Yturrino: Looking at a collateral line

watercolor map of Mutriku, 1634
ink & watercolor drawing of port of Mutriku, Guipuzcoa from
Mutriku (Motrico) From”El atlas del rey planeta: La descripción de España y de las costas y puertos de sus reinos”, de Pedro Texeira (1634) Wikimedia

Finding additional details can make working with documents fascinating. Often it can help us understand relationships that structured the lives of persons further back in time.  

Some collateral lines have ancestors who came from sites in Spain, details that are often reduced to “Espana”.  The Yturrinos (or Iturrinos) offer another connection to Basque country, and this family is from an old coastal port town, today called Mutriku (Motrico) in Guipuzcoa founded in 1209.  Why come so far? 

Of Whales, Fish & Indigenous People, De Balenas, Pescados y Gente Indigena

Map of Newfoundland and Labrador made by the Portuguese cartographer Fernão Vaz Dourado in 1570. Wikimedia.

People have sailed out of Mutriku for centuries. Historian Birgit Sonneson writes that since the Middle Ages in Basque country ports, the activities of fishing and maritime traffic were the economic base for the region. In fact, Basque whalers and fishermen went to Canada yearly to fish whale and cod, an interaction that had the fishermen learning Indigenous words from the local groups.

Champlain’s journals contain Basque words. There were no permanent Basque settlements, but camps along the coast were occupied by the fishermen from April to September when they departed for home. [1] By 1541, several Iroquoian groups already had Basque names by the time the French arrived in Labrador. The industry lasted until 1579 when the English attacked Basque whalers. This created a crisis that ended their whaling in the Strait of Belle Isle . [2]

That may have ended whaling as an industry, but the Basque regrouped and focused on fishing, sealed and traded with Indigenous peoples and sedentary fishing communities. They laid claim to more than 100 ports throughout western and southern Newfoundland, Cape Breton Island, Chaleur Bay, and the St. Lawrence Estuary.  Historian Brad Lowen writes: “An indirect indicator of these partnerships is the historical incidence of Basque names among Inuit, Mi’kmaw, and Métis families in southern Labrador, Cape Breton Island, and parts of Gaspésie. ” Basques also forged ties with the Inuit around the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. [3] I imagine there are blended ancestries reflected in DNA, another set of unexpected connections facilitated by colonialism.

Salt Cod

When John Cabot rediscovered Newfoundland in 1497, he saw the profit to be made from the fish in these cold Atlantic waters. Slices of cod were packed between layers of salt, and the water content dropped to 60%; with further drying, it went down to 40%. Now, this was a product that could last over the course of a long voyage, and without refrigeration. Demand on the Iberian peninsula and in European markets was high. By 1660, production increased, but what really drove demand in the late 17th century was the rise of sugar.

The increase in enslaved West Africans as labor for the production of sugar cane in the Caribbean made bacalao attractive to plantation owners that relied on cost-cutting solutions to make their profit. They bought cheap salt cod rather than devote large portions of land for growing crops or raising animals to feed the enslaved.[4] Those who prepared the small salt cod sold in the Caribbean were caught in a cycle of debt and credit. “El negocio del azucar es para Puerto Rico, lo que el bacalao es para Terranova.” [ 5]

Paul-Émile Miot, Cod preparation, French fishing station in Cape Rouge, Newfoundland, ca. 1857-1859. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cod_preparation.jpg

The Yturrinos

I delved into this history of commerce in an attempt to get some clarity on what kind of ‘Comerciante‘ this Basque family member was part of. There were limits – as Mutriku is a port city, agriculture wasn’t an option to enter into, so it was either trade or fishing. With inheritance, only one son could inherit an estate, leaving the rest to fend for themselves.[6] As I have no correspondence or documentation on the first Yturrino to reach Puerto Rico beyond marriage and children, it’s difficult to say what precipitated the move across the Atlantic to the Caribbean. But as an island whose economy was then based on slavery, there are ties to this in some way.

Google satellite map showing location of Mutriku, Guipuzcoa, Spain
. Red pin: Mutriku, Guipuzcoa, Pais Vasco, Spain. Google Maps, Aug 2022

The earliest known Yturrino in Puerto Rico is Juan Antonio Yturrino born in 1751 in Mutriku, Guipuzcoa. He is definitely on the island by 1780, when his son Pedro Joseph Yturrino Velez was born.   Juan Antonio Yturrino married Rosalia Beles [Velez] Camacho, and she dies a widow by the time of her death on 13 Nov 1804, in Mayaguez.[7] They had five children, two of which have known descendants, Pedro Joseph born 28 Jun 1780 and Benito Iturrino Velez, born about 1792.[8]

Pedro Joseph Iturrino Velez married Ysidra Arzua Crespo of Bayamon. As far as is known they had one son, Felipe Iturrino Arzua. His brother, Benito Iturrino Velez was married twice, to Ysidra Morales Crespo on January 1814 in Anasco, and after her death, he married Catalina Martinez. [9]

Felipe Iturrino Arzua

On the morning of 16 March 1894, Felipe Yturrino Arzua died of fever at the age of 83. [10 ] His death record reveals a long life, with three marriages and children from each relationship, and substantial land purchases in Moca and San Sebastian. Born in Bayamon, he died in Barrio Corcobada, Anasco, and his family tree branches into several municipalities. Where it connects to my tree is through the Babilonia. Both his generation and those of the Babilonia Quinones were the grandchildren of at least one grandparent born in Spain, most often a grandfather.

These were marriages of equal social stature, that rested on an economy based on slavery, dependent on the labor of a highly admixed, African descended and Afro-Indigenous enslaved population. By the 1870s, this population transitioned to freedom about the time Felipe Iturrino began to have children. The plantations eventually became farms and after the Spanish American War were mostly dedicated to corporate sugar cultivation.

