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CHAPTER 11 The Commerce of the Indies The commerce of the Indies involved the exchange of goods at the local level, between adjacent regions, between widely separated American provinces and kingdoms, and between Americaand Seville,whereit linked to long-established European trade routes. Through Portuguese connections it extended to India, to the Spice Islands, and to slave stations on the African coast. Its patterns and forms were shaped by complex and changing market conditions, by the nature of the transportation systems it used, by the kinds and availability of money and credit, by government policy, and by the intrusions of foreign corsairs and smugglers. Local Commerce The most universal form of local commerce was the public market. It was primarily an indigenous institution but one with which Europeans were familiar through their own markets and fairs. They appreciated its utility in the Indies and encouraged its survival. Its organization remained essentiallyunchanged, but it expanded its functions to serve Spaniards and mixed bloods as well as Indians. In villagesand small towns, markets were generally weekly affairs with days and conditions set by municipal authorities. In large urban centers, they were fixed installations functioning seven days a week. Mexico City had two, one in the native quarter and another in the Spanish city. Cortes reported in his Fourth Letter to Emperor Charles: The same good order is observed [in them] and in their transactions as in former days, [and] in [them] are to be found all such manner of produce as is 231 2 3 2 T H E C O M M E R C E O F T H E I N D I E S grown throughout the land, for there is nothing which is not brought therefor sale; and the variety of merchandise is not less than in the former days of prosperity . It is true that there are now no ornaments of gold or silver, nor featherwork , nor other treasures as there were wont to be; a few small pieces of gold and silverwork appear, but not in the quantity as before.1 But, if precious items disappeared, they were replaced by useful things: cackling hens, squealing pigs, bleating goats, cheap clothing, hardware, and glasswork. In Spanish towns and cities, European forms of trading supplemented markets . Larger merchants not only dealt in goods wholesale but maintained retail stores, mainly for the sale of imports, despite the social onus attached to merchandising over the counter. Petty merchants opened shops and stalls in the colonnades of town plazas where they haggled with buyers over the prices of apparel, hardware, and household equipment obtained from wholesalers on commission or consignment. On streets running from the plaza, metal smiths, leather workers, shoemakers, apothecaries, pastry cooks, and diverse other artisans made and sold their specialties and sometimes maintained outlets in plaza shops and municipal markets. Peddlers cried their wares from door to door. Special arrangements existed for the distribution of basic foodstuffs. Towns built slaughterhouses, to which contractors supplied livestock on bid, and granaries of two kinds: one distributing cheap maize and wheat to the poor, the other selling at higher but regulated prices to the more affluent. Regional and Interregional Trade The rhythm of conquest and colonization determined the first extended patterns of trade in the Indies. The Antilles furnished horses and foodstuffs for the conquest of Mexico, receiving in return portions of the loot. As New Spain became pacified and its fields and pastures began to produce, it provided supplies for the subjugation of other regions. As early as 1537, Cortes sent two ships to South America carrying food and arms. What he received in return is uncertain, although it is recorded that a Peruvian merchant, Baltasar Garcia, promised to pay him 4005 gold pesos.2 The advance of the Conquest also provided a major trade item—Indian slaves. In the early 1500s, Spanish expeditions raided the Bahamas and Tierra Firme for natives to be sold on Espanola, Puerto Rico, and Cuba for gold. In the 1520s and the 1530s, Mexico exported Indiansin large numbers to the Antilles in exchange for foodstuffs and livestock. After the mid-1520s, Nicaragua became the major slave mart of the Indies, exporting its indigenous population wholesale to Peru, the West Indies, and the Central American gold mines. No T H E C O M M E R C E O F T H E I N D I E S 2 3 3 one knows the total volume of this vicious traffic; but its...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780816681907
Related ISBN
9780816612185
MARC Record
OCLC
230205479
Pages
620
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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