African Ancestors in Moca, Puerto Rico, 1852-1859

Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de la Monserrate, Barrio Pueblo, Moca, Puerto Rico Photo: EFS

Context of a transcription: African Ancestors in the first book of deaths

Back in 2006, I was researching mundillo (lacemaking) in Moca, and at the same time, learning more about a shared family history that ultimately led me to explore enslaved ancestors, African and Indigenous ancestors. Their strength and perseverance in the face of difficult situations inspires.  We can recognize as Daina Ramey Berry so eloquently writes in  The Price for Their Pound of Flesh: The Value of the Enslaved, from Womb to Grave in the Building of a Nation (Beacon Press, 2017), their soul value, that goes beyond the missing surnames and identities that enslavement sought to steal away.

That September, I was able to transcribe some church entries for a small group of cousins and myself which coalesced into Sociedad Ancestros Mocanos. Sociedad Ancestros Mocanoswhich I established on Yahoo! Groups, was where we asked each other questions and shared research findings and transcriptions. This process goes much faster today.

Initially, the census records and civil registration on microfilm were available at the local Family History Center, and we began to piece together trees that overlapped, merged and diverged across NW Puerto Rico and beyond.  However, records from Moca such as the Libros de Bautismos, Defunciones y Matrimonios, like some parishes on the island, were not part of the LDS’ microfilm project of the 1980s-1990s. Because of that, any transcriptions obtained during trips were particularly of interest, and often held clues for moving another generation back in time. One of the things that we began to notice were the interconnections our families had, the oral histories, the fact of how an economy based on sugar also tied us to Africa, to the earlier history of colonization and Indian slavery, interrupted by myriad degrees of freedom both before and after slavery ended.

In Moca, I was fortunate to stay within the Pueblo, just blocks away from the building that dominates the center of town, Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de la Monserrate, built in 1853. The church had volumes of parish records in a small office building at the rear of the church, built atop a hillock at the center of Barrio Pueblo, occupying one side of the rectangular plaza.

Between 1 and 4 in the afternoon the office was open, and I brought my letter of approval from the Arzobispado de Mayaguez granting me permission to consult the volumes for genealogical research. I requested the first volume of Defunciones that begins in November 1852 and took the oversized book to a pupils seat, balanced it on the tiny desk and began to copy.

Time was short, and I rapidly transcribed entries from surnames familiar from my research and shared with members of SAMocanos. I also noticed names of the enslaved among my entries and included them on my list, hoping to find connections later on. Now with DNA there is more chance to link to these ancestors, and hopefully, break down some brick walls.

A brief list of deaths, 1852-1859:  Say Their Names

What follows are records for twelve people who were enslaved and who died between 1852-1859. Also listed are the names of an additional six persons who were their parents, along with several slaveholders. These bits of secondary evidence, based on original records remain precious over time, as they both tie us to the place and to the ancestors in them.  In some cases they are the only record available, some not digitized even into the present, so that the reliance on a transcription becomes almost a point of faith, yet can contain errors. In some cases, a transcription is often all that remains, and questions about who and what was in the original record are moot when these are no longer extant.

Among the names are Maria de las Nieves and Juana, who both survived the Middle Passage only to die age 48 and 53 during years of epidemics that took many lives. However, the parish record does not say why they passed.  There may be accounts elsewhere listing those taken by epidemics. Also in the records is Juana Cristiana, a two year old child who was enslaved, as was her mother, and parish records reveal her parents married in the Catholic church. This did not change the fact they were in bondage, subject to sale or if they were able, to self purchase and thereby gain freedom before 1873. A very real fear was being sold or taken to another plantation in Cuba, where the scale of enslavement and sugar processing was ten times that of Puerto Rico, and slavery did not end until 1886.

Beyond those named, i’ve compiled a list of the parents mentioned largely  mothers, whose names may appear in other additional documentary sources, such as notarial documents or for instance, be mentioned in the 1849 Censo de Altas y Bajas for Moca (in Hereditas and on the site), or perhaps in other SPG publications, the 1830 Censo de Isabela or 1874 Censo de Lares among others. Another short list below is for the slaveholders, under whose names the information on those listed, was entered into parish and municipal documents.

After freedom, surnames can follow those of the initial slaveholder, or take on different surnames as relationships change or are revealed upon death or marriage.  Please feel free to contact me should you find a connection.

