- from Early Settlements
The first Spaniards to arrive in New Spain were soldiers, who knew a lot about fighting but were not interested in toiling in mines or farming for food. For that kind of hard work, the early settlers of New Spain turned to the American Indian population.
Under a system called the encomienda, the Spanish king gave the labor of specific groups of American Indians to individual settlers for life. In effect, this meant that many of the American Indians of New Spain were held in slavery. Slavery is the practice of forcing people to work against their will without pay. Many of these enslaved American Indians were overworked. They were not fed enough. They were exposed to new diseases that settlers unknowingly brought from Europe. Not surprisingly, they died in large numbers. In New Spain’s first 100 years, the American Indian population went from about 25 million to 1 million.