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American Beginnings: 1492-1690
Topic: ContactTopic: ExplorationTopic: SettlementTopic: PermanenceTopic: Power
Topic: Settlement
Toolbox Overview: American Beginnings: 1492-1690
Resource Menu: Settlement
Text 1. First Arrivals
Text 2. Hardships
Text 3. Q&AS for Potential Settlers
Text 4. Instructions for Leaders
Text 5. Missions to the Indians
Text 6. Enslaved Peoples
Text 7. Go Ahead?

Reading Guide
Enslaved Africans
Enslaved Africans
Enslaved Peoples
- Spanish: Enslaved Indians in the Caribbean, 1500s (PDF)
- Spanish: Enslaved Africans in Mexico, 1537 (PDF)

Europeans' enslavement of Native Americans began with Columbus. As the governor of Hispaniola, he forced the Taino Indians to labor in the Spanish fields and mines, and he brought Taino slaves to Spain on his return journeys. About 50,000 Taino died within two years of Columbus's arrival, and by 1510 the Taino population had declined by nearly 90%, primarily from European diseases but also from brutal treatment. A new source of forced labor was required. In 1518 the Spanish king allowed the importation of slaves directly from Africa (previously they had been Spanish-born Africans), and the Atlantic slave trade to the western hemisphere began in earnest, finally ending over three centuries later with the abolition of slavery in Brazil in 1888.
  • INDIANS of the CARIBBEAN. Brief selections from the accounts of three clergymen in the Spanish Caribbean are presented here, all commenting on the use of forced Indian labor by the colonists. Dated from 1518 to 1561, they include a stern condemnation of slavery, a recommendation to liberate and convert the Indians (the better to exploit their labor), and a plea to import "Negro slaves" to replace the disappearing Indians.
    [Accounts and reports of Fr. Bernardino de Manzanedo, 1518; the Bishop of Santiago, 1544; and Fr. Bartolomé de las Casas, 1561]

  • AFRICANS in MEXICO. The first major slave revolt in North America occurred on the island of Hispaniola in 1522 when enslaved African Muslims rebelled and killed nine Spanish before being recaptured. Thereafter the Spanish were fearfully attuned to the rumors of slave rebellion. In this selection the viceroy of Mexico reports on a thwarted revolt by enslaved Africans in 1537, requesting that the shipment of slaves be temporarily suspended in order to limit the African numbers. Otherwise, the viceroy warns, the Spanish "might be unable to control the situation and the land might be lost."
    [Report of Antonio de Mendoza, Viceroy of New Spain, to King Charles I of Spain, 1537]
The transition from Indian to African slavery in Spanish America is encapsulated in these selections that, while brief, convey years of domination and suffering. (4 pages.)

Discussion questions
  1. How do the Spanish regard the enslaved people in these accounts? To what extent are they seen as human beings and/or property?
  2. On what grounds do the Spanish clergymen justify or condemn slavery? How do these grounds compare with later arguments for and against slavery?
  3. In contrast to the clergymen, how does the Viceroy of Mexico relate to slavery?
  4. How do the Spanish respond to their physical and economic vulnerability as slaveowners? What solutions do they consider?

Topic Framing Questions
  •  What motivated the Europeans in their initial settlements?
  •  How did the European nations differ in their vision of a successful settlement?
  •  How did they differ in the institutions they created to maintain their settlements?
  •  What factors led to the survival or abandonment of a settlement?
  •  What relationships evolved among European settlers, Native Americans, and enslaved Africans?
  •  What did "America" signify to Europe in 1630? What did "Europe" signify to Native Americans and enslaved Africans?

Indians (Caribbean): 2
Africans (Mexico): 2
4 pages
Supplemental Sites
The Spanish Colonial System: Population Development, from

Bartolomé de las Casas, A Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies, 1565, full text from North Carolina State University

The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record, image collection from the University of Virginia Library

*PDF file - You will need software on your computer that allows you to read and print Portable Document Format (PDF) files, such as Adobe Acrobat Reader. If you do not have this software, you may download it FREE from Adobe's Web site.

Texts:   National Humanities Center

Image: African slaves pour ore at the mines of the Spanish Caribbean, entitled "Nigritae in scrutandis venis metallicis ab Hispanis in Insulas ablegantur"; engraving by Theodore de Bry in Girolamo Benzoni, Historia del mondo nuovo [History of the New World], 1595; published by Theodore de Bry in America, Pt. 5 [Latin]: Americae pars quinta nobilis & admiratione plena Hieronymi Bezoni Mediolanensis secundae setionis Hispanorum, 1595. Reproduced by permission of the John Carter Brown Library, Brown University, #34724-2.

Toolbox: American Beginnings: 1492-1690
Contact | Exploration | Settlement | Permanence | Power

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