The withdrawal of the Jesuit missions from La Florida in 1572 left a void in Menéndez's colony, one he soon would fill by inviting the Franciscan order to La Florida. His contract made him responsible for the conversion of the native inhabitants to Catholicism, and missions were one way to accomplish that.
Besides saving souls, missions serving the native population benefited the colony in other ways. The conversion of native peoples transformed possible military opponents into Spanish subjects who displayed allegiance to the Spanish Crown. It was more expedient to use missionaries to control native groups than to establish forts and use military might. That rebellions did occur indicates that conversion did not always make lifelong allies.
A mission system also provided a means to organize a free, or at least inexpensive, labor force. Native villagers drafted through the missions and used as laborers could produce profits for the colony. Conscripted labor, mainly adult males, could be used in many tasks.
Was use of native labor legal? It was. The contract awarded Pedro Menèndez made reference to the Ordenanzas of 1563, which allowed colony founders like Menéndez to use Indian labor and to make grants of land and native labor to colonists. Menéndez was allowed two repartimientos for himself and his heirs in each town he founded, and he could grant three encomiendas.1 Repartimientos were divisions of land