aztecs, and Kubler, Mexican Architecture, include a great deal of material specifically on the city. Ross Hassig, Trade, Tribute and Transportation: The Sixteenth-Century Political Economy of the Valley of Mexico (Norman, 1985), states that his book concerns “the growth and maintenance of the city in the context of its sustaining hinterland” (4). His work is notable for its focus on the Valley of Mexico both before and after the conquest. For Tenochtitlán after the conquest, see Edward Calnek, “Settlement Patterns and Chinampa Agriculture in Tenochtitlán,” American Antiquity, 37:1(Jan. 1972) and Conjunto urbano y modelo residencial en Tenochtitlán,” in Ensayos sobre el desarrollo urbano de México (Mexico City, 1972). On Tenochtitlán in the period immediately preceding the conquest, see Sonia Lombardo Ruiz, Desarrollo urbano de México-Tenochtitlán según las fuentes históricas (Mexico City, 1973) and José Luis de Rojas, “Cuantificaciones referentes a la ciudad de Tenochtitlán en 1519,” Historia Mexicana, 36:2 (Oct.-Dec. 1986).


See, for example, articles by Leslie Lewis, “In Mexico City’s Shadow: Some Aspects of Economic Activity and Social Processes in Texcoco, 1570-1620,” and James Lockhart, “Capital and Province, Spaniard and Indian: The Example of Late Sixteenth-Century Toluca,” in Provinces of Early Mexico, ed. Ida Altman and James Lockhart (Los Angeles, 1976).


See Calnek, “Settlement Patterns.”


Comparisons with Peru are based principally on James Lockhart, Spanish Peru, 1532-1560 (Madison, 1968). See also his Men of Cajamarca: A Social and Biographical Study of the First Conquerors of Peru (Austin, 1972).


For Mexico City and New Spain many of the early notarial records, which are a key source for Lockhart’s study of early Peru, either have not survived or are in very poor condition; there are none before 1525. See Himmerich, “Encomenderos,” 6-7, for a detailed discussion of the extant records. Most of the protocolos were summarized and published by Agustín Millares Carlo and José I. Mantecón in their Índice y extractos de los protocolos del Archivo de Notarías de México, 2 vols. (Mexico City, 1945-46). The extracts are for the periods August-December 1525, 1527, 1528, June 1536 to March 1538, and October-March 1553. All references to notarial documents in this article are to Millares Carlo and Mantecón, Índice, and will be noted as “MC” with the extract number.


See Altman, “Emigrants and Society: An Approach to the Background of Colonial Spanish America,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, 30:1 (Jan. 1988).


Peggy K. Liss, Mexico Under Spain (Chicago, 1975), 104. See also Gibson, Aztecs, 167.


John F. Schwaller, “The Secular Clergy in Sixteenth-Century Mexico” (Ph. D. diss., Indiana University, 1978), 34, notes, for example, that Viceroy Mendoza married his sister to a local encomendero. The documentation and literature on the local economic and social involvements of oidores and other officials is extensive. See Liss, Mexico Under Spain, 50-52, 55, 57, 62, 65-66; François Chevalier, Land and Society in Colonial Mexico (Berkeley, 1970), 75-76, 118, 123-124; Constance Carter, “Law and Society in Colonial Mexico: Audiencia Judges in Mexican Society from the Tello de Sandoval Visita General, 1543-1547 (Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 1971); and Ruiz Medrano, “Gobierno y sociedad,” especially chapter 3 on the extensive economic involvements of Lic. Lorenzo de Tejada, oidor from 1537 to 1550. For the holdings and investments of Cortés, the first governor, see Riley, Fernando Cortés.


See the residencia of the Nuño de Guzmán audiencia, begun in 1531, Archivo General de Indias (hereafter AGI), Justicia, legs. 226-229. See also Enrique Otte, “La Nueva España en 1529,” in Historia y sociedad en el mundo de habla española. Homenaje a José Miranda, ed. Bernardo García Martínez et al. (Mexico City, 1970), 95-111. He points out that the oidor Lic. Diego Delgadillo, together with his brother Juan Peláez de Berrío (who was alcalde mayor of Oaxaca and received 25,000 Indians in encomienda) and their second cousin Luis de Berrío (who became captain and alcalde of the province of the Zapotecs), together with other Granadan-Andalusian relatives and compatriots, like Gonzalo de Salazar, formed a powerful new faction that all but displaced Cortés’s Extremaduran clique (97).


