Impacts of the Spanish Invasion on Pre-Columbian Cultures of the Americas
In the age of piracy on the high seas, sailing instructions were top-secret documents upon which rested the security of the king’s fleet and his treasure. Here, Menéndez de Avilés, governor of Florida, gives Don Cristóbal de Eraso complicated and detailed instructions for sailing to Spain on the Buenaventura with his fleet, via the islands of Flores and San Miguel. He is admonished not to proceed beyond a designated rendezvous without further instructions from Menéndez, “under penalty of paying with his person and his property for any injury to his Majesty or his royal treasury.”
The First Natural History of the Americas
This book, the only edition of this encyclopedic work, describes and categorizes the flora and fauna of the Americas, particularly of Mexico (New Spain), and provides information on the customs and rites of the Aztecs and Incas. Because it includes the indigenous names for the plants and animals described, the work became an important linguistic document for the Nahuatl language of Mexico and the Quechua language of the Andes.
Dominican Priest Bartolomé de Las Casas was a passionate champion of the rights of the indigenous people of the Americas. Las Casas sailed from Spain to Santo Domingo in 1502. There, he was given a royal land grant including labor of the Indian inhabitants as a reward for his participation in various expeditions. Horrified by the Conquistadors’ treatment of the Indians, he returned to Spain in 1510 to take holy orders, determined to devote his life to mission work in the Americas. In 1544 Las Casas was named Bishop of Chiapas, Mexico, where he worked to alleviate the burdens of colonialism on the Indians.
Handbook for Priests
This remarkable composite manuscript, in at least two Mayan languages, as well as Latin and Spanish, was most likely created by Dominican priests working with Indian populations in the middle of the sixteenth century in the Guatemalan highlands. It contains a variety of materials in Kekchi and Quiché, including the lives of saints, religious instructions and hymns, guidance on marital arrangements, and the Church feast days. That such a book, destined for daily use, survived at all is extraordinarily rare. It provides a unique window into issues of cultural interaction and missionary practices and experiences during the early period of contact.
Mapping a Land Claim
Indigenous cartographic conventions evident in this map differ considerably from those of Europe in both conception, social function, and artistic execution. To view this map correctly, one must rotate it. Pre-Hispanic conventions include the bell-shapes to denote a community and the trail of footprints to depict a path or road. Images like this one visually portray the legitimacy and public recognition of the local community, and its rights to a territory.
Land Rights from Aztec Tradition
As part of the annihilation of the Aztec civilization, after Cortés conquered Montezuma’s empire, the Spaniards burned the Aztec archives. Surviving examples of Indian codices are rare. Although this manuscript claims to date from the early 1500s, it is part of the so-called “Techialoyan” land records created in the seventeenth century using old methods to substantiate native land claims with the Spanish regional authorities. These “titulos primodiales” were essentially municipal histories that documented in text and pictures local accounts of important events and territorial boundaries.
Excavating Mayan Ruins
In 1787, the military governor of Guatemala sent soldier Antonio del Río to excavate a Mayan ruin near Palenque, marking the dawn of scientific archaeology in the Americas. Del Río and his men spent two weeks clearing the site and three more weeks studying, drawing, and exploring. Del Río recounted the work in a remarkable report that was illustrated with thirty drawings made by Ricardo Almendáriz. Del Río’s manuscript has been preserved in Madrid, but the drawings were only recently found in a private European collection.
Early Photography in Mexico
This album of thirty-five albumen prints is from the first systematic photographic expedition to the ruins at Mitla, Izamal, Chichén Itzá, and Uxmal, Mexico. The prints were made by the French photographer and explorer Désiré Charnay during two seasons of fieldwork in 1859 and 1860. Charnay’s work was instrumental in attracting serious scholarly interest in pre-conquest Mexico, thus setting the stage for later intensive archaeological studies of Mesoamerican civilization.
A Mayan Temple
This drawing is one of only a few originals not destroyed by a disastrous fire in a New York gallery in July 1842. John Lloyd Stephens, the outgoing American writer, and Frederick Catherwood, a quiet English artist, were the first explorers to accurately describe and illustrate the art of the pre-Hispanic Maya of Mexico and Central America. Through their highly popular publications (first published in 1841 and 1843 and still in print today), they introduced the ancient Maya to a world that knew little of their existence and stimulated research on the Maya for generations.
