Spanish Asia and the Manila Galleon

The Manila Galleon

The Manila Galleon is the name for a little-known but very important trade route that connected Spanish Mexico with Spanish colonies in the Philippines, and from there with the rest of Asia.

The trade lasted from 1565 until 1815, 250 years of forgotten globalization. Each year a galleon sailed from Acapulco to Manila, and another sailed from Manila to Acapulco. The Asia-bound galleon carried huge amount of Mexican silver, perhaps as much as a third of all silver mined in the Spanish colonies—a very large amount. 

The returning galleon brought goods largely made in China, particularly silks, but also ceramics and slaves. The Chinese also supplied carved statues of Catholic saints, Jesus and the Virgin Mary. The slaves and others contributed sizable numbers of Asians to the population of colonial Mexico, but a large portion of the goods were re-exported to Spain. 

The galleons were huge for their day, and could be 1,500 tons or more, and carried as many as a thousand people. Some years there was more than one ship involved. The ships were often built in the Philippines. 

Storms and scurvy were the main dangers. British and French pirates captured only a few of these ships and their fabulously rich cargoes. This long-lasting trade had a major impact on Spanish, Mexican and Chinese history.

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