Foreign Intrusions In The Atlantic
The Spanish trade monopoly.—The French had been expelled from Florida, and the coast occupied up to Port Royal Sound, but freebooters continued to prey on treasure and merchant vessels. Spain undertook to preserve the trade and wealth of the Indies as an absolute monopoly. All trade must be conducted by Spaniards in Spanish vessels, from specified Spanish ports to specified American ports. This monopoly was objectionable not only to the traders of other nations but to the Spanish colonists as well. To this economic grievance was added the bitter hatred felt by Protestant Frenchmen, Englishmen and Dutchmen for Catholic Spain, whose subjects were regarded as lawful prey.
The merchant fleets.—To prevent the plundering of commerce in the Indies, by French, English, and Dutch, Spain was forced to adopt a system of fleets sailing periodically and protected by convoys of armed galleons. After 1561 it became unlawful for vessels to sail alone to the Indies, except under special circumstances. Two fleets left Spain each year, one for Tierra Firme and Nombre de Diós (later Porto Bello) and the other for Vera Cruz. In the later sixteenth century the Nombre de Diós fleet comprised as many as forty armed galleons, but thereafter the number was much smaller, as foreigners cut into Spanish trade. The Vera Cruz fleet comprised fifteen or twenty merchantmen convoyed by two galleons. At Nombre de Diós goods and treasure from Peru and Chile were taken on. At Vera Cruz were gathered the exports from New Spain, the cargo from the Manila galleon brought overland from Acapulco, and the ten or twelve million dollars of royal revenues from the mines and taxes.
The freebooters.—This arrangement was an improvement, but French, Dutch, and English freebooters hung in the wake of the fleets to plunder any vessel which fell behind the galleons, while smuggling and town-sacking grew in frequency with the growing jealousy and hatred of Spain. The prototype of the English freebooters was John Hawkins, whose fleet was destroyed by the Spaniards at Vera Cruz in 1567. More famous was Francis Drake, who in 1585, during his third marauding expedition, went to the West Indies with twenty-five vessels, captured Santo Domingo, held Cartagena for ransom, and in May, 1586, sacked and burned St. Augustine, Florida. Hawkins and Drake were only two of a score of English freebooters who in the later sixteenth century harried Spanish commerce and plundered the coast towns. In the list are the names of Oxenham. Raleigh. Grenville. Clifford, Knollys, Winter, and Barker. The last exploit of the century was Clifford's capture of San Juan, Porto Rico, in 1598.
The English in the north Atlantic.—The voyages of Frobisher. Davis, and Gilbert in the northern Atlantic between 1576 and 1587, in search of the northwest passage, caused uneasiness for the security of Florida and of the northern strait. Equally disturbing were the efforts of Raleigh and his associates to colonize Roanoke Island and Guiana.
Decline of the West Indies.—-The raids of the freebooters, the restrictions placed on commerce, the decline of mining and of the native population, and the superior attractions of Peru, Central America, and Mexico, had greatly reduced the prosperity of the West Indies. In 1574 Española had ten towns with 1000 Spanish families, and 12,000 negro slaves. The native population had dwindled to two villages. Santo Domingo, seat of the Audiencia and of the archdiocese, had seven hundred families. Cuba was less prosperous than Española, and population was still declining. The island had eight Spanish towns with a total population of some three hundred families and about an equal number of Indians. Santiago, once with a population of one thousand families, now had thirty. Havana, somewhat larger, was the residence of governor and bishop. Jamaica had three Spanish settlements and no Indians. Porto Rico, with three Spanish towns, had a population of some two hundred and eighty families, of whom two hundred lived at San Juan. The principal industries in all of the islands were sugar and cattle raising. There being no Indians in the West Indies now, there were no encomiendas.
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