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Ch. 10: Pearl Fisheries of Venezuela & the Americas

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Following Cortés' explorations of the Pacific coast of Mexico (1533-1538), a number of expeditions were fitted out for securing pearls by trading with the natives, by forcing them to fish, and by even more questionable means. Several of these expeditions found record in history either by reason of their unusual success or through the extreme cruelty with which they were conducted. The contact of the Spaniards with the Indians resulted in very bitter feelings on the part of the latter, so that it became risky for small traders to venture among them. From time to time, successful expeditions were made, especially the one of 200 men sent in 1596 by the viceroy of Mexico to "the rich Isles of California," mentioned by Teixeira.1 Antonio de Castillo, a Spanish colonist, with headquarters south of Mazatlan, was one of the most successful of the early adventurers, and Iturbide Ortega and José Carborel were also among the fortunate ones of that period.2 Ortega marketed his pearls in the city of Mexico, and the reported sale of one for 4500 dollars had considerable effect in stimulating the industry.
The advent of the Jesuits to western Mexico in 1642, developed amicable relations with the Indians; and although the missionaries were agriculturists rather than fishermen, the restoration of harmony resulted in a more favorable prosecution of the fisheries. The col­onists of Sinaloa and Nueva Galicia, who had formerly, in small vessels and with great danger, made occasional visits to the pearl beds, built larger vessels and made more frequent visits without ap­prehension. The skilful Yaqui and Mayo Indians were employed or impressed as divers, just as natives of the Bahamas had served in the fisheries of Venezuela. Great profits resulted from the operations. Venegas wrote that "it was certain that the fifth of every vessel was yearly farmed for 12,000 dollars."3
So profitable was the fishery that the Spanish soldiers and sailors stationed in the Gulf of Cortes—as the Gulf of California was then called—were frequently charged with devoting more attention to pearling than to their official duties. In order to put a stop to this evil, in 1704, Father Silva-Tierra, who was in authority in that part of the country, ordered that no soldier or sailor should engage in the fishery. With a view to removing the demoralizing influences of promiscuous adventurers among the Indians, the industry was later restricted to persons specially authorized.
Probably the most successful of the early pearlers was Manuel
1 Hakluyt's "Voyages," Glasgow, 1904, Vol.         "Venegas, "Noticia de las Californias," IX, pp. 318, 319· Madrid, 1757, p. 454.
2 Clavigero, "Storia della California," Ve-nezia, 1789, Vol. I, p. 161.
Ch. 10: Pearl Fisheries of Venezuela & the Americas Page of 650 Ch. 10: Pearl Fisheries of Venezuela & the Americas
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