3.3 Patterns in Migration and Settlement
Throughout the Caribbean and Mesoamerica, the territorial land claims of various European nations usually far preceded effective colonisation and occupation of a region. European settlers were not common in the region until later years of the colonial presence, and those few who were present in the early years were faced with indigenous resistance on both the mainland and the islands.
As the Spanish advanced throughout the Caribbean, they established a pattern. In pursuit of gold, they moved from island to island, and eventually onto the mainland. They first established their dominance over the Amerindian population of the region, dividing them into encomienda and forcing them to work in the gold mines. These mines were quickly exhausted, as was the indigenous labour supply, and the Spanish would shortly move on to the next island.
The involvement of the Dutch, British, and French in the region threatened Spain’s dominance, but the ill-defended and decentralised Spanish islands were not able to prevent the increasing influence of other nations. In the late sixteenth century, as the Caribbean was opened up to European exploitation and exploration, it became apparent that the activities of individuals carried a large amount of influence. Individual entrepreneurs established most colonies, and European governments tended to play a limited part in the development of the Caribbean, granting licenses to explorers or joint-stock companies, which established their claim to certain areas.
The Thirty Years' War (1618-1648), which raged throughout central and western Europe encouraged Spain’s European rivals to move against Spain in the Caribbean once more. This renewed interest in the region was combined with a change of focus. No longer were European nations interested only in harassing Spain or exploiting the Caribbean for temporary profit. They now saw the potential for financially rewarding long-term involvement in the Caribbean, and the naval weakness of Spain in the region made the prospect especially enticing.
In 1519 the explorer Hernán Cortés led an expedition to the Mesoamerican coast, where evidence of the great Aztec Empire was discovered. Although he lacked formal permission, Cortés pushed into the interior and conquered the Aztecs, establishing Mexico City on the ruins of the conquered capital Tenochtitlan. The news of a vast and wealthy empire in the heart of the New World encouraged European immigration. Abandoning their Caribbean focus, Spain now concentrated on finding and conquering new territories in Mesoamerica. Discovery was followed by conquest, which in turn led to occupation and settlement. Many Spaniards who had been active in the Caribbean immigrated to the mainland in search of new and greater opportunities.
The progression of Spanish forces into the mainland followed a noticeable pattern. Early explorers, soldiers, and missionaries advanced from base to base, using each previously-established foothold as a staging area for further expansion. The speed of their advance was dependent upon how quickly forces could be mobilised, supplies could be arranged, and information gathered. Santo Domingue, in the Caribbean, served as the primary early base, later to be replaced by Mexico City. Although the Spanish expanded into present-day Mexico throughout the sixteenth century, not all areas were secured until the late seventeenth century. However, as early as 1560 the Spanish had conquered the major indigenous groups, and had occupied the best territory. Migration remained common, as towns were often abandoned as their locational advantages dwindled and other areas became more enticing.
The Spanish pushed north from Mexico rapidly, occupying regions that became known as New Vizcaya and New Leon. The Spanish, drawn by silver, attempted to conquer the people they called Chichimecas. The Chichimecas were actually several hostile migratory nations, and in order to occupy the area the Spanish government granted permits to individuals who were to pacify the indigenous people, settle in the region, and exploit silver resources. This could not always be accomplished without violence, and aggressive subjugation of Amerindian populations was often used freely. Migration in the northern regions of New Spain was especially widespread, particularly in regions rich with silver. Mining towns competed for labour, and workers moved from mine to mine. These mining towns expanded much more quickly than other urban centres, although some of their population consisted of conscripted indigenous labour. Each settlement was also dependent on its network of connecting roads and access to transportation. These early permit-holders were able to expand their holdings into vast estates called haciendas, which were similar to the encomiendas of early explorers in central Mexico. The development of the hacienda created a wealthy, landowning elite in the north, thereby helping to occupy the territory and consolidate Spanish occupation. By the late colonial period, these northern haciendas were prosperous and virtually independent fiefdoms.
