Last night, Nicka Smith & True Lewis hosted a panel for Special Episode of Black ProGen Live History Unscripted on reparations for African American communities in the US. Among the panelists were Dr. Shelley Murphy, Andre Ferrell, Ressie Luck-Brimmer, myself, with Teresa Vega, and Robyn Murphy Walker.
A lot has happened over the past five years that is beginning to yield redress for some. However, when the enormity of enslavement, its permutations and contemporary manifestations bear down on family histories, it’s on a collision course with producing documentation to establish identity for a reparations program.
These programs are growing, as are calls for the acknowledgement of harm across a constellation of institutions. Descendants will find genealogical skills key for navigating and reconstructing their family histories in locations across the country. A good part of what we talked about were some of the unforeseen limitations and the fraught emotions a process for engaging reparations can bring up. As True Lewis said, “Think about your family what can you do – as family historians – do to prepare our community and families for what’s to come?”
Those Black ProGen playlists are going to come in handy.
Documentary by Erika Alexander and Whitney Dow on the passage of tax funded reparations program in Evanston, IL. This begins to give an idea of how long this struggle has taken in regard to the passage of H.R. 40, and how this process unfolded in one city despite the pandemic.
Right now i’m looking over this entry for a property sale Aguadilla from February 18541. It’s a lock, stock and barrel sale between first cousins, and the order of importance for the details enumerated is very telling.
It begins with the layout of land in Barrio Malezas, Aguadilla, a 180 cuerda (174.6 acres) property, alongside several other plantation owners. D. Rafael del Valle y Ponce is selling this estate to his first cousin, D Jose Genaro del Valle y Arce. I have distant ties to these families, with Rafael del Valle being my 1C5R and Jose Genaro del Valle my 2C4R. They were close and the relationship chart below outlines the cousin relationship between both men. Note that Rafael was also related to Jose Genaro’s mother, however, this set of relationships (via the Ponce line) is not included here.
Rafael’s father, Nicolas del Valle y Perez de Arce served as Alcalde (Mayor) of Aguadilla three different times, in 1814, 1820-21 and in 1836. Rafael was one of his eight children with Eugenia II Ponce y Perez de Arce (b. abt. 1781).
Rafael’s cousin, Jose Genaro del Valle y Arce (bca 1819) was the son of Antonio del Valle y Perez de Arce (b.1783) and Maria Gregoria de Arce Ponce (1792-1842).
Jose Genaro’s father Antonio, served as Alcalde of Aguadilla just once, in 1837. Clearly, this family possessed a degree of political clout in the municipality. In addition, by having this sale occur within the family, they kept their wealth. As a business practice, endogamy helped to insure trust in partnerships at a time before banks existed on Puerto Rico.
In January 1853, both Rafael del Valle and Jose Genaro del Valle went before the notary to record an arrangement that gave Jose Genaro del Valle the power to administer the cattle ranch in Barrio Malezas, including the enslaved persons, the animals there, and a house in town. By 11 February 1854, the situation had changed. Rafael’s contract which paid 400 pesos yearly to Jose Genaro, as he points out in the document, was now rescinded3. Next on that same day, the sale of the property from Rafael del Valle to Jose Genaro del Valle was recorded. Jose Genaro del Valle was the new owner.
The property transfer is just a few paragraphs long. Laid out are the names of the other property owners: Antonio Almeida & d. Manuel Badillo on the south along the Royal road of the mountain, on the east with Da. Rosa de Santiago and the Royal road that goes by the front to d. Patricio González, and on the west side, with Da.María Ponce and Da.Josefa Mirle. Wives could also own, manage businesses and inherit property independently of their husbands. Each person ran their own hacienda or estancia that included enslaved ancestors.
Maria Ponce is most likely Maria Eugenia II Ponce y Perez, wife of Nicolas del Valle; Josefa Mirle is Josefa Mirle Gonzalez, wife of Francisco Almeida of Portugal. The baptism record for their daughter Manuela Almeida Mirle of 1817 mentions that she was born in Maleza Alta4, which helps localize the family in a specific barrio. Both the Ponce and Mirle families, like the del Valle, held larger numbers of enslaved people to work their ranches, farms and plantations.
The Valle plantation held some 100 head of cattle, 6 horses and two mares with foals. After the animals were enumerated in the deed, nineteen people held in bondage were listed. The price for the estate was 14,000 pesos macuquina with 2,700 pesos of the total owed to Eugenio Alers, a hacendado who was building his holdings between Aguadilla and Isabela and lending money mid-century to property owners in the area.
Values for the nineteen enslaved persons, which may include at least two clusters of family, were not specified. Two persons on the list survived the Middle Passage, and another was from Costa Firme, Venezuela, pointing to the global connections of these transactions. The rest were criollos, born in Puerto Rico; there were ten male and nine females of different ages, three of them too young to work. They were termed ‘siervos esclavos‘, enslaved servants, perhaps more concerned with running a household and raising livestock. There is no mention of specific duties in the deed.