See AGI, Justicia, leg. 107, no. 2, for the conflict between Alonso de Estrada and regidor Dr. Cristóbal de Ojeda. Despite the frequency of conflicts between royal and local officials it should not, of course, be assumed that the cabildo itself necessarily reflected the views and objectives of most local Spaniards. Diego de la Peña, a procurador who had more than one clash with cabildo scribe Antonio de Herrera, complained in 1536 that the cabildo’s alcaldes were held in low esteem because they “do justice as between compadres and quarrel with one another.. . . People don’t take off their hats when they talk with them. It’s as if they were alcaldes of a village of 100 vecinos.” Peña’s testimony was part of a residencia taken of the cabildo and its officials in 1536-37 that also included complaints about the fixing of elections and purchase of votes; see AGI, Justicia, leg. 233, nos. 1-3.


See Greenleaf, Mexican Inquisition, 39.


See, for example, Peter Bakewell, “Zacatecas: An Economic and Social Outline of a Silver Mining District, 1547-1700,” in Provinces of Early Mexico, 222-223, for cabildo membership, and Marta Hunt’s discussion of the cabildo and the local social and economic ties of crown officials in seventeenth-century Yucatan in “The Processes of Development in Yucatan, 1600-1700,” in Provinces of Early Mexico, 46-49. Stuart Schwartz has demonstrated a similar ambiguity in the roles played by the judges of Bahia’s relação in Sovereignty and Society in Colonial Brazil (Berkeley, 1973), especially 176-184.


Liss, Mexico Under Spain, 59; Gibson, Aztecs, 83, 273. See Ruiz Medrano, “Gobierno y sociedad,” for the early close connections between encomenderos and corregimientos. An example of Mendoza’s accommodation to local interests can be seen in the case of Gonzalo Ruiz, regidor of Mexico for thirty years, who in 1529 acquired an encomienda from the viceroy with 1000 pesos of annual income and was named a corregidor in 1538 and 1539. Ruiz had a store and seven house lots in Mexico City and an estancia and huerta in Tacubaya (131). See also Himmerich, “Encomenderos,” 453-454.


See Carter, “Law and Society.”


Himmerich, “Encomenderos,” xi, 2; Efraín Trelles Aréstegui, Lucas Martínez Vegazo: Funcionamiento de una encomienda peruana inicial (Lima, 1982). Again the exception is the Cortés encomienda and Marquesado, studied by Riley, Fernando Cortés.


See Himmerich, “Encomenderos,” 64; for the relationship between the encomienda and other forms of administration and exploitation of the countryside, see James Lockhart, “Encomienda and Hacienda: The Evolution of the Great Estate in the Spanish Indies,” HAHR, 49:3 (August 1969); Robert G. Keith, “Encomienda, Hacienda and Corregimiento in Spanish America: A Structural Analysis,” HAHR, 51:3 (August 1971); and Ruiz Medrano, “Gobierno y sociedad.”


Himmerich, “Encomenderos,” 4, 22, 59.


Lockhart, Spanish Peru, 23-25.


Riley, Fernando Cortés, 68-69; Gibson, Aztecs, 413; Miranda, Función económica, 43. See Himmerich, “Encomenderos,” for Herrera (326-327), Ocampo (394-395), Santa Cruz (480-481), and Terrazas (497-498).


Miranda, Función económica, 26-27.


Gibson, Aztecs, 83, 275.


For analysis of emigration patterns, see Peter Boyd-Bowman, Patterns of Spanish Emigration to the New World, 1493-1580 (Buffalo, 1973). Over the sixteenth century New Spain attracted the largest numbers of emigrants. For comparisons of figures for Mexico and Peru, see Boyd-Bowman, “Patterns of Spanish Emigration to the Indies Until 1600,” HAHR, 56:4 (Nov. 1976), especially 601-602.


Himmerich, “Encomenderos,” 56.