Land acquisition in Moca, 1864

In the 1860s, Felipe began purchasing land in Moca. In March 1864, he purchased over 23 acres of land that included coffee and coconut palm farms in Barrio Plata Moca from Jose Dolores Nunez. He received 386 pesos for it at the 1864 sale. This lot bordered property owned by Ramon Rivera on the south, Antonio Ramos on the east, and Flora Arocho on the north side. On the west side, his border was land embargoed by Nunez in lieu of payment. Nunez purchased the land over twenty years earlier from Cristobal Soto. [11] 

Next, in August 1864, widow Florencia Acevedo of Moca went before the notary Eusebio de Arze in Aguadilla to register the sale of another adjoining piece of property in Barrio Plata to Felipe Yturrino. This property comprised over 21 acres in two lots, including pasture and brush (pasto y maleza) that bordered the previous purchase on the east side, and the embargoed land from Jose Dolores Nunez on the south. The smaller seven-acre lot ran along the land of Ramon de Rivera on the east, Manuel [illegible] on the west, and Manuel Hernandez to the south.

The plat’s borders were living– borders that extended from a variety of flowering trees and plants— guava, maguey, jobo, mamey, and moca, along with fresh water springs at different points.  Florencia Acevedo Perez inherited this land from her parents Chrisosomos Acevedo and Antonia Perez, and sold it for 184 pesos. [12]

What kind of person was he? Felipe Yturrino didn’t take insults lightly, as this list of fines from January 1842 from La Gaceta shows. “D. Juan Eduardo Langevin for having loudly insulted with imputations and denigrating words to Felipe Iturrino, without him having lacked in anything or answering such grievances, was condemned in an oral hearing for a fine of 6 pesos .” [13]

The Marriages of Felipe Iturrino

Felipe Iturrino married three times and had children from each marriage.  His first marriage was to Teresa de Jesus Salome de Rivera Ortiz, daughter of Felipe Rivera and Juana Bautista Ortiz on 22 January 1844 in Anasco. With her, he had three children, Juan Dionisio, Lucidaria, and Eulogia Yturrino Rivera. [14] As adults, Juan Dionisio was a medical doctor, and Eulogia was a teacher appointed by Spain in Quebradillas.

His second marriage was to Teresa’s sister, Maria Gregoria de Rivera Ortiz on 27 June 1859 in Anasco. On PARES, there are documents for an 1859 dispensation from Spain that was granted in order for the couple to marry despite the ‘primer grado de afinidad‘ (first degree of affinity) that indicates a sibling is involved. The process took about a year. [15] 

What is remarkable is the number of people who had to sign off on the permission, with each stage likely having fees well beyond those for consanguinity on the island. Felipe and Maria Gregoria also had three children, Carmen, Adolfo Sinforiano and Julian Aristides Yturrino Rivera. His last marriage was also in Anasco. 

List of persons Felipe Yturrino had to request seals and permissions from for his second marriage, ‘primer grado de afinidad‘ PARES | Spanish Archives ES.28079.AHN/16//ULTRAMAR,2049,Exp.6

On 12 May 1892 Felipe married for the third and last time, to Francisca Vazquez Ayala. [16] He had nine children with her: Carlota, Ysabel, Rogelio, Jose Roque, Jesus Maria, Elisa, Maria Carlota, Catalina and  Mariana Yturrino Vazquez, born in Barrio Corcobada Rural, Anasco. 

Three of Felipe Iturrino Arzua’s 15 children: M1 with Maria Teresa de Jesus Salome Rivera- Lucidaria & Juan Dionisio Iturrino Rivera; M3 with Francisca Vazquez Ayala- Maria Luisa Iturrino Vazquez

Lucidaria Iturrino Rivera married Adolfo Emeterio Babilonia Quinones (1841-1884) about 1868. An educator, agriculturalist, and musician, he was nominated to the post of Inspector General of Public Education for Puerto Rico by Governor La Torre in 1872, a post later given to a Peninsular with the political changes brought by Governor Primo de Rivera. Because of that he fled to the Dominican Republic for a short time and then returned to teaching in San Sebastian and Aguadilla. He died shortly after being notified by the new Governor Marquez de la Vega that he was given the post of Inspector General of Public Education in 1884. [17]

Adolfo Emeterio Babilonia Quinones (1841-1884)

Adolfo Babilonia and Lucidaria Iturrino had 12 children: Adolfo Melquiades, Enriqueta, Olivia, Urania, Lavinia, Osvaldo, Alfonso, Amelia, Jorge, Viola, Arturo Carmelo and Simon Fidel Babilonia Iturrino. Here are photographs of five of them, taken in the early 20th century. They lived in Anasco, Moca, Isabela, San Sebastian, Arecibo and New York.

As a child, my mother remembered seeing Adolfo Melquiades Babilonia Iturrino astride a white horse, wearing a white linen suit and pith helmet as he went from location to location as Colector de Rentas Internas (Collector of Internal Revenue). Adolfo owned a coffee farm in barrio Cruz, Hacienda Laura, where his grandson, Gaspar Matias Babilonia spent part of his childhood. Osvaldo Babilonia Iturrino became Jefe del Policia Insular, Head of Insular Police; given his uniform, his brother Arturo also served in the Insular Police.

Threading these fragments of details back in time offers some sense of how one Basque emigre came to Puerto Rico, and left generations of descendants. Perhaps more details about them in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries will soon come to light. The larger context of this history still has much to provide about the connections to enslavement, politics and education of that era.

References

[1] Miren Egana Goya, Presencia de los pescadores vascos en Canada s. XVII. Testimonio de las obras de Samuel de Champlain (1603-1633).

[2] Brad Lowen, Intertwined Enigmas: Basques and St Lawrence Iroquoians in the Sixteenth Century. C3, 57-75.

