Spanish Achievements In The Sixteenth Century
Population and industries.—The heroic age of Spanish colonization had now passed. The surprising results achieved in the New World during the first eighty years, not counting the work of exploration, are set forth in a description of the colonies in 1574 written by López de Velasco, official geographer. At that time there were in North and South America about two hundred Spanish towns and cities, besides numerous mining camps, haciendas, and stock ranches. The Spanish population was 32,000 families, or perhaps from 160,000 to 200,000 persons. Of these about five-eighths lived in North America. In the two Americas there were 4000 encomenderos, the rest being mainly miners, merchants, ranchers, and soldiers, with their families. The population included 40,000 negro slaves, and a large element of mulattoes and mestizos. About 1,500,000 male Indians paid tribute, representing a population of 5,000,000. In many parts occupied by Spaniards there were no encomiendas, for the Indians had died out. Mining, commerce, cattle ranching, grain and sugar raising had been established on a considerable scale.
Cities and towns.—Before the end of the sixteenth century most of the present-day state capitals and other large cities in Spanish North America had been founded. Mexico City had a population of over 2000 Spanish families (perhaps 15,000 persons), Santo Domingo, Puebla, and Guatemala 500 families each, Trinidad (in Guatemala) and Panamá 400 each, Oaxaca 350, Zacatecas 300, Toluca, Zultepec, Vera Cruz, Granada, Chiapas, and Nombre de Diós 200 each, Guadalajara and San Salvador 150 each, and many others lesser numbers.
Administrative divisions.—Spanish America was now divided into two viceroyalties, New Spain and Peru. New Spain included all of the American mainland north of Panamá, the West Indies, part of the northern coast of South America, the Islas del Poniente, and the Philippines. It comprised the four audiencias of Española, Mexico, Guatemala, and Nueva Galicia, the Audiencia of Panamá being a part of the viceroyalty of Peru. The four northern audiencia districts were subdivided into seventeen or eighteen gobiernos or provinces, corresponding closely to the modern states. The provinces were divided into corregimientos embracing Indian partidos. North America embraced twelve dioceses and the two archdioceses of Santo Domingo and Mexico.
Churches and monasteries.—Many fine churches, some of them still standing, had been built in the larger towns. The Franciscans, Dominicans, and Augustinians were well established in New Spain, and the Jesuits had just begun their work. The friars were subject to their chapters and the Jesuits to their general in Spain. The Franciscans already had four provinces in New Spain, the Dominicans and Augustinians only one each. Hundreds of monasteries had been established, especially wherever there were Indians in encomienda. The expense of erecting them was borne jointly by king, encomenderos, and Indians.
The Universities.—"Enthusiasm for education characterizes the earliest establishment of the Spanish colonies in America. Wherever the priests went, a school was soon established for the instruction of the natives or a college for its clericals who were already at work as well as for those who were soon to take holy orders. From the colleges sprang the universities which, in all the Spanish dominions, were founded at a very early date for the pursuit of the 'general studies' which were at that time taught in the great peninsular universities of Alcalá and Salamanca. Half a century before Jamestown was founded by the English, the University of Mexico was conferring degrees upon graduates in law and theology. Before the seventeenth century closed, no less that seven universities had been erected in Spanish America, and their graduates were accepted on an equality with those of Spanish institutions of like grade." (Priestley.)
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