Chapter VII – Establishment of the Colonial Order

D. 14 Frey Nicolás de Ovando & engineers planning Santo Domingo. 1502. D. 14 Frey Nicolás de Ovando & engineers planning Santo Domingo. 1502. D: J. Arvelo. Drawing: F. Castro

Francisco Bobadilla governed Hispaniola with a heavy hand while intensifying his Indigenous distribution with the group of more than 300 Spaniards that remained in the island, made up mostly of ex Roldan followers. Simultaneously lowering the taxes paid on the gold collected from 1/3 to 1/11 of the total, which along with the use of other royal goods like cattle and lands, impacted significantly the direct income of the crown from this young colony.

In Spain, the Columbus pressured the court constantly over the grievances received and Bovadillas administrative errors. The crown then decided to send to the Indies a new competent governor and chose the last of the medieval gentlemen, the austere Knight of Lares, Don Friar Nicolas de Ovando, of the Military Order of Alcantara.

cruz de alcantaraThese Castilian military orders were a product of the reconquest, as well as establishing the largest livestock potential in Spain. The order consisted of two types of members, the military friars or knights, who observed religious vows and lived in seminaries until called to fight against infidels, and the cleric friars, of superior spiritual ranks and with the right to administer sacraments. After success in battles, the lands and human groups conquered became the property of the knight friar, organized in a productive unity called the encomienda. The friar would then assume the role of a governor, who kept his personal jurisdiction over the assigned territories, sheep and people.

In this way, Ovando, friar of exemplary career, would come to the Indies to establish the foundation of an authentic colonial government, controlling the Spanish that remained, the 2,500 that were arriving with him, some of which were members of the nobility and other important people, and the new free subjects of the crown, the pacific indigenous that still lived in a Neolitic world and who were attacked in the same manner as the capable and expert Arabs. Friar Nicolas and the new settlers arrived in the Ozama river on April 15th, 1502 with the most impressive fleet that had yet to leave for the new world, 32 ships loaded with provisions, and basic and necessary human needs.

Among Ovando's main orders were to hold the obligatory court proceedings to the ex-governor Bobadilla, revise the Roldan and follower's predicament, and assure that "no Spanish was daring enough to inquire, aggravate, nor scandalize the neighboring Indians living in any of these Islands."1 The crown was very interested in the state of liberty of these indigenous people since they represented a larger amount of subjects that could pay tribute directly to the colonial administration, at the same avoiding the resurgence of strong feudal lords that restricted the royal interests, exactly what happened in America not just during the conquest years, but for centuries after.

Soon after arriving, the new governor prepares a return voyage shipping Bobadilla, Roldan and the cacique Guarionex, that was jailed in La Vega along with the treasure recovered by this administration: 200,000 gold currency, 100,000 for the King, and 100,000 for private investors. On board was also the famous gold nugget that an Indian woman had found near the Haina river and that was supposedly huge.

In this moment the Admiral was in the near the island and although the crown had prohibited him from visiting Santo Domingo, he requested permission to enter the port, warning the governor of the proximity of a hurricane and imploring that he not to let the ships leave. Ovando had to obey his orders, so he denied Columbus' request who took refuge in the Ocoa bay, and sent the fleet back which capsized a few days later in a strong tropical storm that effectively assailed the islands and destroyed Santo Domingo, that, at this point, was no more than a village of a few bohios and a rustic fortress.

Making his debut faced with this disaster, the new governor and his people had immediate difficulties of provisions and supplies; the island may have been producing enough gold but it was ridden with abundant diseases and had food and clothing shortages, to a level that the recently arrived "1,000 of the 2,500 died and the remaining 500 left with were sick with great anguish, hunger and need."2

The same way, Ovando would rapidly face the basic problems of developing a colonial project in the new world: first, the initial group of 300 to 500 Spanish had better lands and good amounts of Indians, and, since they lived within them with their women, exploiting their labor through their own Indian social structures, it was easy and direct, acquiring a relatively powerful position and closing out the newly arrived group. Secondly, the legal freedom that the crown intended to conserve for their subjects presented an immediate inconvenience in that the Indians would never voluntarily integrate into the European system of work for pay, since the concept of mercantile production was totally alien to their life schematic, and their cultural and social values would result impossible to change peacefully, something that the colonists found inconvenient plus had no interest in.

Friar Nicolas de Ovando then implemented a series of measures that little by little modeled the dominant colonial political style of the era; one of his first solutions was to legalize the state of cohabitation between Spanish and Taino women to later use the same against the same group denouncing them as descending to the social levels of the natives and therefore forfeiting the rights of their previous conceptions. From there on, interracial unions would be limited, a situation that did not change at all only to worsen the humiliations and abuse that the Taino women received regularly from Spanish men, until 1514, when the crown made a radical move that fully allowed unions between Spanish and Indians to the level of spouses or "decent women".

Simultaneously, Ovando wrote to the crown exposing the impossibility of realizing a rentable colonial project without the forced labor of the Indians and asking for their authorization to officially and legally establish of the encomienda system.

At the same time the governor was moving the location of the city of Santo Domingo to the western bank of the Ozama river considering it more suitable to depart for other Spanish points in the island, located around the mines in Cibao and San Cristobal. He spent most of 1502 with of engineers and architects supervising the cleaning of the terrain where the new village would be erected, delineating it's limits, plaza, squares, streets, and neighboring lots. It was his preference that the houses be "made of limestone and masonry, and the facades and corners of carved stonework."3, and that the town's tracing be done with square street plan derived from he imperial Roman "castrum", the new pattern of the new Spain considered the rational urbanization ideal in America.


Reading of Bartolome De Las Casas Letter to the Catholic Monarchs.