Spanish Exploration and Colonization of the Americas

Spanish Exploration and Colonization of the Americas
Slides # 1-4 What Motivated Spanish Exploration?
The Spanish motivations for exploration and colonization can be summarized by the phrase “Gold, Glory, God”.
Spanish Motivations for Exploration- The 3 G’s (Gold)
- Profit from trade
Overland Trade routes to the East were largely controlled by powerful Muslim leaders and The Portuguese
controlled many of the water routes from Europe. Both groups could prevent others from accessing trade
routes or require payment of heavy taxes for usage. Products from Eastern countries such as spices and silk
were an incredible source of profit and the Spanish (as well as other countries) did not want to be left out.
Many began searching for alternative Trade Routes so they could benefit.
- Actual gold
The war to expel the Moors (Muslims) from the Iberian Peninsula had depleted the Spanish treasury. Once
Columbus reported that there was gold to be found in the “New World”, the Spanish were eager to obtain it to
rebuild their wealth.
Spanish Motivations for Exploration- The 3 G’s (Glory)
- adventure, power, and national pride
- As nations prospered they wanted to insure that they were more successful than their rivals. The
Spanish were particularly concerned with besting England and Portugal.
Individuals are eager to achieve fame and notoriety as well as the riches they can achieve from a successful
Spanish Motivations for Exploration- The 3 G’s (God)
The Spanish had recently completed the Reconquista, the effort to remove the Moors (Muslims). Catholic
leaders were eager to help spread the faith and once explorers encountered Indians religious leaders saw an
opportunity for converts. It was assumed at the time that Catholic representatives had the right and the
responsibility to convert individuals unfamiliar with Catholicism and religious officials frequently accompanied
explorers for this purpose.
Once the Reformation begins, Catholic Spain viewed it as a responsibility to counter the spread of
Slide # 5 Christopher Columbus
The best known European explorer of the Americas is probably Christopher Columbus. Columbus sought
support from various nations for an expedition beginning in the 1480s. There is some debate among historians
about exactly what Columbus thought his expedition would accomplish. Many believe and he told the
European leaders he was looking for a route to reach China and India by sailing West so that routes dominated
by the Arabs and Portuguese could be bypassed. However there is some evidence that Columbus knew of or
suspected that there were lands west of Europe that were separate from Asia that he wanted to find.
In 1486 Columbus received a promise from the Spanish leaders, Ferdinand and Isabella, that once they had
completed the Reconquista they would consider his proposal. When the final Muslim kingdom, Granada, was
captured in 1492 and peace was declared Ferdinand and Isabella agreed to finance Columbus’ expedition. The
Spanish rulers pledged three ships to his expedition. After any discoveries and claims were made, he would be
given noble rank, the authority to rule all lands he claimed for the Spanish monarchs, and one-tenth of any
1 Voyage
On August 3, 1492 the three ships (Nina, Pinta, Santa Maria) provided by the Spanish monarchs departed
carrying a crew of 90 men. On October 12 , 1492 the expedition encountered an island which Columbus began
to call San Salvador. Most historians believe that it was one of the islands of the Bahamas. Columbus
immediately claimed the land for the monarchs of Spain. He began to call the individuals the crew encountered
Indians believing that he had reached Asia which Europeans referred to as the Indies at the time. Following a
shipwreck off the coast of Hispanola in Dec. 1492, Columbus established a fort he called La Navidad and left 39
men behind to search for gold and returned to Spain. He kidnapped close to 25 Indians to bring them back to
Spain along with gold and other “exotic items” to show the Spanish monarchs. Only 7 or 8 of the Indians
arrived alive. Upon his return Columbus was given a title of nobility, Admiral of the Ocean Sea, and made
Viceroy, “under king”, of the Indies. Ferdinand and Isabella ordered him to make a second voyage.
2 Voyage
A fleet of 17 ships with some 1,500 crew members, soldiers, and colonists left Spain on September 25, 1493.
When the expedition reached La Navidad, Columbus discovered that the fort had been destroyed and the men
killed by the Indians, whom it is believed the colonists had mistreated. He established another colony, Isabella,
on the north coast of Hispaniola, closer to a rumored source of gold. Investigators sent by the Spanish court
had reported unfavorably on the administration of the Columbus brothers of the colony. Columbus returned to
Spain in June 1496, to defend himself. Despite having failed to establish a stable colony, he was able to
persuade the king and queen to sponsor a new voyage and send more colonists.
3 Voyage
In May, 1498, he set sail with eight ships. He found the colony, which was under the leadership of his brother
Bartholomew, struggling. Complaints about Columbus and Bartholomew continued to be brought before the
Spanish monarchs by colonists who returned to Spain. In 1499 Columbus was removed as governor and
replaced by Francisco de Bobadilla.
The new governor was determined to end the unrest. He ordered Columbus and his brothers arrested and sent
to Spain for trial because he felt they were obstructing his attempts at effective governance. Ferdinand and
Isabella pardoned Columbus for any wrongdoings but refused to reinstate him as governor. For two years, he
petitioned them to sponsor another voyage. They finally agreed on the condition that Columbus would not
return to the former colony.
4 Voyage
Columbus set out from Spain in May 1502, in command of four ships. He continued to search, in vain, for a
direct passage from Cuba to Asia. Two of his ships had to be abandoned, and finally, in June 1503, the other
two ran aground in what is now Jamaica. Columbus remained there until the spring of 1504, when two relief
ships arrived. Columbus arrived back in Spain in November 1504. He died in 1506.
Your Columbian Exchange Short and Long Term Effects Chart should go here.
Slide # 6- Legacy of Columbus- The Columbian Exchange
Effects of Columbus
Columbus is not the first European to explore the Americas and given the millions of inhabitants of the
Americas it is not historically accurate to say he discovered them however he is significant because his voyages
gave rise to an era of European domination of the world and saw the spread of European religious, political,
and economic ideas to all parts of the earth.
Some important consequences of Columbus’ voyages include:
1) “Columbian Exchange”
- The Columbian Exchange- the global transfer of foods, plants, animals, etc. occurring after the age of
exploration initiated by the voyages of Christopher Columbus in the late 15 century
Introduction of new crops/animals/diseases into the Americas/ “the New World”/ the Western
Hemisphere from Europe/African/Asia/ “the old World”/ the Eastern Hemisphere
3/5 of crops grown around the world today had their origins in the Americas
New foods brought back to Europe fuel population growth
Slide # 7- Legacy of Columbus- Impact on Europe
1) Imperial Rivalry
Treaty of Tordesillas- 1494
The Treaty of Tordesillas, approved by Pope Alexander VI in 1494, separated the Americas in two spheres as a
way to prevent conflict between Spain and Portugal, the two dominant powers of the 15th century. Spain
acquired the right to discover and conquer everything from Brazil westward, while Portugal's sphere of
influence encompassed everything east of Brazil. According to Pope Alexander VI God would punish
individuals from other countries for trying to colonize in what had been decreed as Spanish territory.
Despite the Treaty, many other European countries became very interested in exploring the Americas. Other
monarchs began hiring explorers to sail west in the years following Columbus’ initial voyage.
2) Change in European Mindset
- With Columbus voyage, Europeans were forced to recognize that their world was simply not what they
thought, it was literally bigger than they had imagined and there were millions more people in it than they had
thought possible. It caused elites to question their sources on knowledge and faith and represented the
beginnings of challenges to the Catholic Church’s power. In the aftermath of Columbus we see the beginnings
of the Scientific Revolution in which European scholars begin to challenge long held beliefs. We also see the
Protestant Reformation.
Medieval/ Early Renaissance mindset of elites had been focused on antiquity and the great civilizations
of the past- Greek, Egyptian, Roman, etc. Many had felt mankind could only repeat the achievements of
earlier civilizations. Columbus’ voyage however seems to cause a shift in thinking where individuals
believed future generations could improve upon early civilizations and rise to new levels of greatness.
3) Changes to the European Diet
American crops like corn and potatoes were easier to grow than older European crops and their introduction
allowed for an increase in food supply and a resulting decrease in hunger. With greater amounts of food
available we see an increase in Europe’s population, recouping some of the losses from the Black Death.
4) Economic Changes
The influx of gold and silver to Spain (and country’s that engaged in piracy) from the Americas provided a jolt
to the European economy. On a positive note this allowed for greater trade but it also had negative
consequences for some countries, particularly Spain which experienced rapid inflation and eventually
economic collapse.
Slides # 8 and 9- Legacy of Columbus- Effects on Indians
One of the biggest effects of Spanish contact with Indians was the introduction of disease, chiefly
smallpox but also plague and influenza, to which Indians had no immunity. This led to quickly
spreading epidemics that resulted in mass population losses. Disease spread so quickly that most
Indians died before ever seeing a European. Many historians believe that losses due to disease amount
to 90% of the pre-Contact population of the Americas.
As an example, the Indian population of Hispanola, one of the areas of early Contact by Columbus, was
estimated to be close to a million before October 1492. By 1500 the Indian population of Hispanola was 500.
