The Diversity of American Colonial Societies,
I0. The Columbian Exchange
A0. Demographic Changes
10. The peoples of the New World lacked immunity to diseases from the Old World.
Smallpox, measles, diphtheria, typhus, influenza, malaria, yellow fever and
maybe pulmonary plague caused severe declines in the population of native
peoples in the Spanish and Portuguese colonies. Syphilis was the only significant
disease thought to have been transferred from the Americas to Europe.
20. Similar patterns of contagion and mortality may be observed in the English and
French colonies in North America. Europeans did not use disease as a tool of
empire, but the spread of Old World diseases clearly undermined the ability of
native peoples to resist settlement and accelerated cultural change.
B0. Transfer of Plants and Animals
10. European, Asian, and African food crops were introduced to the Americas while
American crops, including maize, beans, potatoes, manioc, and tobacco, were
brought to the Eastern Hemisphere. The introduction of New World food crops is
thought to be one factor contributing to the rapid growth in world population
20. The introduction of European livestock such as cattle, pigs, horses, and sheep
had a dramatic influence on the environment and on the cultures of the native
people of the Americas.
30. Old World livestock destroyed the crops of some Amerindian farmers. Other
Amerindians benefited from the introduction of cattle, sheep, and horses.
II0. Spanish America and Brazil
A0. State and Church
10. The Spanish crown tried to exert direct control over its American colonies
through a supervisory office called the Council of the Indies. In practice, the
difficulty of communication between Spain and the New World led to a situation
in which the Viceroys of New Spain and Peru and their subordinate officials
enjoyed a substantial degree of power.
20. After some years of neglect and mismanagement, the Portuguese in 1720
appointed a viceroy to administer Brazil.
30. The governmental institutions established by Spain and Portugal were highly
developed, costly bureaucracies that thwarted local economic initiative and
40. The Catholic Church played an important role in transferring European language,
culture, and Christian beliefs to the New World. Catholic clergy converted large
numbers of Amerindians, although some of them secretly held on to some of
their native beliefs and practices.
50. Catholic clergy also acted to protect Amerindians from some of the exploitation
and abuse of the Spanish settlers. One example is Bartolome de Las Casas, a
former settler turned priest who denounced Spanish policies toward the Amerindians and worked to improve the status of Amerindians through legal
reforms such as the New Laws of 1542.
60. Catholic missionaries were frustrated as Amerindian converts blended Christian
beliefs with elements of their own cosmology and ritual. In response, the Church
redirected its energies toward the colonial cities and towns, where the Church
founded universities and secondary schools and played a significant role in the
intellectual and economic life of the colonies.
B0. Colonial Economies
10. The colonial economies of Latin America were dominated by the silver mines of
Peru and Mexico and by the sugar plantations of Brazil. This led to a dependence
on mineral and agricultural exports.
20. The economy of the Spanish colonies was dominated by the silver mines of
Bolivia and Peru until 1680 and then by the silver mines of Mexico. Silver
mining and processing required a large labor force and led to environmental
effects that included deforestation and mercury poisoning.
30. In the agricultural economy that dominated Spanish America up to the 1540s,
Spanish settlers used the forced-labor system of encomienda to exploit
Amerindian labor. With the development of silver-mining economies, new
systems of labor exploitation were devised: in Mexico, free-wage labor, and in
Peru, the mita.
40. Under the mita system, one-seventh of adult male Amerindians were drafted for
forced labor at less than subsistence wages for six months of the year. The mita
system undermined the traditional agricultural economy, weakened Amerindian
village life, and promoted the assimilation of Amerindians into Spanish colonial
50. The Portuguese developed the slave-labor sugar plantation system in the Atlantic
islands and then set up similar plantations in Brazil. The Brazilian plantations
first used Amerindian slaves and then the more expensive but more productive
(and more disease-resistant) African slaves.
60. Sugar and silver played important roles in integrating the American colonial
economies into the system of world trade. Both Spain and Portugal tried to
control the trade of their American colonies through monopolies and convoy
systems that facilitated the collection of taxes but that also restricted the flow of
European goods to the colonies.
C0. Society in Colonial Latin America
10. The elite of Spanish America consisted of a relatively small number of Spanish
immigrants and a larger number of their American-born descendants (creoles).
The Spanish-born dominated the highest levels of government, church, and
business, while the creoles controlled agriculture and mining.
20. Under colonial rule the cultural diversity of Amerindian peoples and the class
differentiation within the Amerindian ethnic groups both were eroded.
30. People of African descent played various roles in the history of the Spanish
colonies. Slaves and free blacks from the Iberian Peninsula participated in the
conquest and settlement of Spanish America; later, the direct slave trade with
Africa led both to an increase in the number of blacks and to a decline in the
legal status of blacks in the Spanish colonies.
40. At first, people brought from various parts of Africa retained their different
cultural identities; but with time, their various traditions blended and mixed with
European and Amerindian languages and beliefs to form distinctive local
cultures. Slave resistance, including rebellions, was always brought under control, but runaway slaves occasionally formed groups that defended
themselves for years.
50. Most slaves were engaged in agricultural labor and were forced to submit to
harsh discipline and brutal punishments. The overwhelming preponderance of
males made it impossible for slaves to preserve traditional African family and
marriage patterns or to adopt those of Europe.
60. In colonial Brazil, Portuguese immigrants controlled politics and the economy,
but by the early seventeenth century Africans and their American-born
descendants–both slave and free–were the largest ethnic group.
70. The growing population of individuals of mixed European and Amerindian
descent (mestizos), European and African descent (mulattos), and mixed African
and Amerindian descent were known collectively as “castas.” Castas dominated
small-scale retailing and construction in the cities, ran small ranches and farms in
the rural areas, and worked as wage laborers; some gained high status and wealth
and adopted Spanish or Portuguese culture.
III0. English and French Colonies in North America
A0. Early English Experiments
10. Attempts to establish colonies in Newfoundland (1583) and on Roanoke Island
(1587) ended in failure.
20. In the seventeenth-century hope that colonies would prove to be profitable
investments, combined with the successful colonization of Ireland,