Spanish Roots of America

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Bishop David Arias

This is an American history book written from the Spanish perspective. The author, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Newark, NJ, David Arias, is a church historian, born and educated in Leon, Spain. This magnificent chronological itinerary through the history of the USA from 1492 to the present should be read in American history class and in every Catholic American home. Without it you are missing a very large part of the true picture of our nation's history. This is a great book for Catholic homeschoolers and highschool students.

Table of Contents

Part One Spanish Roots of America—Important Aspects
Chapter One The Policy of Spain in America   
Chapter Two The Explorations in the United States   
Chapter Three The Colonization in the United States   
Chapter Four The Evangelization in the United States   
Chapter Five Spain and the Independence of the United States   
Chapter Six “Hispanidad” in the United States   
Chapter Seven Great Figures of Hispanic Origin in the United States   
Part Two Spanish Roots of America—Chronicle and Chronology
Chapter Eight 1492–1500: Discovery and Encounter   
Chapter Nine 1500–1550: Exploration and Conquest   
Chapter Ten 1550–1600: Colonization and Evangelization   
Chapter Eleven 1600–1650: Vitality and Corsairs   
Chapter Twelve 1650–1700: Growth and Martyrdom   
Chapter Thirteen 1700–1750: Expansion and Splendor   
Chapter Fourteen 1750–1800: Spain and the Birth of a Nation   
Chapter Fifteen 1800–1850: Decadence and Development   
Chapter Sixteen 1850–1900: The Spanish Roots Abated   
Chapter Seventeen 1900–1950: Resurgence of the Spanish Roots   
Chapter Eighteen 1950–2002: “Hispanidad”—United States, Today   
Governors of Hispanic Origin in the United States    
Spanish Missions in the United States    
Spanish Forts in the United States    
Missionary Martyrs in the United States    
Bishops of Hispanic Origin in the United States    
Hispanic Bishops, Resident or on Pastoral Visit    
Isabella’s Proclamation on the Treatment of Indians   
First Baptized Indians Certificate   
The Sources: Notes and Bibliography    
Alphabetical Name Index   
About the Author
Most Rev. David Arias, O.A.R., D.D.   



1. The presence of Spain and of Spanish-speaking countries in territories that now are part of the United States was both protracted and profound. That presence has left impressed on the nation’s geography and history a footprint that belongs to its national identity. Talking, however, with fairly well-educated persons, one gets the feeling that very little is known about this participation; that the Hispanic contribution to the human and spiritual reservoir of this country has long been considered something fortuitous, superficial, and fleeting.

It is not known that three-fourths of the land was under the sovereignty of Spain for more than two hundred years; that the Spanish flag waved over this country longer than any other, including the stars and stripes; and that the Spanish borders in 1800 stretched from Cape Horn in Argentina to the banks of the Mississippi River. It is really sad that the abundant evidence documented in American libraries and archives has never been passed on to the people, neither through the school system nor through the communications media.

This incomprehensible omission of events, persons and achievements from our history deprives the American people of knowing a heritage that plays an integral part in the history of many states, and therefore of the country as a whole. At the same time, this deficiency calls into question the authenticity of what is being taught.

Thomas Jefferson once said, “The oldest history of the United States is written in Spanish.” Aware of the “information gap,” John F. Kennedy said: “I have always felt that one of the great inadequacies among Americans of this country in their knowledge of the past has been the knowledge of the whole Spanish influence and exploration and development in the sixteenth century in the southwest of the United States [sic] which is a tremendous story. Unfortunately, too, Americans think that America was discovered in 1620 when the Pilgrims came to my own state, and they forget the tremendous    adventure of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in the southern and southwestern United States.”

Inspired by this adventure, historian Charles Lummis exclaimed:
“The honor of giving America to the world belongs to Spain, the credit not only of discovery but of centuries of such pioneering as no other nation ever paralleled in any land. . . . One nation practically had the glory of discovering and exploring America, of changing the whole world’s ideas of geography and making over knowledge and business to herself for a century and a half. And that nation was Spain . . . it yet remains for someone to make as popular the truths of American history as the fables have been.”

