Getting Started in the New World!
After Columbus found the New World, even if it was by accident, a wave of explorers went out under the Spanish flag. Off to find riches and glory, these explorers and conquistadors found and conquered much of the new world. After conquering the native people, a system had to be set up for how the land and the people would be ruled and profited off of. In this lesson, we will learn about several explorers and conquistadors, and the encomienda and hacienda system, which was employed by the Spanish in their colonies.
Columbus is credited for discovering America.
Christopher Columbus was the first European to discover the New World. Others had possibly been there, but it was Columbus' expedition that set off the Age of Discovery in the Americas. Columbus was actually from Genoa, which today is a part of Italy, but he was funded by and sailed under the Spanish flag.
Amerigo Vespucci was also born in Italy, but he eventually became a Spanish citizen. You might notice what his biggest legacy in the new world is - his name. You see, it was Vespucci who realized that the Americas were, in fact, not in Asia. A very well-educated man, he figured out the Earth's circumference at the equator within about 50 miles of accuracy. It was this information that helped him realize he was far from Asia. In Vespucci's honor, Martin Waldseemüller named the land mass America when he published a map in his Cosmographiae Introductio in 1507.
Conquistadors are soldier/explorers who sailed for personal profit under the banner of the Spanish crown, but they also considered themselves to basically be crusaders. Conquistadors always had priests with them whose duty it was to bring Christianity to the natives they encountered. We will not learn about all of the conquistadors, but let's take a look at a list of the most known, and what they are known for.
America got its name from the explorer Amerigo Vespucci.
Francisco Pizarro is most known for his defeat of the Inca in 1535. Pizarro basically took down this great empire with about 150 men. Many factors led to this easy defeat: a mix of deception on Pizarro's part, arrogance on Atahualpa's (the Incan leader) part and the fact that the Inca had just encountered their own civil war.
Vasco Nunez de Balboa came from a poor Spanish family, but he rose to be famous for being the first European to cross Panama and actually see the Pacific Ocean in 1513. When he climbed a peak alone on the expedition, he saw the great water mass and claimed it for Spain. That's right, he claimed the whole thing for Spain!
Juan Ponce de Leon is most famous for searching for and possibly finding the Fountain of Youth. Of course, fame and fact are not the same thing. It was published after his death that this was his reason for exploration. What we know as more dependable information is that he was the first European to step foot in Florida. So, he is the first of the age of discovery in 1513 to step on what is today U.S. soil. So, even if Ponce de Leon didn't find the Fountain of Youth, he did make modern spring break and snow birds possible!
Francisco Vasquez de Coronado is another conquistador known for looking for something thought of as a myth. He was looking for El Dorado - the seven cities of gold. El Dorado was quite possibly a deception on the part of natives. They may have been telling the Spanish about it so that they would go off to find it and leave them alone. It is also possible that it just grew out of old stories of the great cities of some of the early American civilizations. Either way, this quest for gold led Coronado to be the first European to explore the American Southwest in what is today Arizona and New Mexico.
Hernando Cortes conquered the Aztecs in 1521.
In 1521, Hernando Cortes defeated the Aztecs. This is what he is most known for. I mean, wouldn't you be remembered for walking in and conquering a great empire, partially by being mistaken for a god? Another important accomplishment for Cortes is that he was the first Spanish conquistador to be granted a hacienda.
Encomiendas and Haciendas
Well, conquered people and colonies need a system of management. In the Spanish colonies, that system was made up of the encomienda system and the hacienda.
What is a hacienda? The hacienda was the Spanish equivalent of a plantation. A hacienda was a large land grant to a conquistador. In 1529, Hernando Cortes was granted the first hacienda in the New World. The head of a hacienda was called the patrón. Peasants, or peones, worked land that belonged to the patrón. The campesinos worked small holdings, and owed a portion to the patrón.
Okay, so what is an encomienda? The encomienda system is what provides the labor for the hacienda. You see, Cortes was also granted an encomienda; the encomienda was made up of the people who lived on his granted hacienda. These people would now work for Cortes. Ferdinand and Isabella mandated that it was the responsibility of the person granted the encomienda to compensate their subjects, protect them, educate them in the Christian faith and make sure the people could live off the land. This, of course, often did not happen.
Diagram of the encomienda system
How was the encomienda system designed? It was much like a caste system, designed to subjugate the lower class.
- At the top were peninsulares. They were the Spanish in control.
- Second class below the peninsulares were the creoles. They were of pure Spanish blood, but were born in the colonies rather than in Spain. They couldn't hold the same status as peninsulares, but they could inherit the land of their parents if they were peninsulares.
- Third class was made up of two groups. First, the mestizos were of mixed blood - the children of a peninsular and a Native Indian. Because they had some Spanish blood, they were considered above any native. Mulattos were also of mixed blood - but with African slaves. The third class rarely ever mixed with creoles or peninsulares. They took a slightly higher place in society because they were not purely slave. These were the working class people of the society, mainly in small towns and communities.
- The lowest group was captured Aztec, Native Indian tribes and slaves from Africa, used for labor with essentially no rights. Under the encomienda system, labor was to be treated fairly, with shelter, food and living supplies. Spain wanted to reduce any chance of overthrow by rebellious groups.
So, to recap:
- Many conquistadors followed Columbus after his discovery of the New World.
- America was named after Amerigo Vespucci.
- The hacienda was a land grant from the Spanish crown, usually given to a conquistador.
- The encomienda system granted people as labor to those who were granted land in the Spanish colonies.
After watching this lesson, you should be able to:
- Explain the significance of the following explorers and conquistadors: Christopher Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci, Francisco Pizarro, Vasco Nunez de Balboa, Juan Ponce de Leon, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado and Hernando Cortes
- Define conquistador and hacienda
- Describe the encomienda system and identify the classes in the system