All these populations met and mingled for the first time in colonial Latin America. Historical documents describe this cultural mixture, but now international teams of researchers are enriching our view by analyzing the genomes of people today.
Aided by sophisticated statistics and worldwide genetic databases, they can tease apart ancestry and population mixing with more nuance than ever before. The results, reported at a meeting here this week and in a preprint, tell stories of Latin America that have been largely forgotten or were never recorded in historical documents. From the immigration of enslaved Filipinos to that of formerly Jewish families forbidden to travel to the colonies, hidden histories are emerging.
Starting in the 19th century, many Chinese immigrants moved to Mexico to construct railroads in the country's northern states. Growing up near the U. But when he searched a database of Mexican genomes—initially assembled for biomedical studies—and sought genetic variants more common in Asian populations, he found a surprise.
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Some people from northern Mexico did have significant Asian ancestry, but they weren't the only ones. And when he compared their genomes to those of people in Asia today, he found that they were most closely related to populations from the Philippines and Indonesia. They learned from historians who study ship manifests and other trade documents that during the 16th and 17th centuries, Spanish galleons sailed between Manila and the port of Acapulco in Guerrero, carrying goods and people, including enslaved Asians.
Although historians knew of this transpacific slave trade, the origins of its victims were lost. Other researchers study the legacy of another marginalized group in colonial Mexico: Africans. Other data also suggest a strong African presence in colonial Mexico.
Bioarchaeologist Corey Ragsdale of Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville and his colleagues examined skeletons for dental and cranial traits that tend to be more common among Africans. She's also found significant Asian ancestry in some of her volunteers, likely an echo of communities once formed by enslaved Africans and Asians on the Pacific coast. Some Europeans carried hidden histories with them to colonial Latin America. A preprint recently posted on the bioRxiv server used genetic data from more than people born in Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru to tease apart how specific Native American groups and multiple populations from the Iberian peninsula contributed to modern genomes.
The authors declined to comment because the paper has been submitted to a peer-reviewed journal. One striking finding was that genetic variants common in the eastern Mediterranean and North Africa, and especially in Sephardic Jews, show up all over Latin America, in nearly a quarter of the individuals sampled.
Conversos were prohibited from migrating to the Spanish colonies, though a few are known to have made the trip anyway. Once cured, the tobacco had to be packaged in hogsheads large wooden barrels and loaded aboard ship, which also required considerable labor. In this painting by an unknown artist, slaves work in tobacco-drying sheds. To meet these labor demands, early Virginians relied on indentured servants. An indenture is a labor contract that young, impoverished, and often illiterate Englishmen and occasionally Englishwomen signed in England, pledging to work for a number of years usually between five and seven growing tobacco in the Chesapeake colonies.
In return, indentured servants received paid passage to America and food, clothing, and lodging.
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In the s, some , indentured servants traveled to the Chesapeake Bay. Most were poor young men in their early twenties. Life in the colonies proved harsh, however. Indentured servants could not marry, and they were subject to the will of the tobacco planters who bought their labor contracts.
If they committed a crime or disobeyed their masters, they found their terms of service lengthened, often by several years. Female indentured servants faced special dangers in what was essentially a bachelor colony. Many were exploited by unscrupulous tobacco planters who seduced them with promises of marriage.
These planters would then sell their pregnant servants to other tobacco planters to avoid the costs of raising a child. Nonetheless, those indentured servants who completed their term of service often began new lives as tobacco planters. To entice even more migrants to the New World, the Virginia Company also implemented the headright system , in which those who paid their own passage to Virginia received fifty acres plus an additional fifty for each servant or family member they brought with them.
The headright system and the promise of a new life for servants acted as powerful incentives for English migrants to hazard the journey to the New World.
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This engraving by Simon van de Passe, completed when Pocahontas and John Rolfe were presented at court in England, is the only known contemporary image of Pocahontas. Note her European garb and pose. What message did the painter likely intend to convey with this portrait of Pocahontas, the daughter of a powerful Indian chief?
By choosing to settle along the rivers on the banks of the Chesapeake, the English unknowingly placed themselves at the center of the Powhatan Empire, a powerful Algonquian confederacy of thirty native groups with perhaps as many as twenty-two thousand people. The territory of the equally impressive Susquehannock people also bordered English settlements at the north end of the Chesapeake Bay. Tensions ran high between the English and the Powhatan, and near-constant war prevailed. English actions infuriated and insulted the Powhatan.
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In , the settlers captured Pocahontas also called Matoaka , the daughter of a Powhatan headman named Wahunsonacook, and gave her in marriage to Englishman John Rolfe. Their union, and her choice to remain with the English, helped quell the war in Pocahontas converted to Christianity, changing her name to Rebecca, and sailed with her husband and several other Powhatan to England where she was introduced to King James I.
Promoters of colonization publicized Pocahontas as an example of the good work of converting the Powhatan to Christianity. Peace in Virginia did not last long. The Second Anglo-Powhatan War s broke out because of the expansion of the English settlement nearly one hundred miles into the interior, and because of the continued insults and friction caused by English activities.
The Powhatan attacked in and succeeded in killing almost English, about a third of the settlers. The English responded by annihilating every Powhatan village around Jamestown and from then on became even more intolerant. The Third Anglo-Powhatan War — began with a surprise attack in which the Powhatan killed around five hundred English colonists. However, their ultimate defeat in this conflict forced the Powhatan to acknowledge King Charles I as their sovereign.