The purpose of this book, then, is to highlight the contribution of Spain and of the Spanish-speaking countries to the forming of the United States of America, and to show year by year a presence that has been unbroken since the dawn of Spanish discovery of America in 1492. This brief historical summary gives events in the present territories of this country that involved Spain or the Hispanic countries. From among the many events that might have occurred in a given year, only a few have been taken. The facts are given in a brief and concise form because the purpose is to point out the deeds, not abundant details, which would lead to a more voluminous work. What is intended here is to state clearly that the Hispanic presence in this land has been continuous over the past five hundred years. The fact that the events are portrayed briefly should not be taken to mean those events were sporadic or fortuitous. Almost always those events or projects were the result of long thought and planning that involved the participation of many people, years of silent labors, sizeable investments, and very often the cost of many lives. Examples of this are the founding of a city, the construction of a fort, or preparation for a maritime exploration. Of these, only the year of the event and the salient features are mentioned.

We could say that the present United States is something like a great forest where many different trees are growing; similar are the diverse ethnic groups that have arrived in this land. The tree of “Hispanidad” is not just breaking ground now. It struck roots in this land just a few years after Columbus landed in America. It has been growing ever since on many sites in this great forest, at times filled with prosperity and vitality, at times facing the rigors of tempests and plagues and at times afflicted with weakness and menaced by extinction. The “Hispanidad” tree begins now to manifest visibility and in the near future will begin to impart the flowers and fruits of its own particular identity. The best of the “Hispanidad” tree is yet to come.

In order to obtain the information gathered here, the works of hundreds of distinguished historians have been consulted and many important libraries visited. The task of synthesizing and organizing the information has run through five years of research and labor. At the end of the book a bibliography is listed, serving to identify the main sources of information. Throughout the book, no author in particular is mentioned, because very often the data are a summary of what several of them relate.

The book has two parts; in the first, some aspects that have characterized the Hispanic presence in the United States are given in broad lines and serve as basis for an understanding of what later is presented in a concise manner; the second gives a year-by-year account of events that took place within the current territories of the United States. If the present work succeeds in bringing a more complete knowledge to the people of this country it will have achieved its purpose; the invested effort will have brought the satisfaction of having contributed to filling a vacuum and making richer the American heritage.

2. The first edition of this book was done by Our Sunday Visitor in 1992; eight years later it is out of stock. Many persons and institutions have called me to inquire if a second edition will be published. This is proof that this work is filling a great need that has not yet been satisfied. In response to this interest, this second edition has been done. It is notably improved. Correction of imprecise information has been introduced and supplemental information, mainly in the second part of chronicle and chronology, has been added.

Most of the American people are not aware of the great role that Spain and Latin America have played for over 300 years in the territory that now is part of the United States; they also ignore the Hispanic heritage that must be part of its history. All of this is due to the fact that the extensive information available in archives and libraries is not passed on to the people through the schools. This book would meet such a large educational need if it were available at all high schools and colleges. This was the primary motivation in writing it, and this is my great expectation for its future.

The Author
February, 2001


Chapter One - The Policy of Spain in America

By the end of the fifteenth century, Spain had brought to a conclusion the re-conquest of her territories, expelled the Arabs from her land, and achieved national unity. This enterprise had lasted seven centuries, and people from all her regions had taken part in it. At the end of this long crusade to bring about national unity, many of the officers and soldiers, after years of military service, did not find it attractive to go back to their villages and farms to till the land. They were eager, though, to continue the adventure, see new places and conquer new lands for Spain and God. The discovery of America happened in the midst of this situation, and this event paved the way for many of these soldiers, mariners, and merchants, presenting a golden opportunity to pursue their aspirations and to put their experience to the test.