The List of Ancestors

Parents listed in Acta:
Eustaquio Arze y de Ma. Ynocencia
D. Cristobal Benejan
D. Francisco Cirilo de Acevedo
Jose Ramon Acevedo
D. Marcellino Lasalle
Maria Lopez
D. Juan Pellot
D. Esteban Soto Nieves
These are my extractions from Libro 1 & 2 Defunciones, translated, formatted with estimated year of birth added.
f.1v Antonio E. , 35, 16 Nov 1852; single
Slaveholder: D. Cristobal Benejan
f.1v Antonio E. 35, 16 Nov 1852; soltero; esclavo de D. Cristobal Benellan.
f.3 Benito, 70, 26 Nov 1852; born in Africa ca 1782
Slaveholder: Maria Lopez
f.3 Benito, 70, 26 Nov 1852; esclavo de d. Maria Lopez; natural de Africa. 
f.17v Maria de las Nieves, 53, 18 Jan 1853; born in Africa, ca 1800
Slaveholder: D. Francisco Cirilo de Acevedo
f.17v Maria de las Nieves, 53, 18 Jan 1853; Natural de Africa, esclava de D. Francisco Cirilo de Acevedo.
f. 53. Juan de los Santos, 18, 29 May 1854; son of Luisa, ca 1836
Slaveholder:D. Marcellino Lasalle
f. 53. Juan de los Santos, 18, 29 May 1854; h natural de Luisa esclava de D. Marcellino Lasalle.
f.54 Justa, 16 Aug 1854; natural child of Justa
Slaveholder: D. Juan Pellot
f.54 Justa, 16 Aug 1854; h natural de Justa, esclava de D. Juan Pello.
f.124-124v “To be given a pair of oxen and a divided area for cultivation for his slaves Gabriel and Juana leaving
Gabriel, Juana, Juana, Maria; Juana and Maria to be freed upon his death.”
Slaveholder: D. Esteban Soto Nieves, 70, 7 Jan 1857; hl Pedro & D. Cecilia Nieves, casada con Juana Velasquez.
“una junta de bueyes una vaca y uno potro cuadrado por [cultivación por] sus esclavos Gabriel & Juana, dejando a Juana y Maria tambien sus esclavos libres a su fallecimiento” Testamento judicial ante Ma. D. Seledonia Torres 5 Jul 1855;
f.241 Angela, 20, 12 Sept. 1858, single, daughter of Rufina; ca 1838
Slaveholder: D. Juan Pellot
f.241 Angela, 20, 12 Sept. 1858; esclava, soltera, hija natural de Rufina esclava de D. Juan Pellot.
f. 244 Juana Cristina 9 Oct 1858, 2 years old; legitimate daughter of Eustaquio Arze & Ma. Ynocencia
Slaveholder: Jose Ramon Acevedo
f. 244 Juana Cristina 9 Oct 1858 parbula, 2 anos; hl de Eustaquio Arze y de Ma. Ynocencia esclavos de Jose Ramon Acevedo
f.259v Juana, 48, 21 Mar 1859; born in Africa, lived in this parish, parents unknown
Slaveholder: D. Juan Pellot
f.259v Juana adulta esclava, 48, 21 Mar 1859; natural de Africa y vecina de esta parroquia y cuyos padres se ignoran, esclava de D. Juan Pellot.
f.263v Juana Prudencia, 9 days old, 8 May 1859; natural daughter of Agustina…of this town.
Slaveholder: D. Juan Pellot
f.263v Juana Prudencia, 9 dias, 8 May 1859; h natural de Agustina, esclava de D. Juan Pellot de este vecindario.
f.263v Juana Tomasa, 11 days old, brown infant, 1 May 1859; child of Pedro Cordero and Marcela David.
f.263v Juana Tomasa, parvula parda, once dias, 1 Mayo 1859; hl Pedro Cordero & Marcela David.

19 Replies to “African Ancestors in Moca, Puerto Rico, 1852-1859”

    1. I think those are my family. On my grandfathers genealogy information. We have Acevedo & Nieves from Moca Puerto Rico. The names matched my grandfathers information. Thank you so much I’m in awe. Thank you 🙏🏽

  1. I know many people,friends of mine, with Lazalles and Pellot’s last names in Moca,. But also Balaguer, Laguerre, Buldong, Abrew, all african slaves descendants,Their ancestors adopted their owners last name when they gained their freedom in 1873. But I don’t see those last name in your list. ,

    1. Thanks for your comment Ariel, i’ve only transcribed a certain number of the cedulas de esclavos as v3 of the Registro de Esclavos is missing. I have come across Laguerre and Abreu in my transcriptions. I plan to submit the article to Hereditas later this month.