[3] Brad Lowen,”Introduction to the Basque Papers.” Newfoundland and Labrador Studies, 33:1, 2018, 1719-1726, 7-19, 7, 14.

[4] “Salt Cod, Chicken, Slavery and Yams.” 28 Nov 2014 https://elvalleinformation.wordpress.com/salt-cod-slavery/

[5] Manuel Valdes Pizzini, La imperiosa necesidad del bacalao: Puerto Rico y Terranova en la Ecología-Mundo. Relaciones Internacionales, No. 47, Jun-Sep 2021, 163- 179; 171.

[6] Birgit Sonneson, Vascos en la diaspora: La emigration de La Guaira a Puerto Rico, 1799-1830. Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Sevilla, 2008.

[7] Acta defuncion, Rosalia Beles Camacho, 13 Nov 1804, San Jose de Mayaguez, Libro 2 Defunciones, Folio 136. Rosalía Vélez Camacho, administradora, viuda de Don Antonio Yturrini. Dejó por hijos a Juan, Bentura, José, Antonio, Candelaria y Benita.  Oficios de entierro doble en tramo de 8 reales. Email, Iris Santiago, 17 Dec 2007. 

[8] Acta nacimiento, Pedro Juan Yturrino Velez, 17 Jul 1780 [22 Jun 1780] San Jose de Mayaguez, Libro 3 Bautismos, Folio 22v. Email, Iris Santiago, 23 March 2008. “L3B F 22vuelto  17 jul 1780  Pedro Joseph, de 19 días, h.l. Don Antonio Iturrino y Da. Rosalía Vélez. Padrinos: Don Agustín Fernandino y Da. María Felicia de Mathos. “

[9] Benito Iturrino Velez + Ysidra Morales Crespo, 16 Jan 1814 Anasco. His daughter Eleuteria Iturrino Morales lived to age 103. She died in Barrio Zanja, Camuy in 1928.

[10] Acta defuncion, Felipe Yturrino Arzua, Registro Civil, Anasco, 17 Marzo 1894.  F72-73 #75 Image # 7-8, Historical Records Collection, Puerto Rico, FamilySearch.org

[11] Carlos Encarnacion Navarro, AGPR, Fondo de Protocolos Notariales, Serie Aguadilla,  Pueblo Aguadilla, Caja 1434, Escribanos otros funcionarios, 1852-1878, 10 Mar 1864 (Folio no numerado), p.67.  The identity of Cristobal Soto in Barrio Plata, Moca remains to be established. 

[12] Carlos Encarnacion Navarro, AGPR, Fondo de Protocolos Notariales, Serie Aguadilla,  Pueblo Aguadilla, Caja 1434, Escribanos otros funcionarios, 1852-1878, 4 Ago 1864 (Folio no numerado), p. 71.  

[13] “Anasco. Relaciones de las multas que ha impuesto varios Alcaldes en el mes de Noviembre proximo pasado por las causas que a continuacion se expresan.” Gazeta de Puerto-Rico. [volume] ([San Juan, P.R.), 11 Jan. 1842. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/2013201074/1842-01-11/ed-1/seq-4/>

[14] Acta de matrimonio, Felipe Yturrino Crespo + Teresa de Jesus Salo Rivera, 22 Jan 1844, Libro 12, Folio 139, Anasco. Email, Wilfredo Quintana, 2008.  His mother’s maternal surname appears instead of Arzua. 

[15] Sobre dispensa matrimonial de Sr. Iturrino y Srta. Rivera. 1858-1859. PARES | Spanish Archives ES.28079. AHN/16//ULTRAMAR,2049,Exp.6, September 1858. PARES.mcu.org

[16] Acta de matrimonio, Felipe Yturrino Crespo + Maria Gregoria Rivera, Libro 12 Folio 217v, Anasco. Email, Wilfredo Quintana, 2008.  

[17] Angel M. San Antonio, Hojas Historicas de Moca. Moca: Emprearte EB, 2004, 160-161.

Lele’s Festival de ñame, 2007: 5,000 years of culinary history

Lele, Pullo, Luis & Quirilo Hernandez, rear: Bilin, Barrio Pueblo, Moca, Mar 2007. Photo: EFS

Yams & communities

Roots like yams, yuca, yautia, malanga known by different names on different islands and continents are central to Puerto Rican foodways and are also tied to a larger history of the slave trade over several centuries. Come with me as I trace yams from the cooking pot out to the hills of Moca and across the oceans to Africa and from Puerto Rico to Cuba.

In March 2007, Lele set up a stand outside his grocery store in Barrio Pueblo, Moca, so that a group of friends could share in cooking and eating the delicious root they dug up in the hills the previous day. ñame (NyAH-meh), a variety of yam, grows to various sizes and has pale yellow or white flesh, or pith. Here Lele made a sancocho, adding oxtail for the broth the ñame cooks in, filled with other roots, herbs and boiled green bananas.

There are several varieties of yam some, like  ñame blanco, Dioscorea rotundata is originally from West Africa; other kinds come from tropical Asia, Brazil and other areas of South America. Dioscorea and its varieties is a plant that’s been cultivated for over 5,000 years around the world.

West African Yam Belt, Fig. 2 from Dumont, Biodiversity, p.17

The centrality of yams to the diet in West Africa is reflected in the number of names each one has that gives technical and historical information- in the Cote d’Ivoire, this tuber has 166 names, and in Benin, it has 311. This is a large vine that can reach a height of  and takes 6-8 months vegetative cycle with 3-5 months dormancy for the tubers to grow. [1]

Another key root is yuca, known as cassava. It’s one of the oldest crops on the island, grown in piles of earth called conucos. Grated, used to make cassava bread, flat and baked on hot stones, or, given it’s mild flavor, prepared with other ingredients, be used in stews, roasted or fried.