Rodrigo de Baeza and others mentioned silver mines in the province of Guachinango that were being worked on behalf of Nuño de Guzmán; see AGI, Justicia, leg. 226, no. 1.


Slaves and equipment were generally sold together. In a typical transaction recorded in 1527, one hundred Indian slaves with mining experience, together with the equipment, were sold for 550 pesos (MC 697). The equipment probably came to about 150 pesos. Prices for black slaves were considerably higher.


See Miranda, Función económica, 11, 22-23. The Indians of the town of Achiutla of the encomienda of Francisco Maldonado, for example, were obliged to maintain half of a mining cuadrilla (23). See Himmerich, “Encomenderos,” 355-356, for Maldonado.


Miranda, Función económica, 12-14. See also Gibson, Aztecs, 77-78, 221, and Liss, Mexico Under Spain, 97.


See Miranda, Función económica, 20, 34-40, for examples of such arrangements.


Lockhart, Spanish Peru, 26, mentions a Sancho Tofiño who came to Peru from Mexico in the late 1530s and played an important role in the Carabaya gold mines, opened in 1542. See also Lockhart, 26, for a discussion of companies formed by encomenderos and other entrepreneurs for mining.


MC 612.


An apparently exceptional case was that of Francisco de Figueroa, miner, who in March 1527 agreed to work for sixteen months in the mines of Zacatula for 120 pesos and his keep (MC 411). According to Miranda, Función económica, 38, Esteban Miguel, who appears in MC 1692 as a “minero,” was an encomendero; Himmerich, however, does not list him.


Carl O. Sauer, The Early Spanish Main (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1966), 198.


See Liss, Mexico Under Spain, 53, for legislation. Indian slaves were, however, still being used in the silver mines in the 1530s; see, for example, MC 2028, 2051-2054. Juan Fernández rented forty Indians to work at Taxco from an encomendero for 550 pesos in 1536 (MC 1854). In 1537 Martín de Zavala, acting for the minor son of the encomendero Juan de Salcedo, rented the services of thirty Indians to work in mines at Taxco (MC 2317).


Taxco, southwest of Mexico City and a center for Indian tin mining, was the first major center for silver mining. Following the beginning of operations there, silver deposits were subsequently discovered in Zacualpan, Sultepec, and Temascaltepec. In the early 1540s a series of small mines was operating near Guadalajara. For discussion of gold- and silver-mining zones in Mexico, see Robert C. West and John P. Augelli, Middle America: Its Lands and Peoples (Englewood Cliffs, 1966), 258, 293.


Supply of the mines at Taxco began to take on a certain importance, foreshadowing the partial reorientation of regional supply networks toward Zacatecas after the 1540s. See Ruiz Medrano, “Gobierno y sociedad,” 323.


MC 1854.


Epistolario de Nueva España, 1505-1818, 16 vols. (Mexico City, 1939-42), III, no. 190. See also Francisco A. de Icaza, Conquistadores y pobladores de Nueva España (Madrid, 1923), nos. 389, 694, 792; and Himmerich, “Encomenderos,” 415.


MC 2051-2054, 2064. Vázquez bought a house in Mexico City for 1350 pesos the year following his deal with Cortés (MC 2273).


For the participation of Castilian merchants in the American trade, see Ruth Pike, Aristocrats and Traders: Sevillian Society in the Sixteenth Century (Ithaca, 1972), especially 122-123, 128, and Lockhart, Spanish Peru, 78-79. See also Otte, “Mercaderes burgaleses en los inicios del comercio con México,” Historia Mexicana, 18:1 and 2 (Jul.-Sep. and Oct.-Dec. 1968).


The merchants under discussion here are those who identified themselves as “mercader.” The names of five merchants not found in the notarial records appear in the 1536-37 residencia of the Mexico City cabildo (AGI, Justicia, leg. 233, no. 1); Ruiz Medrano, “Gobierno y sociedad,” 322, 326, mentions two others, one active in the late 1530s and one in the 1540s. The term “tratante” does not appear at all in the notarial extracts for the period and is not found in cabildo records until 1551. In that year two “tratantes,” one a recent immigrant from Spain, obtained licenses to sell wine in the city. The Actas de cabildo de la ciudad de México have been published in 54 volumes (Mexico City, 1880-1916).


