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Galeones, one of two fleets dispatched to convoy merchant vessels to the New World. The fleet system was set up in 1564. One fleet, known as the flota, went to New Spain; the other, the galeones, went to the mainland of South America, or Tierra Firme. This latter, which returned from the trade fair at Portobelo laden with Peruvian silver, was customarily convoyed by six or eight men-of-war (galeones in Spanish) and thus came by its name. After trading was finished, the two fleets would usually reunite at Havana for the return voyage to Seville. The crown defrayed the cost of supporting the convoys by levying an ad valorem tax, known as the Avería, in Seville and the Indies.

By the seventeenth century, foreign pirates, shipwrecks, the contraband trade, the diversification of the colonial economy, and Spain's economic decline had all contributed to the decay of this Atlantic trade. Although officials in Spain favored yearly voyages of the fleets, only twenty-nine sailings to Tierra Firme took place between 1600 and 1650. In the second half of the century that number declined to nineteen. The War of the Spanish Succession (1700–1716) further disrupted the system as French traders entered the Pacific and flooded colonial markets with European wares.

The crown tried to revitalize the system of flotas and galeones in the eighteenth century but had only limited success. Subsequent trade fairs proved disappointing for the participants until in 1740 the crown reluctantly abandoned the convoy system, substituting individual sailings by licensed merchant vessels coming around Cape Horn.

See alsoFleet System: Colonial Spanish America; War of the Spanish Succession.


The classic study of the system of flotas and galeones is Clarence Haring, Trade and Navigation Between Spain and the Indies in the Time of the Habsburgs (1918). The most detailed quantitative studies remain Pierre Chaunu and Huguette Chaunu, Séville et l'Atlantique, 1504–1650, 8 vols. (1955–1959); Lutgardo García Fuentes, El comercio español con América, 1650–1700 (1980); and Antonio García-Baquero González, Cádiz y el Atlántico (1717–1778), 2 vols. (1976). For the collapse of the convoy system see Geoffrey J. Walker, Spanish Politics and Imperial Trade, 1700–1789 (1979).

Additional Bibliography

Arazola Corvera, Ma Jesús. Hombres, barcos y comercio de la ruta Cádiz-Buenos Aires, 1737–1757. Sevilla: Diputación de Sevilla, 1998.

Bustos Rodríguez, Manuel. Los comerciantes de la carrera de Indias en el Cadiz del siglo XVIII (1713–1775). Cádiz: Servico de Publicaciones, Universidad de Cádiz, 1995.

Hill, Ruth. Hierarchy, Commerce and Fraud in Bourbon Spanish America: A Postal Inspector's Exposé. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2005.

                                    Kenneth J. Andrien

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