In October 2010, a galleon replica, the Andalucia, docked at Pier Uno, Cebu City, on the same waters where the old Cebu galleons anchored more than 400 years ago. (Photo credit: Janice Gabayan)
It was June 1, 1565 when a galleon hurried out of Mandawi Bay across Mactan Island on its way to New Spain. The Spaniards were anxious to send the ship: the habagat had begun to blow and to delay more was to court disaster. Previous expeditions which sailed late in the year met contrary winds that blocked their way eastward across the Pacific.1
The San Pedro was chosen for the latest expedition. It was sent to find the return route to Mexico which had evaded earlier attempts from Ferdinand Magellan’s Trinidad to Ruy Lopez de Villalobos’s San Juan de Letran.2 The voyage was critical: if the ship finds a way back across the Pacific, the necessary instructions, supplies and reinforcements could be dispatched to the Philippines; if not, they would have to sail through enemy waters, in the Portuguese side, westward around the Cape of Good Hope and back to Spain, as what Juan Sebastian del Cano did with the Victoria.
Miguel Lopez de Legaspi, commander of the Spanish fleet that came to the Philippines in 1565, sent his grandson Felipe de Salcedo as captain of the San Pedro, but entrusted the navigation to the Augustinian Fray Andres de Urdaneta. The galleon sailed the long and lonely stretch of the Pacific for four difficult months before they sighted the coast of California in the American continent. Fray Urdaneta, who had assumed the pilotage of the ship when Esteban Rodriguez died near the coast, bypassed Navidad and sailed on to Acapulco. The ship was undermanned – eighteen of the crew died when the food supply run out, it was easier to dock the crippled ship in the wide but secure Acapulco Bay. 3 The galleon entered the port in October 8, 1565. Her voyage began the centuries’ trade between the Philippines and New Spain.
The galleons were not only communication ships ferrying instructions, reports, provisions and men between the Philippines and New Spain. They were also trade ships. When the San Pedro left Navidad in November 1594, onboard were royal merchandise for barter: woolen cloth, taffeta, silk, combs, bells, needles, knives, mirrors, scissors, beads, crystal ware, and many more curiosities for the Filipinos.4 When the armada sought refuge in a bay in Bohol to prepare the San Pedro for the return voyage, Legaspi sent the San Juan to the port of Butuan to check if cinnamon, other spices, drugs and other products of value are available and to trade for these. There the crew exchanged their linen, tafetta and silver tostones for gold, wax and cinnamon of the natives of Butuan and the visiting Moro traders of Luzon.5 The cinnamon was loaded to the San Pedro when it sailed back to New Spain; the galleon trade had thus begun.6
Several more galleons traveled the Cebu-Acapulco route. The San Geronimo came to Cebu on October 15, 1566 to report the successful eastward crossing.7 The following year, the San Juan, carrying 70 quintales of cinnamon, traced the route laid out by Fray Urdaneta.8 Shortly after it left the port of Cebu, the San Pedro arrived together with two other ships: the San Lucas and the Santa Clara. They brought the long awaited supplies and additional men.9
In 1568, the San Pedro sailed again with a bigger shipment – 340 quintales of the spice, but it never reached Mexico. It encountered storms that battered it to the brink of sinking; the crippled ship turned around and was fortunate to reach Cebu.10 This was the end of the historic San Pedro, the first ship to sail the galleon route was also its first casualty. Another galleon, the San Lucas, also left from the island in 1569.11
Several forces constrained the Spaniards position in Cebu: the Portuguese threat and the scarcity of food among others, so Miguel Lopez de Legazpi moved the main settlement to Panay, and later to Manila; the ships also moved to Manila Bay. The transfer stopped the early exchange of ships between Cebu and Acapulco. Was it the end of the Cebu-Acapulco galleon trade? Was the port of Cebu closed for the galleons until the trade ended in 1815. Was the route, as many believed, permanently abandoned after the move to Manila?
This paper will show that Cebu’s part in the galleon trade did not end with the Spanish transfer to Manila in 1571, but was revived in the late 16th century in response to the clamor of Spaniards in Cebu. It will further argue that the revived trade was closed after only a decade because of the competition between the merchants of the Philippines and of Spain for the market in Spanish America.
A Branch of the Galleon Trade
The Manila-Acapulco galleon trade became very prosperous. The city was sending one or two ships annually – a few times it sent three or four – crammed with merchandise from China, Japan, the Moluccas and the Philippines.12 On their return, they carried chests full of Mexican and Peruvian silver, the profit of the year’s sale. Later, the number of ships were limited to two per year, the capitana and the almiranta (the commander’s and admiral’s ships), because of the pressure exerted by merchants from Spain to restrict the entrance of products from Asia in Mexico, Peru and other territories. Since all the Spaniards in the Philippines were entitled to trade, the amount of cargo space was not enough.13 Ships sailed dangerously overloaded, and merchants competed for a greater space for more cargoes meant more profits.
The Spaniards in Cebu also participated in the trade. They prepared shipments comprised of the tributes (in kind) paid to them and the products bought from the Visayas and Mindanao and transported these cargoes to Manila to be shipped in the galleon the will sail for the year to Mexico.14 This very inconvenient setup combined with a desire for bigger spaces in the ship – they were probably eased out by the more influential Manila merchants – drew the Cebu traders together and united to clamor for the revival of the Cebu galleon. The cause had many support, all they need was an influential sponsor.
During the term of governor-general Gomez Perez Dasmariñas, the Spaniards in Cebu found someone to take up their plea to the king. Fray Francisco de Ortega, visitador-general of the Augustinian order’s Philippine province and prior of their Manila convent, wrote a memorial to King Philip II about varied issues in the archipelago from spiritual to military matters. Included among them was this request:
He [Fray Ortega] begs and entreats your Majesty to be pleased to give license that the inhabitants of that city [Santisimo Nombre de Jesus] may build a vessel of about two hundred and fifty toneladas, in order that the said ship may be sent with the vessels sailing from Manila to Nueva Espana, with the wax, cotton cloth, and the other cloth made from banana leaves, called medriñaque – in which products tributes are collected by all those of this island and by the encomenderos of the island of Panae.15
The king favorably responded. On the margins of the petition was written, “Let this be referred to the governor, so that if there is no special disadvantage, and it does not conflict with his present orders, he may grant permission for the sailing of this vessel.”16 And on April 23, 1594, the corresponding royal decree was issued for the Spaniards in Cebu. They were authorized to procure a galleon, load it with cargo, and send it at their own expense to New Spain every year with the products of the Visayas and Mindanao.17 The decree must have been enforced during the interim governorship of Don Luis Perez de Dasmarinas (1593-96), son of the deceased former governor, and the lieutenancy of Antonio de Morga (1595-1596).
I have not found the said decree; neither the compilation of documents of Blair and Robertson nor that of Licuanan and Mira included this document.18 Bruce Leonard Fenner, whom I relied on the April 23, 1594 royal decree that authorized the revival of the Cebu-Acapulco galleon trade, in turn depended on El Oriente. It seems to be a 19th century newspaper whose article in its May 28, 1876 issue treated the revival and decline of the Cebu galleon trade. Unfortunately, I was not able to find the new article, which is still a secondary document on the decree, and consult its source of information.
There are some not so clear things about this April 23, 1594 royal decree. Evident from the marginal notes of King Philip II on the petition of Fray Ortega, the king considered the approval of the revived Cebu galleon beginning from that request. There may have been earlier similar requests but he only began consideration or approved conditionally (depending on the favorable opinion of the governor-general) the branch of trade after Fray Ortega’s petition. It is correct to conclude that the 1594 decree was based on the Augustinian’s memorial, regardless if other requests were sent after it.
The first thing that is unclear is the year of the issuance decree, 1594. Fray Ortega’s request was undated, but Blair and Robertson included it among the 1594 documents which meant that it was written in 1594; it appears to be the standard in the filing of documents in The Philippine Islands. But reading the document revealed that it was written during the term of governor-general Dasmariñas, while he was still alive. He was killed in October 1593, thus, the request was not written on 1594. The administration of Dasmariñas was from June 1590 to 1593. The letter could not have been written from June 1590 to May 1591 for Fray Ortega mentioned the laudable accomplishments of the governor-general; Dasmariñas needed at least a year for that. It was also unlikely that it was written after July 1593 because it will be sent on the galleon. When was the memorial written? We will come back to this later.
If Blair and Robertson dated the letter of Fray Ortega as 1594 based not on when it was written but on when it was read and studied by the king, it is consistent with the issuance of the decree on April 23, 1594. Although we have to surmise that he had skipped the conditional opinion of the governor-general which would take a year to consult in the Philippines, and imposed that restriction on the cargo to ensure no disadvantage on the existing trade. This suggestion that Blair and Robertson dated the document because of the above reason is more acceptable than asserting that they mistook the year it was written as 1594 which was visibly erroneous.
But when was the petition written? Although it has no bearing on the revived trade, I will just risk a conclusion. It was not written on 1593 because no galleon sailed that year; the ships were detained at port for a year due to the raging storm that came just when it was about to sail. A galleon left the next year and arrived in Acapulco in November 1594 – too late for the issuance of the decree.19 Fray Ortega must have wrote it in the early months of 1592 and sent it in that year’s galleon. A passage in his report goes like this: “Fray Francisco de Ortega, … declares that he has spent thirty-eight years in the Yndias – sixteen of them in Nueva España and the rest in the Philipinas Islands ….” That made him a resident of the archipelago for around twenty-two years. Blair and Robertson set the year of arrival of Fray Ortega in the Philippines in 1570. If we add 22 to 1570, that makes it 1592 – the probable year that Fray Ortega composed his comprehensive report to the king of Spain.20
When was the petition written is not critical; it is enough that it was written. When was the exact date of the issuance of the decree is also not crucial; it is enough that it was issued, and their many proofs of that. Antonio de Morga, lieutenant governor beginning 1595, wrote in a book that the king granted Cebu the request to revive the galleon trade, and Francisco Tello, governor-general from 1596, confirmed this trade in a letter to the king.21
Let us now turn to the reason for the need to revive the trade. Fray Ortega described the present practice of the traders in Cebu: the Spaniards transported there cargoes to Manila annually and loaded them in the year’s galleon; each of them hired 40 to 50 laborers to do the job. It was very inconvenient to the Spaniards. It was also a great disadvantage to the Visayans, and consequently for the colony, because the farms and industries are neglected while more than 400 Visayans are in Manila for three months each year.22
Why were the Spaniards of Cebu privileged with a galleon of there own? Were the merchants of Cebu more influential than those from Arevalo in Panay. According to the 1591 survey of the state of the archipelago, Arevalo was more important than Villa del Santisimo Nombre de Jesus or the city of Cebu. While Cebu had more citizens: 30 against 20, Arevalo had a bigger population, roughly 100,000 thousand persons over 60,000. The province of Panay, at that time, also had more ministers; it had eighteen while Cebu only had two.23 Why did not the Spaniards in Arevalo requested for a galleon of their own, and why did not the government placed the second branch galleon there?
