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Frontiers of Evangelization

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The Spanish crown wanted native peoples in its American territories to be evangelized and, to that end, facilitated the establishment of missions by various Catholic orders. Focusing on the Franciscan missions of the Sierra Gorda in Northern New Spain (Mexico) and the Jesuit missions of Chiquitos in what is now Bolivia, Frontiers of Evangelization takes a comparative approach to understanding the experiences of indigenous populations in missions on the frontiers of Spanish America.

Marshaling a wealth of data from sacramental, military, and census records, Robert H. Jackson explores the many factors that influenced the stability of mission settlements, including the indigenous communities’ previous subsistence patterns and family structures, the evangelical techniques of the missionary orders, the social and political organization within the mission communities, and epidemiology in relation to population density and mobility. The two orders, Jackson’s research shows, organized and administered their missions very differently. The Franciscans took a heavy-handed approach and implemented disruptive social policies, while the Jesuits engaged in a comparatively “kinder and gentler” form of colonization.

Yet the most critical factor to the missions’ success, Jackson finds, was the indigenous peoples’ existing demographic profile—in particular, their mobility. Nonsedentary populations, like the Pames and Jonaces of the Sierra Gorda, were more prone to demographic collapse once brought into the mission system, whereas sedentary groups, like the Guaraní of Chiquitos, experienced robust growth and greater resistance to disease and natural disaster.

Drawing on more than three decades of scholarly work, this analysis of crucial archival material augments our understanding of the role of missions in colonization, and the fate of indigenous peoples in Spanish America.

ISBN-13: 9780806157726

Media Type: Hardcover

Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press

Publication Date: 07-21-2017

Pages: 208

Product Dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.90(d)

Robert H. Jackson is an independent historian who has published extensively on Latin America and the Southwest Borderlands. Among his many titles are Race, Caste, and Status: Indians in Colonial Spanish America; Indian Population Decline: The Missions of Northwestern New Spain, 1687–1840; and From Savages to Subjects: Missions in the History of the American Southwest.

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This chapter outlines the expansion and organization of missions established to attempt to evangelize native populations beyond the Chichimeca frontier in Mexico and in lowland South America, the area of Jesuit activity. It begins with a discussion of central Mexican missions established among sedentary populations, which is crucial for understanding later efforts to establish missions beyond the Chichimeca frontier. The missionary orders adapted the existing social-political structure in central Mexico as the basis for their own organizational structure. The missionaries who ventured beyond the Chichimeca frontier attempted to use this same structure to organize their missions as well as evangelization methods. What worked for the sedentary populations did not work beyond the frontier.

The chronology and discussion of the organization of missions beyond the Chichimeca frontier is complicated because the missionaries attempted to place the proverbial round peg in a square hole. In other words, the social-political structure employed in central Mexico did not work well with the nonsedentary populations beyond the frontier. Franciscans, Augustinians, Dominicans, and Jesuits attempted to impose the central Mexican model, but with limited success. To understand the context of the missions established in the 1740s by Franciscans from the apostolic college of San Fernando, it is first necessary to discuss the previous evangelization campaigns.

The final section of this chapter outlines the establishment of missions by the Jesuits in the Province of Paraguay, which included the Chiquitos missions. The Jesuits also implemented the same social-political structure among different native groups in lowland South America. The outcome was similar to what happened beyond the Chichimeca frontier, and Spanish-Portuguese colonial rivalry in the larger Rio de la Plata region influenced the outcome. The Guaraní, for example, pressured by slave traders from Sao Paulo, found common cause with the Jesuits and settled on the missions by the thousands. Natives on other frontiers, such as the Guaraní-speaking Chiriguanos, on the other hand, did not universally opt to settle on the missions the Jesuits established.


Members of three orders arrived in central Mexico in the first decade following the collapse of the Culhua-Mexica tribute state to initiate the evangelization of the large native populations. In the first decades following the Spanish conquest of central Mexico, relatively small numbers of Spaniards created a system of indirect colonial rule on the existing matrix of indigenous political structures. The new colonial order in central Mexico also had a basis in the construction of two corporate societies, the República de Españoles and the República de Indios. The Spanish imposed their rule on the existing native political structure of the altépetl and granted native rulers autonomy as long as they complied with tribute and labor demands and remained loyal to the new colonial order. The altépetl itself was a jurisdiction that consisted of a main town known to the Spaniards as the cabecera and subject towns known as sujetos. The political leaders of the altépetl collected tribute and labor services from the subject communities and in turn paid tribute to the dominant polity in the region, be it the Culhua-Mexica or later the Spaniards. The Franciscan, Dominican, and Augustinian missionaries who arrived in central Mexico after 1524 grafted their mission organization onto the existing social-political structure.