Aside from two 40 year old men, these ancestors were young, and perhaps some of them made it into the pages of the Registro Civil. If they did, it seems unlikely they used their former enslaver’s surname after freedom.
Say Their Names
Here are the names, ages and approximate dates of birth for these ancestors in Aguadilla in February 1854.
I plan to look back to records from 1822 and then to the cedulas of 1868-70 of the Registro de Esclavos to see if any of these ancestors remained under the control of del Valle family members. Hopefully there is more to learn about them.
1 Haydee E. Reichard de Cardona, Haciendas agrícolas del triángulo noroeste de Puerto Rico, sus dueños e historias. Jose A Amador Acosta, Ed. Editorial HER Historias y Escritos Riquenos, 2020.
2Carlos Encarnacion Navarro, Fondo de Protocolos Notariales, Caja 1289, Serie Aguadilla, Pueblo Aguadilla, Escribano Lcdo. Manuel Garcia, 1854. AGPR. En Aguadilla 2-11-1854 fol.74 a 76 ante el insfrascripto escribano Real y público y testigos que se expresaran compareció D.Rafael del Valle de este vecindario y dijo que otorga venta Real y absoluta a favor de D.José Genaro del Valle también vecino una estancia en esta juridicción en el barrio de Malezas compuesta de 180 cuerdas colindantes al norte con Antonio Almeida y D.Manuel Badillo, por el sur con el camino Real de la montaña, al este con Da.Rosa de Santiago y el camino Real que pasa por el frente a D.Patricio González, al este con Da.María Ponce y Da.Josefa Mirle incluidas las plantaciones en ellas, 100 cabezas de ganado,6 caballos,2 yeguas con crías y los siervos esclavos Luis natural de áfrica de 30 años,Juana María de 25 años y su hija de un año,Tomasa de 40 años, Luisa de 25 años, Carmen de 25 años con una hija de un año,Demetrio de 12 años, Hermenegildo de 16 años,Paulina de 61 30 años, José de 20 años, José María de 40 años,Tomás de 40 años,Tomasa de 30 años,Antonio de 12 años, Juan José de 16 años,Isabel de 2 años,Manuel natural de costa firme de 4 años,Andrés de 25 años natural de áfrica, una casa de madera y tejemani en la calle principal de este partido con solar de 16 varas de frente colindante al norte con Da.Paula Giménez, por el sur con el comprador, al oeste la calle y al este con otro solar del mismo comprador cuyos bienes le pertenecen por compra hecha a D.José Genaro del Valle según escritura otorgada en Enero 12 de 1853 por la cantidad de 14,000 pesos maququinos y 2,700 pesos quedan en poder del comprador hasta satisfacer la cantidad que el mismo adeuda a D.Eugenio Alers a cuya responsabilidad está gravada la estancia.Fueron testigos D.Ricardo Diez, D.José Trinidad Veray D.Ramón Esteban Martínez.
3 Carlos Encarnacion Navarro, Fondo de Protocolos Notariales, Caja 1289, Serie Aguadilla, Pueblo Aguadilla, Escribano Lcdo. Manuel Garcia, AGPR fol.78 a 78-v, 11 Feb 1854. En Aguadilla 2-11-1854 fol.78 a 78-v ante el insfrascripto escribano Real y público y testigos que se expresaran comparecieron D.Rafael del Valle y D.José Genaro del Valle de este vecindad y dijeron que en Enero 12 de 1853 concedio el primero al segundo poder para administrar la estancia que tenía en el barrio de Malezas de esta juridicción, los esclavos y animales que tenía y una casa en este pueblo señalándole el salario de 400 pesos anuales y rescinden dicho contrato. Fueron testigos D.Ricardo Diez,D.Rafael Esteban Martínez y D.Francisco de Paula Vergara.
4 Acta de Bautismo, Manuela Almeida Mirle, APSCB Libro 5 #944,17 June 1817.
In my recent blog post Yturrino: Looking at a collateral line, I had questions about what kind of business Felipe Iturrino Arzua (1811 -1894) of Anasco was in. While I was able to follow some notary documents that described a string of land purchases in different municipalities, it really wasn’t clear what he had invested in.
These land purchases now make more sense after finding him listed in the 1872 Registro de Esclavos. Yvonne Santana Rios’ transcription of Anasco and Cabo Rojo portions of the 1872 volume led me back to searching the FamilySearch database ‘Slave Registers, Puerto Rico, 1863 – 1879 ‘. I still have no name for the hacienda that these individuals worked, and know more or less where it was located, in barrio Cerro Gordo, Anasco. Yturrino and his family lived in barrio Corcobada to the east of Cerro Gordo, and later in a house in barrio Pueblo.
In barrio Cerro Gordo, Anasco, Yturrino enslaved over 20 people, whose cedulas are receipts for the transfer of ownership from the individual slave holders to the colonial government, and they received 120 pesetas per document. The status change to libertos (freedmen or freedwomen) meant rights were established over time.
