Throughout the colonial period, Spanish American ports were the victims of pirates, usually English, Dutch or American. Initially, the weak defenses in port cities like Santo Domingo made them easy prey. And international hostilities between the Spanish and English often made Spanish American port cities, where wealth from the colonies was collected for transport to Spain or Asia, vulnerable to attack.

This document is a letter addressed to the Spanish king, Philip II, by the cabildo, or city council, of Santo Domingo after that city had been pillaged by the English sea captain Sir Francis Drake. Drake had been sent by Elizabeth I to attack Spanish American ports in retribution for a Spanish embargo on British goods. During this violent campaign, his second in the New World, Drake would plunder Santo Domingo, Cartagena, and finally, St. Augustine in Florida.
Visual Culture
In this excerpt, the cabildo, or city council, of Santo Domingo tries to recreate the spectacle of the ruined city—its altars and houses despoiled—after its attack by the British pirates. Notably, the account centers on the desecration of Catholic buildings and images by the Protestant Drake and his men. Another side of this history can be seen in "The Attack on Santo Domingo," a map that accompanied a Latin account of British exploits in the Caribbean that is in the Vistas gallery.

It was through direct appeals to the king that the cabildo hoped to secure money for the city's rebuilding and reinforcements for the port's security. The physical design of Caribbean cities, particularly port cities, depended heavily upon imperial finances, which were always tied to imperial interests. In this case, the need lay in protecting the residents of Santo Domingo and the Spanish fleet, with the silver wealth it would carry across the Atlantic to Spain. And from the late 16th century to the 18th, the crown did help, sending designers and engineers to Santo Domingo to work on defensive forts and walls, parts of which remain today.

See the pirate attack on Santo Domingo in the Vistas Gallery.

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