Calling the Ancestors

On the trail of compassion and wonder: a meditation

Lately, I’ve been pondering how a broader historical framework for the genealogies and family histories can make displacement visible, particularly for identities shaped by the experiences of diaspora and migration.

Shouldn’t we ask questions about how beginnings are constructed? What’s the significance of an origin story? Who gets to tell about the dawning of a deeper historical consciousness among people? For whom does this story matter? Stories are containers for memory, with purpose.

I want to speak to the depth of this experience not because this perspective grants a sense of ‘survival beyond the odds’, but because when one listens to the bits of histories encoded in our stories and in the genes of our ancestors, these experiences can instill both compassion and wonder.  

In turn, compassion and wonder feeds the hope of survival, can enable sympathy, free suppressed identities, and through this recognition, foster social change. Our family histories contain worlds within them and perhaps answers that can help us heal in the present. 

2.
So, how best to convey and define this complexity? There are so many questions to consider when pondering how to proceed.  How can we locate and embrace the foundations created by Indigenous ancestors who kept a particular world view embedded in how they lived? Who can guide us on this journey? How do we come to terms when we discover our enslaved ancestors? Of those who were enslavers? 
Our task is to quilt together the narratives of survival and remember those that came before us.

These ancestries, family histories and narratives are more visible today thanks to technologies of social media and the regeneration of concepts out of these deeper pasts. But more needs to be done to  unfold the hidden margins of these narratives and reveal nodes of connections- location, place, time so that you becomes we. We are a constellation of microhistories. 

3.
For many Puerto Ricans / Borincanos / Tainos who identify as the descendants of pre-European Boriken, already a blend of Native and African peoples, there is a growing recognition of self and community that stands in relief to a backdrop of colonization. 
Indigenous identity is long denied because many grew up hearing the stories of extinction, then some deemed it an impossibility because it was not 100%. What happened however is Taino people were not gone, not frozen in time and continue to incorporate change in the present. There’s a culture and the question of language, which doesn’t negate a continued presence. This identity undergoes acknowledgement and recognition both on and off the island with the situation exacerbated by the pandemic. There’s a level of acknowledgment rather than a challenge, and communities that confirm continuity, a slow shift over the decades.  Growth and regeneration continues.

4.
There’s extraction as a process constantly  mobilized by different interests across time. Key to destroying the landscape is forgetting our fundamental interconnectedness from the seemingly inert to overtly active lifeforms. One prays for a respite from the machine of capital, from the desire for gold that threatens El Yunque, a tropical rainforest and sacred space for the Taino people.  The land everywhere needs to heal and needs its stewards.
Historically, assimilation was the order of the day in policy imposed on Puerto Rico, an echo of how the U.S. dealt with the nations contained within its own borders. Assimilation is an old multifaceted story whose journeys can cost us the past, its details trapped in bits of oral history.  What are we remembering? What do our ancestors tell us today?

5.
The backdrop of change is a constant. It goes from enslavement to industrialization to a globalization that traps and impoverishes many. Today one can begin to lay claim to this heritage while gaining visibility with less certainty of disenfranchisement. And because of technology, we can make connections with others that increases our chances of survival through the progressively larger gatherings that take place  across the country. 
This connection can be an antidote for the historical amnesia that fades with accountability and the remembrance of survival. Can knowledge stop trafficking? Can memory heal? To receive and share their stories, heal and connect is a blessing. What lessons come from the worlds our ancestors inhabited?  How are you we?

Seneko kakona (Abundant blessings)

Areito, Concilio Guatu-Maku a Boriken, Moca, 25 Nov 2005. Photo; E. Fernandez-Sacco
Courtesy: Martin Veguilla.

Passings

My dad, Orlando Fernandez Sr with my godfather, Ricardo Lopez Ramos, Palmar, Aguadilla.

Yesterday was the fourth anniversary of Pop’s passing, which took place on 7 July 2017. When our loved ones transition and become ancestors, there is the gift of memory, of a world now truly gone. 