One advantage of Cebu over Panay as base of the second galleon trade was its location. The Villa del Santissimo Nombre de Jesus, or the city of Cebu, was a sort of capital of the Pintados. “All [the Visayan islands, including Panay, plus northern Mindanao] are practically the same distance of from seven to ten leagues away” from the city, wrote Fray Gaspar de San Agustin. At that time, the province of Cebu was not limited to the island of Cebu but also includes the islands of Bohol, Siquijor, Leyte, Samar, and northern Mindanao like Caraga, Butuan and Zamboanga. These farflung places were administered by an alcalde holding office in the villa; and encomiendas located there were owned by encomenderos residing in Cebu. 24
The site of the villa was a good choice. It was along the bay which is sheltered from strong winds by the opposite Mactan island. On this bay, wrote Antonio de Morga, was “a beautiful, clear and anchorable seaport with ample capacity to accommodate many vessels at the same time. And, added Fray Juan de Medina, “[This] port has so deep water right next to the shore that the ships anchor on the sand”. Even governor-general Francisco Sande who was not impressed with the Philippine islands admitted that: “[t]his settlement [in Cebu] is of no advantage, and causes expenses and no gain, beyond saying that it is near Maluco; nor does it possess other good qualities than that it claims to have a good climate and port.”25
Another advantage of Cebu was its Spanish residents; they seemed to be very influential. The respected Jesuit educators founded their first college outside Manila in Cebu. Father Pedro Chirino was summoned by his superior Father Antonio Sedeño to Cebu to supervised this new college in 1595. This was established partly from the request and support of some Spanish residents of the city.26 These residents were even able to enlist the no less than Governor Francisco Tello de Guzman (1596-1599) to their cause. Tello de Guzman requested the king for a ship of 300 tons to sail from the Cebu to Peru every two or three years.27 However, it was not granted.
Further proof of the importance of Cebu was another royal decree. I have quoted this at length because it revealed the special affection of the king for the place:
Don Felipe etc. In as much as the residents and inhabitants of the town of Santisimo Nombre de Jesus of the Island of Cebu in the Islas Filipinas have served me; since it was the first town founded in the Islands and where the evangelization of the native Indios first took place and the indio natives were baptized and came to the true faith; whereas they were also the first to offer allegiance to the Emperor and King my Lord and Father (RIP) [that is when Rajah Humabon offered allegiance to Charles V] I want it to he [sic] honored and to progress. For the present I wish and it is my will that now and henceforth and for always the said town should be given the title of the City of Santisimo Nobre [sic] de Jesus of the Islas Filipinas. I also wish that its residents enjoy all the rights and priveleges [sic] and favors that the other residents of similar cities enjoy and should enjoy and that this is the title by which it will be addressed and placed in all the letterheads of documents and in public places; and thus it should be called by the Kings who will succeed me and whom I entrust that they may also favor and help this new City, and protect and defend the priveleges [sic] and favors granted to it.”28
This decree confirmed the title of Ciudad del Santisimo Nombre de Jesus which was first given by the officials of the city of Cebu, and requested the king to confirm it. It appears that there was no need for the influence of the Spanish residents for the crown was inclined to treat, specially, this southern island for historical and sentimental reasons. The town of San Nicolas, the remnant of the old Cebu of Rajah Humabon and Rajah Tupas, were even treated differently from the other native towns; the inhabitants were exempted from payment of tributes.
The city-status of Cebu, one of the only two granted in the Philippines in the 16th century, was decreed on April 27, 1594 at the heels of the galleon revival.29 Two orders issued almost simultaneously indicates that the crown was trying to resuscitate the former economic prosperity of the city which suffered when the center of the colony was established in Manila and the galleon trade was transferred there.
The Cebu Galleons
The April 23, 1594 royal decree must have been carried out in the following year when the first galleon of the revived trade sailed from Cebu. The galleon San Pedro, a different one, left the port of Cebu heavy with merchandise from Visayas and Mindanao. It must have sailed late or its voyage prolonged for it only entered Acapulco bay between November or December 1595. This most probably was the first ship dispatched under the new decree. Don Luis de Velasco, the new viceroy of Peru who was waiting for a galleon to take him to his post, reported the arrival to the king. He added a vague but curious information to his letter: “I talked to Count of Monterrey about the need for the ship navigating on this route from Filipinas [emphasis mine] because two out of four Your Majesty has there are very old.”30 I think he was referring to the newly authorized Cebu-Acapulco route, and was concerned for the lack of ships to travel this line.