Diego Rivera and the Popol Vuh
The Popol Vuh recounts the religious beliefs and legends of the ancient Quiché Maya, who inhabited the highlands of Guatemala. Probably originally recited, the text is thought to have been set down first in hieroglyphic by indigenous writers in the 1550s, at the request of a Jesuit priest. In the 1930s, Mexican artist, Diego Rivera, long a champion of indigenous people, was commissioned to create these illustrations for an English translation that was never published of the Popol Vuh story.
The Popol Vuh begins with an account of the creation of the world. In the center of this image are fully formed figures of a male and a female, as well as two stiff awkward human-like forms suggesting the three successive attempts to fashion a human being, first out of clay, then wood, and finally out of maize. Rivera may have begun the project with this illustration, as it alone bears a full signature and a color bar across the bottom, possibly to facilitate color reproduction.
Human Sacrifice and the Popol Vuh
In this section of the Popol Vuh, one of the four gods given to the first humans instructs them to perform sacrifices in exchange for the gift of fire. The story reads, “They should cut themselves open, that from under their ribs up under their armpits their hearts should be torn out. Before everything, sacrifice. By this you will obtain grace. Next, make holes in your ears, and likewise prick your elbows and knees. Offer as sacrifice the blood that flows from them. In these ways, your gratitude will be shown.”
A full-length portrait of a Mayan lord and forty-four hieroglyphic signs are carved on all sides of this diminutive offering box, one of very few surviving Mayan personal objects made of wood. The text yields important insights into the complex hierarchical Mayan social system. As we understand the text today, the main protagonist is the lord depicted on the cover, Aj K’ax B’ahlam, who held an important secondary office under the patronage of the seventh-century Tortuguero king Ik’ Muyil Muwaahn II. The text concludes with the date the box was made, October 14, A.D. 681, and names it the yotoot mayij or “offering container” of Aj K’ax B’ahlam himself.
Story on a Vase
As in all societies where lineage serves political purposes, the Maya kept dynastic lists in varied forms, including architectural elements, sarcophagi, and ceramic objects. This vessel, with its calligraphic hieroglyphs and restricted palette of red and brown-black on cream, is part of a tradition called “codex style” that is thought to mimic the appearance of Mayan books. Most painted vessels of this type deal with mythological topics, but this example is one of a small set that appears to deal with historical information. The vase records the names and dates of rulers associated with the city-state of Calakmul in the Yucatan, Mexico.
Mayan Ball Game
This carved limestone plaque depicts a ceremonial ball game scene. Scholars believe that, for the Maya, this ritual sport was a reenactment of a mythological battle. Throughout Mesoamerica, in many different forms, indigenous cultures practiced a version of the ball game.
The front of this piece shows the face of a warrior, with a supernatural animal headdress and jade earflares and collar. There are five tiny holes for sewing the item to a garment.
The reverse side appears to have been carved at a later time, perhaps as a war talisman. It is the image of a deity sitting in lotus position with his head turned in profile. His large square eye is ringed and the pupil is in the form of a curl, typical of the Sun God. He wears a large belt, and his arms are in the regal position in front of his body, ready to receive a serpent bar.
Mexican God Xipe-totec
Xipe-Totec, “our lord the flayed one,” is manifested first in Teotihuacan culture and continues in importance up to Aztec times. He represents a fertility cult and was said to assist the earth in making her new skin each spring. The cult required the sacrifice of human victims by removing the heart and, afterward, flaying the skin. The priests of Xipe-Totec impersonated him by wearing a gold-dyed human skin for twenty days, or until the skin rotted away. The priest would then emerge reborn.
Ceremonial Wooden Stool
Preserved pre-Columbian duhos (ceremonial wooden stools) from the Caribbean region are exceedingly rare, because they are usually found only in dry highland caves. There are two basic types: low horizontal forms with concave seats such as this one and stools with long curved backrests. Scholars differ as to the function of the stools. Some believe they represented seats of authority. Others think they served as altars for votive offerings. Still others argue that the Taino peoples used them as ceremonial trays for making “cohoba,” a hallucinogenic snuff prepared for shamanistic rituals.
The Olmec are considered one of the earliest civilizations in Mesoamerica and the mother culture of later societies, including the Maya. Their artifacts exhibit a high degree of craftsmanship as demon-strated in this hand-modeled figure. The flesh areas are burnished, but not the hair zone or the split kilt. Red paint touches the tip of the nose, mouth, and chin, as well as the waistline and toes. Body features are picked out with incising, and tiny drill holes mark the ears, nostrils, and mouth corners on this extremely naturalistic figure.
