Labor, Slavery, and Caste in the
Spanish Colonial System
THEMATIC FOCUS Social Structures (SOC)
Social categories, roles, and practices are created, maintained, challenged, and transformed throughout American history, shaping government policy, economic systems, culture, and the lives of citizens.
Learning Objective E
Explain how the growth of the Spanish Empire in North America shaped the development of social and economic structures over time.
In the encomienda system, Spanish colonial economies marshaled Native American labor to support plantation-based agriculture and extract precious metals and other resources.
European traders partnered with some West African groups who practiced slavery to forcibly extract slave labor for the Americas. The Spanish imported enslaved Africans to labor in plantation agriculture and mining.
The Spanish developed a caste system that incorporated, and carefully defined the status of, the diverse population of Europeans, Africans, and Native Americans in their empire.
Extended contact with Native Americans and Africans fostered a debate among European religious and political leaders about how non-Europeans should be treated, as well as evolving religious, cultural, and racial justifications for the subjugation of Africans and Native Americans.