In 1596, Father Pedro Chirino hosted two Franciscans from Manila in the Jesuit house near the port of Cebu; they were waiting for their ship to sail to Acapulco. They remained until the Pentecost, probably around June, when they left for Mexico aboard the Cebu galleon. Several weeks later, Father Chirino welcomed another traveler: the Dominican Father Diego de Aragon was to sail for New Spain, but he missed the earlier ship boarded by the Franciscans, so he stayed for a year with the Jesuits and sailed in the 1597 galleon.
The revived Cebu galleon must have become a huge enterprise; it was not limited in Cebu. The ship was conveying travelers from the Manila to Mexico, and, according to Tello de Guzman, was “carrying merchandise both for the citizens of that city and of Manila.” But unfortunately, it met tragedy at sea. Father Aragon died together with the other passengers for the 1597 galleon was lost in the Pacific.31 It was an early blow to the Spanish merchants in the city, a bad beginning to their young venture.
Despite the early loss of the 1597 galleon, the Spaniards in Cebu did not lose heart. More ships left Cebu for Acapulco. Morga, in his history of the Philippine islands from the beginning of conquest up to the end of Pedro de Acuna’s administration in 1606, wrote that “[b]y His Majesty’s bounty, the city possesses a large ocean-going vessels [sic] for loading cargo, which periodically sails from its port, bound for New Spain, taking in board the merchandise consisting of products gathered from those provinces.”32 Also he did not mention the trade was abandoned, so Cebu must have dispatched a galleon to Acapulco as late as 1606. The book was not published until 1609, giving him enough time to revise his information.
But Fenner, qouting the article in El Oriente, wrote that the Cebu galleon was abandoned in 1604. He added that the early misfortune of the 1597 galleon, the prohibition of cargoes of silk, and the small profit of the sales in New Spain resulted to losses in the balance sheet – “the profits from the ventures failed to cover even the cost of outfitting the galleons”. Still, Cebu bid for another try. In 1611 the citizens must have recovered some financial strength for they requested the king to revive the Cebu-Acapulco line, but they were denied.33 The port of Cebu remained closed for the Mexican trade. At this time, there was another king in Spain. King Philip II, who granted them the privilege for a ship before, had died in 1599. His wish that “the Kings who will succeed [him] and whom [he] entrust … may also favor and help this new City, and protect and defend the priveleges [sic] and favors granted to it” did not heed his request.34 The port of Cebu remained close for the Mexican trade until the end of the Philippine-Mexico galleon enterprise.
Without the trade, the Spaniards have less reason to stay. One by one they began migrating to Manila to get closer to the remaining galleon line. From the original fifty citizens, the Spanish population dwindled so much, that the few remaining were not even enough to occupy the offices of the city. And when one of the remaining officials die, they have to bring someone from outside to replace him.35 In the 1620s, those that remained were wretchedly needy that they were only able to survive because of the charity of the convents, wrote Fray Medina. The condition of the city of Cebu was reflected in its Augustinian convent. As the first convent founded in the Philippines, it should have been the grandest, instead it is the poorest and neediest, because “as the city was declining, so likewise the convent declined”, he observed.36
According to Morga, the lieutenant governor when the decree on the Cebu galleon was enforced, the city of Cebu sent to Acapulco cargoes of “merchandise consisting of products gathered from those provinces.”37 He was referring to the provinces of the Pintados (the Visayas and northern Mindanao). There were only two in the 1590s: Panay and Zebu. The province of Panay included the neighboring islands like Cuyo of Palawan, while Zebu comprised Bohol, Leyte, Samar, and parts of eastern Negros like Tanay and northern Mindanao such as Caraga and Butuan.38
Cinnamon was a very important cargo in the earlier Cebu galleon trade. In October 15, 1567, the king sent a special order to Legazpi, for the sake of the health of his ailing son, to send cinnamon “in tortilla or rollo” like those previously sent in the San Pedro under Fray Urdaneta.39 The early ships that left Cebu had carried cinnamon: The San Pedro, on its first voyage to Acapulco carried a small cargo, and on its next trip, it brought a bigger one – 350 quintales of cinnamon. The second ship sent from the Philippines, the San Juan, successfully delivered 170 quintales of cinnamon to the royal officials in Mexico.40 This cargo must have been continued in the revived trade.
There was no cinnamon in Cebu; it was brought from Mindanao. The Spaniards traded for the spice in the port of Butuan, brought it from Zamboanga or bartered for it in the Point of Cavite. In Cavite, which is on the eastern side of Mindanao, cinnamon is believed to be very abundant that Guido Lavezaris, the royal treasurer who would become governor-general upon Legazpi’s death, implored his king to settle those part because it will be very good for the trade.41
Wax was another export from Cebu. Beeswax were gathered in the mountains of Mindanao, Leyte, Samar, and Cebu. The Negritos and Cimarrones, who lived in the mountains, gathered the wax and exchanged them with rice, iron and clothes from the people of the towns.42 The Spaniards, who bought the wax or received it as tributes, shipped them in the galleon.
