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Journal of the Bahamas Historical Society, Volume 1 (October 1979)

SPANISH SLAVE TRADE IN THE BAHAMAS, 1509 - 1530: AN ASPECT OF THE CARIBBEAN PEARL INDUSTRY
by Julian Cranberry

One of the most lucrative sources of wealth in the Indies before the discovery of New Spain and Peru were the pearl fisheries of the Caribbean. The small island of Cubagua, just off the northeast coast of Venezuela in the district of Cumana, was an outstanding center for the insdustry.1 The island was discovered in 1499 by Alonso de Hojeda,2 a year after having been by-passed by Columbus on his third voyage, and within a few short years came to be the center of the New World pearl industry along with its neighbor, the island of Margarita.3 As an indication of Cubagua's wealth it was called La Insula Rica or Islote de las Perlas,4 and it has been reported that pearls were so numerous that they came to be used as currency, the average pearl having a value of twelve pesos.5 Cubagua became one of the most valued possessions of the Spanish Crown in the New World, and the qaulity, as well as number, of pearls sent from the island to Spain were some of the best the world has ever seen.6

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END NOTES

  1. Fray Bartolome de Las Casas, Historia de las Indias, lib. 11, cap. XLV. Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo y Valdes, Historia general, lib. Ill, cap. 111; lib XIX, cap. 11.
  2. Samuel Eliot Morison, Admiral of the Ocean Sea, Boston, 1942, vol. 11, pp. 280-281. 290.
  3. Las Casas, loc. cit.
  4. Alfredo Boulton, La Margarita, Caracas, 1952, p. 23.
  5. Boulton, op. cit., p. 32.
  6. Oviedo y Valdes, op. cit., lib. XIX, cap. VI11.