Spain’s American Empire
Spain divided its American empire into TWO parts.
The SOUTHERN part included claims in SOUTH
AMERICA and was called PERU. The NORTHERN part
was known as NEW SPAIN. It included Central
America, Mexico, the Caribbean islands, and the coast
of the Gulf of Mexico.
The Spanish established THREE kinds of settlements
in the Americas: PUEBLOS were towns established as
centers of trade; MISSIONS were religious
communities; and PRESIDIOS were military forts.
Social Classes in New Spain
In Spain’s American colonies, social position was
determined mostly by BIRTH.
PENINSULARES were people born in Spain. They had the
highest positions in the colonial society.
Below PENINSULARES were CREOLES. These people had
Spanish parents but had been born in the American
The MESTIZOS were colonists of mixed Spanish and Native
NATIVE AMERICANS made up the largest group of people
in Spain’s empire. Most were forced to work as slaves.
The Spanish Borderlands
Before conquering Mexico, the Spanish had explored and
claimed parts of what is now the UNITED STATES.
In 1513, JUAN PONCE DE LEON landed in what is now
Florida in search of gold. He established the settlement of
Beginning in 1540, FRANCISCO CORONADO spent three
years exploring the present-day southwestern United States
for the fabled seven cities of gold, called CIBOLA.
At around the same time, HERNANDO DE SOTO explored
what is now South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama,
Mississippi, and Tennessee. He too was looking for GOLD.
SPANISH priests established missions throughout the
lands they claimed in what is now the United States.
Missions provided HELP and SERVICES to Native
Americans. In return, the Native Americans were expected
to adopt the CATHOLIC religion.
Some Native Americans welcomed the missions. Others,
however, did not like the idea of giving up their own
religious BELIEFS and TRADITIONS. These Native
Americans fought against the missionaries.
Meanwhile, Spanish soldiers set up military posts in what is
now CALIFORNIA to keep the Russians in the Northwest
from settling there.