Ultimately, what’s in a meal made with yams, cassava, green bananas and plantains is a blend of ingredients and cultures brought to the Caribbean over thousands of years and hundreds of miles by different groups of people in systems of intercolonial trade.

Digging the Roots in Moca

Wild yam tubers in Barrio Cruz, Moca, 2007. Photo: EFS

I was able to go ñame hunting with my cousin Enrique Rivera in the hills of a farm that his friend owned in the hills of Barrio Cruz. We went down a steep edge, looking for potential spots where vegetation was already cleared. One person searched through brush for the right leaves, and with knives and machetes, we began to carve out the soil to yield the root. Large and heavy with moisture, these roots can easily weigh several pounds.

Enrique’s friend explains how the plant grows its tubers. Photo: EFS, 2007.

Peeled, grated, then fried, people make bunuelos de ñame, or have them along with other roots, as in the dish verduras con bacalao, which can include a selection of yuca, batata, malanga, yautia and guineos verdes (green bananas), simply boiled with prepared bacalao (dried cod fish) in or on the side, drizzled with olive oil.

Enrique carries section of yam in Barrio Cruz. Photo: EFS, 2007

Cook it!

Mash it, bake it, boil it or, sauteed, roots can provide a filling, tasty meal.  Know that most of the corn, green bananas and plantain during the 18th & 19th centuries made up a large portion of the diet of our enslaved and impoverished ancestors in the Caribbean.

Wild Yams & Other Naming Practices

“Man coming out of jungle with wild yam ‘cabezo de negro’. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

Here’s a photo taken in the 1950s of a man coming out of a jungle carrying a large wild yam on his shoulder from the Library of Congress website. (This yam was not eaten, but used as a source for hormones.) Still, it gives an idea of the size these roots can often grow to- and they can reach 130 pounds. In this case, the local name of the yam, ‘cabezo de negro’ demonstrates how ideas around race and labor are linked to food,  yet the location where the photo was taken, and the name of the person who appears in the photograph are not mentioned. Names can reflect the inequalities of power, just as the photograph hides the person taking the image and the organization that makes the image possible.

What’s in a name?

However, the terms cabezo, cabezon,  can invoke images of retaliation by planters and resistance by the enslaved. In Guillermo A. Baralt’s Slave Revolts in Puerto Rico,  African-born enslaved laborers called bozales, were those who “more than the other slaves, resisted the work regime to which they were subjected when they  arrived on the island. [2] Those who rebelled in Bayamon in 1822 and in Ponce in 1826 had arrived only a few months before the conspiracy. The ones who fought most resolutely against their owners for over half a century were the “negros cabezones” [pigheaded blacks]. They included the leaders of the Ponce conspiracy of 1841 and enslaved Longoba nation members in Toa Baja in 1843, along with those in Vega Baja in 1840.”[3]

Quote on what it meant to be bozal from Ivonne Acosta Lespier, “Mujeres esclavas en Mayaguez.”

A bitter reality: sugar production & slavery

Portion of 1886 Map of PR Circled: Toa Baja & the free town of Cangrejos outside of San Juan. G.W. & C.B. Colton & Co, Mapa topográfico de la isla de Puerto Rico, 1886. Library of Congress.

This portion of the 1886 Colton & Co. topographic map of Puerto Rico gives a sense of how the proximity of waterways and the free town of Cangrejos to the east likely served as inspiration for those enslaved across Bayamon and beyond who sought self liberation before 1873. The names of wards that dot the map are also those of sugar mills (Ingenios), such as Media Luna in Toa Baja and El Plantaje in Palo Seco.

Sugar dominated the landscape outside of San Juan, a region that extended from Toa Baja and Palo Seco on the west and Loiza, Carolina and Trujillo Bajo in the east. This was the earliest monoculture region on the island, and as such confronted the problems of slave rebellions. [4]

Increased numbers: Legal & illegal business, Dicey documents

As Guillermo Baralt notes, “From the time of the first sugar mills were established in Toa Baja, including that of the heirs of Juan Ponce de Leon, the sugar industry had been closely linked to black Africans and their American descendants. As this industry began to develop on a large scale at the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth, the number of slaves almost doubled, from 208 in 1776 to 410 in 1827.” [5 ]

The increased numbers of enslaved Africans in the hatos of the surrounding area were in part due to Toa Baja’s open involvement in an illegal slave trade during the early 19th century. I delve into details in this blog because one may find their line leads to this region, yet a specific ancestor is not found. As my cousin, genealogist Teresa Vega notes, that today our DNA tests may show connections, yet those direct ties may be to an ancestor we may never know because of the social conditions of slavery. This cultural and economic arrangement aimed to define people as less than, just as in the American South and countries where slavery was legal. Still, small numbers of the enslaved managed to have their relationships and children recognized, and were able to buy their freedom (coartacion). As a result, they stand to appear in more documentation as once owned, as free, and as owners of property.

Spain ended slavery within its own country in 1836, while in the Caribbean, despite signing treaties with England, Spanish ships were liable to be seized and its human cargo confiscated by British patrols if they were determined to be slavers. Yet there were citizens who requested and recieved special licenses to import dozens, or hundreds of enslaved people at a time.

One was the planter and slave trader in Toa Baja, Francisco Soler, owner of Hacienda San Pedro and also Regidor (city councilman)  of the Ayuntamiento (municipal government) of Toa Baja. In 1824, Soler had licenses to import 300 slaves and between 1830-1840, he was granted licenses for bringing slaves into Puerto Rico.  The argument offered for importing enslaved people for the market was  “because one could not depend on the free workers as they abandoned the preparatory tasks for the harvests..” [6] The lack of confidence in free labor was the explanation offered for why in Puerto Rico, the purchasing of slaves continued right up to the moment of abolition in 1873.  [7,8]

As freedom in Cuba was a late arrival in 1886, I expect there were planters in Puerto Rico who took advantage of this situation to transfer their enslaved labor to plantations in  Cuba via a network of family connections. As I review the documents tied to various ingenios (sugar mills)  in the region, I also see surnames tied to my extended family in the north west- Salas, Quinones, among others.

