ACAPULCO (Western Colonialism)

Acapulco was the only true seaport on the western coast of Mexico throughout the colonial period. Situated only 400 kilometers (about 250 miles) from Mexico City and blessed with a good harbor, Acapulco was settled between 1530 and 1550 as a base for Pacific exploration. The small port’s fortunes changed in 1564 when an Asian expedition sponsored by King Philip II (1527-1598) of Spain recommended the use of Acapulco as the American port for trade with the Philippines.

In 1573 the first galleon laden with Asian goods arrived in the harbor. This inaugurated the Manila trade, or ”China fleet,” which carried Asian wares across the ocean to Acapulco, where they were exchanged for American silver. The arrival of each fleet saw Mexico City merchants flood Acapulco to bargain for silk, spices, and other luxury goods, which traded at favorable prices as a result of chronic bullion shortages in Asia.

Increasingly after 1575, Asian merchandise arriving at Acapulco was shipped not only inland to Mexico City but to Peru, where Asian goods commanded higher prices than they did in New Spain. Indeed, by the early seventeenth century, the amount of Potosi silver flowing through Acapulco to Asia was a serious concern to the Spanish Crown, leading to the outright if ineffective banning of trade between Peru and New Spain in 1631.

A tempting target for pirates as the Manila trade grew, Acapulco was fortified in the early seventeenth century and thus escaped sacking, though the galleons themselves were vulnerable. Because the fleet arrived only once a year, Acapulco never grew to a size reflecting its importance as an entrepot in such a valuable trade. Moreover, it went into a precipitous decline with the waning of the Manila trade in the eighteenth century, a manifestation of a generalized loss of Spanish dominance. In 1774 there were only eight Spanish vecinos (propertied residents) left in Acapulco. The last galleon from Manila arrived in Acapulco in 1815, signaling the end of Acapulco’s prominence in transpacific trade.

Next post:

Previous post: