[ MASC Homepage ] [ Contents ]

[ Fulfilling a Legacy ]
[ The Nature of the Regla Papers and Their Value for Scholars ] [ Arrangement of the Papers and Use of the Guide ] [ Gaines Sequence ] [ Gastine-Fieler Sequence ]
[ Jesuit Haciendas Sequence ] [ Charts, Maps, Proclamations, Genealogies ]
[ Microfilm Sequence ] [ Index ]

The Nature of the Regla Papers and Their Value for Scholars

John E. Kicza
Associate Professor of History
Washington State University

Although the Regla Papers passed into the control of Washington State University in the early 1940s, for about a quarter of a century, until the late 1960s, historians made scant use of the collection. Certainly a contributing factor was the lack of any comprehensive guide to it, although the Gaines Calendar, released in 1963, catalogued a significant portion of the papers, including enough of the very important ones that interested persons could attain a good sense of the makeup and value of the collection. Far more important, though, in limiting use of the papers was a general underappreciation of the contribution that such types of collections can make to an understanding of Latin American history.

Scholars in this field prior to the late 1960s failed to grasp the methodology necessary to analyze the kind of documents found here and to extrapolate from the specific to the general. The histories they composed examined the formal development of colonial institutions, often of civil or ecclesiastical administration, as depicted in the considered, official statements of their members and inspectors.

Beginning shortly before the 1970s, however, and blossoming in that decade, a new generation of scholars which adopted the social-historical approach addressed itself to a multiplicity of fresh issues which collectively better revealed the structures and dynamics shaping Latin America through time. Historians of social and occupational groups, regions, communities, and enterprises began to better appreciate the centrality—and often indispensability—of the undistilled and immediate documentation found so abundantly in collections such as the Regla Papers to the study of these topics.

This collection of papers is of particular importance because it is largely dedicated to the affairs of a single extended Mexican elite family over more than a century and a quarter, beginning in the 1750s. It also covers families and enterprises which ultimately became linked to this lineage, and these additional papers span the years from 1534 to 1875. Few similar collections for Latin America exist in the United States. The Sánchez Navarro and Sánchez de Espinosa Papers, both held at the University of Texas at Austin, and the Iturbe e Iraeta Papers at Princeton University are three such collections. Access to comprehensive family and business archives in Latin America itself remains most difficult to obtain.

The title of Condado de Santa María de Regla was granted to the Romero de Terreros family by the crown in 1768, largely in appreciation for the business achievements and generosity to both the society and the monarchy of the founder of the family fortune, Pedro Romero de Terreros. The family retained the title until it and others were officially abolished shortly after independence in Mexico. The family, nonetheless, continued to invoke the title and be addressed by it well into the twentieth century, with family members retaining wealth and standing in society and, in some cases, making signal contributions to it.

The Regla Papers can be very broadly classified into three groups: the papers generated by family members and their enterprises; those created by others which passed into control of the family when their descendants married into it; and those pertaining to the histories of some major agrarian enterprises which were eventually acquired by the Regla family.

The papers of the family proper begin around 1750, when Pedro Romero de Terreros was already hugely successful and well known in the society through his commercial and mining operations, but still about five years before his marriage and about fifteen before the acquisition of the title of nobility. The papers cover four generations of family history, extending into the 1870s. They devote considerable attention to personal matters, family relationships, and the acquisition and maintenance of honors and status in society. Personal correspondence is generally lacking in this section of the collection. Included, though, are extremely lengthy and detailed testaments, dowry statements, genealogies compiled as part of the process of applying for honors, and diverse documents related to participation in honorary societies of different types, and even to travel and activities overseas.

The business papers consist mainly of inventories and some account books from the late eighteenth to mid-nineteenth centuries. They are oriented more to the agricultural activities of the family and are regrettably rather reticent about its commercial and mining investments. There is, however, some documentation pertaining to mine ownership and to the leasing out of some of these operations to English investors after independence. The documents are of considerable value for the study of family business activity after independence in a climate of political instability, economic stagnation, and heightened foreign competition. The variety of inventories and account books from the mid-nineteenth century are complemented by wills, which cover economic topics in some detail, and a number of miscellaneous business and legal documents.

