The majority of the dependencies of New Spain were in what was known then as América Septentrional (roughly, Northern America). In 1821, Mexico and Central America achieved their independence after over 300 years of Spanish Rule. However, most of the Spanish Caribbean — Cuba and Puerto Rico — and the Spanish East Indies (including the Philippines and the Mariana Islands) remained a part of the Spanish crown until the Spanish–American War in 1898.
The creation of a viceroyalty in the Americas was a result of the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire (1519 to 1521). The lands and societies brought under Spanish control were of unprecedented complexity and wealth, which presented both an incredible opportunity and a threat to the Crown of Castile. The societies could provide the conquistadors, especially Hernán Cortés, a base from which to become autonomous, or even independent, of the Crown. As a result the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain, Charles V created the Council of the Indies in 1524. A few years later the first mainland Audiencia was created in 1527 to take over the administration of New Spain from Cortés. (An earlier Audiencia had been established in Santo Domingo in 1526 to deal with the Caribbean settlements.) The Audiencia was charged with encouraging further exploration and settlements under its own authority. Management by the Audiencia, which was expected to make exective decisions as a body, proved unwieldy. Therefore in 1535, Charles V named Antonio de Mendoza as the first viceroy of New Spain. After the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire in 1532 opened up the vast territories of South America to further conquests, the Crown established a second viceroyalty there in 1540.
Upon his arrival, Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza vigorously took to the duties entrusted to him by the King and encouraged the exploration of Spain's new mainland territories. He commissioned the expeditions of Francisco Vázquez de Coronado into the American Southwest in 1540-1542, Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo along the western coast of Alta California in 1542 to 1543, and Ruy López de Villalobos to the Philippine Islands in 1542 to 1543. As these new areas were later settled or conquered, they were brought under the purview of the Viceroy.
During the 16th century, many Spanish cities were established in North and Central America. Spain attempted to establish missions in what is now the United States including the mission to Georgia and South Carolina between 1568 to 1587. Despite the effort, the Spaniards were only successful in what is now the region of Florida, where they founded St. Augustine in 1565.
Seeking to develop trade between the East Indies and the Americas across the Pacific Ocean, Miguel López de Legazpi established the first Spanish settlement in the Philippine Islands in 1565, which became the town of San Miguel. Andrés de Urdaneta discovered an efficient sailing route from the Philippine Islands returning to Mexico. In 1570, the native city of Manila was conquered and trade soon began in the Manila-Acapulco Galleons. The Manila-Acapulco galleons shipped products gathered from both Asia-Pacific and the Americas, such as silk, spice, silver, gold, slaves, and other Asian and Pacific products between Asia and the Americas.
Products brought from Asia-Pacific were sent to Veracruz and shipped to Spain and, via trading, to the rest of Europe. There were attacks on these shipments in the Gulf of Mexico by British and Dutch pirates or privateers led by Francis Drake in 1586 and Thomas Cavendish in 1587. In addition, the cities of Huatulco (Oaxaca) and Barra de Navidad in Jalisco were sacked. Lope Díez de Armendáriz, the first viceroy of New Spain born in the New World, formed the Armada de Barlovento, based in Veracruz, to patrol the coastal regions and protect the forts and the trade organization from pirates and privateers.
In 1591, Luis de Velasco pacified many of the semi-nomadic Chichimeca tribes of northern Mexico. In 1598, Juan de Oñate founded the San Juan colony on the Rio Grande and pioneered the grandly named El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro. The Native Americans at Acoma revolted against this Spanish encroachment and faced severe suppression. In 1602, Sebastián Vizcaíno sailed as far north as Monterey Bay, Alta California. In 1609, Pedro de Peralta, a later governor of the Province of New Mexico, established the settlement of Santa Fe at the region of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
The U.S. (modern day New Mexico) town of Alburquerque was founded in 1660, the Mexican towns of Paso del Norte (now known as Ciudad Juárez) was founded in 1667, Santiago de la Monclova in 1689, Panzacola, Texas in 1681 or San Francisco de Cuéllar (now the city of Chihuahua) in 1709. From 1687, Father Eusebio Francisco Kino founded over twenty missions in the areas between the Mexican state of Sonora and the state of Arizona in the United States. From 1697, Jesuits established other 18 missions throughout the Baja California Peninsula. In 1668 Padre San Vitores established the first mission in the Mariana Islands (now Guam). Between 1687 and 1700 several Missions were founded in Trinidad, but only four survived as Amerindian villages throughout the eighteenth century. In 1691, explorers and missionaries visited the interior of Texas and came upon a river and Amerindian settlement on June 13, the feast day of St. Anthony, and named the location and river "San Antonio" in his honor.
