The feet of commerce : mule-trains and transportation in eighteenth century New Spain
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“The Feet of Commerce: Mule-trains and Transportation in Eighteenth Century New Spain” explores the work of the muleteers of colonial Mexico. Muleteers satisfied the material demands of New Spain’s consumers by distributing trans-Atlantic and domestic products throughout the viceroyalty, including fine Chinese and English fabrics; cacao from Guayaquil (Ecuador); olive oil, books, wines and other spirits from Spain. Internally, muleteers supplied urban and mining centers with agricultural goods and raw materials (like wool and tobacco) for their manufacture. In the seventeenth century, mule-based transport coalesced into a professional service that allowed the muleteers to adapt to new demands, establish business relationships, and become the primary mode of transport in the eighteenth century. Moreover, the professionalization of the land-based system of transport (la arriería) generated a level of trust that enabled muleteers to contract their services to all members of New Spain’s commercial networks because the system had proven itself as an efficient method of transportation. As the primary means of transport in the eighteenth century, la arriería was the crucial vehicle by which institutions and individuals negotiated New Spain’s commercial terrain; without it, New Spain’s economy could not function. Muleteers transacted with merchants in urban centers and at the ports of Veracruz and Acapulco, negotiated with local and viceregal authorities for transportation contracts and to ensure the safety of their mule trains, and reacted to obstacles on the road that impeded the flow of commerce. Through their daily business transactions, their influence on the building and maintenance of roads, and their trade networks, muleteers who dedicated their lives to la arriería sustained the economic viability of the Spanish colonial system.