The Spanish, while maybe not understanding germs and disease immunity, did seem to understand that
contact with new populations often resulted in those new groups experiencing higher death rates.
The Spanish also viewed high rate of native deaths as a blessing from God.
Some historians have speculated that the high death rate of Indians was the single largest factor allowing
Europeans to dominate the Western Hemisphere.
- Another major effect of Spanish contact on Indians was the beginning of racial based slavery and
forced labor in the Americas. While Indian groups had practiced slavery it was usually a condition that
resulted from loss in war and was not a system where individuals of a certain race were targeted for
slavery while those of another race were elevated to the status of master or ownership of other human
Upon encountering the Taino and Caribs on his first voyage Columbus wrote his journal that they
would make “good servants”. The Spanish initially set up a tribute system whereby Indians would have
to provide a certain amount of gold in a given time period, usually every three months. Once Indians
had met the demand they would receive a token to wear around their necks. Any Indian found without
a current token would be punished, usually by having their hands cut off.
The tribute system satisfied Spanish desires for gold and forced Indians to labor for the Spanish for
sometime however it was replaced by the Encomienda system in 1501, which more directly resembles
slavery. The encomienda system was designed to reward those who had worked on behalf of the Crown
with Indians “commended”, or given, to colonists who promised to try to convert them to Christianity
and could use them for labor. The Encomienda system was not ended until the 1700s.
Another forced labor system was known as the Repartimiento where Indians were assigned a certain
number of days per month that they were expected to work for a Spanish master.
Northern New Spain was very sparsely populated, very poor, and isolated from the rest of the Spanish
Empire. This led the Spanish to adopt a strategy of trying to assimilate Indians already living in these
northern areas to Spanish culture.
Documentary- Legacy of Columbus- The Conquistadors
Your Spanish Conquistadors Chart and Minorities in New Spain Chart should be here.
Slide # 10 Life in New Spain- Spanish Society and Culture
Spanish Social Structure
Very few women sent to New Spain so intermarriage with Indians was common. By the early 1700s the
majority of the population in New Spain was mestizo or of mixed Spanish-Indian parentage. This
resulted in a rigid caste system in New Spain with pure Europeans (known as peninsulares) occupying
most of the bureaucratic and leadership positions, as well as controlling most of the wealth in New
Spain. According to Spanish law only peninsulares could hold political office however most
communities ignored these regulations.
Catholic Church
The spread of Catholicism was a critical part of Spain’s mission in the Americas. After Columbus’ initial
voyage, religious officials always accompanied conquistadors.
The adoption of the Requiremiento in 1513 told Indians that if they submitted to the authority of God
and King, they would not be harmed. Countless orders from Spanish monarchs called on colonial
officials to insure that the Indians were being exposed to Catholicism
Spanish adopt the mission system in their colonies. Small groups of monks/ priests would establish a
mission near an Indian village. Indians would be brought to the mission to be exposed to Catholic
teaching, and “encouraged” to adopt Spanish cultural practices. Indians would also provide labor at the
Spanish law forbid the settlement of non-Catholics in Spanish colonies. Protestants, Jews, Muslims, or
others would be subject to expulsion or persecution if they were discovered living in Spanish territory.
Settlement Patterns
Spanish authorities wanted to create a feudal system, much like had been used in Europe during the Middle
Ages. Colonists (and Indians) were expected to report to the settlement/mission and remain there and follow
orders for the rest of their lives. Needed official permission to travel or set up new settlements.
Settlers have very limited to non existent rights. A patron was given command over an area and colonists were
expected to give him their loyalty. Patron provided jobs, looked out for widows and children and sponsored
religions festivals.
Slide # 11 Life in New Spain- The Economy
Spanish imperial policy forbid colonists from engaging in manufacturing activities and required that all imports
be conducted via an official channel. Texans weren't allowed to import or export goods from their own GulfCoast but rather from Veracruz, Mexico.
Chief economic activity was related to agriculture, particularly ranching and the cattle industry. Tradition of the
cowboy was actually a Spanish invention.
About 2,000 people a year sailed to Mexico and Peru from Seville, the only Spanish port allowed contact with
the New World.
Slide # 12 Life in New Spain- Politics
In 1535, King Charles I of Spain( Charles V of HRE) divided the areas Spain ruled over in the Americas into
two viceroyalties. Charles appointed a viceroy to rule over each of the areas in his name. The viceroy was in
charge of enforcing royal law/edict, collecting taxes, commanding the army, and protecting the Catholic
Church. The Viceroy reported to the Council of the Indies in Spain which reported to the King.