The trade continued, with the origin of enslaved Africans hidden on documents. This official anti-slaving activity had only a partial effect on reducing the numbers of people transported during the Middle Passage. Afterwards, as availability of enslaved African laborers waned,  the price of bozales increased considerably as a result. At the same time, sugar slid in value, and the process was only partially mechanized. To make matters even more pressing, different and more refined sugars entered the market, diminishing the value of Puerto Rican muscovado sugar. [9]

Interior view of a ‘trapiche de sangre’ in Martinique. From “La technologia antes del siglo XIX”.

Similar machines, literally ‘blood mills’ based on older technologies caused workers serious injuries. Notice the woman, who represents the fact that many enslaved workers male and female worked crops from planting to harvest.
A focus on the economy only serves to hide human suffering involved in the production of materials for mass consumption. There’s a shift happening where la otra cara de la historia (the ‘other face of history’)  is taking center stage in research and family histories of POC. The panelists on Black ProGen LIVE are part of this shift.

Y como me gusta mi historia negra, asi guanta la azucar.

And as I also like my history black, hold the sugar.*

Resistance and Retaliation: Toa Baja, 1843

The reduced availability of Africans, and the ensuing rise in the price of the enslaved did not mean slavery in Puerto Rico was benign, just as in other places, violence was seen as a means to gain profit.  Work regimes were brutal with the rise in sugar, and many situations only became even more desperate. Toa Baja’s open investment in the illegal slave trade, the changes in its boundaries with the formation of the municipalities of Palo Seco on the east and Dorado on the west meant the ensuing loss of wealth was paired with the increased production of sugar with a price in free fall. The situation of the enslaved worsened. Revolt and resistance became a constant.

Historian Andres Ramos Mattei described the conditions the enslaved labored under at an Ingenio (sugar mill):

… and after the labor of cutting cane ended, they were sent to the factory where they were obligated to stay until almost midnight. The freed worked at night and less in the factory because, among other things, the infernal noise and intolerable heat of the same. The inhuman work conditions, the bad quality of life, the lack of infrastructure and the little security before accidents that occur while operating equipment and machinery, that made accidents possible and the deaths of sugar workers. [9]

During the harvest break,  a group of  enslaved Longoba men  gathered to play nine pins at a farm in barrio Mameyal for their holiday. There, at the Cantero hacienda, an absentee owner, they quickly planned and executed their takeover of the town of Toa Baja. The group was led by Cornelio, alias Bembe, who complained of ill treatment and lack of food at his master’s hacienda, that of the widow Dona Maria de la Concepcion ‘Concha’ Pasalagua.

What ultimately ensued was the only slave uprising to succeed in its initial moments, yet ended with substantial difficulty by nearly a thousand people including several troops of militias. [10]

The death penalty in Puerto Rico, 1843

More on the consequences of these acts are discussed in Jalil Sued-Badillo’s La Pena de Muerte en Puerto Rico (2000).  All cases of slave conspiracies were handled by military tribunals that condemned and executed those found guilty.  In 1826, regulations were passed by Governor de la Torre and ratified in 1829. Punishments ranged from hanging and quartering from 1700s to the 1830s, then by firing squad, garrote and quartering or decapitation; or simply by decapitation, the sentence for three enslaved persons in Fajardo in 1843. [5]

Those involved with the uprising in Toa Baja came from dona Pasalagua’s hacienda, situated west of the town, a property managed by Pascasio Charbonieu, who married Maria de la Concepcion Pasalagua’s sister, Maria Belen Pasalagua Cordova. [6]

They were sentenced on the 18 May 1843.

Among the Longoba were:

Bembe (baptized Cornelio)

Enrique Longoba

Casimiro

Luis

Pedro

Lucas

and others from the hacienda owned by Francisco Cantero.

Five soldiers and Bembe were killed in the fighting.    and soldiers were decorated, relatives of those who died received decorations from the government and for a few, even pensions.  Below is a chart based on the list of the condemned in Sued Badillo’s La Pena de Muerte.

Chart of enslaved Longoba with charges and sentence. Sued-Badillo, “Condenados de la muerte, siglo xix.” La Pena de Muerte en Puerto Rico (2000).

This portion of the official report, Sintomas de sedicion de esclavos en un ingenio de Toa Baja – (Symptom of a sedition of slaves at a mill in Toa Baja)   refers to the extensive networks among enslaved laborers:

portion of “Sintomas de sedicion de esclavos.” AHN 5066, Exp 19.

…Este Negro ha declarado  estar en la conspiración varios Capatares de diferentes  Haciendas de Naguabo, Caguas, Mayag.s, S.n German, Penuelas y Loiza, cuyos Priciones he mandado ejecutar por Comisionados especiales q.e les resiban acta continuo sus  declaraciones inquisitiva…

..This Black has declared being in conspiracies versus various Overseers of different Haciendas in Naguabo, Caguas, Mayaguez, San German, Penuelas and Loiza, in shackles he sent orders by special Commissioners who received the acts continue their investigative questioning…

I expected to see extensive coverage of the insurrection given the number of persons involved. Yet this is the only notice in La Gazeta de Puerto Rico, the official newspaper of the Spanish government, tied to the uprising of 1843. It is short and simple, a request for bids for the repair of the Casa del Rey in the pueblo– the same building initially taken over by the enslaved laborers just days earlier.

Anuncios, Ayuntamiento de Toa-Baja, Gazeta de Puerto Rico, 1843.