Cotton cloths called lompotes or lampotes was a famous product of Cebu, a local manufacture of the island. The weaving of lompotes was a household activity for the Cebuanos who payed a portion of their tributes in this cloth – a certain length of lompote was valued at four reales. One encomendero earned 150,000 pesos in a few years from these lompotes, said Father Chirino. The collected lompotes were sent as cargo to the galleons.43
Another renowned product of Cebu was cocoa. But it was not indigenous here. The Cebu cocoa was a specie of a plant brought over from New Spain by a Spanish pilot in the galleon. He gave it to his brother who was priest in Lipa, but it was stolen from him.44 It was this stolen cocoa plant that multiplied and spread to the different islands, its best varieties were from Negros and Cebu. It is exported to New Spain. Although cocoa is abundant in the Americas, its origin, the Negros and Cebu varieties were still sent there because it is believed to be better than the Guayaquil variety and second only to the Soconusco.45 At first, it commanded a good price of two pesos per pound of cocoa, but because of its abundance throughout the islands, the price dropped to one or two reales per pound.46 The cocoa must have also been exported in the Cebu galleons.
Other products of the Visayan islands and Mindanao were sent to New Spain, but they must have only occupied a minor place as cargo. Pearls were abundant in the seas of the “Pintados, Mindanao, Calamianes, Negros, Jolo, and more so in Talibong [Bohol]”, wrote Fray Juan Francisco de San Antonio. Probably, products of the pearl fisheries that operated irregularly there.47 El Oriente reported that the royal decree of 1594 specified that aside from beeswax, and cotton tablecloths, the Spaniards could only send bananas and other fruits from the Pintados.48 But these seems improbable, bananas and fruits cannot survive the prolonged and tempestous trip, they will rot crossing that huge expanse of saltwater before sighting California. I think it only misread the decree. If this is check against the petition of Fray Ortega: “… the said ship may be sent … with the wax, cotton cloth, and the other cloth made from banana leaves, called medriñaque…”49, it was not bananas but cloths made from banana leaves that will be among the ship’s cargo.
The Cebu galleons were limited to the products of the Visayas and northern Mindanao. The decree that allowed it prohibited it from trading with other products especially Chinese silk. This silks were the most saleable merchandise in Mexico; in the Manila galleons it occupied majority of the cargo space. Galleon trade was predominantly on this silk and other Chinese products that in New Spain, they were also know as nao de China or China ships. This cargo limitation would be a significant factor in the outcome of the revived Cebu trade.
The voyage to Acapulco was shorter and easier from Cebu than from Manila. From Manila Bay, the galleon traced its way through a ‘labyrinth of islands’50: from Cavite on Manila Bay out through one of the bocas, generally between Mariveles and Corregidor; thence SSW, keep well clear of Fortun to the left and high Ambil to the right; past Cape Santiago on the Luzon coast, and E between Mindoro and Maricaban, by the Punta de Escarceo, or “Tide Rip Point” where currents run strong and under Isla Verde, outside Subaang Bay, within which their was a fair anchorage in case of need; SE past the islets of Baco, with a good channel off Calapan; SE by E down the Mindoro coast by Punta Gorda de Pola; E by SE between Marinduque and Banton, out onto the tablazo, or open water, above the Punta de San Miguel and the Punta del Diablo; coasting around the east side of Ticao to the anchorage at San Jacinto; clearing from thence and working out seaward with the monsoon; E eight leagues with the dangerous Naranjos to starboard and the shoal of Calantas to port; NE by N and then ENE seven leagues around Capul; NE with the Sorsogon coast to port and San Bernardino to starboard and NE by E seven leagues to the Embocadero, with San Bernardino now to port and the island of Biri to starboard.51
When the galleon exited the Embocadero and entered the open seas, a month had passed.52 From Cebu, the Embocadero is much nearer: “… [the] San Pablo [sic], cleared from Cebu on the first of June 1565, and mounting with the monsoon past Leyte and between Masbate and Samar, debouched from the group by the Strait of San Bernardino”.53 This distance, according to Fray Medina, can be covered in a day of sailing from the port of Cebu.54
The Manila galleons also left at a riskier time of the habagat season. They cannot immediately sail on the arrival of the vendaval for they have to wait for a brisa (east wind) to propel them southeast to the Embocadero. Oftentimes the brisa came at height of the vendaval where there is greater chance of meeting storms on the way to the Ladrones, the present day Marianas Islands and Guam. The Cebu galleon is spared of this. The ships, described Medina, “leave port with the vendaval, and get clear of the islands, and in less than twenty hours reach the Spanish sea. They pursue their course with the same vendaval, which brings them to the Ladrones Islands,”for they leave the port at the beginning of the vendaval and reached the Ladrones before the arrival of storms.55
From the Embocadero, the Cebu galleon followed the Manila ship’s route. They rose east by northeast to the direction of the Ladrones where they anchored to take supply. From the Ladrones, they continued climbing northeast up to the thirty-sixth or thirty-seventh parallels. Here the galleons sailed on the eastward flowing Japan current and in front of the prevailing westerlies. They adjusted the course east to the California coast, and upon approaching the continent, sailed southeast to Acapulco Bay.56
The purpose of this paper is to show that after the transfer of the galleons to Manila the Cebu trade was closed but later revived to become a branch of the Manila-Acapulco trade. It will also explain the reason for the second closure of the Cebu branch when it was permanently abandoned until the end of the Philippine-Mexico galleon trade in 1815. I have already described the revival; I will discuss its closure later, but for the moment I will expand a little from my original plan to share an unexpected finding of the research.