Immersed in a low intensity war with Great Britain (mostly over the Spanish ports and trade routes harassed by British pirates), the defenses of Veracruz and San Juan de Ulúa, Jamaica, Cuba and Florida were strengthened. Santiago de Cuba (1662), St. Augustine Spanish Florida (1665) or Campeche 1678 were sacked by the British. The Tarahumara Indians were in revolt in the mountains of Chihuahua for several years. In 1670 Chichimecas invaded Durango, and the governor, Francisco González, abandoned its defense. In 1680, 25,000 previously subjugated Indians in 24 pueblos of New Mexico rose against the Spanish and killed all the Europeans they encountered. In 1685, after a revolt of the Chamorros, the Marianas islands were incorporated to the New Spain. In 1695, this time with the British help, the viceroy Gaspar de la Cerda attacked the French who had established a base on the island of Española.
Early in the Queen Anne's War, in 1702, the English captured and burned Spanish-held St. Augustine, Florida. However, the English were unable to take the main fortress of St. Augustine, resulting in the campaign being condemned by the English as a failure. The Spanish maintained St. Augustine and Pensacola for more than a century after the war, but their mission system in Florida was destroyed and the Apalachee were decimated in what became known as the Apalachee Massacre of 1704. In 1704 the viceroy Francisco Fernández de la Cueva suppressed a rebellion of the Pima Indians in Nueva Vizcaya.
Diego Osorio de Escobar y Llamas reformed the postal service and the marketing of mercury. In 1701 the Tribunal de la Acordada (literally, Court of Agreement), an organization of volunteers intended to capture and quickly try bandits, was founded. The church of Virgin of Guadalupe, patron of Mexico, was finished in 1702.
Unlike in the Viceroyalty of Peru, the new Bourbon kings did not split the New Spanish viceroyalty into smaller ones. The prime innovation was the introduction of intendancies, and institution borrowed from France. They were first introduced on a large scale in New Spain, by the minister of the Indies, José de Gálvez, in the 1780s, who originally envisioned that they would replace the viceregal system all together. With broad powers over tax collection and the public treasury and with a mandate to help foster economic growth over their districts, intendants encroached on the traditional powers of viceroys, governors and local officials, such as the corregidores, which were phased out as intendancies were established. The Crown saw the intendants as a check on these other officers. Over time accommodations were made. For example, after a period of experimentation in which an independent intendant was assigned to Mexico City, the office was thereafter given to the same person who simultaneously held the post of viceroy. Nevertheless, the creation of scores of autonomous intendancies throughout the Viceroyalty, created a great deal of decentralization, and in the Captaincy General of Guatemala, in particular, the intendancy laid the groundwork for the future independent nations of the 19th century.
The focus on the economy (and the revenues it provided to the royal coffers) was also extended to society at large. Economic associations were promoted, such as the Economic Society of Friends of the Country Governor-General José Basco y Vargas established in the Philippines in 1781. Similar "Friends of the Country" economic societies were established throughout the Spanish world, including Cuba and Guatemala.
A secondary feature of the Bourbon Reforms was that it was an attempt to end the significant amount of local control that had crept into the bureaucracy under the Habsburgs, especially through the sale of offices. The Bourbons sought a return to the monarchical ideal of having "outsiders," who in theory should be disinterested, staff the higher echelons of regional government. In practice this meant that there was a concerted effort to appoint mostly peninsulares, usually military men with long records of service (as opposed to the Habsburg preference for prelates), who were willing to move around the global empire. The intendancies were one new office that could be staffed with peninsulares, but throughout the 18th century significant gains were made in the numbers of governors-captain generals, audiencia judges and bishops, in addition to other posts, who were Spanish-born.