The first generation of Spanish adventurers who subjugated central Mexico divided the altépetl Into encomienda grants of jurisdiction over tributaries that enabled them to accumulate wealth through tribute collection and labor demands. At the same time, the Crown attempted to limit the political and economic power of the encomienda grant holders and, when possible, escheated private encomienda grants to Crown jurisdiction. The Culhua-Mexica had dominated altépetl in central Mexico, making tribute demands in a loosely knitted political system that also lent itself to fragmentation and resistance, something seen following the arrival of the first Spaniards in 1519. The Spanish eliminated the Culhua-Mexica and adapted the existing tribute and political system as the basis for their system of indirect rule. For example, the Culhua-Mexica had subjugated the region known today as Oaxaca and established centers from which to control and direct tribute collection. One such site was Inguiteria, located near the modern town of Coixtlahuaca in the Sierra Mixteca. Culhua-Mexica tribute collectors based in Inguiteria collected tribute from eleven head towns in the tribute province.

Tribute reports from the mid-sixteenth century provide the earliest information on communities in central Mexico. The suma de visitas, a summary of tribute reports prepared around 1550, provides details regarding the political organization of communities and altépetl, and in particular their tribute obligations. Several communities in the Sierra Mixteca region of Oaxaca where the Dominicans later established missions were typical. The report on Yodzocahi (Yanhuitlan) noted that sixteen other towns were subject to Yodzocahi, and the town with its different barrios had a population of some 12,007 above the age of three. The tribute obligation paid to the encomendero Gonzalo de las Cabras consisted of 782 gold pesos in gold dust and planted wheat as a part of their obligation. Moreover, they provided four birds from local species and two from Europe (chickens?) daily, as well as a small jug of honey, wax, corn, cacao, corn tortillas, eggs, salt, chile, tomato, firewood, and yerba (herbs?). In additional, ten natives had to provide labor services.

Yucundáa (Teposcolula) had escheated to the Crown. The report of circa 1550 noted that the town had six barrios and a population of 9,387 people above the age of three. As a Crown jurisdiction, the tribute obligation had been set at an annual money payment of 832 pesos. Disinuu (Tlaxiaco) was held in encomienda to Francisco Vázquez. It was an important polity that counted thirty-one subject communities identified by the term estancia as well as other towns with independent ruling lineages: Santa María, which had a church; Choquistepeque; Chilapa; Tepusutepeque; and Comaltepeque. The population of Disinuu and its estancias was reported to be 1,851 men, 1,356 women, 433 boys between the age of 12 and 17, and 379 girls of the same age. The tribute payment totaled 45 gold pesos in gold dust, corn supplied every forty days, and other items. The ruling lineage at Santa María had nine subject estancias and counted 380 tributaries, 507 boys between the age of 12 and 17, and 102 girls. The tributaries of Santa María paid 13 gold pesos in gold dust every sixty days. Choquistepeque had six subject estancias and a population of 455 male tributaries, 280 women, and 233 boys above the age of seven. Its tributewas 11 gold pesos in gold dust paid every sixty days. Chilapa had five subject estancias and a population of 340 married men and 247 boys. The tribute obligation was 10 gold pesos in gold dust paid every sixty days. Tepusutepeque had twenty-two subject estancias, and a population of 1,322 married men and 507 boys. The tribute was 33 gold pesos in gold dust paid every sixty days. Finally, Comaltepeque had six subject estancias and a population of 540 men, 280 women, 140 boys, and 130 girls. The tribute obligation was 20 gold pesos paid in gold dust every sixty days. The importance of these jurisdictions explains why the Dominicans selected them as sites for missions.

The Dominicans established permanently staffed doctrinas in the three head towns of Yodzocahi, Yucundáa, and Disinuu, and they designated the subject communities of the three altépetl as visitas that did not have resident missionaries and that the missionaries visited only periodically. The tributary province of Huaxtepec (Oaxtepec) in the northern part of the modern state of Morelos provides a second example of the social-political organization of missions.