There were occasional galleons in Cebu between the move to Manila and the revival of the trade. A few galleons still found their way to the port. In 1572, the Santiago sailed into the bay of Mandawi bare of equipments and riggings. The Spaniards had to send the equipments and riggings of ships in Manila to refit it to sail again. A few months later, it sailed to Mexico, although from Manila.57 And in 1593, two galleons were about to be dispatched by Governor Gomez Perez Dasmarinas: the San Felipe to sail from Cebu, and the San Francisco to depart from Manila, but both were held at the port because of storms – they stayed there for a year. No ships arrived in Acapulco in 1593 which very much worried the people there because, later that year, they have received the news of Governor Gomez Perez Dasmariñas death via India. The San Felipe finally sailed from Cebu in June 1594 and reached Acapulco in November 1594 bearing the first news of the governor’s fate by way of the Pacific.58 It appeased the officials’ and citizens’ worries that a tragic thing happened to the islands with the governor’s death. The next year, the San Felipe returned to the Philippines together with the Santiago bringing Antonio de Morga to his new post as lieutenant governor of the Philippines. But the ships docked in Manila.59 The request of the Spaniards in Cebu did not indicate that no galleon came to nor left from Cebu after the trade moved to Manila, for some ships occasionally visited the port. Rather, they petitioned to make this stray ships come regularly, and spare them from breaking their backs hauling the shipments to the capital.
Fray Ortega explained in his petition the importance of Cebu to the spices of Moluccas: “He [Fray Ortega] declares that it would be advisable to reinforce the city of Santisimo Nombre de Jesus, on the island of Cubu, with more troops, for its security, as well as that of the other islands nearby and those of Maluco, as it is a way station between Maluco and Nueva Espana….”60 Manila was described as a way station too. It was the transshipment point between China and New Spain where Chinese junks transferred their merchandise to the galleons in Manila that sailed to Mexico. Was Cebu’s role on the Moluccan spices similar to Manila’s on the Chinese merchandise? Did ships conveyed spices from the Moluccas to another galleon waiting in Cebu to deliver them to Acapulco? If way station was meant in a similar sense, then it is proof that once in a while a galleon leaves Cebu, loaded with Moluccan spices and other products of the Visayas, and sails for Acapulco during Fray Ortega’s time.
Decline of the Cebu Galleon
Disaster struck early in the line. The third galleon sent after the approval of the petition was lost to sea.61 The loss of ships, also suffered by Manila, was a harder blow to Cebu because the latter’s galleons were built at the expense of citizens, while the former’s were provided by the king. These galleons were expensive. At first, galleons were built at around 8000 pesos only, but later the construction cost rose to 30, 000 to 95,857 to even 200,000 pesos; the San Diego cost about 60,000 pesos.62 This must have been the same San Diego commanded by Antonio de Morga during the battle with the Dutch near the Manila Bay.
The merchandise exported were also limited. Silk, the most saleable and profitable product in Mexico, was banned.63 While wax, which became the major cargo of the galleon was very far from the profitability of silk. According to Fray Medina, the Cebu galleon stopped because its trade was with wax.64
The lompotes and cocoa of Cebu were promising exports: both were highly regarded by the Mexicans, but these were not sustained. The cultivation and weaving of cotton was abandoned in the Cebu, like in the other provinces. Aside from the people’s dislike of cotton weaving because it was so tedious to remove the seeds, the household industry was neglected when the Chinese brought much textiles and cloths they patronized.65 The government was forced to ban the wearing of Chinese clothes by the Filipinos in order to force them to tend to the cotton fields and cotton weaving again.66 The Cebuanos lost interest in the cocoa trade. Although it started out very profitable – it sold for two pesos per pound, the subsequent abundance of cocoa much reduced its value that it later sold for four reales only.67 It did not bring big profits for the shippers.
The trade of cinnamon from Mindanao was given up too. The tree grows wild in the interior of the forest that bark was difficult to gather. In the cinnamon plantations in Butuan and Zamboanga, the barks were prematurely and too frequently harvested that the trees die after one harvest. An easier alternative came with the arrival of a bigger volume and better quality of cinnamon acquired from Ceylon, now called Sri Lanka, which was exported through Manila.68
The piracy of the Muslims of Mindanao certainly affected the Cebu-Acapulco trade. The pirates must have captured boats that were delivering products from islands of the Visayas to the galleon in Cebu, irritated the Spanish traders who were worried about completing their shipment, and exasperated the crew for the delayed departure, but I doubt if they contributed to the abandonment of the Cebu galleon.
To blame the fall of the Cebu galleon on the severe restrictions on the cargo and the early misfortunes of the line is an incomplete explanation. Disasters are given in this kind of trade: dozens of Manila ships were lost to sea and four were lost to the English.69 One shipwreck out of two voyages allowed merchants to break even. It is said, that penniless Spaniards borrows money from the obras pias for two shipments plus payment for the interest so that if the first galleon sinks, he will have money to recover it in the second one.70 The limitation on the cargo was not the real cause of the closure of the trade, it was only a result. Without doubt, the unprofitability of the venture forced the city to halt sending ships, but it was only a temporary setback, they proposed to send a ship again in 1611.
Even if the city did not stop sending the ship, or if they were allowed to sell silk, eventually the trade would still be closed. The closure was a concession to the merchants of the peninsula, like the discontinuance of the very profitable Manila-Peru trade. The competition between the merchants of Spain and of the Philippines for the American market was so intense that Governor Tello de Guzman, when he requested for the expansion of the Cebu trade to Peru, assured the king that it will not compete with the trade from Spain for it will only carry flagstones, ivory, and other things not in ships from Spain.71 This competition is the real cause of the closure of the Cebu-Acapulco line.