The term “vecino” may indicate only that a person maintained some kind of establishment or property in the city and had been there for about a year. In Spain the term had a specific legal meaning; one had to petition the city council for vecindad status which, if granted, conferred both obligations (such as liability for taxes) and privileges (such as the right to be granted municipal property and access to municipal common lands). While the practice of petitioning for and receiving vecindad status continued, it appears that at least in some places the strict legal meaning of the term was modified early. Furthermore, some individuals became vecinos of more than one city. See Julia Hirschberg, “A Social History of Puebla de los Angeles, 1531-1560” (Ph.D. diss., University of Michigan, 1976), 272-273, for vecinos of Puebla and Mexico City.


Greenleaf, Mexican Inquisition, 26-30.


The following discussion of individual merchants is based on a number of items in the notarial extracts.


For monetary equivalents and standardization, see Borah and Cook, Price Trends, 9-10. See also their discussion of equivalents for weights and measures in use in Mexico, 11-12.


See Ruiz Medrano, “Gobierno y sociedad,” 321-322, 328, and MC 1867.


AGI, Justicia, leg. 233, no. 1.


See Borah, Early Colonial Trade and Navigation between Mexico and Peru (Berkeley, 1954), for the development of shipbuilding on Mexico’s western coast and of trade and transport routes between Mexico and Peru.


See Hassig, Trade, Tribute and Transportation, 187-207, for discussion of the continued reliance on tamemes in the sixteenth century and attempts to regulate and limit their use.


Gibson, Aztecs, 361. See also Borah, Early Colonial Trade, 25-29; West and Augelli, Middle America, 299-302, for discussion of land transport and trade; David R. Ring-rose, “Carting in the Hispanic World: An Example of Divergent Development,” HAHR, 50:1 (Feb. 1970); and Hassig, Trade, Tribute and Transportation, 171-177, 193-197.


Chevalier, Land and Society, 94, notes that by the midsixteenth century horses, following sheep and cattle, had begun to multiply rapidly in New Spain, and Indians also began to acquire pack animals. See also Hassig, Trade, Tribute and Transportation, 193-194, 200, 204.


Gibson, Aztecs, 380 (table 27). He gives a figure of 2,000 vecinos at around 1550.


See Lockhart, Spanish Peru, 96-97, for his estimate of the number of artisans in Peru, and 243 (table 5) for the breakdown of trades. For Puebla see Hirschberg, “Social History of Puebla,” 116 (table 18) and 320 (table 71).


Actas de cabildo, I, 46, 71.


MC 1939, 1954, 2094, 2478, 2649.


Colección de documentos inéditos para la historia de Hispano-América, 14 vols. (Madrid, 1927-1932), XI, nos. 559, 638. A “silk” weaver produced many kinds of fine cloth, such as velvet, satin, and taffeta.


Kubler, Mexican Architecture, I, 110-114.


Greenleaf, Mexican Inquisition, 33-35; Miranda, Función económica, 19-20; Himmerich, “Encomenderos,” 193-194. See MC 31, 600, 874, 1259, and other items.


MC 1373, 1702, and other items.


For a discussion of gardeners in Trujillo, Extremadura, see Ida Altman, Emigrants and Society: Extremadura and Spanish America in the Sixteenth Century (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1989), 104.


Actas de cabildo, I, 117; MC 94, 1317.


An active participant in the “rescate” of slaves under the first audiencia was a barber named Salamanca, said to be a criado of Lic. Delgadillo, who would bring the slaves to Mexico City to be branded. AGI, Justicia, leg. 226, no. 1.


Actas de cabildo, I, 127, 119.


MC 554, 1341, 1552, and other items. Ojeda was an influential man in Mexico City in the 1520s. An antagonist of Alonso de Estrada, who at one time had him jailed, Ojeda had a less than sterling reputation. He supervised the branding of Indian slaves in the city and was known for poor treatment of the Indians of his encomienda of Capula in Michoacán. When reference was made to this mistreatment, his response was to bluster and joke about, rather than deny, the allegation. Ojeda said he shared the encomienda with the surgeon Maestre de Roa (Pedro Núñez), who collected the tribute and supplies for the mines. See AGI, Justicia, leg. 107, no. 2, ramo 2, and Himmerich, “Encomenderos,” 393-394, 398.


