The convoys left Spain carrying clothing, food, and European household goods and luxuries to trade with Spanish colonists in the New World. The ships departed from Seville (later from Cadiz) and sailed down the coast of Africa to the Canary Islands, where they stopped for supplies. They then turned west to take advantage of the trade winds and, after sailing about a month or more, entered the Caribbean southeast of Puerto Rico. Here the convoy split into two fleets: the Tierra Firme (Spanish name for the South American mainland) and the New Spain.
The New Spain fleet sailed on to the port of Veracruz in New Spain (present day Mexico). Here the Spanish merchants conducted trade fairs with Spanish colonists where they exchanged manufactured goods for silver and other New World products such as emeralds, animal hides, sugar, and indigo. Then the ships sailed along the northern part of the Gulf of Mexico, down the west coast of Florida, and arrived in Havana (in present day Cuba) after about one month. The Tierra Firme fleet went to Cartagena (in present day Colombia) to pick up South American goods including precious metals, gemstones, pearls, and spices. Goods also were picked up in the ports of Nombre de Dios and Portobelo in Panama. The fleet then sailed through the Yucatan Channel and around the western tip of Cuba to Havana.
The two fleets met up in Havana and made preparations for the return trip to Spain. When they left Havana, the combined fleet sailed along the east coast of Florida and rode the Gulf Streama strong, warm ocean current that originates in the Gulf of Mexico and flows north along the east coast of the United States north as far as Cape Canaveral before heading east towards Spain.
1. Using a world map or globe, follow the route of the convoys from Spain to the Caribbean and from Havana, Cuba back to Spain.
2. On Map 1, use two different colors to trace and label the approximate route of the New Spain and Tierra Firme fleets from the Caribbean to Havana. Why did they split into two fleets?
3. What goods did the ships bring to the colonial ports? What was the purpose in bringing goods to trade? What goods did the fleets pick up on their routes?
4. Why do you think the two fleets met up in Havana? What might have been some advantages to traveling back to Spain in one large convoy? What might have been some disadvantages?
* The image on this screen has a resolution of 72 dots per inch (dpi), and therefore will print poorly. You can obtain a larger version of Map 1, but be aware that the file may take as much as 40 seconds to load with a 28.8K modem.