Expansion to the west and north generally contained a strong missionary element. The opening of the west coast of Mexico was exclusively a Jesuit accomplishment, and many missions were established in river valleys. The most populous and fruitful Jesuit settlements in North America were found here, and ranchers and settlers soon followed the missionaries to the region. Colonisation tended to occur in relatively isolated and scattered settlements. Regions that were rich in silver attracted many settlers, who congregated in mining towns. Areas well suited to cattle ranching similarly developed clusters of European settlers. Between these population clusters, vast regions saw limited European contact, and Amerindian lifestyles continued with relatively little interruption. The majority of the population, Amerindian peasants, were still required to farm and labour for the upper classes but were ignored for the most part, as had been the case under the Aztec aristocracy. For the Spanish, colonisation was the natural result of discovery and conquest. They saw the increasing European population as a boon to Mesoamerica. It extended Christendom, boosted the economy, and provided the Amerindians with a model of European thrift and industry.
In 1700 the regions of North America controlled by Spain had an average population density of three people per square kilometre, a number which was extremely low. Most of the people lived in population clusters centred on an urban core, and the land between these clusters was very thinly populated.
By 1531 the Spanish had already founded thirteen towns in Mesoamerica in addition to those founded throughout the Caribbean. During the course of the sixteenth century, more and more towns sprang up, especially during the period from 1546 to the 1560s, when many mining settlements were founded to the northwest of Mexico City. As increasing numbers of people travelled to these towns and cities, several problems in early urbanisation became apparent. The settlements were haphazard and unstable, often beset by natural disaster and social unrest. They were isolated and poorly connected with one another, making communications, transport, and economics more difficult. Only a few cities really took off in growth and development, while most of the others remained relatively minor, insignificant centres.
During the eighteenth century, Mexican cities grew rapidly. Many people participated in widespread rural to urban migration as famines, epidemics, and unrest functioned as push factors in agricultural areas.
The successful revolts of the Thirteen Colonies and the black slaves of Haiti caused obvious comparisons to be made by the Mexican-born population of European descent, the criollos. The highly stratified society of New Spain allowed for little cohesion, and when the time finally came for revolution it was not the result of a popular uprising but rather that of criollo conspiracies. The criollos were often denied positions of power and influence in New Spain, which were instead granted to newly-immigrated Spaniards, which had long been a cause for resentment of Spanish rule. In addition, the criollos, strong supporters of the missions, disapproved of the Spanish crown’s policy of deliberately undermining the authority, prestige, and influence of the Church. When the Bourbon monarchs of Spain expelled the Jesuits from all Spanish territory in the late eighteenth century, the criollo population was outraged. The Jesuits had been wealthy, powerful, and influential in Mexico. They had maintained the best schools and the most missions, and their expulsion left a gap that could not be filled by the Franciscans. This action also fostered resentment amongst the clergy and the Amerindians, providing a united dislike for the Spanish regime.
An uprising led by an unconventional priest named Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla in 1810 provided the impetus for a full-scale revolution. Following his execution by the Spanish Inquisition, the rebellion was continued by José Maria Morelos, and by 1813 Mexico had declared its independence. However, the following five years saw the continuation of warfare as the revolutionaries fought a guerrilla war against the Spanish. By 1821 the rebels gained the upper hand, and Mexico was finally independent. After a failed attempt as an empire, Mexico became a Republic in 1824. Following independence, Mexico was beset by a new lot of trials; economic decline, internal dissent, and civil war plagued the early years of the nation.
In addition to these internal troubles, Mexico was also faced with war on the international front. Territorial conflict with the United States ended in the Mexican-American War. Concluded with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1849, this American victory saw Mexico cede the area that is now the southwestern United States. This treaty also included a clause that gave all Mexicans living in the ceded territory the choice between becoming citizens of the United States or moving to land within the new borders of Mexico. This resulted in a minor migration stream from the newly American lands into Mexico. About 2,000 chose to remain Mexican citizens, while a far greater proportion, between 73,000 and 100,000, became Americans.
Asian & African Labour | Changing Nature of Migration | Migrations After WWII | Conclusion|
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