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Trade and conversion: Indians, Franciscans and Spaniards on the upper Amazon frontier, 1693–1790

Richard James Goulet, University of Massachusetts Amherst


For one hundred years (1693–1790) Franciscan missionaries continuously attempted to convert a variety of lowland indigenous peoples of the Putumayo and Caquetá rivers of what is now the Amazonian area of Colombia and Ecuador. The missionaries were challenged by a number of obstacles including difficult travel; a paucity of personnel and material support; epidemic and tropical diseases; and most importantly, a diverse Indian population that responded to the missionaries in many ways—ranging from acceptance on certain levels to violent rejection and expulsion. But the Franciscans and Native Americans were not alone in the region; they shared this frontier with other Spaniards, mestizos and even black slaves creating a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural borderlands. This dissertation, in accordance with the aims and focus of the “New Latin American Mission History,” analyzes these missions from the perspective of the different Native American groups involved whenever possible. Seeing the mission frontier as an intercultural zone of interaction and accommodation, it seeks to illuminate the history of this peripheral area of the Spanish empire. By examining the use and importance of “trade” between the missionaries and different Indian groups, this study focuses on the ability of the Franciscans to insert themselves into a regional trade network that existed for centuries but which was modified significantly by the presence of Europeans in general and the mendicants in particular. Trading and warring alliances between Indian groups and Europeans produced a dynamic region in which the Franciscans had varying degrees of success negotiating. At times, such as 1721 and 1790, the friars were rejected by the majority of indigenous peoples who violently expelled them. For the first half of the eighteenth century the friars came from Quito, while their base of action moved to Popayán and the new College of Missions located there during the latter half of the century. The consequences of this relocation and the rivalries and controversies between the Franciscans in Popayán and Cali, peninsular Spanish Franciscans and creole missionaries, and even between Franciscans and Jesuits, and their effects on the missions are a secondary concern of this study.

Subject Area

Latin American history

Recommended Citation

Goulet, Richard James, "Trade and conversion: Indians, Franciscans and Spaniards on the upper Amazon frontier, 1693–1790" (2003). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3078687.