Boston represents many things to American history: from its beginnings as a valuable trading port, to its role as a cradle for the American Revolution. Boston remains an historical conduit to those early years of our nation, with its access to European markets and its own evolution of a fiercely independent identity. Taos, however, remains much less well known than Beantown, but in the roles both cities have played throughout the development of this country, we will find many points of comparison and variance.
At one time, Taos and Boston were both tiny outposts of the New World. This story is about the vast differences in each city’s development through trade. If you lived in New England in the late 17th and 18th centuries, Boston would have been one of the major ports where you could receive or ship goods back and forth to Europe. If you needed hinges or locks, woven fabric or clothing, leather saddles and harnesses, or brass candlestick holders and china, these important items were just 60 days away. Place any special order through a broker, come back in 2 months and pick up these valuable goods right at the dock. Stores for these goods lined the streets around Boston Harbor and you might be able to just walk in and purchase them on the spot. From Savannah to New York to Providence, the same opportunities existed all along the Eastern Seaboard for ready access to European goods.
Yankee ingenuity, thrift, and mercantilism thrived and were crucial to the growth along the east coast of America. Hardiness, grit and determination necessary to survive those East Coast winters helped contribute to the strength of the region. In addition, the ability to order and receive European manufactured products by ship, and the convenience and speed with which to receive them, gave New England the leg up necessary to lay the foundations of what would later become the seat of the American Industrial Revolution.
In the 17th century, as the east coast identity was forged, a contrasting selfhood was taking shape. In the Spanish province of New Mexico, at the very end of the Camino Real in the little village of Taos, colonists in this part of the New World faced a completely different set of challenges. While early trade and settlement in the eastern seaboard relied on rivers, waterways and the sea, the exchange of goods and ideas in New Mexico was oriented along land trails – most notably the Camino Real. This comparative isolation would prove important in the forging of a unique New Mexican identity.
In the case of trade, the landlocked route meant a much slower pace than the swift waterways oriented east. To even arrive at a port required a difficult overland journey. Retail orders would be relayed with caravans and itinerant merchants, resulting in periods of uncertainty. When, at last, an order arrived in Veracruz, a ship had to travel to Cadiz, Spain (a longer voyage than from Boston to England), and return with the goods that would begin another 6-month journey north.
So, here is the reality of Taos New, Mexico. The Martinez Hacienda, today a living museum, is an example of life in the provinces of Nueva Espana. The hacienda was a walled fortress, big enough to bring all of the livestock and servants into its giant 2 center courtyards whenever Comanche or Apache Indians attacked. The isolation from colonial sources of wealth and protection inculcated a need for self-reliance for the necessities of survival. The Martinez Hacienda showcases the necessary structures used to develop the specialized divisions of labor inherent within the social structure.
Around these courtyards was a veritable “streetscape” of “shops” – so to speak. Each room had its own job to perform: the grinding of grains, the blacksmithing of hinges and locks, the weaving of clothes. Wood carvers, furniture makers, leather tanners, saddle- and shoe-makers, potters who made the kitchenware and silversmiths who crafted everything from candlestick holders to the jewelry worn by the heads of the household. Both men and women – hat makers and vintners alike – made up the complex machine that was the early structure of this western city. Everything necessary for life in the wilds was within reach because of the hard work of the community that was a separate world of its own, with no ready access to Europe or its manufacturing power.
Spain for hundreds of years forbade any trade with the developing United States, thereby increasing and prolonging Nueva Mexico’s dependence on itself for almost everything. It was not until 1821, with Mexico’s independence, that trade along the Old Santa Fe Trail began – bringing American goods swiftly from Missouri to New Mexico. In fact, European goods traveling up the rivers from New Orleans reached New Mexico faster than they could travel from Durango, Mexico to Santa Fe. Imagine the difficulties experienced by the many generations of Spanish colonists from the Conquistador Onate’s arrival in New Mexico in the 1590’s until 1821 when the Old Santa Fe Trail opened up.
Our historical account of Taos and Boston – one city bound by land and the other positioned within the fluidity of water – will hopefully provide you with an understanding of each locale’s distinct path to become the iconic places they are today.
Boston’s easy access to European markets and their position along the Charles River ensured that a thriving society, based on trade and resource extraction, could develop. A Cosmopolitan city, in conversation with European intellectuals, could foster its own educational institutions and philosophies. And it was the voracious demand from a wide variety of markets for goods transported through Boston that ensured the city grew to become a hotbed for independence. When England attempted to retain greater control of Boston’s economic interests, it led to the beginning of the American Revolution.
Taos, meanwhile, developed quite differently. Due to their landlocked isolation, movement of their goods was heavily restricted by overland trade, making tax collection easy for the colonial Spanish government. The self-reliance found in the Martinez Hacienda showed the immense resourcefulness and the intricate filling of roles, but it limited opportunity for industrial development. While Boston’s access to the interior of the nation and the waterways of the world bred independence, the isolation of Taos ultimately ensured dependence upon Colonial authorities for access to wider markets.
Sure, the Yankees with their Clipper ships were a hardy bunch of fellows, but the Martinez’s of Taos, and the many hundreds of other colonists, survived and prospered in a part of our country countless times more remote and isolated than the Boston of the early 18th Century. Studying the history of the two cities provides us with an opportunity to see the ways in which settlement shaped the identities of the many disparate elements that, today, define America.
Taos is just a short jaunt north from the Inn. Read about the western city that has become a Mecca of sorts for many who wish to connect with the history of the land and the perseverance of the people who forged its path.
All Inn on the Alameda blog posts are written by Joe & Michael Schepps. Read about the authors here.