Nevertheless, the conquistadores achieved a kind of immortality. Because of a scarcity of Spanish women in the early days of the conquest, many of the conquistadores married Indian women. The soldiers who conquered Paraguay received three native women each, and Cortés’s soldiers in Mexico—who were forbidden to consort with pagan women—quickly had their lovers baptized into the Catholic faith. Their offspring, the “new race” of mestizos, formed a cultural and a biological bridge between Latin America’s European and Indian races.
The misdeeds of the Spanish in the New World obscured their substantial achievements and helped give birth to the “Black Legend.” This false concept held that the conquerors merely tortured and butchered the Indians (“killing for Christ”), stole their gold, infected them with smallpox, and left little but misery behind.
The Spanish invaders did indeed kill, enslave, and infect countless natives, but they also erected a colossal empire, sprawling from California and Florida to Tierra del Fuego. They grafted their culture, laws, religion, and language onto a wide array of native societies, laying the foundations for a score of Spanish-speaking nations.
Clearly, the Spaniards, who had more than a century’s head start over the English, were genuine empire builders and cultural innovators in the New World. As compared with their Anglo-Saxon rivals, their colonial establishment was larger and richer, and it was destined to endure more than a quarter of a century longer. And in the last analysis, the Spanish paid the Native Americans the high compliment of fusing with them through marriage and incorporating indigenous culture into their own, rather than shunning and eventually isolating the Indians as their English adversaries would do.
2. Richard Hakluyt (1552?–1616)
“There is under our noses the great and ample country of Virginia; the inland whereof is found of late to be so sweet and wholesome a climate, so rich and abundant in silver mines, a better and richer country than Mexico itself. If it shall please the Almighty to stir up Her Majesty’s heart to continue with transporting one or two thousand of her people, she shall by God’s assistance, in short space, increase her dominions, enrich her coffers, and reduce many pagans to the faith of Christ.”
The English crown confiscated Catholic Irish lands and “planted” them with new Protestant landlords from Scotland and England. This policy also planted the seeds of the centuries-old religious conflicts that persist in Ireland to the present day. Many English soldiers developed in Ireland a sneering contempt for the “savage”natives, an attitude that they brought with them to the New World.
Although colonists both north and south were bound together by a common language and a common allegiance to Mother England, they established different patterns of settlement, different economies, different political systems, and even different sets of values—defining distinctive regional characteristics that would persist for generations. The promise of riches—especially from golden-leaved tobacco—drew the first settlers to the southern colonies. But to the north, in the fertile valleys of the middle Atlantic region and especially along the rocky shores of New England, it was not worldly wealth but religious devotion that principally shaped the earliest settlements.