The Anglo-Powhatan Wars, spanning nearly forty years, illustrate the degree of native resistance that resulted from English intrusion into the Powhatan confederacy. The transition from indentured servitude to slavery as the main labor source for some English colonies happened first in the West Indies. On the small island of Barbados, colonized in the s, English planters first grew tobacco as their main export crop, but in the s, they converted to sugarcane and began increasingly to rely on African slaves. In , England wrestled control of Jamaica from the Spanish and quickly turned it into a lucrative sugar island, run on slave labor, for its expanding empire.
While slavery was slower to take hold in the Chesapeake colonies, by the end of the seventeenth century, both Virginia and Maryland had also adopted chattel slavery—which legally defined Africans as property and not people—as the dominant form of labor to grow tobacco. Chesapeake colonists also enslaved native people.
When the first Africans arrived in Virginia in , slavery—which did not exist in England—had not yet become an institution in colonial America. Many Africans worked as servants and, like their white counterparts, could acquire land of their own. Some Africans who converted to Christianity became free landowners with white servants.
The change in the status of Africans in the Chesapeake to that of slaves occurred in the last decades of the seventeenth century. The rebellion takes its name from Nathaniel Bacon, a wealthy young Englishman who arrived in Virginia in He wanted land on the Virginia frontier, but the governor, fearing war with neighboring Indian tribes, forbade further expansion. Bacon marshaled others, especially former indentured servants who believed the governor was limiting their economic opportunities and denying them the right to own tobacco farms.
Worse still in their eyes, Governor Berkeley tried to keep peace in Virginia by signing treaties with various local native peoples. Bacon and his followers, who saw all Indians as an obstacle to their access to land, pursued a policy of extermination. Tensions between the English and the native peoples in the Chesapeake colonies led to open conflict.
Reports of the rebellion traveled back to England, leading Charles II to dispatch both royal troops and English commissioners to restore order in the tobacco colonies. By the end of , Virginians loyal to the governor gained the upper hand, executing several leaders of the rebellion. The rebellion fizzled in , but Virginians remained divided as supporters of Bacon continued to harbor grievances over access to Indian land.
At the time of the rebellion, indentured servants made up the majority of laborers in the region. Wealthy whites worried over the presence of this large class of laborers and the relative freedom they enjoyed, as well as the alliance that black and white servants had forged in the course of the rebellion.
Replacing indentured servitude with black slavery diminished these risks, alleviating the reliance on white indentured servants, who were often dissatisfied and troublesome, and creating a caste of racially defined laborers whose movements were strictly controlled. It also lessened the possibility of further alliances between black and white workers. Virginia passed a law in prohibiting free blacks and slaves from bearing arms, banning blacks from congregating in large numbers, and establishing harsh punishments for slaves who assaulted Christians or attempted escape.
Two years later, another Virginia law stipulated that all Africans brought to the colony would be slaves for life. Thus, the increasing reliance on slaves in the tobacco colonies—and the draconian laws instituted to control them—not only helped planters meet labor demands, but also served to assuage English fears of further uprisings and alleviate class tensions between rich and poor whites. Robert Beverley was a wealthy Jamestown planter and slaveholder. This excerpt from his History and Present State of Virginia , published in , clearly illustrates the contrast between white servants and black slaves.
Slaves are the Negroes, and their Posterity, following the condition of the Mother, according to the Maxim, partus sequitur ventrem [status follows the womb]. Servants, are those which serve only for a few years, according to the time of their Indenture, or the Custom of the Country. The Custom of the Country takes place upon such as have no Indentures. Some Distinction indeed is made between them in their Cloaths, and Food; but the Work of both, is no other than what the Overseers, the Freemen, and the Planters themselves do.
Sufficient Distinction is also made between the Female-Servants, and Slaves; for a White Woman is rarely or never put to work in the Ground, if she be good for any thing else: And to Discourage all Planters from using any Women so, their Law imposes the heaviest Taxes upon Female Servants working in the Ground, while it suffers all other white Women to be absolutely exempted: Whereas on the other hand, it is a common thing to work a Woman Slave out of Doors; nor does the Law make any Distinction in her Taxes, whether her Work be Abroad, or at Home.
According to Robert Beverley, what are the differences between servants and slaves? What protections did servants have that slaves did not? The second major area to be colonized by the English in the first half of the seventeenth century, New England, differed markedly in its founding principles from the commercially oriented Chesapeake tobacco colonies.
Settled largely by waves of Puritan families in the s, New England had a religious orientation from the start. In England, reform-minded men and women had been calling for greater changes to the English national church since the s. Many who provided leadership in early New England were learned ministers who had studied at Cambridge or Oxford but who, because they had questioned the practices of the Church of England, had been deprived of careers by the king and his officials in an effort to silence all dissenting voices. Other Puritan leaders, such as the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Winthrop, came from the privileged class of English gentry.
These well-to-do Puritans and many thousands more left their English homes not to establish a land of religious freedom, but to practice their own religion without persecution.
Puritan New England offered them the opportunity to live as they believed the Bible demanded. The conflict generated by Puritanism had divided English society, because the Puritans demanded reforms that undermined the traditional festive culture. For example, they denounced popular pastimes like bear-baiting—letting dogs attack a chained bear—which were often conducted on Sundays when people had a few leisure hours. In the culture where William Shakespeare had produced his masterpieces, Puritans called for an end to the theater, censuring playhouses as places of decadence.
The King James Version, published in , instead emphasized the majesty of kings. During the s and s, the conflict escalated to the point where the state church prohibited Puritan ministers from preaching. Yet those who emigrated to the Americas were not united.