Regardless of the state’s warnings and the penalty of death, resistance to enslavement continued. Executions were completed in public places or at the same haciendas, with enslaved brought from the surrounding area to witness the delivery of a tableau intended as a warning. As the price of sugar dropped, the added pressure placed by rebellion and escape by the enslaved did not end until the legal abolition of slavery in 1873.

The family who owned Longoba people

Persons owned by the viuda Pasalagua and her husband are listed in the Sociedad Puertorriqueña de Genealogia’s Collecion de Genealogia e Historia, Tomo III: Aportaciones de los naciones africanas a la familia puertorriqueña.  They were divided by owner, with several enslaved people owned by the widow Pasalagua and the other those who stood to inherit from her deceased husband via the, ‘sucesión de la familia Hernandez.’

Merging of powers

Iglesia Parroquial San Pedro Apostol de Toa Baja. NPS photo, Wikipedia.

On the first of January 1833, dona Maria de la Concepcion Pasalagua and don Juan Zoilo Hernandez were married in the Iglesia de San Pedro Apostle de Toa Baja. The first of January was a time of celebration, a break between the end of harvest and the start of planting.

The Hernandez family had a tradition of producing sugar in Toa Baja and were connected to the Pasalagua Cordova bride by family, having a dispensation for “3er con 3er con 4to grado de consangunidad”, indicating the pair were second and third cousins with at least one great grandparent in common. [11]

Consanguinity in the Hernandez-Pasalagua marriage, 3er con 3er con 4to grado.

Uncertainty & instability: marriage, alliances, uprisings

The parents of the bride, Capitan Infanteria d. Gil Pasalagua and da. Rosa de Cordova and those of the groom d. Francisco Antonio Hernandez and da. Maria de los Angeles Marrero was a union of power and commerce, representative of the island’s shift from military outpost to sugar based economy built on unsteady ground.

Even the notations on the marriage certificate point to uncertainty, observing that the marriage certificate of ‘one Jose Miguel Pasalagua and Regina Pinero were mistakenly entered in the Libro de pardos, and folio 10 corresponds to the present Libro de blancos.” (See below) [12 ] There is no date listed, and the entry bears the signature ‘Marrero’.

Edge note on Hernandez-Pasalaqua marriage, F57v 1833

The text of the edge note says:

Que la partida de Matrimonio de Jose Miguel Pasalagua y Ma. Regina Pinero queda equivocada ante halla en el libro de pardos el folio 10 corresponde al presente libro de blancos Anotado y debido ante [illeg.]

[firma]  Marrero

The volumes for the Iglesia San Pedro de Apostol are not indexed. To be entered in the Libro de pardos (literally The book of browns) was to be officially marked as a person of color in society, so whether this was administrative error, or a corrective to a known situation isn’t clear. Perhaps other documents will shed more light on the situation.

As historians of slavery show, endogamy shaped the lives of the people held in slavery, particularly when small slaveholding is involved. Through marriage and inheritance, the enslaved and their communities faced any number of situations from transfer of household to outright sale and the sometimes lengthy process of potentially purchasing their freedom through coartación (self purchase).

Additional connections to the family were also created through coercion or consent. Either way, relationships were subject to an imbalance of power and the wishes of the slaveholder.  More may be revealed through a combination of DNA and documentation, both oral and historical.

Notation on death of Juan Zoilo Hernandez, Toa Baja, Mar 1839, in 1833 marriage record. APSPATB F57.

Ultimately, the marriage between dona Pasalagua and her husband did not last long. Don Juan Zoilo Hernandez Marrero died in March 1839, leaving her in charge of running the property on behalf of the estate. She was a proprietor with links to family also invested in the production of sugar, and was one of numerous female slaveowners in 19th century Puerto Rico.

One of the interesting, yet at first puzzling detail is the activity of baptizing the enslaved in groups. The list of people referenced earlier in the SPG’s Tomo III: Aportaciones de los naciones africanas a la familia puertorriqueña show two clusters of people being baptized– one group that belonged to Juan Zoilo Hernandez and the other to his wife Maria  Pasalagua.

Here are the baptisms of Antonio, Gabino and Loreto that took place 18 May 1842.  The enslaved that belonged to the Pasalagua and Hernandez families appear in the pages of the Libro de Bautismos of San Pedro de Apostol, Toa Baja. They were baptized in groups, and are listed in Libros 8 & 9 of Bautismos; the enslaved were born in Africa, and ranged in age from 10 to 40.

Antonio, Gabino, Loreto, Baptismal record, San Pedro de Apostol, Toa Baja, L8 F251-252.

Why baptize adults? A page from Agustin Booth Corbin’s 1844 Book Second: The Spanish Colonies  lays out the reasons for religious education and incorporation into Catholicism:

Agustin Booth Corbin, excerpt, Book Second: The Spanish Colonies, 1844

Limiting instruction, also meant to give teachings designed “to strengthen the authority of the masters by accommodating the slaves to  submission and teaching them to endure the privations of their transient condition with the resignation that religion alone can inspire…. to encourage the religion which accustoms to submission…”

The 1826 slave code, passed in 1829, was instituted after a thousand people participated in uprisings in 1821 and more after.  Article 2  of the 1826 Reglamento sobre la education, trato y ocupaciones que deben dar a sus esclavos los duenos y mayordomos en esta Isla states that the enslaved must be baptized within a year of residence or at most by two years of arrival.

This  gives us a window for the purchase of the enslaved owned by the family of Juan Zoilo Hernandez and Maria Concepcion Passalagua.

