Imperial Panama: commerce and conflict in isthmian America, by Christopher Ward

By Christopher Ward

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Extra resources for Imperial Panama: commerce and conflict in isthmian America, 1550-1800

Sample text

Several types of ships were used on the Indies run, most notably galleons and naos, the latter being the merchant vessels that carried the bulk of merchandise between the two continents. Ships classified as naos actually fell into more than one group, including carracks, caravels, and other, smaller ships. Most had three masts, one of which was usually lanteen rigged, and had a carrying capacity of from fifty to two hundred tons. Well over half of all merchant ships sailing between Sevilla and Panama had a capacity of around one hundred tons.

The lowest-ranking members of the crew, often ship's boys, had to sleep on deck except in times of stormy weather. Shipboard life was monotonous at best, miserable more often, and deadly all too frequently. It was impossible to cram so many people into such a small space without having health problems develop. A disease carried on board by one passenger might quickly spread through the entire ship, compounding discomfort resulting from sea sicknessa hallmark characteristic of galleon design. Lice, fleas, roaches, and rats multiplied as soon as ships set to sea, sometimes with disastrous consequences.

Leading up to 1640, the financial strain of the 1630s, made more significant by a dramatic fall in private returns from America, led Olivares to undertake the reorganization of the Spanish peninsula through a tighter association between the peripheral kingdoms (Catalonia and Portugal, particularly) and Castile. Castile had dominated Spanish affairs since the days of Ferdinand and Isabella, but the minor peripheral kingdoms still enjoyed special privileges, especially insofar as taxation was concerned.

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