According to the terms of the Moret Law, these men, women and children entered a contract to work for their former enslavers or for a different plantation owner. They received no pay, but their freedom at the end of three years. For the youngest, this process of manumission lasted until 1886.
Labor: de Esclava/o a Liberta/o
There were a range of tasks, however few were dependent on women becoming domestics in elite households, or took in laundry, or were dress makers. The majority of enslaved women worked as Labradoras, field laborers alongside men. This ran contrary to the ideal of an enslaved person that circulated in prints and paintings, often depicted as male. Men worked as cooks, carpenters and mostly as field laborers in the sugar centrales that grew after the Spanish American war, and women’s labor shifted to the domestic.
While the categories for labor in the documents for the Registro de Esclavos are few, these do not give a precise idea of the range of tasks that a person had, nor how expert they had become. Cerro Gordo was elevated land, better suited for coffee cultivation, and this is likely the crop that Yturrino’s enslaved workers were raising. Given the patterns of inheritance, there is a high probability that the Hacienda de Iturrino in the 1893 Military Map for Anasco to San Sebastian is the same location as in 1870, situated near the streams in the hills that ran between Anasco and Moca.
Say Their Names: Enslaved families, children, locations
Below is a list of 20 persons listed on cedulas from 1868 on which D. Felipe Yturrino y Arzua appears as dueno (owner). The oldest was Agustin an 80 year old man born in Africa; the youngest was 2 year old Josefa, born in Cerro Gordo, one of the children of Evangelista and Vicenta. Nearly half of those enslaved were children.
The few families I could trace to the Registro Civil opted to take a different surname; not one kept Iturrino as a surname. Some moved to Mayaguez in the years that followed. With the collapse of coffee prices after the 1870s, sugar plantations soon dominated the landscape.
Should these names be familiar to you, please feel free to reach out.
Our cousin Allen passed this Monday 17 October, leaving us shocked that he is gone. Allen was funny, kind and generous, someone with a big heart.
His funeral will be held next Monday, 24 October at Blount & Curry Funeral Home at Garden of Memories, 4207 E Lake Ave in Tampa, FL 33610. Visitation 1-2PM, Funeral Service 2-3PM.
Born in the Bronx to Vivian Fernandez and Manuel Acevedo, Allen was the second of two sons. He leaves Nancy his wife of 42 years, daughter Ileana and a grandson, his brothers Manny, Javier, Papo, Rachel, their children. The network of family who loved him are saddened by his dying.
Allen was just a year older and in my life since I was born. Thanks to the tenements and cheap rents of the 1950s and 1960s, our extended family was just blocks away from each other in the South Bronx. This was a tough landscape, different from what is in Mott Haven today.
There are some fotos of early birthday parties, the apartments full of children at birthdays and Christmas holidays. By the 1960s we visited Vivian and Manuel in their apartment in the new high rise projects on Westchester Blvd, where Manny played basketball and protected Allen, his skinnier, paler brother.
Allen loved Bruce Lee and Kung fu movies, a love shared with my brother Orlando, figuring out the kicks and moves that sent people flying. Another love was watching Soul Train. Allen also told corny jokes, loved to laugh and was easy to get along with.
I remember Allen telling me about his first jobs in the Bronx, during the 1970s. Once he worked at an Alexander’s on Third Ave. where leather jackets hung with thin chains down one sleeve as an anti theft device. Addicts floated in looking for an easy item to shoplift. One man was so out of it, he slipped a jacket on and proceeded to drag the enormous rack behind him, wondering why he was only able to move a short distance before being swept off the floor by security. Working in department stores had its moments, so Allen got into computer programming very early.
Eventually he met Nancy, the woman he would spend the rest of his life with. His job sent them to Tampa. They were a perfect couple as her grounded strength balanced whatever doubts he faced. Allen could be a nervous guy, but Nancy affirmed him. He was a father to Ileana and a grandfather to her son, a granduncle, a brother and cousin to others.
Family meant a deep connection to Puerto Rico, Florida and other places. Allen was generous to a fault, helping out whenever he could. As other family did, we stayed with them when we visited Tampa, and when we first moved here. His mother Vivian lived with Allen and Nancy until the end of her life. He was a pallbearer for my father when he passed a few months later in 2017. This too is part of a migration south that went from the colony of Boriken a century ago, then north to the Bronx and New York metropolitan area and then south to Tampa Bay. Allen, Nancy, Dolly, Vivian, Tony, Papo, Margie, Armando, Orlando, Luddy, Rachel and myself made their way here, all of us descendants of Ramon Fernandez and Angelina Calo and Carmen Dorios-Picon, born 100+ years ago.
The past week has been intense, to stand with family and be there for his passing. We hoped he would get through 3 weeks of an induced coma for acute pancreatitis, and then witnessed a series of complications erode the possibility of his return. We prayed and asked for him to stay, in some ways I held a childlike hope that this would change. Instead, a part of my life has calved and fallen away, and he becomes an ancestor, someone I will see when my transition comes.