The tributary province consisted of seven cabeceras. They were Huaxtepec, Yacapichtlan (Yecapixtla), Totolapan, Tepoztlán, Yautepec, Atlatlauhca, and Tlayacapa. Each of the seven head towns in turn had sujetos. Moreover, there was a hierarchy of political authority within the region that defined the relationship between the head towns. For example, the ruling lineages of Atlatlauhca and Tlayacapa were subject to that of Totolapan, which was one of the dominant polities within the region. Dominicans and Augustinians shared responsibility for the evangelization of the native populations of the tributary province of Huaxtepec and established doctrinas in each of the seven head towns.

The Franciscan mission province of Tepeaca (Puebla) provides another example. Tepeaca was an important and populous jurisdiction, and the Franciscans established five doctrinas in the province: San Francisco Tepeaca (1530); Asunción de Nuestra Señora Tecamachalco (1541); Santa María Magdalena Cachulac (modern Quecholac) (ca. 1550); Señor Apóstol Tecali (1554); and San Juan Evangelista Acacingo (modern Acatzingo) (1558). The suma de visita report for Tepeaca reported a population of 9,878 in the cabecera and sujetos, which included Acacingo. This suggests a population of about 49,000. This figure did not include the populations of Cachulac, Tecali, and Tecamachalco. The 1580 relación geográfica report on Tepeaca reported a population of 8,000 native heads of household including Acacingo, or some 45,000 people. There were 7,000 heads of household in Tecamachalco and its sujetos, or some 35,000 people. Tecali counted 5,000 heads of household, or some 25,000 people.

The Franciscans grafted the structure of their missions on the existing political-administrative structure. Several of the main towns in Tepeaca province were still held in encomienda in the early 1580s. Tepeaca itself had escheated to the Crown, but Tecamachalco was jointly held in encomienda by Rodrigo de Bierro and Melchora de Aberucha. Tecali was held in encomienda by Jusepe de Ovduña. Cachulac was held in encomienda by Gonzalo Coronado and Nicolása de Villanueva. Spaniards had also begun to settle in several of the head towns. Sixty Spaniards reportedly lived in Tepeaca and were involved in raising livestock in the region, and another one hundred Spaniards reportedly lived in Tecamachalco. As noted above, the Franciscans established their doctrinas in the head towns and designated subject towns as visitas. In the 1580s, Tepeaca counted seventy-three sujetos, which included Acacingo. Tecamachalco had twenty-nine subject communities, Cachulac had thirty-four, and Tecali had nineteen.

The Franciscans also introduced a new urban plan to the native communities in Tepeaca province, and they relocated communities to new sites. For example, the Franciscans relocated Tepeaca to a new site in 1543. Similarly, they relocated Tecamachalco to a new location at about the same time, in 1541. The Franciscans directed the construction of the new sacred complex: the church and convent, located at the center of Acacingo. Kubler reported that the construction of the church and convent San Juan Evangelista began around 1558. Antonio de Ciudad Real, O.F.M., reported that construction of the church and cloister had been concluded prior to his visit in the mid-1580s. The Franciscan noted, "The convent is completed, with its church, cloisters, dormitories and orchard. Two friars reside there." The Franciscan reported that the construction of the new sacred complexes at the other missions in Tepeaca province had also been completed by the same period.

The arrival of the Spaniards led to processes of demographic change that included shifts in settlement patterns as well as population decline. The introduction of diseases such as smallpox and measles was an important cause of demographic decline, and the late sixteenth-century relaciones geográficas reports referenced the lethal consequences of epidemic. The report for Tepeaca (Puebla) noted that "today, of the people that were [here] when the Spanish entered [the country], out of ten nine [are missing]." The report on Teitipac (Oaxaca) also estimated the degree of population decline: "This town of Teticpaque used to be a town with many natives [naturales], and there was something like two thousand Indians [yndios], and now a thousand; the cause for there being fewer now are the diseases and pestilences they have had." Periodic epidemics killed thousands of natives. The report for Coatzacualco, also located in Oaxaca, provides additional details on the chronology and effects of contagions: "What they have reports on about the reduction [in number] of these people was smallpox that broke out in the year one thousand five hundred and thirty-four, and measles that broke out in the year one thousand five hundred and forty-five. And it is clearly seen that they are becoming fewer [in number] every day."