Anecdotal Sculpture from 200 B.C.-A.D. 300
Ancient West Mexico was the home of a highly sophisticated peoples, the Nayarit, that entombed their dead surrounded by ceramic sculpture. Known as “anecdotal sculptures,” these types of models are a major source of information about ancient ritual beliefs and everyday life. This unusually complex model of a house, its two stories possibly representing life on earth and the afterlife, shows occupants at a feast, with musicians providing entertainment. Below the second level porch, a man sleeps in a woman’s lap. Three attendants climb the steps, bearing containers of food and drink. Meanwhile, three birds perch on the ledges of the second tier.
Dowry for Montezuma’s Daughter
In this document, Hernando Cortés justifies a large dowry to Doña Isabel, the late Emperor Montezuma’s (1480?-1520) eldest daughter, when she married a nobleman of considerable standing in New Spain. Cortés recounts the importance of Montezuma’s aid to the Spanish during the conquest of Mexico. Cortés, who served as guardian for Montezuma’s daughters and as Captain General of New Spain, was a generous trustee, granting Doña Isabel lands, several ranches, and Indian labor.
Francis Drake’s Voyage in Early Maps
Italian artist Baptista Boazio created these handsome hand-colored engravings to accompany A summarie and true discourse of Sir Francis Drake’s West Indian Voyage, published in London by Biggs and Croftes in 1588-1589.
The maps are illustrated in fascinating detail with the fleet of twenty-three ships, as well as land battle plans of the English attacks on Spanish harbor forts. Animals, flags, crests, and compasses decorate the cartography. These Boazio maps are historically important not only for understanding Sir Francis Drake’s (1540?-1598) activities, but also because the four city plans represent the first printed view of each locality.
The lead “voyage map,” charting the round trip from England, is captioned in English, while the accompanying four bird’s-eye views of ports are captioned in Latin. Drake sailed directly west from Santiago in the Cape Verde Islands off the coast of West Africa.
The first port Drake reached in the West Indies was Santo Domingo in Hispaniola, present-day Haiti and Dominican Republic. This image shows the English fleet in the bay, and the infantry battalions attacking the town.
The view of Cartagena, situated on the South American coast of Colombia, depicts the English infantry marching on the city. The view of St. Augustine is the earliest engraving of any locality in the United States. It shows the English fleet at anchor, while its infantry troops attack the Spanish settlement.
The Meeting of Cortés and Montezuma
Painted in the latter half of the seventeenth century in Mexico by unknown artists, the eight paintings in the Conquest of Mexico series depict the encounter of Spanish and Aztec cultures and the ultimate victory of the Spanish over the native peoples. All eight paintings will be on display in the permanent Kislak gallery. The painting displayed, the third in the series, depicts Hernando Cortés (1485-1547) meeting the Mexica emperor Montezuma (1480?-1520).
The landscape and treatment of indigenous dress serve to romanticize the meeting of these two powerful leaders. Cortés approaches Montezuma with his arms opened in a gesture of embrace, which the Mexica leader respectfully rejects by raising his left hand. Montezuma’s idealized body, dignified stance, full beard, and the golden sword in his right hand owe more to European ideas about the appropriate bearing of a king than to ethnographic accuracy. Furthermore, while the feather skirts shown on Montezuma and his court were part of the standard European iconography for depicting “Indians,” skirts like this are not known to have been worn anywhere in the Americas.
The Conquest of Tenochtitlán
The painting displayed, the seventh in the series, depicts the conquest of Tenochtitlán (now the site of Mexico City). The battle between the Spanish under Cortés and the Mexica under the last Aztec leader Cuauhtémoc is more properly called a siege. It began in May of 1521 and lasted into August. With newly built ships, the Spanish controlled the lake surrounding the island and blockaded the city. Ultimately Cortés ordered the complete destruction of Tenochtitlán, including its palaces, temples, and squares.
This painting attempts to distill the excitement, bloodshed, and drama of the siege into a single moment. Cortés leads his Spanish armies across one of the causeways and into the city. The captains of the other parts of his army also lead their troops towards the center of the city and the main temple compound. The Mexica put up a spirited and skilled resistance, but by August the death of much of the population, as well as months of scarce food and water, meant that they could no longer defend the city. The surrender of the survivors, the destruction of the main temple, and the capture of Cuauhtémoc marked both the end of the battle for Tenochtitlán and the end of Aztec empire.
