The Spanish in North America

Although Spain established colonies in North America in the seventeenth century, by 1750, most remained small military outposts. In Florida, the principal Spanish settlements were located at St. Augustine, Apalachee Bay, and Pensacola Bay. Some Catholic missions had been established in northern Florida in the seventeenth century. But in the early eighteenth century, they had closed. South Carolinians began to raid these missions and sold captured Indians as slaves. One advantage Florida had was if it was attacked it could be reinforced with troops from Cuba. The Spanish also established forts and missions in south central Texas. As in Florida, mission Indians were subject to capture, in this case, by Great Plains Indians. Furthermore, Spanish settlements in Texas were denied ports on the Gulf of Mexico. As a result, all European goods were shipped overland from Mexico at great cost. A clandestine trade with the French in Louisiana never fully supplied their needs. The Spanish settlements on the middle and upper Rio Grande, centered on El Paso and Santa Fe, were moderately successful. By 1750 perhaps 5,000 to 9,000 non-Indians lived in the region. The Indian population neared 10,000. But in 1750, the Rio Grande settlements remained isolated and poor. Spanish settlers and Pueblo Indians were fair game for well-mounted Indian raiders. The high cost of transporting Spanish goods over hundreds of miles kept the settlements impoverished. To make matters worse, when French traders finally found their way to the Rio Grande, Spanish authorities usually had them arrested.

Spanish colonization of the Americas began in the Caribbean, but the major focus of Spain's colonial interests quickly shifted to Mexico and South America (rich in silver and other rare materials) and most Spanish settlers and the African slaves that they imported went to the mainland. This left possession of the smaller West Indian islands to be contested among Spain's European rivals. Native American inhabitants of these islands were decimated by European diseases, conquest, and forced labor. By the eighteenth century Amerindians had disappeared as distinct nations, and were recorded in few of the available censuses. Just over 2,000 were noted as living on Puerto Rico at the end of the eighteenth century.

In 1750 Spain held three times as much land in the Caribbean as the British or French, but Spain ruled just over one quarter of the total population. Cuba and Puerto Rico were exclusively Spanish possessions, but Spain shared Hispaniola with France. The Spanish colony of Santo Domingo (later the Dominican Republic) occupied the eastern two-thirds of that island. These colonies had by far the largest white populations in the Caribbean, which were growing rapidly from natural increase. Since sugar had not yet become a staple crop on any of Spain's island colonies, many fewer African slaves were imported there than were brought into areas held by the British, French, Dutch, and Danes. More liberal attitudes toward granting freedom to slaves also resulted in the largest free racially mixed population in the islands, with free persons of color actually outnumbering those enslaved.

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