The Pageant of America: A Pictorial History of the United States - Vol. 1

By Clark Wissler; Constance Lindsay Skinner et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VI
THE FOUNDING OF NEW SPAIN

IT fell to the lot of the Spaniard to be the first to push Europe's frontier westward across the ocean. It is not strange that such should have been the case. Eight centuries of struggle against the Moors had bred in Spain a hardy and energetic military class. Over these warriors the ideals of mediæval chivalry still held sway. In their pride and fierce courage, their prodigality and their cruelty, their readiness to set out upon adventures, they represent the same blend of virtues and of faults that everywhere characterized the mediæval knight.

But in Spain the Moorish power was broken. A national monarchy had been established. Frontiersman for eight centuries, the Spanish knight saw the frontier recede from him. The sword sheathed, chivalry's occupation was gone. At the new court chances were limited and preferment went to the man of subtle intrigue and not to the best sword arm and the frame trained to endure the hardships of the field. On the one hand poverty and comparative inaction; on the other, a chance at a new frontier, a career worthy of the talents which the cavalier of Spain knew as his only birthright.

The new frontier Columbus had opened. The urge toward it was as irresistible as the later rush for Californian gold.

In 1493 Columbus had planted on Espafiola (Hayti) a settlement which he named Isabella. Twenty years later there were seventeen chartered towns on the island. Española was thus the first frontier colony in the New World and the mother of the first American frontiersmen. It was chiefly a mining frontier. Under vigorous governors who knew the one road to kingly favor, gold mines were worked by enslaved natives; and plantations of cotton and sugar were also put under cultivation. The new Land of Promise was rich enough to yield a fortune to every Spanish knight who had the hardihood to plunge with horse and sword and pack of slave-hunting dogs into the hills behind the settlements.

234 Silver Mining in Peru, from Theodore de Bry. Voyages, Part IV, 1596

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