Three days ago, Maria de los Angeles Caban Lopez died peacefully in her sleep at the age of 80, surrounded by her family. Known simply as Maria or ‘Mery la de Guchi’, she , her husband Rafael ‘Guchi’ Cordero Rodriguez (1931-2017) and their children were part of my childhood and adulthood.

Daughter of Guillermina ‘Conchita’ Lopez Babilonia and Daniel Caban Mendez, Maria was born in Barrio Pueblo, Moca in June 1941. Her mother was an accomplished tejedora de mundillo, a lacemaker capable of turning out stylish items using a traditional technique. Maria was also skilled, using her talents to sew elaborate decorative pillows and crochet for various items. 

Guillermina ‘Conchita’ Lopez Babilonia tejiendo mundillo.

I was sorry that my parents wound up abandoning their relationship when they moved to Florida, a painful process of displacement and emergency movement that left them too embarrassed to reach out and reestablish the connection. I felt fortunate that I was able at least to visit with Guchi’s family in Palmar in the early 2000s, and experience a little of these interlaced relationships. Her sister Consuelo also visited her in Queens just as Maria and her family visited them in Moca and Aguadilla over the years . My godfather was married to a sister of Guchi’s brother Angel, and the Cordero brothers lived in houses next door to each other along the Rta 111 ,in Palmar, just outside of Moca. There was lots of laughter and Guchi brought that sense of humor to his 60 year marriage with Maria. 

Maria Cordero & her family, Kew Gardens, NY, June 2019.

What always stood out to me was her presence as a mother, always surrounded by her children, then great grandchildren and great great grandchildren as the years passed. She was the glue that kept them together.

My condolences to the family, to my cousins now left bereft without her. QEPD

Her Wake will be held at:

Fredericks Funeral Home 192-15 Northern Blvd. (off the corner of 192nd St.) Flushing, NY 11358

Viewing on Sunday, 7/11/21 From 3pm to 8pm 

Funeral Mass: Monday, 7/12/21, Queen of Peace RC Church @ 10AM

Interment/Burial @ 11:45am: St Raymond’s Cemetery 

Next Week: 6/10: Bound to History – on Bernice Bennett’s Research at the National Archives and Beyond

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

Have you ever wanted to know more about the woman behind the only slave narrative out of Puerto Rico?

On June 10, 1 PM, I’ll be a guest on Bernice Bennett’s Research at the National Archives and Beyond.

We’ll be talking about Leoncia Lasalle’s & her daughter Juana Rodriguez Lasalle’s account and touch on the larger issues of archives and enslavement. See my recent article in the journal Genealogy, “Bound to History: Leoncia Lasalle’s Slave Narrative from Moca, Puerto Rico, 1945” (2020)

Event link: https://www.blogtalkradio.com/bernicebennett/2021/06/10/bound-to-history-leoncia-lasalles-slave-narrative-with-ellen-fernandez-sacco

Background: Here’s the article abstract::

Abstract: The only slave narrative from Puerto Rico is included in Luis Diaz Soler’s Historia de la esclavitud negra en Puerto Rico (1953; 2002). This article considers this embedded account as part of the literature of slave narratives to address a gap in the literature; this is perhaps due to the account’s singularity and brevity. Beyond this, the other source for understanding the experience of enslaved women in Puerto Rico is through legal and parish documents, generated by a colonial government and church supportive of slavery. As a result, lives under enslavement are quantified statistically, and the lack of oral history or personal accounts hampers understanding of the effects of enslavement from an individual perspective. Documenting such a life comes with its own set of issues, as shown here by demonstrating the limits of various archival resources. There is no one methodology to follow to reconstruct lives and family histories under slavery, an institution designed to prevent the formation of a historical sense of self and agency. Factoring in familial connections makes my own location as a researcher visible, as knowledge is not neutral. Despite its brevity, considering Leoncia Lasalle’s account, and that of her daughter, Juana Rodriguez Lasalle, in terms of its multiple contexts—microhistory, similarities with U.S. and Cuban slave narratives, family histories, and the archive—reveals the constructed nature of the idea of historical knowledge, which also has implications for genealogical practice involved with slavery and life post-emancipation.