  2. Hola, Thank you for such rich information about PR’s past. My great-great grandmother Dominga Lasalle was born in Moca and according to her mother was a slave there her name was Maria Juana Lasalle. How did you get permission to view the records at the Moca church? What other information have you found? Thank you so much. I appreciate what you are doing.👍👍

    1. Hola Eirisa, thanks so much!! You’re so welcome. Which record did you happen to find? I’m not sure what the situation is with obtaining records after the storm. I was at the church’s archive way back in 2006, when I transcribed whatever I could from a couple of volumes. I hope they will be digitized eventually. The other information is an article on the missing volume of the 1872 Slave Register for the NW, and I transcribed Caja 4 of the original cedulas, which would have gone into the 1872 volume; this I hope to finally get to the SPG for an upcoming issue of Hereditas. Please let me know what years and location you have for Maria Juana Lassalle and her daughter, your GGM, Dominga Lassalle, I can check the transcription.

    2. You’re so welcome Eirisa! I’m about to publish a list of people from the cedulas of 1870 on this blog, and have an article submitted on the context and history of the missing volume of the Registro de Esclavos. Perhaps your ancestor is in there. In order to get information from the archives of the Iglesia Monserrate, you need to ask for permission from the Arzobispado de Mayaguez. Notary records are the other resource that contain information on ancestors.

    3. My grandparents were from Moca. Lasalle and Sanchez. My grandfather was very dark and grandmother was pale white. They moved to Aguadilla in the early to mid 1900’s.

      1. This is very interesting to me. My family are LaSalles from Quebradillas. My great grandfather was dark skinned named Juan. Are they any other resources I can study or get my hands on. This has been very helpful. Thank you so much for posting this.

        1. You’re welcome Daniel! Was your GGF Juan Lasalle (1891-1939) of Barrio Cocos? If so, I have traced his line back, but have not yet seen mention of enslavement. Understanding the local history helps, such as the books in the Notas de su historia series from 1983. The surviving records for each municipality can vary and some of these earlier documents are on FamilySearch, and the Before 1823, Quebradillas was part of Camuy.

  3. Thank you for sharing.. we found out through about our GGM Juana Pellot. She was born to a slave named Florentina Pellot, my GGGM.
    I wish I could find out more about them.
    Sad to know our family were once slaves.. yet as bittersweet as it is, I’ve found a sense of clarity knowing where we came from. Knowing our roots, helped me understand why my siblings and I all had different features although we had the same parents. Some of us had very curly hair and olive skin. Then some of us had straight hair just a little wavy and light skin. Yet we all have some strong features. Beautiful as we all are different. I always scratched my head trying to find out why we look different. I hope I can find out more about them. Definitely greatful for your post. Is it possible, you might of came across the name Florentina Pellot? Or Juana Pellot?

    1. You’re so welcome Lizzette – there is more information on the Pellots in my article, The Missing Registro de Esclavos for NW PR. also know that you have family, because Florentina had ten children, and there are many descendants . The 1870 cedulas for her and for Juana are on on FamilySearch:
      Florentina’s cedula is here:
      There’s Juana Gracia:
      So many histories to excavate and tell

      1. Thank you!! That was so helpful. I am very greatful for the information you’ve shared. I excitingly look forward to sharing with my family. Can’t imagine living life and not speaking of them or acknowledging their existence, When I and mine, are a magnificent part of them. Thank you so very much for what you do and have done.
        It is said; “know where you come from, so you know where you are going”.

        This has given me a reason to search my dads side of the family as well. To have facts v speculative stories from our family ( who mean well ) clarifies a lot. Thanks a million!

  4. Hi there! Do you have any more information about Maria de las Nieves? I’ve traced my family back to the Nieves and Acevedos in that region at that time and would love to know more (I’m prepared for stories that are not flattering to my ancestors but hope to honor Maria by learning the story anyway!). Either way thank you for this it was incredible to find.

    1. Thanks Christina! Ok, which Maria de las Nieves? There are a few of them, as with the Acevedo- so the where and when is key- in order to find the branches that connect. Given the endogamy (i.e. cousin marriages) of these families, you may wind up matching me as well! I have a Facebook group, Sociedad Ancestros Mocanos, which you can feel free to join and ask questions.

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