The Catholic king and queen had authorized and sponsored the voyage of Columbus led by two driving motives: the possibility of finding a shorter way to the Orient while discovering new lands, and bringing the Catholic Faith to the people in those lands.1 Those two motivations would be constant concerns in all the decisions of the Spanish crown for many years to come. These factors would inspire her policy and legislation, her royal charters of exploration and colonization, her government and economy. As we look through history, we cannot say that one concern was superior to the other or that one was at the service of the other. To put it plainly, both were important—the conquest helped the evangelization, and the evangelization helped the colonization. This is clear to the objective reader of history. From the human point of view, the conquest of these immense territories of America with just a handful of men would not have been possible without the support and motivation of Faith. At the same time, evangelization would not have been achieved with such excellent results without the support and the protection of the institutions of the crown.

The conquest and colonization of America did not occur as something unplanned; it was the result of a policy that was seriously thought out, discussed at the highest levels and executed afterward by means of decisions and institutions. Just a few years after the discovery, the Council of the Indies was created. This council was a body of learned and expert people whose function was to counsel the crown and supervise all activities related to America, such as legislation, government, exploration, colonization, trade, and the establishment of missions. Through a concession of the pope, the royal patronage was also extended to America. It was through this concession that the king of Spain had the power to appoint bishops and other ecclesiastical dignitaries, and at the same time assumed certain responsibilities such as building churches, monasteries, missions, and paying a subsidy to the missionaries.2 It is true that this institution created conflicts between religious and civil authorities, but it is also true that it helped to facilitate and move forward the activity of the church. This concern and involvement of Spain in her colonies, both those that now are part of the United States and those in the rest of the Americas, are reflected in three aspects that have characterized her policy toward America: first, the vision of her sovereignty over the territories; second, a centralized power; and third, a concern for the native who was considered a subject.

1. By the Bull Inter Coetera, Pope Alexander VI granted Spain sovereignty over lands west of a north-south line a hundred leagues west of the Azores Islands. The concession of this sovereignty was attached to the subsequent evangelization of natives and was the continuation of a practice, commonly accepted in Europe for centuries, through which the pope justified conquest and granted sovereignty. To understand this practice, one has to understand the mentality of the fifteenth century when all Europe was Catholic. Though pacts were signed among sovereigns, there was not, strictly speaking, an international law as we know it now. But all sovereigns acknowledged the pope as the only worldwide figure enjoying moral authority, at least in the religious aspect. Hence, his decisions would have legal effects and would settle disputes among the various countries.3 The purpose of this decision was to prevent future conflicts between Spain and Portugal that were claiming rights over some newly discovered lands, unknown to other European countries. Spain, therefore, claimed to be sovereign over all America, over its land and its people. The last will of Queen Isabella clearly states: “When the Islands and Lands of the Ocean Sea, discovered or yet to be discovered, were given to us by the Holy See, our main intention was . . . to make an effort to procure and to draw their people and convert them to our holy Catholic Faith . . . I request the king, my Lord, not to consent or permit that the Indians . . . be persecuted in their persons and in their properties.”4 This sense of sovereignty impelled the crown to make decisions such as requiring all foreign sailors or explorers, even Amerigo Vespucci,5 Sam Houston, or Daniel Boone, to become Spanish citizens and take an oath of fidelity to the king of Spain.

When an explorer or navigator arrived at a land not yet explored, the first thing he would do was plant a cross in the ground,6 raise the flag, lift his sword and, in the presence of his companions and natives whom he requested to accept the sovereignty of Spain, pronounce words by which he took possession of that land in the name of the king of Spain. This was a ritual always observed; once it was performed, the territories were added to the Spanish empire, a map of the place was drawn, and it was registered under the Spanish crown. This was done by Ponce de León upon his arrival in Florida in 1513, Juan de Oñate in New México, Bodega y Quadra in Alaska, and so on. This was the official way of taking possession of land.