It’s America: Everyday is Black History Day.

4 African American Women on the steps of Atlanta University. Du Bois et al, LOC.

Oh, America. The labor, sweat and blood that went into the infrastructure of this country, into its buildings and roads is a history, that for 400 years was presented as someone else’s. All of this effort, excellence, and memory can’t be crammed into the shortest month of the year– nor can it be recounted on one day.

Regardless, we need to honor those that came before us, and one way I can think of is to find those ancestors embedded in the shadows of a suppressed history. It takes time and work to find the details , but it’s so worth it.

Juneteenth Flag. Wikimedia Commons.

As I write this on Juneteenth, I see it as a very different day this year because so many decided to stand over the last month, right after the lynching of George Floyd. His death was a catalyst, a wake up call for the complacency with an investment in death. On Black ProGen, we have talked about the crushing effects of structural racism on BIPOC families, which in turns shapes the documentation that we can access to research the lives of our ancestors.

Virginia Arocho Rodriguez (1920-2007), granddaughter of Dionisia Leoncia Lasalle & daughter of Juana Rodriguez Lasalle, Moca, Puerto Rico, 2006.

I was honored to speak the names of Leoncia Lasalle, Dionicia Rodriguez Lasalle, Juan Tomas Gandulla and Tomas Gandulla yesterday on the Juneteenth Celebration held by Black ProGen Live with host Nicka Smith, True A. Lewis, Shelley Murphy, Andre Ferrell and James Morgan III, all bringing knowledge to a lively discussion on different dimensions of what gets folded into Juneteenth, the effort, the freedom and the struggle. It makes one pause how much sitting on knowledge played into this all, how much hiding of violence, how much denial, how much disregard was surmounted in pressing for equality.

I am honored to work on the ancestors of Orlando Williams, whose struggle for justice and recognition of the humanity of his uncle, Claude Neal lynched in Florida in 1934 continues to this day. On Tuesday he will speak before the Jackson County Commission to why the tree where his uncle died needs to be preserved. But that is not the only part of that history– there is the fabric of family that continues to sustain that can’t be obscured by becoming a statistic, number, or symbol. These are ancestors we work with, whose memory we keep alive.

Honor the resilience, the survival and desire channelled into seeking social justice, building institutions, creating communities, for no one can live this life alone. May we persevere and lift our ancestors stories into the present, because we are so in need of those stories in these times– aptly named by Rev. William J. Barber II as the Third Reconstruction, preceded by the Second Reconstruction of the 1960s-70s and the First Reconstruction of the 1860s-70s.

As Civil Rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer said, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”

Happy Juneteenth!

What i’ve been up to…

Rainbow, Florida

Hey- It’s been awhile! The last three months have been full, juggling health, writing & researching several projects. 
Most recently, we had a great discussion on BPG’s Ep. 106: History Unscripted: Perception is Everything with Regina Jackson, thanks to hosts Nicka Smith and True Lewis, Dr Shelley Murphy & myself. The focus is on perception via three different news articles: image as representative of community, versus image as threat across different contexts- a photo project in a Southern town, the brouhaha over the recent novel, American Dirt and the definition of civil rights activists as the problem by government agencies that should be protecting them. 

Check out Ep 106 here:

Regina Johnson, presently Chair of the Oakland Police Commission, talked about ongoing changes in Oakland, California (my former hometown) and her efforts in providing services for Black youth in the face of reduced services and the pressures of gentrification. Working with youth is a context that can open possibilities and facilitate resilience in the face of difficulty, so important for getting through life.   History Unscripted aims to spark thought about further dialogues and point to next steps toward change that one can take, so check out past and upcoming episodes!

Another BPG activity is #CREWChat on Twitter- a fun way to share genealogícal tips on a range of films. This month was Glory (1989), on the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment of the USCT, in conjunction with the African American Civil War Museum. Coming next: Imitation of Life (1959) on March 18th, 9PM EST, join in!