A system of royal courts, or audencias, was also created at this time. Judges who served in the audencia
oversaw the viceroys to insure they were in compliance with royal law and were collecting taxes appropriately.
Viceroyalty of New Spain- Mexico, West Indies, and North America
Viceroy- Antonio de Mendoza
Slide # 13 Life in New Spain- Settlement and Imperial Rivalries
Spain’s wealthiest settlements like those in the Caribbean and Mexico attracted the largest number of
settlers. Areas in the present day American Southwest were more sparsely populated and Spanish
officials adopted a policy of trying to “convert” Indians, not only to Catholicism but into loyal Spanish
citizens. These efforts had mixed success.
As other European countries began moving into North America the Spanish sought to establish
settlements in North America to serve as buffer zones and to protect their wealthy colonies further
south from encroachment by other powers.
In 1564 when French Huguenots (Protestants) tried to establish Fort Carolina near present day
Jacksonville, FL the Spanish quickly established a settlement at St. Augustine, Florida and attacked
Fort Caroline and executed the French they found there. This makes St. Augustine the longest
continually inhabited European settlement in the U.S. The Spanish planned for St. Augustine to be
the first in a series of forts, or presidios stretching from Florida through the Southeast and Southwest
to Mexico. Also in the 1560s the Spanish tried to establish a settlement in what would become
Virginia near where the English colony at Jamestown was founded but ultimately the settlement was
abandoned because it was too far away for supplies to travel and clashes with Indians led the Spanish
to fall back towards Florida.
In 1598 Don Juan de Onate took a party north of Mexico to establish a settlement at Santa Fe, New
Mexico. His group encountered resistance from the Pueblo Indians, which Onate put down with
brutal force, order that all Pueblo men have their right foot removed, and enslaved the entire tribe.
While the Spanish founded isolated missions further north than Santa Fe and Saint Augustine, those
were their only two settlements of any real size in what would become the United States for much of
the colonial period.
Slide # 14 Life in New Spain- Relations with Spain
Spain tightly regulated its colonies. Only the port of Seville was allowed access with the New World Colonies.
Spanish monarchs issue regulations about conduct in colonies however these laws were often ignored or
Slide # 15 The Black Legend
Spain's enemies created an enduring set of ideas known as the "Black Legend." Propagandists from
England, France, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands vilified the Spanish as a corrupt and cruel
people who subjugated and exploited the New World Indians, stole their gold and silver, infected
them with disease, and killed them in numbers without precedent.
The Black Legend provided powerful ideological sanction for English involvement in the New World.
By seizing treasure from Spanish ships, staging raids on Spanish ports and cities in the Americas, and
enlisting runaway slaves known as Cimarons to prey on the Spanish, Protestant England would strike
a blow against Spain's aggressive Catholicism and rescue the Indians from Spanish slavery. But it is a
pointed historical irony that the very English seamen, like Drake and Hawkins, who promised to
rescue the Indians from Spanish bondage, also bought and enslaved Africans along the West African
coast and transported them to Spanish America, where they sold them to Spanish colonists.
To counter the negative image presented by the Black Legend, the Spanish began to circulate their
own stories of colonization that enhanced the positives of contact. These positively biased accounts
are often referred to as the “White Legend”.
Slide # 16- The End of Spain’s Dominance
Spain was the dominant power in the Americas thanks to their support for Columbus and the protection of the
Pope in the Treaty of Tordesillas but by the late 1500s there were signs that Spain was losing its monopoly on
colonization of the Americas. The Protestant Reformation which began in 1517 and spread throughout Europe
meant that for the first time not all western European leaders were Catholic and therefore not all of them felt
compelled to obey the Treaty of Tordesillas which had been issued by the Pope, the head of the Catholic
While the wealth the Spanish were able to obtain from the Americas was astronomical, Spanish rulers,
particularly Philip II spent foolishly in his quest to wipe out Protestantism in England and the Netherlands. He
launched expensive campaigns against the Netherlands, which were a Spanish colony and against England in
an attempt to depose Protestant Elizabeth I and replace her with her Catholic cousin, Mary Queen of Scots.
This led Philip to build a massive naval fleet known as the Spanish Armada which he sent on a mission to
invade England in 1588. Despite being the dominant naval power at the time and outnumbering the English,
the Armada failed largely due to poor weather conditions. Philip’s high spending on religious wars wasted
much of the wealth he was receiving from the Americas.
Other nations capitalized on Spain’s weakness and began to seize Spanish ships full of gold and silver from the
Americas, adding to Spain’s financial woes. As Spain continued to decline other Catholic nations, such as
France, began to ignore the Treaty of Tordesillas and colonize in the Americas.