Quito Revolt of 1765

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Quito Revolt of 1765

Quito Revolt of 1765, rebellion by the populace of Quito, Eucador, in protest against the imposition of new taxes. It proved to be one of the most serious threats to Spanish authority in the colonial period. In its wake, a popular coalition expelled the peninsular (European-born) residents of the city, suspended royal government, and ruled the city until viceregal troops reestablished royal authority more than a year later.

The viceroy of New Grenada, Pedro Messía De La Cerda, had first provoked popular hostility by transfering control over the aguardiente (cane liquor) monopoly and the alcabala (sales tax) from local tax farmers to the caja real (royal treasury). This reform threatened to raise taxes at a time when the region's important textile industry was in decline. From the late seventeenth century on, a demographic crisis in the Ecuadorian highlands, declining demand in Peru for Quito's rough woolens, and, most important, the influx of cheap, high-quality European cloth had undermined the textile industry of the province.

Many influential landowners tried to compensate for declining profits in textile manufacturing by growing sugarcane and processing it into aguardiente. In addition, Quito's middle- and lower-class groups, left unemployed as the textile mills closed, found jobs in a burgeoning underground economy—operating small grocery stores, butcher or leather shops, and bootleg stills and bars, and growing foodstuffs on small holdings in the city's suburban parishes. The new sales tax administration threatened to raise levies on rural haciendas and small farms. In addition, the administration of taxes on aguardiente jeopardized the profits of both the elite and the plebians who produced and sold the liquor. In short, the reforms of the alcabala and aguardiente administrations promised to undermine the material welfare of a broad segment of quiteño society amid an economic depression, creating an ominous and potentially explosive situation.

After the outbreak of these revolts of May and June 1765, a broad-based popular coalition effectively disbanded the royal government and ruled the city and its hinterland. The coalition took power in June, but political differences soon emerged, particularly when plebeian leaders sought a wider political role in the region. Within the next year the latent ethnic, class, and political tensions within quiteño society had undermined the unity of the coalition and hastened the return to royal control. On 1 September 1766, when a viceregal army entered the city under the command of the conciliatory governor of Guayaquil, Antonio de Zelaya, the divided citizenry offered no effective resistance.

See alsoQuito; Spanish Empire.


Despite its obvious importance, the Quito Revolt has attracted little scholarly attention until recently. Older accounts are Federíco González Suárez, Historia general de la República del Ecuador (1970), pp. 1126-1139, and Juan De Velasco, Historia del reino de Quito en la America meridional, vol. 1 (1971), pp. 136-149. The best discussion of the roots of the Quito Revolt is Kenneth J. Andrien, "Economic Crisis, Taxes, and the Quito Insurrection of 1765," in Past and Present 129 (November 1990): 104-131. For an account of the protesters see Anthony Mc Farlane, "The 'Rebellion of the Barrios': Urban Insurrection in Bourbon Quito," in Hispanic American Historical Review 69, no. 2 (May 1989): 283-330.

Additional Bibliography

Arrom, Silvia and Servando Ortoll. Riots in the Cities: Popular Politics and the Urban Poor in America, 1765–1910. Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, 1996.

Milton, Cynthia E. The Many Meanings of Poverty: Colonialism, Social Compacts, and Assistance in Eighteenth-century Ecuador. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2007.

Powers, Karen Viera. Andean Journeys: Migration, Ethnogenesis, and the State in Colonial Quito. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1995.

Sevilla Larrea, Carmen. Vida y muerte en Quito: Raíces del sujeto moderno en la colonia temprana. Quito: Ediciones Abya-Yala, 2003.

                                     Kenneth J. Andrien