I’m working on a series of short blog posts, to help Mr. Orlando Williams find family in time for his Family Reunion coming up in June. Tree Climbing With Mr Williams may help you get through some brick walls and find a connection! I’ll be talking about some of the recent finds that lead to several states: AL, GA, FL, SC & NC. There is so much history in this tree! I’ll be posting soon.

Casa Labadie, Aceituna, Moca, Puerto Rico. Photo: E. Fernandez-Sacco, 2007.

Finally… I’ve submitted my article, “Reconstructing District 3’s Missing 1872 Registro Central de Esclavos for Northwest Puerto Rico” to Hereditas: Revista de Genealogia Puertorriquena, and had the pleasure of working with Ernie Rivera and Eliud Nieves on their great grandmothers who were enslaved on the plantation of Juan Labadie and its previous owner, Pedro Pellot, in Moca, Puerto Rico. Their cedulas are among those I transcribed and sought to provide context for.  Pellot (hispanicized from Peugeot) was among a cluster of emigres from the Pyrenees region- from both the French and Spanish sides of this mountain range— who eventually wound up in Puerto Rico. The article will be out in the next issue of Hereditas, complete with a transcription of the cedulas for 492 enslaved ancestors taken in 1870. 

Like I said, busy! Feel free to reach out and comment if you find a connection on these pages!

Enjoy the weekend-
Hasta pronto,

Ellen 

Beyond Transcriptions: Jose Antonio Caban Nieves and his five wives

Detail: Barrio Naranjo. Centro Geográfico del Ejército, Itinerario de Moca a Añasco, 1893

What’s in a name?

How many Jose, Maria and Juans have you come across in your tree? Frequently repeated first names can reflect religious preferences, as in Saints Day names or Marian names. The repetition of names can also be a simple preference due to precedents within families or by popularity.
 Sorting out whether a name that keeps cropping up are made up of one or multiple first and last names requires caution as one seeks the supplemental evidence that adds weight to a proof. Even better is locating a document where the informant knew quite a bit about the deceased, to the point of citing several marriages, parents, children or grandparents. There are documents that just begin to knock some brick walls down– and this 1904 document provides just such a moment. 

The son who remembered 

When Jose Antonio Caban Nieves died in 1904, his son, Lorenzo Caban Babilonia was able to recite the names of all the women in his father’s five marriages. Now both of Lorenzo’s parents were gone, as his father  contracted a severe intestinal illness, that resulted in his rapid demise.  How long Jose Antonio’s condition lasted went unmentioned in his death certificate.  Such details are included in more recent certificates, after 1935.

Wives, children and memory 

Jose Antonio Caban Nieves lived long enough to be a 70 year old man who had 16 children, most of whom survived to adulthood. His marriage with Pascasia Babilonia,  was likely the longest of all. Remarkably, his son Lorenzo Caban Babilonia (1866-1946) listed the  names of the children from each marriage.  This also reflects an oral practice of transmitting names and committing them (successfully) to memory, so Lorenzo’s feat was part of learning one’s own family history. We know it’s oral, because at the end of the document, is stated “..firma el Comisonado y los testigos por el declarante no saber firmar, le hace a su ruego..” the Commissioner and witnesses signed on his behalf, because the informant does not know how to write. His father left a will, so there’s additional documentation in the Protocolos Notariales at the Archivo General de Puerto Rico.
As it turns out, NONE of the additional 14 people linked  to Jose were indexed in FamilySearch— another reason why it’s worth checking the original document. 