The first century that saw the Bourbons on the Spanish throne coincided with series of global conflicts that pitted primarily France against Great Britain. Spain as an ally of Bourbon France was drawn into these conflicts. In fact part of the motivation for the Bourbon Reforms was the perceived need to prepare the empire administratively, economically and militarily for what was the next expected war. The Seven Years' War proved to be catalyst for most of the reforms in the overseas possessions, just like the War of the Spanish Succession had been for the reforms on the Peninsula.
In 1720, the Villasur expedition from Santa Fe met and attempted to parley with French- allied Pawnee in what is now Nebraska. Negotiations were unsuccessful, and a battle ensued; the Spanish were badly defeated, with only 13 managing to return to New Mexico. Although this was a small engagement, it is significant in that it was the deepest penetration of the Spanish into the Great Plains, establishing the limit to Spanish expansion and influence there.
The War of Jenkins’s Ear broke out in 1739 between the Spanish and British and was confined to the Caribbean and Georgia. The major action in the War of Jenkins' Ear was a major amphibious attack launched by the British under Admiral Edward Vernon in March, 1741 against Cartagena de Indias, one of Spain's major gold-trading ports in the Caribbean (today Colombia). Although this episode is largely forgotten, it ended in a decisive victory for Spain, who managed to prolong its control of the Caribbean and indeed secure the Spanish Main until the 19th century.
Following the French and Indian War/Seven Years War, the British troops invaded and captured the Spanish cities of Havana in Cuba and Manila in the Philippines in 1762. The Treaty of Paris (1763) gave Spain control over the New France Louisiana Territory including New Orleans, Louisiana creating a Spanish empire that stretched from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean, but Spain also ceded Florida to Great Britain to regain Cuba, which the British occupied during the war. Louisiana settlers, hoping to restore the territory to France, in the bloodless Rebellion of 1768 forced the Louisiana Governor Antonio de Ulloa to flee to Spain. The rebellion was crushed in 1769 by the next governor Alejandro O'Reilly who executed five of the conspirators. The Louisiana territory was to be administered by superiors in Cuba with a governor onsite in New Orleans.
The 21 northern missions in present–day California (U.S.) were established along California's El Camino Real from 1769. In an effort to exclude Britain and Russia from the eastern Pacific, King Charles III of Spain sent forth from Mexico a number of expeditions to explore the Pacific Northwest between 1774 and 1791.
Spain entered the American Revolutionary War as an ally of France in June 1779, a renewal of the Bourbon Family Compact. In 1781, a Spanish expedition during the American Revolutionary War left St. Louis, Missouri (then under Spanish control) and reached as far as Fort St. Joseph at Niles, Michigan where they captured the fort while the British were away. On 8 May 1782, Count Bernardo de Gálvez, the Spanish governor of Louisiana, captured the British naval base at New Providence in the Bahamas. On the Gulf Coast, the actions of Gálvez led to Spain acquiring East and West Florida in the peace settlement, as well as controlling the mouth of the Mississippi River after the war—which would prove to be a major source of tension between Spain and the United States in the years to come.
In the second Treaty of Paris (1783), which ended the American Revolution, Britain ceded West Florida back to Spain to regain The Bahamas, which Spain had occupied during the war. Spain then had control over the river south of 32°30' north latitude, and, in what is known as the Spanish Conspiracy, hoped to gain greater control of Louisiana and all of the west. These hopes ended when Spain was pressured into signing Pinckney's Treaty in 1795. France reacquired 'Louisiana' from Spain in the secret Treaty of San Ildefonso in 1800. The United States bought the territory from France in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803.
The Nootka Convention (1791) resolved the dispute between Spain and Great Britain about the British settlements in Oregon to British Columbia.
After priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla's 1810 Grito de Dolores (call for independence), the insurgent army began an eleven-year war that would culminate in triumph by the Mexicans, who offered in 1821 the crown of the new Mexican Empire to Ferdinand VII or to a member of the Spanish royal family that he would designate. After the refusal of the Spanish monarchy to recognize the independence of Mexico the ejército Trigarante (Army of the Three Guarantees) cut all political and economic ties with the Spain. Central America became part of the Mexican Empire, but seceded peacefully in 1823, forming the United Provinces of Central America.
This left only Cuba, the Philippine Islands, Guam and Puerto Rico as part of the Spanish empire until the Spanish–American War in 1898.
Therefore, the Viceroyalty's former territories included what is now the present day countries of Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Belize, Costa Rica; the United States regions of California, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Florida; the Caribbean nations of Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, the island of Hispaniola, Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda; the Asia-Pacific nations of the Philippine Islands, Guam, Mariana Islands, Palau and Caroline Islands.
The Viceroyalty was ruled by a Mexico City-based viceroy appointed by the Spanish monarch, who had administrative oversight of all of these regions, although most matters were handled by the local governmental bodies into which the viceroyalty was further divided. First among these were the audiencias, which were primarily superior tribunals, but which also had administrative and legislative functions. Each of these was responsible to the Viceroy of New Spain in administrative matters (though not in judicial ones). Audiencia districts further incorporated the older, smaller divisions known as "governorates" (gobernaciones, roughly equivalent to provinces) headed by a governor (see Adelantado). Provinces, which were under military threat, were grouped into captaincies general, such as the Captaincies General of Guatemala (established in 1609) and of the Philippines (established 1574) mentioned above, which were joint military and political commands with a certain level of autonomy. (The viceroy was captain-general of those provinces that remained directly under his command).
At the local level there were over two hundred districts, in both Indian and Spanish areas, which were headed by either a corregidor (also known as an alcalde mayor) or a cabildo (town council), both of which had judicial and administrative powers. In the late 18th century the Bourbon dynasty began phasing out the corregidores and introduced intendants, whose broad fiscal powers cut into the authority of the viceroys, governors and cabildos. The intendancies had such an impact in the formation of regional identity that they became the basis for the nations of Central America and the first Mexican states after independence.
1. Santo Domingo (1511, effective 1526, predated the Viceroyalty)
2. Mexico (1527, predated the Viceroyalty)
3. Panama (1st one, 1538 - 1543)
4. Guatemala (1543)
5. Guadalajara (1548)
6. Manila (1583)
7. Commandancy General of the Provincias Internas (1776) (Analogous to a dependent captaincy general.)
2. New Orleans
3. Puerto Rico
4. Mexico, 5. Chiapas, 6. Guatemala, 7. San Salvador, 8. Comayagua, 9. Léon, 10. Puerto Príncipe (separated from the Intendancy of Havana), 11. Santiago de Cuba (separated from the Intendency of Havana)
There were several major ports in New Spain. There were the ports of Veracruz the viceroyalty's principal port on the Atlantic, Acapulco on the Pacific, and Manila near the South China Sea. The ports were fundamental for overseas trade, stretching a trade route from Asia, through the Manila Galleon (also known as the Nao de China) to the Spanish mainland.
There were ships that made two voyages a year between Manila and Acapulco, whose goods were then transported overland from Acapulco to Veracruz and later reshipped from Veracruz to Cádiz in Spain. So then, the ships that set sail from Veracruz were generally loaded with merchandise from the Orient originating from the commercial centers of the Philippines, plus the precious metals and natural resources of Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. During the sixteenth century, Spain held the equivalent of US$1.5 trillion (1990 terms) in gold and silver received from New Spain.
Nevertheless, these resources did not translate into development for the Metropolis (mother country) due to Spanish Roman Catholic Monarchy's frequent preoccupation with European wars (enormous amounts of this wealth were spent hiring mercenaries to fight the Protestant Reformation), as well as the incessant decrease in overseas transportation caused by assaults from companies of British buccaneers, Dutch corsairs and pirates of various origin. These companies were initially financed by, at first, by the Amsterdam stock market — the first in history and whose origin is owed precisely to the need for funds to finance pirate expeditions —, as later by the London market. The above is what some authors call the "historical process of the transfer of wealth from the south to the north."