Pirates in America
This is the first edition, in Dutch, of one of the most important books about pirates ever written. Alexandre Exquemelin, a native of Harfleur, went to the Caribbean in 1666 with the French West Indies Company. He served as surgeon for nearly ten years with various buccaneers and gives an eyewitness account of the adventures of Henry Morgan, François Lolonois, Pierre le Grand, and Bartholomew Portugues. Apart from its obvious authenticity, Exquemelin’s vivid writing style narrates a story with color, drama, and vitality. His descriptions are filled with vivid scenes of violence in exotic locations, and this edition is enhanced with full-page engravings of the buccaneers and their exploits.
Catechism in Timucuan
This rare and important text is one of the earliest known artifacts in any Indian language from what is now the United States. Francisco Pareja came to Florida in 1595 and worked among the native peoples for thirty-one years, particularly among the Timucuan peoples. The systematic destruction of Timucuan culture by the Spaniards makes even catechisms like this one precious legacies of a world otherwise lost. No other copies of this edition are known to exist. Father Pareja’s writings preserve almost all that is known about the Timucuan language and customs.
British View of Spanish Saint Augustine
This unusual manuscript is a military report on the town and fortifications of St. Augustine, Florida. It was compiled by an Englishman only three years after the English Governor Oglethorpe failed in his attempt to capture St. Augustine’s main fort.
The detailed descriptions of the fortress and approaches to the harbor could only have been written by someone who saw the subjects firsthand. This adds mystery to the piece because Englishmen were not free to visit Spanish Florida.
Pensacola Seized from the British
This rare account of events during the American Revolutionary War celebrates the Spanish seizure of Pensacola, Florida, from the British by an expedition under Bernardo de Galvez in May 1781. De Galvez’s narrative poem, published in Madrid in 1781, praises the victory that scholars believe broke the British hold on Florida and was pivotal in ensuring that Spain, an ally of the United States, would gain Florida at the 1783 Treaty of Paris that ended the war.
A Spanish Galleon Wrecks in 1622
During the centuries of Spanish exploration and colonization, treasure fleets made regular trips to the Americas to deliver merchandise and collect treasures and precious metals. In late summer merchant ships would join their protectors, the war galleons, in Havana to form the treasure fleet for the return to Spain.
Often, however, ships were scattered because of bad weather, poor seamanship, or piracy. In early September 1622, Nuestra Señora de Atocha, a galleon carrying tons of Spanish treasure, was wrecked on the Florida coral reefs near the Dry Tortugas, leaving only five survivors. These items were recovered from the site of the wreck.
George Washington’s Diary
Both a manuscript and a printed book, George Washington’s 1762 almanac records activities at his Mount Vernon plantation. He describes mainly planting tobacco and raising cattle and sheep, although finance and slaves are also mentioned. Washington kept a diary from 1747, when he was a teenaged surveyor, until his death in 1799, with the notable exception of the period of most of the Revolutionary War. With this addition, the Library of Congress now holds thirty-seven of the forty-one known original Washington diaries.
In this letter to Lord Holland of Great Britain, then Secretary of State James Monroe warns that continued British repression of American commerce will ultimately lead to war. It is part of a small archive of treaty drafts, memoranda, reports, and letters related to the unratified Anglo-American treaty of 1806. It attempts to resolve issues diplomatically to avert a war. Although successfully negotiated, the treaty was quickly repudiated by President Thomas Jefferson because it did not end impressment of American citizens into the British Navy. As Monroe had warned, the unresolved issues did lead to a crisis and eventually to the War of 1812.
U.S. Acquires Florida
When the United Status purchased the Louisiana Territory in 1803, its boundaries were left very vague. In the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819, U.S. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams had acquired Spanish Florida for $5 million and established the southern and western boundaries of Louisiana and the Spanish Territory. This letter is one of thirteen, written over a two-year period, by John Adams to Don Francisco Vives on the United States-Florida boundary. These letters shed light not only on the specific difficulties regarding the treaty but also the tenor of diplomatic dialogue during this period of United States history. Each letter is annotated on the back with a summary of the contents in Spanish.