Detail, Acta de defuncion, Jose Antonio Caban Nieves, F186 #12   1904 image no 1236. Registro Civil, Moca, FS.org
  • Parents:  Marcelo Caban & Ynes Nieves
  • First Marriage: Pascasia Babilonia [Quinones]
  • 10 children, only 8 mentioned: Lorenzo,  Juana, Bibiana, Calista, Ricarda, Anastasio, Juan y Segundino Caban Babilonia.
  • Second Marriage: Felipa Marrero [Hernandez]
  • 3 children: Cleofe, Adelaida & Antonia Caban Marrero 
  • Third Marriage: Juana Babilonia [Perez]
  • 1 child: Juana Nieves Babilonia
  • Fourth Marriage: Evangelista Ortiz [Perez]
    No children
  • Fifth Marriage: Sinforosa Soto [Hernandez]
  • 2 children: Luis y Marian Caban Soto 

What this also tells us is that childbearing proved deadly for some partners. With so many little ones, a widower’s impulse to find another wife was imperative. Here potential mates seem to be in the area of Barrio Naranjo, where farms and plantations of relatives and associates were nearby. Most people were born at home, and infant mortality was high. These births were not for the most part, attended by doctors but comadronas or midwives, used their knowledge to bring the next generation into the world. By the 1930s, comadronas (midwives) had formal training, although the knowledge of delivering babies was known among women long before. The difference was a decline in the number of mothers lost to infeccion puerperal – puerperal fever.

For his first marriage to Petronila Pascasia Babilonia Quinones (1846-bef 1886), my research revealed there was at least one additional child. Petronila, as she mostly appears in documents, was the daughter of Francisco Babilonia Acevedo & Maria Bibiana Quinones Vives, owners of Sitio de la Ranchera during the time of her birth.

Multiple connections emerge from these marriages and children. His siblings also tended to have large families, without additional marriages. HIs older sister, Evangelista Caban Nieves (1818-1916), who married Jose Soto (ca 1813-1906) and had 15 children with him. His brothers Marcelino (1833-1914) and Manuel de Jesus Caban Nieves (1846-1886) married two sisters, the daughters of d. Antonio Perez Gerena and da. Manuela Babilonia Lorenzo de Acevedo. Marcelino married Cirila Isidra Babilonia Perez ( 1834-1911) with whom he had 11 children. Manuel de Jesus married Damiana Babilonia Perez (ca 1835-1888) they had 6 known children.

If you’re related to them, you’re related to me via Manuela Babilonia Acevedo, my GGG aunt and her parents. There are probably additional links via the Caban and the Nieves lines, as well, however that connection remains to be determined, partially caught in gap of missing records for first decade of the early nineteenth century. Going beyond the transcriptions in search results can definitely offer a researcher advantages.

References

Centro Geográfico del Ejército, Itinerario de Moca a Añasco, 1893. Archivo Digital National de Puerto Rico, https://archivonacional.com/PL/1/1/1385

“Puerto Rico, Registro Civil, 1805-2001,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVJD-F8D7 : 17 July 2017), Pascasia Babilonia in entry for José Antonio Caban Y Nieves, 27 Jan 1904; citing Moca, Puerto Rico, oficinas del ciudad, Puerto Rico (city offices, Puerto Rico).

Ellen Fernandez-Sacco, “Don Miguel Babilonia (1743-1823) and his Descendants: From Mallorca, Spain to Moca, Puerto Rico.” Hereditas, 16:1, 2015, 6-47; 35-36. https://bit.ly/2Y31yiT

La última parada (The last stop): A photo from 1929

Coffin for the father of Balbino Gonzalez, Moca, September 1929

While in Puerto Rico over a decade ago, I bought copies of old photographs at Tienda Cesto in Aguadilla. Part of the store was given over to tables with sets of binders, each containing photographs from different municipalities. There were a small number of images of Moca that I bought.  Looking for items for the next Black ProGen Live (Ep.72 – join us!),  I pulled my small binder of photographs as I remembered an image with a coffin. As I’d soon learn, my connections were closer than I could’ve imagined. 

 Near the end of September 1929, a group of men and children stood in the midday sun before a coffin for a photographer, in Moca. According to the notation on the photograph, it was Balbino Gonzalez’ father and the location was in Barrio Plata, a rural location some 5 miles away from the center of town.. Recently finished, the shiny coffin, painted a dark enamel color and embellished with stamped metal decorations sat on a frame that was to shortly transport Gonzalez to his final resting place in the Viejo Cementerio Municipal de Moca in what was popularly known as Calle Salsipuedes . Given that the son’s name appeared with a date, I used that as a guideline to find Balbino Gonzalez’s father in the Registro Civil. The death actually occurred ten days later. 

