In Spanish America the gobernador (governor) ranked behind the viceroy, captain-general, and president in the hierarchy of colonial administrators. Like so many colonial institutions, the governorship had its origins in medieval Spain when the monarchs of Castile and Aragon appointed procuradores to represent royal interests and enforce royal laws in areas where they could not rule personally. (Such officials became the viceroys in areas of Spain taken from the Moors.)
The first governor in the New World was Christopher Columbus, who received the title Governor of the Indies in the Capitulations of Santa Fe in April 1492. Soon after, however, Ferdinand and Isabella replaced him as governor of Española with two loyal subjects, first with Francisco de Bobadilla and then with Nicolás de Ovando, thus firmly establishing the governorship in the Indies. As the Spanish presence in the Caribbean increased, the crown appointed governors for the newly conquered islands, the best known of whom were Juan Ponce de León in Puerto Rico and Diego de Velásquez in Cuba.
Extension of the Spanish Conquest into Mexico and South America ultimately led Charles I to establish viceroys in New Spain (Mexico) and Peru and captain-generals in areas of the Spanish Indies far removed from the viceregal capitals such as Chile, Guatemala, and Venezuela. Governors served in less important areas such as Florida, Nicaragua, and Panama and in some of the key cities such as Cartagena, Huancavelica, and Veracruz. For most of these gubernatorial posts, the appointee had to have the military rank of colonel and to have been born in Spain, but the crown occasionally ignored one or both of these requirements if a would-be governor had demonstrated his fitness for office in other ways.
Recopilacíon de leyes de los Reynos de las Indias, 4 vols. (1681; repr. 1973), libro V, título II.
John Jay TePaske, The Governorship of Spanish Florida, 1700–1763 (1964).
Barrios, Feliciano. El gobierno de un mundo: Virreinatos y audiencias en la América hispánica. Cuenca, Ecuador: Ediciones de la Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha: Fundación Rafael del Pino, 2004.
John Jay TePaske