Scope and Content
Title: Chalco, Mexico - Collection of original manuscripts… relating to famine
Date (inclusive): 1741-1743; bulk (September-October 1741)
Collection number: 170/654
385 leaves : paper; 315 mm x 220 mm., bound to 330 mm x 225 mm.
Abstract: Manuscript of the 1741 famine that struck Mexico City and the central region of New Spain. Several bound, hand-written notebooks
attest to the efforts of Mexico City officials in their recollection of maize from the intra-lake region and central valleys.
Entries consist of official paperwork between Joseph Francisco Aguirre Espinosa, the farmers of the greater Chalco region
and the administrators of Mexico City's corn granary, the "alhondiga" or "posito."
Language: Finding aid is written in
University of California, Los Angeles. Library Special Collections.
Los Angeles, California 90095-1575
Physical location: Stored off-site at SRLF. Advance notice is required for access to the collection. Please contact the UCLA Library Special
Collections Reference Desk for paging information.
Restrictions on Access
COLLECTION STORED OFF-SITE AT SRLF: Open for research. Advance notice required for access. Contact the UCLA Library Special
Collections Reference Desk for paging information.
Restrictions on Use and Reproduction
Property rights to the physical object belong to the UCLA Library Special Collections. Literary rights, including copyright,
are retained by the creators and their heirs. It is the responsibility of the researcher to determine who holds the copyright
and pursue the copyright owner or his or her heir for permission to publish where The UC Regents do not hold the copyright.
Cataloged by Pablo Sierra with assistance from Kelley Bachli in February 2008, in the Center For Primary Research and Training
[Identification of item], Chalco, Mexico - Collection of original manuscripts… relating to famine (Collection 170/654). UCLA
Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library.
UCLA Catalog Record ID
During the period in question, the colony of New Spain experienced extremely difficult years following the disastrous matlazáhuatl
epidemic of 1736, which decimated the indigenous population of Mexico City and the surrounding valleys. Charles Gibson's "The
Aztecs under Spanish Rule" presents a valuable chronology of the agricultural conditions at the time and suggests that from
1737 to 1741 a series of droughts and poor harvests affected maize production throughout the central valleys. The year 1741
was also a time of political transition as evidenced by the arrival of the new viceroy Pedro de Castro Figueroa y Salazar
(1741-1742) in August, just before the famine reached critical levels. Figueroa y Salazar took the place of the archbishop-viceroy
Juan Antonio Vizarron y Eguiarreta (1734-1740), after an entire year of rule by the Real Audiencia.
In the mid-eighteenth century, the greater metropolitan area also witnessed the transition from community-based repartimiento
labor to the more private character of hacienda labor and its dependence on individually contracted Indigenous workers or
"gañanes." Despite considerable environmental degradation, the intra-lake shipping system to and from Mexico City continued
in operation. As a result, Chalco's haciendas served as the principal breadbasket for Mexico City and its suburbs throughout
the colonial period. Nine shipping warehouses or "embarcaderos" functioned as the points of departure, from where the canoes
filled with corn would traverse the lake region through a series of waterways and canals until arrival at the Mexico City
Scope and Content
The manuscript is organized into thirteen bound notebooks, which are divided into three main sections. The first set of six
notebooks consists of Aguirre Espinosa's operations as Commissary Judge for Chalco, Texcoco and Tierra Caliente. The second
set of three notebooks concerns Ambrocio Melgarejo and his management of the Mexico City alhondiga, the subsequent visit to
Chalco and the cleaning operations of the Tlahuac canal. The final four notebooks in the collection are financial books, which
detail the expenses and transactions of the year 1741 under the administration of Aguirre Espinosa.
The first pages of the manuscript are devoted to the January 1741 arrival of Joseph Francisco Aguirre Espinosa as Commissary
Judge for the provinces of Chalco and Tierra Caliente. As the representative of the Real Audiencia, Aguirre Espinosa was responsible
for purchasing large amounts of corn for the Mexico City "posito" directly from the region's hacienda owners. As a result,
the first half of the manuscript consists of inspections of the province's farms, which the Commissary Judged compiled into
several charts of expected agricultural output. Despite the official's prompt actions, by early-to-mid September 1741 the
indigenous populations of both Mexico City and Chalco faced starvation. The famine was aggravated by a particularly harsh
winter in Texcoco, where farmer testimonies revealed that unseasonal frosts resulted in poor harvests throughout the entire
colony. The agricultural problem was increasingly affected by the market battle waged between the officials of the "Alhondiga"
and the hacienda owners of Chalco. In this respect, the manuscript contains a series of edicts which Aguirre Espinosa proclaimed
for the recollection of corn, but these and their subsequent fines do not appear to have had a positive effect among the "labrador"
As a result, while the Mexico City granary was selling at a loss in order to feed the masses, the "labradores" continued selling
on the free market where they could find buyers for much more than the authorities could offer. Several transcriptions of
these important debates appear throughout the manuscript, which forced Aguirre Espinosa and his commissaries to conduct more
hacienda inspections outside of the Chalco region, "a los cuatro vientos." A collection of official receipts or "boletas"
is included in the manuscript, which documents the series of transactions by which corn prices rose 400% in Mexico City to
reach the eight to ten peso mark (64-80 reales). Prices shot up even higher in the agricultural hinterland of the city of
Puebla. Official pony express correspondence, "de correo a caballo," between Aguirre Espinosa and his administrators suggests
that the famine may have spread to towns as far away as Chiautla de la Sal and Xolalpa.
The arrival of the Privative Judge Ambrosio Melgarejo in September 1741 remedied the increasingly tense relationship between
the hacienda owners and Aguirre Espinosa. The Privative Judge summoned several regional meetings with the "labradores," which
were transcribed by the public notary Phelipe Antonio de la Peña. Melgarejo confronted and persuaded the powerful land-owners,
who repeatedly violated Aguirre Espinosa's edicts or "vandos," to sell their corn to him for the sustenance of Mexico City.
By late October-early November 1741, the crisis appears to have been controlled at the expense of the alhondiga's funds, as
seen in the financial reports sent from Mexico City to the Commissary and Privative Judge. Although it does not seem that
the 1741 famine reached the levels of desperation seen in 1624 and 1692, the warnings of the latter event still resonated
nearly fifty years later, "aquellas fatales lloradas consequencias del año de seiscientos y nobenta y dos, ni extinguidas
con el tiempo, ni olvidadas con su curso" (339v). In effect, the teamwork of Aguirre Espinosa and Melgarejo appears to have
mitigated the effects of the famine for the lower-classes of Mexico City.
The expenses of cleaning and guarding the canals and causeways leading to the "alhondiga," perhaps the turning point in the
crisis, were carefully tabulated into a series of finanical books by the scribe de la Peña (based on the accounts reported
to him by Ignacio Aristizabal). The manuscript concludes in March of 1743, with two extremely detailed reports of the expenses
incurred during Melgarejo and Aguirre Espinosa's stay in Chalco. The first report presents a priceless view into the weekly
consumption patterns of an elite colonial family. The latter calculates all the financial transactions that took place during
Aguirre Espinosa's commission, including the arrival of funds from the Mexico City alhondiga and their disposal through wholesale
purchases of different varieties of corn, "maiz ancho y delgado."
Text in Spanish.
The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.
Genres and Forms of Material