Hardened beliefs versus flexible realities, denial versus possibility

However, looking back to 1806, self liberation was already a tradition of sorts, that emphasized survival and self preservation were fundamental values, and is part of the larger history of Marronage. Marronage existed in various forms in every slaveholding society in the western hemisphere, with Indian peoples forming the earliest Maroon communities in the Caribbean. As twenty to twenty-five people could run away in a single night, planter families argued they were being ruined by the loss of their human property. [14]

10 July 1806, Notice of Runaway slaves, Document XIII.3, Nistal-Moret, Esclavos profugos y cimarrones

Document XIII.3 shows a list of 18 individuals who ran away one night in June 1806 from the haciendas of Santiago Rios and the heirs of the Irishman David Quinlan. Among them were men women and children, and they took a piragua or small canoe from Rios’ plantation and made it out by the Boca havana (Mouth of Havana), with machetes and two shotguns. Two had different origins as suggested by their surnames, Manuel Congo and Miguel Franses. [15]

From Rios Plantation:

Vicente, his partner and Francisco
Roman and his partner
Manuel Congo, his partner and two children
Zeferino
Miguel Franses
Ignacio
Atanacio
Juan de la Cruz
Juan Pedro

From Quinlan’s Plantation
Francisco
Juaquin
Francisco

By 1812, Santiago Rios was first among the main producers of sugar, together with Juan Ramos, Pablo and Santiago Cordova, Francisco Nevarez, Fernando Davila, Silvestre Roman, Francisco Antonio Hernandez, Jose Rodriguez, Francisco Salas and Jose Garcia. All were prominent political citizens who held  posts in Toa Baja’s Junta de Visita, and in 1813, the Town Council comprised Francisco Hernandez as Alcalde (Mayor), Santiago de Cordova, Jose Narcisco Salgado and Francisco Marrero were Regidores; Francisco Salas as Sindico Procurador and Jose Maria Ramirez as Caballero Regidor. They were also important hacendados, (plantation owners). [16]

One can see that the Hernandez-Passalagua marriage involved Francisco Antonio Hernandez, as father of the groom, and Santiago Cordova, who is likely related to the bride via her mother; Francisco Marrero may have still been Regidor of Toa Baja in 1833.

This union translated into a level of power over those who toiled the land.  Despite the interwoven nature of power and sugar production over the lives of the enslaved, they continued to resist.

Calling their names- Restoring the visibility of resistance

Wikipedia; By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=55162574

Earlier histories of Puerto Rico do not mention the 1843 uprising. Loida Figueroa’s History of Puerto Rico [17] made an effort to acknowledge the African presence in PR history by designating a separate chapter to cover the history of resistance and racial categorizations, along with the legal structure of the Slave Trade. She provides one of the earliest challenges to the nascent historiography of slavery prior to the work of historians during the 1980s, when the first studies began putting slavery at the center of research.

Loida Figueroa on the 1843 rebellion, History of Puerto Rico, p.449

Yet here, the slave revolt of Toa Baja receives a few sentences noting that “the necessary solidarity did not exist among them all.” Figueroa Mercado adds  the observation by historian Luis Diaz Soler, author of Historia de esclavitud en Puerto Rico, who made the remarkable claim that “no racial hatred existed on Puerto Rico.” She strove to point to the paternalistic view that colored some of Diaz Soler’s Historia, which for over 40 years was the only extended work on the history of slavery in Puerto Rico.

Silence on the continuous history of slave resistance in Puerto Rican historiography began to change after the 1960s, in part of public calls for recognition through civil and human rights movements that emerged in the wake of world wars, Jim Crow and mass industrialization. These connections are is what we in BlackProGen are actively working through in our respective blogs.

Enslaved workers unloading ice in Cuba, 1832

They Are We: Sierra Leone – Cuba … and Puerto Rico ?

Screenshot from They Are We site: “Yandrys, Alfredo and Cuco at the obelisk marking the site of the ingenio Santa Elena, where their ancestors were once enslaved. Matanzas, Cuba, December 2011.” Image: Unshackled Media PTV LTD, They Are Us.com

The descendants of the Ganga-Longoba in Cuba kept their traditions alive. Australian historian Emma Christopher filmed the celebration held by descendants whose enslaved ancestors labored at the Santa Elena plantation in Perico. She then screened the footage in various sites in Africa, trying to determine the origin of the traditions, sung in Banta, a language almost extinct nearly two centuries later.

Map of Perico within Matanzas Province. Wikipedia.

This led Christopher to film the documentary They Are We — the title based the words uttered by the villagers in Sierra Leone upon seeing the film of Afro-Cuban community members and their traditions. Eventually, a small group of descendants was able to travel to Mokpangumba, Sierra Leone to confirm family ties and celebrate their return home some 170 years later.

The ancestor who carried the tradition to Cuba was stolen from a village in Sierra Leone and arrived in the 1820s. Josefa Ganga lived to see the abolition of slavery in Cuba in 1886. She brought with her songs and dances in Banta, traditions for a secret society devoted to healing, on to her daughter and granddaughter. The centrality of music, oral poetry, literal and oral history in maintaining memory exists across the Caribbean, with opportunities to reconnect these ties.  As with other communities in the New World, African and Indigenous women transmit values through story-telling, poetry, song and dance. [20] For Josefa Ganga, formerly enslaved on a sugar plantation early in the nineteenth century, cultural practices offered the gift of resilience.  The site these ancestors worked was known as the Ingeniero Santa Elena.

Could this community in Perico, Cuba have connections to the Longoba nation members who were bought and sold to planters in Toa Baja? While the Longoba in Puerto Rico are mentioned in the historical record, their place of origin is not named. As I noted earlier in the article, ‘Longoba’ is used as a descriptor and for one man involved in the uprising, as a surname, Enrique Longoba.

Also in Toa Baja is the Ingeniero Santa Elena, which operated from 1790. Made of pink brick, the buildings are part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, as the only surviving 18th century sugar mill on the island.

Ruins of Hacienda Santa Elena, built ca 1790.  Rt.165, Toa Baja, P.R. Wikipedia

“Hacienda Santa Elena, Toa Baja, P.R.” Ferreras Pagán, José: Biografía de la Riquezas de Puerto Rico Riqueza Azucarera, 2 tomos, San Juan, s.e., 1909. 1:17.