Many of the explorations and subsequent colonizations had as their main goal to keep Spanish sovereignty before other European nations that wanted to occupy those lands. Thus, we see Menéndez de Avilés organizing his expedition to expel the French from Florida, or Commander Bodega y Quadra going to the northern Pacific to prevent Russia from settling California.

Both the Atlantic and the Pacific coasts were often surveyed by Spanish sailors through the first half of the sixteenth century and were considered by Spain as part of her domains, as can be seen in the maps of Juan de la Cosa (1500) or of Diego de Ribeiro (1529). The best proof of this assertion is the fact that no other European nation made a permanent settlement on either coast through the whole sixteenth century; their activities were limited to fishing in Newfoundland, selling slaves brought from Africa, or engaging in piracy.

2. Another characteristic of Spanish policy in America was the centralization of power.7 Spain was a juridical state, in that the Spanish monarchs themselves governed, not by absolutist decisions, but through approved laws, “The Laws of the Indies.” In the same way, government officials were expected to govern according to established law. To verify that this was the case, royal inspectors were sent frequently. It was also policy to hold an investigation (residencia) for each royal official at the end of his term of office. Legality was always emphasized in the Spanish colonies to the point that it often thwarted private     enterprise;8 but it also prevented many abuses, such as mistreatment or elimination of the Indians. Spanish legislation was often resented by the colonial middle class for being exclusively protective of the Indians; but breaking the law in this regard was always severely punished. The main decisions were always made in Spain and the Council of the Indies conveyed them to the four viceroys of New Spain (México), New Granada (Colombia), Perú, and La Plata (Argentina). These, in turn, channeled them to the governors of the provinces. Coastal territories, now part of the United States, were under the authority of the viceroy of México. From the Pacific to the Mississippi River they were under the authority of the governors of New México, Texas, and Louisiana. From the Mississippi to the Atlantic Ocean they were under the governor of Cuba, and later under the governor of Florida. Laws were used to regulate the form of government, exploration, and colonization; agriculture, commerce and the economy; founding of new settlements, missions, and forts; appointment of governors and other civil and religious officers. For example, all those going to America, including missionaries, had to be approved by the Council of Indies, and they had to have a clean record of behavior. Neither criminals nor prisoners were ever allowed to embark for America, as was not the case with other European countries that used to empty their jails by dumping inmates in their faraway territories. Spain’s policy was to keep these people under close watch and, naturally, they would be under tighter control at home than let loose in faraway America.9 Emigration control for America was in Seville. Departure was not permitted to criminals, fugitives from the law, and other undesirables; it was thought that they would cause problems and, being far away, would be difficult to control. Authorization was required to organize an expedition, while the commander (adelantado) had also to be appointed. This centralized authority had its advantages, such as keeping good control of business, clearly defining responsibilities, and exacting accountability. At the same time, it made the process slow in situations when immediate action was needed. Spain and king were far away, and information on the matter was often incomplete, on account of subjectivity or the interests of those submitting a report. Because of necessarily slow communications, by the time the report reached Spain and was studied for a decision, the answer arrived too late. Also, some individuals, in order to obtain a quick response from the authority, resorted to exaggerations, false reports, or ingenious schemes: for example, Father Marcos de Niza’s exaggerations (see Chapter II, #3), in order to expedite the conquest of New México; or the move of another friar who wrote a letter designed to be intercepted, thereby inviting a French military garrison to      occupy the eastern section of Texas and forcing Spanish authorities to establish military posts and missions, precisely in that area to protect it against a French invasion (ibid., Alonso de León). The policy of France and England, in this respect, was much more decentralized: persons to whom a charter was given had absolute freedom to operate in regard to people and land, as long as they paid taxes.

