Spanish-American Colonial Manuscripts


Jean-Frédéric Waldeck. Mexican Women Making Tortillas. c.1834. Ayer Art Waldeck, Bx. D2, #110.

Edward E. Ayer (1841-1927), a Chicago businessman who made his fortune manufacturing railroad ties, launched his extensive career as a collector to document the early contacts of Europeans with the native peoples of the Americas after reading Prescott’sHistory of the Conquest of Mexico while serving in the Union Army in 1864. He set about acquiring as many early manuscripts and books as possible on the discovery, exploration, and settlement of North and South America.

The 400 Spanish-American manuscripts constitute an important part of the larger Ayer collection of manuscripts, books, photographs, maps, and artwork, which Ayer donated to the Newberry Library between 1911 and 1927. These offer a detailed picture of life in the Spanish colonies of South and Central America (especially Mexico), the Caribbean, and parts of North America, including Florida, Texas, and Louisiana. They are particularly rich in Spanish colonial administrative papers, ecclesiastical and legal documents, and travel literature of discovery and exploration.

Included with the manuscripts are extensive collections of transcriptions and photostats of documents in the Archivo General de Indias and other Spanish archives, the Archivo General de la Nación in Mexico City, the Archivo Nacional de Cuba, the Nacogdoches Archives, and the Matamoros Archives.

Items forming the bulk of the original collection are described in A Check List of Manuscripts in the Edward E. Ayer Collection, compiled by Ruth Lapham Butler (Chicago: Newberry Library, 1937). However, all of the Spanish-language Ayer manuscripts, including many items acquired after 1937, are now searchable in the library’s online catalog.

Visit the Newberry Library website.
Search in the library’s online collection

Post a comment