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Presidio, a term used to describe military garrisons, particularly in frontier areas and ports. Established in the New World by the middle of the sixteenth century, the presidio was one of the fundamental institutions of Spanish colonization. These defensive military establishments were found from Chile to the Philippines to the northern frontier of New Spain. Coastal presidios, often stationed in heavily armed fortifications, such as the fortresses of El Morro and La Punta in Havana, protected maritime trade routes against pirates. Their presidial complements could be more than one hundred men. By contrast, the modal frontier presidio was a small, rectangular, walled fort with towers. The presidios of the interior guarded mines and defended against hostile Indians. The earliest frontier presidios consisted of a handful of armed men under the command of a low-ranking officer. These presidios grew in size and complexity as Native Americans adjusted to the military challenge of European weaponry and became a more serious threat. While need determined the size of a presidial company, by the late seventeenth century, a captain and his subalterns commonly commanded twenty-five to fifty active-duty soldiers and on rare occasions as many as a hundred or more.

Frequently, no permanent structure was erected, and the presidio was located wherever need dictated. In times of extreme danger, soldiers could be assigned to posts away from the presidio and additional men from local communities added to the force. Liberal land grants were made to presidial soldiers and their families and to settlers around the presidio to establish self-sufficient communities that would consolidate the Spanish presence.

See alsoForts and Fortifications, Spanish America .


Max L. Moorhead, The Presidio: Bastion of the Spanish Borderlands (1975).

Thomas H. Naylor and Charles W. Polzer, The Presidio and Militia on the Northern Frontier of New Spain, 1570–1700 (1986), esp. pp. 15-29.

Additional Bibliography

Weber, David J., and Jorge Ferreiro. La frontera española en América del Norte. Sección de obras de historia. México: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2000.

                                            Rick Hendricks

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