3. A feature that pervades the whole Spanish policy in America is that it was centered in the person. The true historian knows well that the main concern of the Spanish crown, the laws of the Indies, the sending of missionaries, civilization and evangelization revolved around a fundamental concern for the person of the native American. At no time or place in her colonization were slavery, destruction, eviction or placement of Indians on reservations a part of Spain’s policy. On the contrary, by any means, with great difficulty and at high cost, Spain always tried to change their nomadic life and to settle them into missions or pueblos with the intent of civilizing and evangelizing them,10 as in the case with the Guale Indians of Georgia and the Comanche in Texas. The expeditionaries and missionaries understood that as long as the Indians remained nomads their own efforts would be useless.

For anyone asking why, the answer is simple. First, from the very beginning the native was considered subject to the crown, and therefore entitled to human advancement and salvation through evangelization. Second, the territories were huge and Spain did not have enough people to settle and develop conquered land, raise crops or cattle, and work the mines. She was lacking in manpower. In the mid-sixteenth century, Spain scarcely had eight million people and they were needed in Europe to protect her domains, promote her own internal life, and defend her borders against incursions from other European nations. That is why Spain needed native Americans, and also a powerful reason why her policy was centered on the preservation of the native as a means to reach material prosperity. This is so true that when it was not possible to settle them in a mission or pueblo, or when the natives returned to their nomadic life, the Spanish would abandon the place, as it happened with the Jesuits in Georgia. We can see that Spain always looked to the advancement of the native in her tireless effort in settling them in pueblos where they were taught European notions of self-government, work, dress, nourishment, family life, agriculture, cattle raising, manual skills, and handcrafts. We see that in the missions there was always a concern for their religious instruction, moral formation, and basic culture.

There are often charges of banishment or extinction of the native as if Spain had started a campaign of elimination. The truth is that the dwindling number of Indians was due mainly to illnesses or epidemics such as smallpox, measles, whooping cough, scurvy, and influenza that were difficult to prevent, given the state of the medicine at that time. It was also due to illnesses that came as a result of the mingling (mestizaje) of the two races, and in this case, both natives and Spaniards were the victims.11 To illustrate this we can take the case of Hernando de Soto, who landed in Florida in 1538 with more than a thousand men. After four years of exploration more than three-fourths had died, among them dSsoto, for the most part in epidemics. The same thing can be said of the settlement established by Vázquez de Ayllón in 1526 in South Carolina. Now, it is true that there were abuses as in the case of the “encomiendas” where many of the landowners took advantage of the natives and, breaking the stipulated laws, subjected them to excessive work; neglecting their material welfare and religious instruction as provided by the law.12 It was precisely because of these abuses that in a matter of a few years the system of “encomiendas” was abolished. Another bias in the mind of some people is that the Spanish conquest was full of cruelty. Unfortunately, all conquest in the history of mankind has been done through the shedding of blood; it was true yesterday and it continues to be true today. One thing that can be said is that the Spanish conquest of America was much more humane than conquests undertaken by some native Americans in their land. The example of the Aztec wars in México or the Comanche raids on their neighboring tribes can be mentioned. The victimized tribes helped the Spanish in their conquest and asked them for protection. One of the positive effects of the coming of the Spanish to North America was their contribution to establishing peace among tribes that were in a permanent state of war with other tribes and threatened with destruction. All this has been thoroughly proved.

