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Beginning with the province of Tehuantepec, the territory subordinate to the viceroy of Nueva Espana stretched west and north to California and beyond. The viceroy had his court in the city of Mexico and was responsible in a military sense for a vast region extending from the West Indies to the Philippine Islands.
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There was a separate and independent audiencia at Guadalajara with judicial and to a large extent political control over the kingdoms of Nueva Galicia and Nueva Vizcaya, including the coast north of Navidad Bay. The Californias were directly under the viceroyalty of Nueva Espana. Along the coast, local government was entrusted to alcaldes mayores in the few Spanish settlements. These were, more than mayors, actually governors of often considerable territories, and exercised extensive powers within their jurisdictions. It was a swampy, ill-chosen location with little in its favor but strategic importance.
It was also the depot for all Spanish goods destined for South America.
The audiencia was responsible for receiving the Peruvian bullion and seeing that it got safely across the isthmus. Because of the extreme tidal range, ships had to anchor some three leagues seven miles southwest of the old city, at Perico Point. It was taken from the land side , looted, and burned by Morgan in , after which a new city was erected on the present site.
In Drake's Wake
Again most of the houses were of wood and were destroyed by fire in , after which more stone and brick were used in construction. The inhabitants lived from cattle raising, lumbering, subsistence agriculture, and gold mining. A convenient hide-out used many times by pirates was Coiba, or Quibo, a wooded, mountainous island twenty-two miles long and twelve miles from the mainland.
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Coiba had no permanent inhabitants, although occasionally pearl divers and fishermen camped on its shores. There was plenty of water and small game.
Between the provinces of Veragua and Costa Rica was a wild, mountainous country inhabited by Indians whom the Spaniards never completely subdued. Dulce Gulf, a large, deep, well-protected bay, had no Spanish settlement nearby and was consequently used by pirates as a port of refuge and a careening and watering place. Its shores were colonized at an early date, there being two principal Spanish-mulatto settlements.
One, called Nicoya, was near the mouth of the Tempisque River at the head of the gulf, with a shipyard and of sufficient importance to have an alcalde mayor much of the time. The other was at the Bay of Caldera, near the mouth of the gulf on the east shore, twenty leagues sixty miles from the capital of Costa Rica, Cartago. At Caldera there were several warehouses for the Panamanian and Peruvian trade, and a short distance inland was the Spanish village of Esparza modern Esparta.
In addition there were Christianized Indian villages on the west shore of the gulf and on Chira Island. Within the gulf were a number of unfrequented islands and coves occasionally used by pirates for careening and watering. The inhabitants of Nicoya province lived from agriculture and stock raising, their produce going to Panama and Nicaragua. Not far above the Gulf of Nicoya is a deep, sheltered cove, Culebra Bay, described by the coast pilot as "the finest harbor in Central America.
There were a few cattle ranches nearby when buccaneers called at Culebra in It was the most important place on the coast of Central America. In early years the vicinity of the harbor itself was uninhabited except for a sentinel, the old town of Realejo being two leagues inland on a small river. It was connected by road with the city of Leon, colonial capital of Nicaragua, the final after site of which was eight leagues to the east.
Realejo began to be used as a shipyard and port for the Peruvian trade about The harbor is completely sheltered by a long island. The docks for launching ships were on the river's bank at the edge of the town, although normally ships did not go up that far. By the middle of the sixteenth century there was a sizable colony of European and mestizo carpenters, caulkers, sail-makers, and other specialists.
Until the Manila galleons were built there. After Drake passed by, breastworks were erected near the entrance to the creek running up to Realejo town, and these fortifications continued to be used during successive visits of pirates. A chain or boom of trees was sometimes placed across the river opposite the breastworks. Because of its relative wealth and its accessibility from both seas, Granada was attacked several times by pirates. Livestock and agricultural products were shipped from Nicaragua, both to Peru via Realejo and to Cartagena via Granada and the Desaguadero.
Other important articles of colonial trade were cotton cloth, pitch, and rigging. In the mountains northeast of Realejo was the gold mining town of Nueva Segovia modern Ocotal , on the upper waters of the Segovia or Coco River. This was the northernmost town in colonial Nicaragua, and the source of pitch, or pine tar, for the shipyard of Realejo and for export to Peru. The next harbor, within the colonial province of Guatemala, was the Bay of Amapala, or Gulf of Fonseca.
The only other Spanish town near the shores of the bay was Jerez de Choluteca, on the east side.
The islands of Meanguera and Amapala had Christianized Indian villages. Spanish ships not infrequently entered the bay to load pitch, cacao, and other products for Peru and Mexico. In spite of this lack of privacy, Amapala was used by foreign ships as a center of operations from to