The fate of the revived Cebu galleon was sealed before it even began. In April 14, 1579, King Philip II granted the royal sanction to the galleons unofficially trading with New Spain. He even authorized the trade to expand to Peru, Guatemala and Tierra Firme. Trading galleons were dispatched to these territories: a ship was sent to Peru in 1581 and 1582. But upon pressure from the Cadiz and Seville merchants, the decree was revised after two shipments. The Philippines can will only trade with New Spain, it will no longer send ships to Peru and the other territories. Although a concession was granted to the Peruvians to make their purchases of Oriental products in Acapulco, it also disallowed in 1587 and reissued in 1593, in 1595 and in 1604 for they were continuously violated. Although the decree that limited the Pacific trade between the Philippines and New Spain was circumvented beyond 1604, necessitating the re-issuance of the decree in 1620, in 1634, in 1636, and in 1706; the year 1604 was significant because together with the ban were three auxiliary laws that tried to ensure that enforcement of the prohibition.72 An indicator of the serious efforts to limit the Philippine galleon trade.
If other ports were excluded in the Americas, why not exclude the secondary port in the Philippines too? This seems to be the logic in the closure of Cebu’s port to the Pacific trade: by closing the ports in Peru, Guatemala and Tierra Firme they reduced the consumers of the galleon’s merchandise and by shutting down the port of Cebu they limited the suppliers; both were advantageous to the Atlantic merchants of Spain.
There was a parallel Cebu-Acapulco galleon line to the Manila-Acapulco trade route. Contrary to the usual belief that Cebu only hosted the first phase of the trade before its permanent transfer to Manila – the only known ship from there was the San Pedro which discovered the return route – the city was home to a branch of the galleon enterprise when the Cebu galleon was revived in 1594 by virtue of a royal decree. The city dispatched simultaneous trips to Acapulco with Manila. The first ship sent must have been the galleon that sailed in 1595, and followed by others until 1604 when the route was closed.
The line was not as profitable as Manila. Silk was restricted on board, and it carried only products from the Visayas and Mindanao which did not command high prices in New Spain. But this was not the reason for the closure; it was the fierce rivalry between Spain and the Philippines in supplying the American market which necessitated the imposition of those restrictions to the trade. Still the Spaniards in the Cebu persisted: in 1611, the few citizens left petitioned to revive the Cebu-Acapulco galleon trade, but they were refused. They would have to wait for two and a half centuries, till 1860, for the reopening of the port not only for trade with Acapulco but for the whole world.
The galleons are long gone. Mandawi bay has since been eaten by a reclamation project that had altered the shape of its coast; the only remnant is a city on its northern coast named after it, Mandaue City. This first year of the galleon celebration, an authentic galleon, a replica of 17th century galleon, sailed for the Philippines and the ship arrived in Manila on October 5, 2010 and stayed there five days until October 9: a visit that commemorated the proud Manila galleons that conquered the Pacific for two and half centuries. But on these crossings they were accompanied by the Cebu galleons. I hope that this galleon could unfurl its sail to the wind, direct its rudder to the south and visit another port of its ancestors – the same port where the Victoria had sailed out of this archipelago on her way to the first trip around the world.
(A version of this article appeared in the Philippine Quarterly of Culture and Society, a journal of the University of San Carlos, Cebu City.)
1. Virginia Benitez Licuanan and Jose Llavador Mira, The Philippines Under Spain: a compilation and translation of original documents (Philippines: National Trust for Historic and Cultural Preservation of the Philippines, in installments from 1990-1996), vol. 2, p. 114.
2. William Lytle Schurz, The Manila Galleon (Manila: Historical Conservation Society, 1985), pp. 24-26, 180.
3. Gaspar de San Agustin, OSA, Conquest of the Philippine Islands 1565-1615 (Intramuros, Manila: San Agustin Museum, 1998) p 363.
4. Licuanan and Mira, vol. 2, pp. 71-72.
5. Ibid., pp. 199-200.
6. Ibid., p. 265.
7. San Agustin, pp. 441-451.
8. Licuanan and Mira, vol. 2, p 236.
9. Ibid., pp. 277-278; San Agustin, p 497.
10. Licuanan and Mira, vol. 2, p 277; San Agustin, p 499.
11. San Agustin, p 525.
12. Schurz, p 161.
13. Ibid., pp. 132-133, 134, 137. A 1593 law provided that: “all the citizens of those islands, in proportion to their wealth, in order that everyone may share in the advantage and profit of this traffic”, are entitled to a space for their cargoes in the galleon.
14. Emma Helen Blair and James Alexander Robertson eds., The Philippine Islands 1493-1898 (Mandaluyong, Rizal: Cacho Hermanos, 1973) vol. 9, p 117.
17. Bruce Leonard Fenner, Cebu Under the Spanish Flag, 1521-1896: An Economic-Social History (Cebu City: San Carlos Publications, 1885), p 36.