As Lockhart has suggested for early Peru, lawyers holding a doctoral degree were a rarity, apart from some audiencia judges; see Spanish Peru, 60, for his discussion of levels of education and degrees among lawyers and physicians. A Dr. Valdivielso was appointed to serve as Mexico City’s letrado in 1531; see Actas de cabildo, II, 83. Some ecclesiastics also held advanced degrees. The first treasurer of the Mexico City cathedral chapter, don Rafael de Cervantes, “held the largely honorary title of doctor of theology from the University of Sigüenza,” according to Schwaller, Church and Clergy, 49-50.


See Pike, Aristocrats and Traders, 130-148, on artisans in Seville, and Altman, Emigrants and Society, 96-98, 119-122, for investments by artisans and professionals.


See Lockhart, Spanish Peru, 68, on the training and functions of notaries in the Spanish world.


See Gibson, Aztecs, 417; Greenleaf, Mexican Inquisition, 19; Icaza, Conquistadores y pobladores, no. 386; and MC 476, 2192.


Tapia was closely associated with Lic. Tejada. During Tejada’s term in office he received a grant of land in Tacuba near Tejada’s lands; see Ruiz Medrano, “Gobierno y sociedad,” 267.


Carter, “Law and Society,” 30, 45; Icaza, Conquistadores y pobladores, nos. 847, 739, 893; Actas de cabildo, I, 20; III, 6, 8; IV, 118, 191; MC 1390, 1959; Epistolario de Nueva España, V, no. 260. Ortiz was teniente de corregidor of Chinantla, and Molino held the same position in Tlapa (in Guerrero); the latter also might have been the encomendero of Santiago Camotlán in Oaxaca until 1545; see Ruiz Medrano, “Gobierno y sociedad,” 267-268.


See note 3 above.


Schwaller, Church and Clergy, 75.


MC 1989.


For Seville, see Pike, Aristocrats and Traders, 154-192, on moriscos and African slaves. For discussion of ethnic diversity in the smaller cities of Trujillo and Cáceres, see Altman, Emigrants and Society, 122-124.


The data on the origins of black slaves in Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrán, La población negra de México, 1519-1810 (Mexico City, 1972), are principally for the late sixteenth century on.


See MC 994, 626a, 862.


In Peru prices for black slaves rose from about 100-250 pesos in the 1530s to 150-300 pesos by the late 1540s; see Lockhart, Spanish Peru, 179. The low prices in New Spain in the 1530s might have reflected a very temporary excess of supply over demand preceding the initiation of larger-scale silver-mining operations, or it may be that conditions in Peru caused a major price rise, for prices in the early Caribbean had also been very low compared to Peru.


For discussion of such sales in Peru, see Lockhart, Spanish Peru, 189.


See, for example, the deliberations of a meeting between the cabildo of Mexico City and representatives of other towns of New Spain held in 1525, in Epistolario de Nueva España, I, 87, no. 65.


See Liss, Mexico Under Spain, 65, 140; Aguirre Beltrán, La población negra, 23.


Aguirre Beltrán, La población negra, 22.


See, for example, MC 2163, 2216, 2251, and Colección de documentos inéditos, XIV, no. 618, in which Francisco de Almazán, vecino of Mexico City, arranged in 1548 to import 150 slaves to the Indies.


Liss, Mexico Under Spain, 140, states that “in 1553 Velasco reported 20,000 Negroes. The contraband trade in blacks made population estimates even more difficult.” Colin A. Palmer, Slaves of the White God: Blacks in Mexico, 1570-1650 (Cambridge, 1976), 133, estimates there might have been some 10,000 blacks in Mexico in 1537, the year of the first planned slave rebellion in the capital. Philip Curtin’s estimates for total Spanish American imports of slaves in The Atlantic Slave Trade: A Census (Madison, 1969), 25 (Table 5), are 15,000 for 1521-50 and an additional 4,000 or so for 1551_55. Even assuming that the majority of slaves imported during the entire period 1521-55 went to Mexico and that Curtin’s figures may be somewhat low, Palmer’s (and Velasco’s) estimates seem unrealistically high.