Civil and religious officials instituted a policy known as congregación to shift and resettle population because of population decline. Some communities disappeared as a result of depopulation or population shifts to new settlements. Population decline, however, was not the only motive for congregación. In some instances, civil officials or the missionaries relocated existing towns from hilltops to valley locations, where they were easier to manage when trying to organize labor drafts, collect tribute, or enforce attendance at catechism or mass. An example was Yucundáa (Teposcolula), located in the Sierra Mixteca of Oaxaca and the site of an early Dominican mission established around 1529 or 1530. The Dominicans directed the construction of a primitive church and convent at the hilltop site of Yucundáa. Archaeological excavations at the site uncovered the remains of the primitive church and convent, as well as burials associated with epidemics in the first half of the sixteenth century. The primitive church, built of stone taken from pre-Hispanic buildings, measured thirty-three by twelve meters, and the convent measured fifty-seven by eighteen meters.

The Dominicans later had the population of Yucundáa relocated to the valley and established the new mission San Pedro y San Pablo Teposcolula at a new site around 1552. The Dominicans directed the construction of a new complex that included an open chapel, church, and cloister, as well as a hospital for the native population. The ruling lineage had a complex known today as the Casa de la Cacica, built a short distance from the new religious complex. It was an aniñe or residence of a Ñudzahui ruling couple. The complex was the residence of doña Catalina de Peralta, who took up residence there in the mid-1560s with her husband don Diego de Mendoza.


The 1579 relación geográfica for the jurisdiction of Nexapa in what today is Oaxaca included details regarding the urban development of a community where Dominicans had established a mission. Nexapa was a jurisdiction with a population of Be'ena'a, Mixes, and Chontales located in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. The Dominicans established a doctrina there in 1556. The report noted that "there is nothing more than a monastery, and there is no other town in the province that can suffer more, because they are poor, there is no hospital in the entire district if not one in this Villa [Nexapa] that his Excellent Lord don Martín Enriquez, viceroy and Captain General of this kingdom, ordered built." The fact that Nexapa did not have a hospital was important enough to note in the 1579 report and points to the practice of including hospitals in the urban plan of mission communities.

The new or existing communities modified under the Spanish-missionary urban plan incorporated different types of buildings. At the center of the community was the new sacred complex built under the direction of the missionaries and in different stages. In many cases the first structures built were primitive convents with residences for the missionaries and an open chapel that functioned as the church until the completion of a permanent church. Open chapels exist at several Dominican missions in Oaxaca, including Yucundáa (Teposcolula) and Yodzocoo (Coixtlahuaca). At other sites, such as Yodzocahi (Yanhuitlan), the Dominicans directed the construction of the new sacred complex on a temple platform and had the pre-Hispanic temple demolished. This was the temple that figured in the Yodzocahi inquisition case in the 1540s.

The Dominicans directed the construction of other elements in the new sacred complexes. They included the cloister, which served not only as the headquarters of the missionaries but also as their habitations, communal dining hall, and store rooms; and the permanent church generally built on a monumental scale. A large open space enclosed by walls known as the atrium fronted the sacred complex, and within the atrium there generally were small chapels known as capillas posa located at the four corners or four cardinal points. The missionaries used the capillas as stopping points to explain points of Catholic doctrine during the processions that were an important element in ritual life, in particular during Easter week. The urban plan also contained structures for the native populations. Examples of these non-religious structures still exist at the site of Yucundáa (Teposcolula). One is the so-called casa de la cacica, mentioned above. The second was the hospital built to isolate sick natives. The practice in the sixteenth century was to quarantine or isolate those infected with contagious diseases, as well as those who had been exposed to the infected. The treatment of those infected was rudimentary, and death rates in the hospitals were high.


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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations vii

Acknowledgments: The End of a Journey ix

Introduction 3

1 The Geography of Colonization and Evangelization 15

2 Creating Utopia 59

3 Birth, Family Formation, and Death: Indigenous Demographic Patterns 97

Conclusion 134

Appendix A Demographic Indicators of the Jesuit Missions of Lowland South America 145

Appendix B Demographic Indicators of the Sierra Gorda Missions 157

Notes 163

Selected Bibliography 185

Index 195