Of considerable interest are the roughly 230 folio leaves on the operation of the Monte de Piedad—the charity pawn shop founded by the first Conde in 1775 which continues to thrive today as a government institution—from the 1770s to the late 1890s. Other documents from the nineteenth century reveal how the family regarded entailment. Only a few of the family papers, however, delve into the issues of political participation and attitudes in the period from independence to the late nineteenth century.

The second group of papers consists of documents from prominent colonial families who eventually intermarried with the Reglas. These marriage alliances, with their transfer of properties, businesses, and affiliated documentary histories, brought these records into the larger family archive. Taken together they span more than 300 years of Mexican history. In fact, the papers from these other families in the collection are commonly the documentation necessary to establish ownership of estates and various other enterprises which were transferred to the Reglas through matrimony.

While this group of documents does not reflect the larger spectrum of activities and relationships undertaken by such prominent families, they are nonetheless surprisingly broad in their coverage. The subjects of ownership, transfer, boundaries, and value are defined most generously. One consequence is that the documentation can trace the history of a single enterprise. A notable example is the Hacienda del Batán located near Texoco, documentation of which begins in 1570 and continues until the mid-1700s.

The greater part of this second group of papers pertains to the Urrutia de Vergara family, which acceded to the titles of Conde de Santiago, Marqués de Salvatierra, and Marqués de Salinas through marriage and inheritance in the early eighteenth century. This family did not actually intermarry with the Reglas until well after independence, but when it did, a significant body of documents—land transactions, legal proceedings, wills, inventories, and the like—passed into the possession of the Regla family. The records of the Urrutia de Vergara family date from before 1540 and continue until shortly after the turn of the nineteenth century, almost 300 years, although they bulk largest for the 100 years between 1650-1750.

Some of the richest documentation comes through the Santiago family connection. This includes series of extensive correspondence beginning about 1775 between the Conde de Santiago in Mexico City and his estate managers, perhaps most notably from the manager of the well-known property, Molino de Flores. From 1799 to 1806, the family estates came under the close direction of María Josefa Velasco de Ovando, the younger sister of the Condesa de Santiago. These many letter-drafts provide a rare opportunity to view in detail the operations and changing fortunes of the agricultural enterprises of one of the major families of Bourbon Mexico over a number of consecutive years. A scattering of additional letters from Velasco de Ovando, from 1807 to 1811, are also in the collection.

The marriage of the second Conde de Regla with the eventual third Condesa de San Bartolomé de Jala brought about the combination of the two titles in their son and the transfer of valuable Jala papers into the Regla family archive. These documents commence in the 1740s and are mostly land records, production statements, and formal inventories and testaments by family members. They include the very extensive testament of Manuel Rodríguez de Pedroso, the first Conde and founder of the family fortune. Statements from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries on pulque production, the heart of the family business, and shipments to Mexico City, are among the other documents present. There are also inventories of the family estates for the years 1829 and 1836. As late as 1847, the Conde de Jala was sponsoring the business career of a relative situated in Seville, Spain, an effort that other prominent Mexican families—the Iturbe e Iraeta, for one—undertook even well after independence.

The third group of papers consists of nearly 3,500 folio leaves of Jesuit estate documentation for the period before 1767—when the Jesuit Order was expelled from all Spanish territories—bound into seven volumes. These papers passed into the hands of the Regla family in the 1770s when the first Conde made his famed purchase of about twenty of the Jesuit properties confiscated by the crown for something over one million pesos. The vast majority of the papers trace and confirm the histories of these lands and authenticate Jesuit titles to them against repeated challenges to their validity and their boundaries by Indian villages and private individuals.

The Jesuit-related documentation is very full and detailed. Every step in the prolonged legal battle and final confirmation of title is documented. The names, titles, and activities of all parties involved are included. The physical layout and function of all of the properties over time are amply treated. Unfortunately, little is said about the management, labor systems, market orientation, and profitability of these enterprises.

This new guide brings to the researcher a means of access to an uncommonly extensive and comprehensive set of business and family papers that cover about three hundred and fifty years of Mexican history. Some 75 percent of the papers are herein catalogued for the first time, and the cataloguing integrates the new material treated with that in the already-published Gaines Calendar.
No agenda for future research need be set here. Scholars over the past twenty years have demonstrated the scope and importance of this collection to the social, business, and economic history of Mexico without benefit of the guide. Now with the guide providing enhanced access to the richness of documentation the Regla Papers offer, scholars should be in a better position to gain new insights into these and other issues for many years to come.