Hispanic heritage acquisitions: Land disputes in colonial Mexico

Cerro Gordo / Tlahuilco

October 15 is the final day in Hispanic Heritage Month. The final installment in our Hispanic Heritage Month series is on two fascinating manuscripts from Mexico, which we acquired this month. One of the manuscripts is an investigation of a land deal in 1589, and the other is a lawsuit from from 1777-1782, filed by Indian villagers.

While separated in time by two centuries, the lands in question are only a mile apart. They are located on the northeastern fringe of modern-day Mexico City, on the way to the pyramids of Teotihuacán. In addition, both have simple hand-drawn maps with features suggesting they were drawn by the area’s original Nahua inhabitants.

The 1589 manuscript collects from an investigation ordered by the Viceroy of New Spain, Álvaro Manrique de Zúñiga, invoving a claim by Hernando Jaramillo to land in Tepexpan (see map). There are depositions from both Indian and Spanish inhabitants, and a lengthy census of all the land owners in the neighborhood. The map includes Aztec glyphs for maguey and cactus pears, to indicate the agricultural production of Cerro Gordo, “which the Indians call Tlahuilcoc”; see the detail shown here at the upper left. The manuscript ends with a criminal accusation by Jaramillo against a neighbor who attacked him and forcibly ejected him from his home. Spoiler alert: Jaramillo won.

The later manuscript is a petition by the Indian inhabitants of Iztapa (today called Santa Isabel Ixtapan), just to the south of Tepexpan. They sought to recover lands they claimed had been given them by the Jesuits before the Jesuits were expelled from New Spain in 1767. The manuscript includes a wonderfully detailed map, shown below. Note the trail of footprints that indicate the roadway.

My thanks to Salomon Rosenthal of Librería Urbe for his informative descriptions of the manuscripts.

– MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian


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