The right of Spain to the conquest of America was a theme of ample debate in the University of Salamanca by the mid-sixteenth century. Salamanca became famous for the teachings of Fathers Francisco de Vitoria and Francisco Suárez, who are considered the founders of modern international law. At the same time, the University of Valladolid held several discussions which were very illuminating on this matter. As an effect of these discussions (which gave birth to the enactment of human rights provisions in International Law by such prominent theologians as Vitoria and Suárez), a new policy was formulated to guide the conquest and colonization of America. The words of American historian, Herbert Bolton, are enlightening in this respect: “We must admit that the accomplishments of Spain remain a force which made for the preservation of the Indians as opposed to their destruction so characteristic of the Anglo-American frontier.”13 Upon the arrival of an expedition to a place, the principle was not to attack the natives and destroy them, but to offer them peace, to ask their obedience to the king of Spain and to respect their property. The term “pacification” used at that time conveys this policy quite well. Only in the case of being attacked were Spaniards to respond. It is true that there were cases of cruelty, but these were the exception, and they came from both sides. As a general rule, instances of bloodshed in history were due to the reaction of the Spanish soldiers to surprise attacks of the natives, to rebellions or to aggressions against the missions or missionaries. Examples of these include the Battle of Acoma in New México and the reprisal imposed by Menéndez de Avilés against those responsible for the slaying of five Jesuits in 1570 in Virginia. Not only were the Indians not attacked, but also the strategy was a peaceful conquest, “pacification,” which was based in setting up “pueblos of Indians already converted to the Faith in places not yet pacified or civilized;” this process is what has been called “The Indian conquest of America.”

Since the main concern of the crown and of the church revolved around the protection of the native,14 voices were raised in the University of Salamanca or by missionaries like Antonio Montesinos or Bartolomé de Las Casas denouncing the abuses that were taking place. Father Las Casas, in his great love for the native, preached, wrote, and traveled to eradicate the bad treatment. In order to achieve his goal, he enormously exaggerated the situation by inflating the numbers, generalizing the cases, and heightening the facts. Unfortunately, his writingss, motivated by a sincere intention, have maliciously been used from the sixteenth century by rival nations to cast a black shadow on the civilizing and evangelizing work of Spain in America. This, along with exaggerated accounts of the Spanish Inquisition, is what has been called the “Black Legend,” originating in Holland and England, that spread to the northern European nations and later to the United States. Philip W. Powell’s book The Tree of Hate gives a good presentation of this matter. The truth is that Americans are unaware of the monumental task of civilization and evangelization that Spain performed through three hundred years in the three-fourths of the territories now part of the United States. The American people have the right to know the history of this nation in its integrity. Charles Webber has this to say: “It has been handed down to generations of Americans, a thoroughly exaggerated view of Spain’s failings in regard to the natives. Abuses there certainly were, but the objective student of history recognizes these as relatively insignificant, alongside the more positive aspects of Spain’s colonial policies.” 15

 1.    John F. Bannon:  The Spanish Borderlands Frontier
 2.    Ricardo G. Villoslada:  Historia de la Iglesia en España
 3.    John F. Bannon:  Opus cit.
 4.    Misioneros Extremeños (Congress, 1986)
 5.    Charles Lummis:  The Spanish Pioneers
 6.    John F. Bannon:  Opus cit.
 7.    John F. Bannon:  Opus cit.
 8.    Philip W. Powell:  Tree of Hate
 9.    Philip W. Powell:  Opus cit.
10.    John G. Shea:  The Catholic church in Colonial Days
11.    Ricardo de la Cierva:  La Gran Historia de América
12.    Lopetegui L./Zubillaga F.:  Historia de la Iglesia en América
13.    Herbert E. Bolton:  The Mission as a Frontier Institution
    Lewis Hanke: The Spanish Struggle for Justice
14.    L. Byrd Simpson:  Los Conquistadores y el Indio Americano
15.    Francis Weber:  Catholicism in Colonial America
    Thomas A. Bailey: A Diplomatic History of American People
    Constantino Bayle: España en Indias
    Frank W. Blackmar: Spanish Institutions of the Southwest
    Herbert E. Bolton: Defensive Spanish Expansion
    Hodding Carter: Doomed Road of Empire
    José García Mercadal: Lo que España llevó a América
    Lewis Hanke: Spanish Struggle for Justice
    John T. Lanning: A Reconsideration of Spanish Colonial Culture
    Charles Lummis: Los Exploradores del Siglo XVI
    Frederick Turner: The Significance of the Frontier in American History
    Dale Van Every: Ark of Empire


Bishop David Arias

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