Most of these lands were dominated by Spanish landowners and their descendants. Europeans mostly dominated the politics and economy of colonial Mexico. Mestizos came next, and indigenous peoples occupied the lowest rank of society.
The majority of the Spanish colonists were either men or women with no wives or husbands. They married or were made concubines of the indigenous population, and were even encouraged to do so by Queen Isabel during the earliest days of colonization. As a result of these unions, as well as concubinage and secret mistresses, a vast class of people known as mestizos, zambos and mulattos came into being. But even if mixes were common, the white population tried, largely successfully even today, to keep their status. After the native population was decimated by epidemics and forced labor, black slaves were imported. A system was created to keep each mix in a different social level: El sistema de castas (the casta system). Each different mix had a name and different privileges or prohibitions. There were even two different kinds of whites, those born in Spain, later referred to as peninsulares (in Spanish, people born in the Peninsula, i.e. the Iberian Peninsula), who received all the upper level positions and higher paying jobs. At a lower level, those born in America, or criollos took the next lower layer of desirable jobs. Mestizos followed, and mulattos were next, followed by the unmixed natives, zambos (Amerindian mixed with negro), and negros, respectively.
The Spanish peninsulares tried by all means to keep their status, even if they took native women. Those who were wealthy enough also tried to have a Spanish wife, who was sent to give birth in Spain to prevent their children from becoming criollos. In spite of the sistema de castas, the Amerindians and the Mestizos were taught the Roman Catholic religion and the language of Spain, and they were even allowed to become members of the religious orders or even priests. Moreover, efforts were made to keep the Amerindian cultural aspects which did not violate the Catholic traditions. As an example, some Spaniards learned some of the Amerindian languages (as early as in the sixteenth century) and developed a Grammar for them so that they could be more easily translated. This was similarly practiced by the French colonists. On the other hand, the idea of sharing the language and the religion of the natives was deeply rejected in the British colonies of North America (and later in the United States of America) and their culture was ignored, despised and eventually obliterated. Mestizos and criollos were nevertheless not allowed in the upper levels of the government or any other position of power, and eventually they joined forces for the independence of Mexico. With independence, the caste system and slavery were theoretically abolished, however it can be argued that, despite the peninsulares returning to Europe or merging with the criollos, the latter replaced them in terms of power.
Thus, mestizos, while they no longer have a separate legal status from other groups, comprise approximately 47-49% of the population. White people, who no longer have a special legal status, are thought to be about 10% of the population and still have most of the desirable jobs. In modern Mexico, mestizo has become more a cultural term, since a Native American that abandons his traditional ways is considered a mestizo. Also, most Afro-Mexicans prefer to be considered mestizo, since they identify closely with this group.
During the following centuries, under Spanish rule, a new culture developed that combined the customs and traditions of the indigenous peoples with that of Catholic Spain. Numerous churches and other buildings were constructed by native labor in the Spanish style, and cities were named after various saints and various religious topics such as "San Luis Potosí" (after St. Louis) and "Vera Cruz" ("True Cross").
The first printing press in the New World was brought to Mexico in 1539, by printer Juan Pablos (Giovanni Paoli). The first book printed in Mexico was entitled La escala de San Juan Climoca. In 1568, Bernal Díaz del Castillo finished La Historia Verdadera de la Conquista de la Nueva España. Figures such as Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz and Juan Ruiz de Alarcón stand out as some of the viceroyalty's most notable contributors to Spanish Literature. In 1693, Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora published El Mercurio Volante, the first newspaper in New Spain.
Architects Pedro Martínez Vázquez and Lorenzo Rodriguez produced some fantastically extravagant and visually frenetic architecture known as Mexican Churrigueresque in the own capital, Ocotlan, Puebla or remote silver-mining towns. The magnificent fourth Manila Cathedral was constructed in 1654 to 1671. The Spanish viceregal government blocked the diffusion of liberal ideas during the Enlightenment, the French Revolution and the United States War of Independence at a time when it tolerated no other religion than the Catholic faith.