Acapulco is a major seaport located on a deep bay that provides easy access and secure anchorage, making it the best harbor on Mexico's Pacific coast. The name of the city means place of dense reeds in the native Nahuatl language, and it is built on a narrow strip of low land between the shoreline and the mountains that encircle the bay. These rugged mountains have historically made access from the interior difficult. Acapulco has been a crossroads for the people of Mexico for at least a millennium.
The earliest remains found in the area date from the third millennium. Archaeologists have also discovered artifacts that are similar to those found in highland Mexico and show influence by Tarascan, Mixtec, Zapotec, and Aztec civilizations; however, Acapulco never came under direct control of these groups. Instead, it remained subject to local leaders until the Spanish conquest in the sixteenth century.
Soon after the conquest of the Aztec empire in central Mexico in 1521, the Spanish arrived in present-day Acapulco. A royal decree in 1528 brought the site under the control of the Spanish Crown. Spaniards continued to settle Acapulco in the 1530s, using it as a site to build ships to explore the Pacific coast.
From Acapulco, the Spanish traveled both south to Peru and north to explore the Colorado River. Then, during the 1560s, the Spanish established a regular trading link between Acapulco and Manila in the Philippines. Even before the arrival of the Spanish, Manila had served as a center of Asian trade, and Spain took advantage of this position.
Colonists in Spanish America increasingly looked to Asia for luxury goods such as silk, porcelain, jade, ivory, and perfumes. Thus, for more than 200 years, a special yearly trading ship, known as the Manila Galleon, sailed between Acapulco and Manila. The trip across the Pacific Ocean was not an easy one.
The westward journey from Acapulco to Manila was relatively safe and took about three months. However, the eastward trip was long and difficult, lasting from six to eight months. When the Asian goods reached Acapulco, some merchants crossed Mexico overland in order to ship them to Spain.
But many of these products remained in the Americas, sometimes influencing New World artists. For example, Mexican ceramics demonstrate the impact of the Galleon trade, and Chinese silk designs may have inspired some of the patterned garments of Guatemalan sculptures. From Acapulco, merchants sent small amounts of chocolate, a dye known as cochineal, oils, and Spanish wines, but the most important product that filled the Manila-bound ships leaving from Acapulco was silver.
Large quantities of silver from the great mines of Zacatecas, Guanajuato, and San Luis Potos flowed through Acapulco, and there was a great demand for this precious metal, especially in China. This demand led to a large-scale diversion of silver that would have gone to Spain but instead was sent to Asia. There was some attempt to regulate this trade, such as limiting it to one Manila Galleon each year.
These attempts were largely ineffective and often resulted in contraband trade. Acapulco's yearly treasure attracted Spain's European rivals. In 1579, Francis Drake attacked but failed to capture the Galleon.
In 1587, off Cabo San Lucas, Thomas Cavendish seized the ship Santa Anna. By 1615, the Dutch had appeared along the Pacific coast of Spain's American empire. This Dutch presence led the Spanish to construct fortifications at Acapulco to protect their interests.
Spanish authorities did benefit from taxes on the Acapulco trade. Initially, China goods paid 10 percent tariff. By the eighteenth century, that figure had risen as high as 33 percent.
Due to its hot and unhealthy climate, the population of Acapulco remained small, despite its importance as a port city. By 1800, there were only about 4,000 inhabitants, including many blacks and mulattos. The population increased dramatically, however, when the Galleon arrived.
Its return started an annual merchant fair in Acapulco, where traders bargained for the Galleon's cargo of luxury goods. During the two-week fair, there could be as many as 12, 000 people in Acapulco. In the 1820s, Mexico's War of Independence permanently ended the Manila Galleon.
Acapulco declined in importance until the early twentieth century, when tourism revived the city's fortunes. Ronald Young Mexico City; New Spain; Spanish Colonies on Mainland North America (Chronology); Trade. Bibliography Bethell, Leslie, ed.
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Schell Hoberman, Louisa. Mexico's Merchant Elite, 1590 1660. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1991.
Schurz, William. The Manila Galleon. New York: E.
P.Dutton, 1939. Williams, Martha N., and John Hoyt Williams.
“The Route To Riches. ” Amricas 36: 6 (November December 1984): 24 29. Adams, Abigail (1744 1818) Abigail Smith Adams was the wife of John Adams, founding father and second president of the United States. In addition, she was the mother of John Quincy Adams, the sixth president of the United States.
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