18. These compilation works are those previously cited: Emma Helen Blair and James Alexander Robertson eds.. The Philippine Islands 1493-1898, 55 vols.. Mandaluyong, Rizal: Cacho Hermanos, 1973; Virginia Benitez Licuanan and Jose Llavador Mira, The Philippines Under Spain: a compilation and translation of original documents, vols.. The Philippines: National Trust for Historic and Cultural Preservation of the Philippines, in installments from 1990-1996. The latter contains more documents for the late 16th century period, and many related ones about the galleon but it does not include the very important royal decree to revive the Cebu-Acapulco galleon trade.
19. Antonio de Morga, Historical Events of the Philippine Islands, annotated by Jose Rizal (Manila: Jose Rizal National Centennial Commission, 1962), p. 35; Licuanan, vol. 5, p 550.
20. Blair and Robertson, vol. 9, p. 117.
21. Ibid., vol. 10, p. 269-270; Morga, pp. 306-307.
22. Blair and Robertson, vol. 9, p 117.
23. Ibid., vol. 8, pp. 127-137.
24. San Agustin, p 59.
25. Blair and Robertson, vol. 23, p. 161; Morga, p 306.
26. Pedro Chirino, S.J., Relacion de las Islas Filipinas (Manila: Historical Conservation Society, 1969), pp. 305.
27. Blair and Robertson, vol. 10, p. 269-270.
28. Licuanan and Mira, vol. 5, p. 522.
30. Ibid., vol. 6, pp. 200, 202. There seems to be an inconsistency in this letter: Don Luis de Velasco, viceroy of Mexico during the Legaspi expedition died, July 31, 1564, while the fleet was prepared in Navidad (cited in vol. 2, p. 25). Although there are some similarities in the data with the first return voyage: the galleons San Pedro and San Pablo were sent from Cebu, but the San Pablo was held at port, and the year 1565 could have been mistyped into 1595, other information he provided are anachronistic in 1565. He mentioned that the ships did not sail in Manila, that another ship was making a survey to determine the demarcation of territories, and Captain Esteban Rodriguez de Figueroa was in the Philippines. It must have been another Luis de Velasco, viceroy of Peru, who wrote this letter. His account of the ships San Felipe and Santiago is even corroborated by Fray Gaspar de San Agustin (p. 1015), and an unsigned report (Licuanan and Mira, vol. 5, p. 550).
31. Chirino, pp. 305; Blair and Robertson, vol. 10, p. 270.
32. Morga, p. 306-307.
33. Fenner, p. 36-37.
34. Licuanan and Mira, vol. 5, p. 522.
35. Blair and Robertson, vol. 28, p. 177.
36. Ibid., vol. 23, p. 162-163, 170.
37. Morga, p. 306.
38. Blair and Robertson, vol. 8, pp. 127-137
39. Licuanan and Mira, vol. 2, p. 265.
40. Ibid., p. 236, 277; San Agustin, p. 525; Blair and Robertson, vol. 23, p. 499.
41. Licuanan and Mira, vol. 2 , p. 236; San Agustin, p. 525; Blair and Robertson, vol. 23, p. 73.
42. San Antonio, p. 22, 84.
43. Chirino, p. 240; Blair and Robertson, vol. 28, pp 181-182.
44. San Agustin, p 77.
45. Thomas de Comyn, State of the Philippine Islands, being an historical, statistical and descriptive account of that interesting portion of the Indian Archipelago (London: T. and J. Allman, 1821), p. 23; San Agustin, p 77.
46. San Agustin, p. 77.
47. San Antonio, p. 22; Comyn, p. 38-39.
48. Fenner, p. 36.
49. Blair and Robertson, vol. 9, p. 117.
50. Schurz, p. 182. The Italian traveler Gemelli Careri, in Giro del Mondo, made this comparison of the passage through the islands to the Embocadero when he sailed through the Philippines on his journey around the world.
51. Schurz, pp. 182-183.
52. Ibid., p. 182. The voyage varied from three to six weeks.
53. Ibid., p. 181. This is from the ship’s log of the voyage of the San Pedro that found the route back to Mexico. This route was followed by the succeeding ships that sailed from Cebu.
54. Blair and Robertson, vol. 23, pp. 175-176.
55. Ibid., pp. 175-176. The portion of the Spanish sea referred above is now known as the Philippine Sea, the body of water that borders the archipelago on the east and connects to the Pacific Ocean which Spaniards also called in the 16th century as the Spanish sea or lake.
56. Schurz, p. 185.
57. Licuanan and Mira, vol. 2, p. 398.
58. Antonio de Morga, Historical Events of the Philippine Islands, annotated by Jose Rizal (Manila: Jose Rizal National Centennial Commission, 1962), p. 35; Licuanan and Mira, vol. 5, p. 550.
59. Morga, p. 37.
60. Blair and Robertson, vol. 9, p. 116.
61. The third galleon sent from the port of Cebu according to the royal decree of April 23, 1594 was the 1597 galleon: the first trip was on 1565, and the second on 1566.
62. Schurz, p. 164.
63. Fenner, p. 37.
64. Blair and Robertson, vol. 23, p. 162.
65. Ibid., pp. 91-93, vol. 28, p. 181; Comyn, pp. 57-58.
66. Licuanan and Mira, vol. 5, pp. 172-187.
67. San Agustin, p. 77.
68. Ibid., p. 73.
69. Schurz, p. 21.
70. Ibid., pp. 141-142.
71. Blair and Robertson, vol. 10, p. 269-270.
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