MC 1337 (contract made in 1528).


MC 1263, 1674, 1889; Actas de cabildo, I, 17, 18; Icaza, Conquistadores y pobladores, no. 169. Garrido went with other vecinos of Salvaleón (on Hispaniola) to Puerto Rico with Juan Ponce de León as a free man; see Troy Floyd, The Columbus Dynasty in the Caribbean, 2492-1526 (Albuquerque, 1973). Six other free blacks appear in the cabildo records. One, like Garrido, was a porter for the cabildo. The others, all vecinos, requested plots of city land.


Colección de documentos inéditos, XI, no. 505. See Pike, Aristocrats and Traders, 154—170, for moriscos in Seville, probably the source of most morisco slaves in the Indies, and Lockhart, Spanish Peru, 196-198, for discussion of moriscos in Peru.


MC 2551.


See Altman, Emigrants and Society, 150-155, for discussion of the treatment of illegitimate children in Castile and their often intermediate or ambiguous status. For the situation in Peru, see Lockhart, Spanish Peru, 163-170.


MC 1331, 2370, 681.


See Gibson, Aztecs, 418-419 and 423-426, for the history of the encomiendas granted to doña Leonor and doña Isabel. For doña Isabel and her children by the Cacereño Juan Cano, see Altman, Emigrants and Society, 142, 253, 272-273.


See Gibson, Aztecs, 380.


Ibid., 377-380, for discussion of pre- and post-conquest population figures for the city. Gibson notes (378) that the city “received an unusual influx of Indian peoples from all other areas during the colonial period,” perhaps reflecting both the continuation of preconquest patterns of movement and the new circumstances created by the Spanish presence.


Recent and ongoing research based on Nahuatl documentation has increased greatly our knowledge of the Indians of postconquest Mexico. See, for example, S. L. Cline, Colonial Culhuacán, 1580-1600: A Social History of an Aztec Town (Albuquerque, 1986); Robert S. Haskett, “Indian Town Government in Colonial Cuernavaca: Persistence, Adaptation, and Change,” HAHR, 67:2 (May 1987); and James Lockhart, The Nahuas After the Conquest: A Social and Cultural History of the Indians of Central Mexico, Sixteenth through Eighteenth Centuries (Stanford, forthcoming).


MC 407, 495, 1084. For discussion of the roles of acculturated Indians in early Peru, see Lockhart, Spanish Peru, 202-204.


MC 1896, 2370.


MC 1376, 2084, 2471. See Lockhart, Spanish Peru, 203-204, for the career of an Indian artisan slave named Francisco, who was born in Tenochtitlán and learned saddle- and harness-making from a Spaniard in Mexico, for whom he claimed to have worked as a free man. Around 1539, however, Francisco was sold in Lima to a Spanish shoemaker as a slave, and he spent subsequent periods both as a slave and as a free man.


Actas de cabildo, III, 108.


See Lockhart, Spanish Peru, 218, and Gibson, Aztecs, 399-400, for Indian participation in and organization of Spanish-type trades.


See Gibson, Aztecs, 368-369, on some of the immediate implications of the choice of the site for the Spanish capital. The cabildo appropriated urban land from Indian families to make property grants to Spanish vecinos in the 1520s and early 1530s (273), and from at least the mid-1530s Spaniards were living in Indian areas (376). See also Ruiz Medrano, “Gobierno y sociedad,” chapter 3, which describes the process by which Lic. Tejada acquired lands in Tacuba and Chapultepec.


See Gibson, Aztecs, 371.


See Calnek, “Conjunto urbano.”


Some studies of the early Spanish Caribbean are Sauer, Early Spanish Main, Enrique Otte, Las perlas del caribe: Nueva Cádiz de Cubagua (Caracas, 1977); Floyd, The Columbus Dynasty: Frank Moya Pons, Después de Colón. Trabajo, sociedad y política en la economía de oro (Madrid, 1987); Emilio Rodríguez Demorizi, Los dominicos y las encomiendas de indios de la Isla Española (Santo Domingo, 1971); Eugenio Fernández Méndez, Proceso histórico de la conquista de Puerto Rico (1508-1640) (San Juan, 1970).


Moya Pons, Después de Colón, 109.