Heretics and Assassins
This sixteenth-century history of Florida, in its original binding, includes narratives of four separate French expeditions and the first description of Florida Indians. In 1564, René de Laudonnière and Jean Ribault tried to establish a French Huguenot colony near what is now Jacksonville. Within a few months, a Spanish fleet attacked and massacred the garrison hanging most of the French Huguenots affixed with the inscription “Not as Frenchmen, but as heretics.” Laudonnière escaped and returned to France and wrote this book, describing Captain Dominique de Gourgues’ voyage to Florida in 1567 to avenge the murder of his countrymen. His expedition captured two Spanish forts and hanged eight of the Spanish Catholic prisoners, marked with the inscription, “Not as Spaniards, but as assassins.”
The Gulf Stream
As Surveyor-General of Lands for the newly created Southern District of North America and the recently established colony of East Florida, William [Gerard] de Brahm (1717-ca.1799), an immigrant from Germany, was ordered to undertake a detailed geographic survey of Florida–a land virtually unknown to the British at that time. His observations, gathered over the course of an eighteen-week expedition, provided a starting point for all future investigations regarding the shape of the peninsula and the circulation of the Gulf Stream.
The Sixteenth-Century World
This early anthology of the lands and peoples of the Americas, includes letters and descriptions of the voyages of Marco Polo, Columbus, and Vespucci. A truly remarkable feature of the work is a world map, possibly drawn by Sebastian Münster, and, in part, by Hans Holbein the Younger. The Americas are clearly depicted, based partly on the world as configured by the Johann Schöner globes or on Peter Apian’s map of 1520, and showing the influence of the ideas of Copernicus. The scenes and vignettes that surround the oval projection are particularly interesting images, reflecting European views of this new world as a place where cannibals, monsters, and other dangers lurked.
In 1784, Captain Horatio Nelson was given command of the Boreas, a twenty-eight-gun frigate, with orders to enforce the British Navigation Acts that required all imports be carried in English ships. The acts had become a major problem after the end of the American Revolution because American vessels dominated trade between the West Indies and the former colonies. When Nelson seized four illegally laden American ships that had obviously violated the Navigation Acts, the captains sued him for illegal seizure. In the ensuing trial, the judge eventually found in favor of the British navy. However, to avoid arrest and imprisonment, Nelson spent nearly eight months aboard his frigate.
This volume was the first comprehensive British atlas of Florida and the Caribbean. It includes the first large, detailed printed maps of a number of Caribbean islands, such as Antigua, St. Christopher, and Barbados. On many of these individual maps, the topography is rendered with particular skill. They provide unprecedented interior detail documenting the sugar industry, slave life, roads, trade routes, and even individual homes and estates. The atlas exemplifies the qualities that ushered in a period of dominance for British chartmaking related to the Americas.
The Kislak Collection includes approximately 170 Mayan flasks that vary in detail and size. Most, according to recent scholarship, contained “May,” a mixture of powdered native tobacco and calcareous lime used for ritual and magical protection. Each flask is decorated with images or glyphs representing the intended use. The five flasks displayed represent the variety of bottles in the collection.
Martin Waldseemüller’s 1516 ‘Carta Marina’
In 1507 Martin Waldseemüller, learned humanist and celebrated cartographer, created a world map that follows the traditional Ptolemaic outline of the world, except for major additions in southern Africa and all of America. The map’s claim to immortality is contained in the simple word “America,” based on Waldseemüller’s recognition that Amerigo Vespucci had identified the newly found lands as a new part of the world.
Waldseemüller’s 1516 Carta Marina sought to present the most up-to-date conception of the world at that time. Equal in size to the 1507 map, the Carta Marina is markedly superior to the earlier map in artistic detail, reflecting possibly the hand of the artist Albrecht Dürer, and incorporates greatly expanded and corrected geographical information. The Carta Marina could be considered the first printed nautical map of the entire world. However, in part because of the controversies surrounding his naming the Western Hemisphere “America,” the word is omitted from the Carta Marina, and the Western Hemisphere is joined with Asia.
Long thought to be lost, the Waldseemüller maps were rediscovered in 1901 by Father Josef Fischer, a Jesuit historian, in the library of Prince Johannes von Waldburg zu Wolfegg-Waldsee at the Castle of Wolfegg, in Württemberg, Germany. They were in mint condition, carefully bound together inside a folio. In 2003, the Library of Congress acquired the 1507 map, and the Kislak Collection, the Carta Marina.
Originally published by the United States Library of Congress, 04.20.2005, to the public domain.