A Basque miner in late-sixteenth century Potosí writes to a merchant in Spain


Very magnificent sir:

You will consider it something new to see a letter of mine from such remote parts, but recognizing the kinship there is between us, I wanted to take advantage of your favor on this occasion. I had a sister in the town of Belorado, married to an honorable man there named Andrés Ruiz, and my uncle Licenciate Pedro de Guevara has written to me from Madrid [saying] that she died and left four children. To help bring them up, I thought I would send, through you, 350 gold pesos, to be delivered entire in Medina del Campo [a great trading center in Spain] , the charges borne as appears in the authenticated bill of lading that accompanies this. A great friend of mine called Juan de Guesala is taking the money and will be very careful to deliver it when he arrives; he is going to live in Durango, Biscay [in northern Spain] where I was born and raised. I beg you, when you receive this, to send the accomapnying letter to Andrés Ruiz, and tell him that when Juan de Guesala arrives they amount will be sent to him. Since that is a land of scarcity, they are doubtless in need.

Now that I am writing to you, it seems proper to give you an acount of my life. I came to Peru the year of '81 and soon came up here to the imperial town of Potosí where I have lived the whole time, occupying myself in the business of extracting silver. I have many very good mining sites in the Rich Mountain [Cerro Rico], and a mill [ingenio] where I grind the ore. I also bought the office of municipal council secretary and notary public of this town, for 42,000 ducats in cash [the equivalent of 57,900 ounces of silver] ; it is the most profitable office having to do with the papers that the king our lord offers in all his realms, and as to honor, it is the best thing here. I have or am gaining a great stock of ore to process, and if it yields well, with out Lord's aid, I mean to go back to Spain within three years. When I arrive, I will come to pay you my respects.

I married a second cousin of mine named doña Francisca de Lantadilla, from this land here, daughter of Martín de Ayales, with a dispensation brought from Rome. I wanted to give you such a long account of everything because it would not be right to neglect to give it to a person such as yourself. I beg you to do me the favor of answering my letter and telling me in what way I might serve your grace, whose person I greatly desire that our Lord guard and increase.

Written in Potosí , 4th of April, 1595

Nicolás de Guevara