This description from 1902 provides insight into the workings of the mill. Perhaps the map of the property lends an idea of how overwhelming the site was, and the ease with which those who wished to steal themselves could plan their escape  by reaching the waterways. And they did.

Site plan, Hacienda Azucarera Santa Elena, Toa Baja. NPS

Given the proximity between Cuba and Puerto Rico, and Toa Baja’s open involvement in the illegal slave trade, it’s likely they shared the families and traditions ripped from Upper Banta Chiefdom of Mokpangumba, Sierra Leone over 170 years ago.

Worlds in a bodega

Many in Moca know how to differentiate the leaves of different varieties of plants and roots and where they grow. As a small child in the South Bronx, I learned the varieties from the refrigerated bins in bodegas, with my mother teaching me which root was which from the different shapes and skins. We bought cilantro, recao and tiny sweet red bonnet peppers, all packed in tiny brown paper bags to carry home for her sofrito for our next meal.

Embedded within the foodways that cross our paths are stories of healing and survival, carried by voices over time. [20]

Listen.

References

* “I like my history black… hold the sugar” A shout out to Joseph McGill, of The Slave Dwelling Project whose organization works to preserve slave dwellings across the US.  Part of this work takes a simple visceral act of sleeping in extant slave dwellings with a group of people to connect with this fundamental and foundational history.

[1] Biodiversity and domestication of yams in West Africa: Traditional practices leading to Dioscorea rotundata Poir.  Roland Dumont et al. 2005, CIRAD-IPGRI; Also see the entries on the Plant List for various agricultural references: http://www.theplantlist.org/tpl1.1/record/kew-239950
[2] Guillermo A. Baralt, Slave Revolts in Puerto Rico: Conspiracies and Uprisings, 1795-1873. Translated from Spanish by Christine AyorindeT., Marcus Weiner Publishers, (1982) 2007, 143.
A good overview of resistance in the Caribbean can be found here in Joseph Hollister’s essay http://www.slaverebellion.org/index.php?page=slave-resistances-in-latin-america

[3] Jalil Sued-Badillo, La Pena de Muerte en Puerto Rico: Retrospectiva histórica para una reflexión contemporánea. Puerto Rico:  Editorial Centenario SA, 2000, 46-47

[4] Fernando Pico, Al filo del poder: Subalternos y dominantes en Puerto Rico, 1739-1910. Puerto Rico: Editorial UPR

[5] Francisco Scarano, “En peligro la libertad de todos.” Puerto Rico: Cinco Siglos de Historia, 414.

[6]  Baralt, Slave Revolts in Puerto Rico 60

[7]  Scarano, “En peligro la libertad de todos.” 414;  Baralt, Slave Revolts in Puerto Rico.

[8] Scarano, “En peligro la libertad de todos.” 414.

[9] Quote from Andres Ramos Mattei Ramos,
“…y después que terminaba el corte diario de caña, se dirigían a la fábrica en donde los obligaban a permanecer hasta casi la medianoche. Los libres rehusaban trabajos de noche y menos en las fábricas debido a, entre otras cosas, el ruido infernal y el calor insoportable en las mismas. El trabajo inhumano, la mala calidad de vida, la poca infraestructura y la poca seguridad ante los accidentes en el manejo de los equipos y la maquinaria, hacia posible los accidentes y las muertes de los trabajadores del azúcar.”
Andres Ramos Mattei,  La hacienda azucarera: su crecimiento y crisis en Puerto Rico (Siglo XIX), San Juan: CEREP, 1981.   Quoted in German Diaz Maldonado,  “Rebeliones de negros esclavos en Puerto Rico durante el primer tercio del siglo XIX: ensayo historiográfico.” 20 May 2016.  Academia.edu.

[10] Scarano, “En peligro la libertad de todos.” 414

[11]  APISPA, Toa Baja. Libro de Matrimonios, F57
[12 ] APISPA, Toa Baja. Libro de Matrimonios, F57
[13]  APISPA, Toa Baja. Libro de Bautismos, 8B (1835-1843) 251v

[14] Norton & Espinshade, Excavating Maroon Refuse Sites. Journal of Caribbean Archaeology, 7, 2007.

[15] “10 Julio 1806, Noticia de esclavos profugos.” (10 July 1806, Notice of Runaway slaves), Document XIII.3, Benjamin Nistal-Moret, Esclavos profugos y cimarrones: Puerto Rico, 1770-1870. Editorial UPR, 1984, 242-243.

[16] Baralt, 90

[17] Loida Figueroa Mercado, “Chapter XII 1. The negro element in the formation of the Puerto Rican nation.” History of Puerto Rico: From the beginning to the 1892. NY: L.A. Publishing Company, Inc. 1977, 247-275.

[18]  Sociedad Puertorriqueña de Genealogia’s Catalogó de Africanos

[19] Emma  Christopher, “They Are We.” Documentary, 2014. http://theyarewe.com
Tom Schnabel, “Cubans trace musical roots back to Africa.”Rhythm Planet, KCRW Blog, 18 August 2014.
http://blogs.kcrw.com/music/2014/08/cubans-trace-musical-roots-back-to-africa-once-again/
“Afro-Cubans welcomed As Family in Remote Sierra Leone Village.” Clutch Magazine Online, May 2014.

https://www.google.com/amp/clutchmagonline.com/2014/05/afro-cubans-welcomed-family-remote-sierra-leone-village/amp/

[20] Mary E. Modupe Kolawole, “An African View of Transatlantic Slavery and the Role of Oral Testimony in Creating a New Legacy.” Anthony Tibbles, ed. Transatlantic Slavery: Against Human Dignity. National Museums and Galleries of Derbyside, 1994, 105-110.

Note: This is an updated version of an earlier blog post on El Orgullo de ser Mocano.

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