Acta de defuncion: 29 September 1929

Balbino Gonzalez Jimenez was one of five children of Jose Manuel Gonzalez Perez (1863-1929) and Juana Bautista Jimenez Soto (1868-1926). He is the young man in the suit at the center of the photograph.  He was single at the time of his father’s death on 27 September 1929. He came from Santurce where he was a teacher, to report his father’s death to the Registro Demográfico. His suit, tie and hair speak to fashion in the metropolis of the San Juan metropolitan area, a self awareness already honed by his profession. The other men in the photo  wear looser fitting shirts, and the straw boatera hat is a respectful nod to artesanos and locals that decades later became part of the dress of Los Enchaquetaos, a fraternal group founded by Pedro Mendez Valentin. Here the stiff hat functions much like the formal top hats used by funeral staff. 

Jose Manuel Gonzalez Perez, Acta de Defuncion, 29 Sept 1929, FS. Screenshot: EFS

Jose Manuel Gonzalez Perez, was an 82 year old widower, who worked as a professor. He lived on Calle Nemesio Gonzalez, and died the morning of 27 September 1929 of cardiac insufficiency. It’s likely that as his condition worsened, family was contacted as his time neared.  His son Balbino Gonzalez Jimenez was summoned home, and he was the informant for his father’s death record above. While he was unable to report the names of his father’s paternal and maternal grandparents, he gave the names of Jose Manuel’s parents: Jose M. Gonzalez (ca 1814-bef 1899)  and Juana Perez Guevara (1819-1899)  [1]  Jose Manuel was one of three siblings from Barrio Plata, a long narrow municipality that borders San Sebastián on its eastern border.[2] 

La ultima parada: from workshop to cemetery

A  1947 map of Moca shows the former location of the cemetery at the end of the street that leads from the Plaza in front of the church to the Cementerio Municipal.  

Among the group standing in the photograph on the right, is a tall pale man, who may in fact be Alicides Babilonia Talavera, my great grandfather.  Later, his son, Alcides Babilonia López also made coffins in a nearby workshop. 

1947 Map of Moca, Puerto Rico. Juan Manuel Gonzalez Perez lived on Calle Nemesio Gonzalez; Alcides Babilonia Talavera lived on Calle Juan B Huyke. The procession to the Cementerio Municipal may have passed the former home of the deceased.  

Calle Nemesio González in Moca ran through Barrio Pueblo, and this is the street that Jose Manuel Gonzalez Perez lived on;  my great-grandfather Alcides Babilonia Talavera and grandfather Alcides ‘Alcidito’ Babilonia Lopez lived in homes next door to each other on Calle Juan B. Huyke. This is the backdrop of the 1929 photograph.  As this was before the establishment of a funeral home, many people had a wake at home, and the Gonzalez family probably did the same. Given the heat, it lasted a day, with ice piled beneath the coffin and a plate piled  with salt placed on the chest of the deceased. The lid may or may not have a glass window, so that the case can stay closed and the deceased could still be seen.

The man on the far right

Among the group standing in the photograph there on the right, is a tall pale man, who may in fact be Alicides Babilonia Talavera, my great grandfather.  Later, his son, Alcides Babilonia López also made coffins in a nearby workshop. 

Antonio Gonzalez Perez, Lorenzo Caban’s son & Alcides Babilonia Talavera, Barrio Pueblo, Moca, 1929. Screenshot: EFS

According to my cousin Diany, Alcides was known for his coffins. When he was younger, he had a room with samples where people could choose fabrics for the inside of their coffins. There were always stories with a touch of the supernatural about them. He had an order from a man who needed a coffin, and worked on making it with a hammer. after midnight, he couldn’t find the coffin. Another coffin was tossed through the window, so he picked it up and finished the job. 

Finish & detail: 1929

‘Descanse en Paz’ , metal stars and cherubs decorate the enameled surface of the coffin. Screenshot: EFS

The details in the photo give an idea of decorative funerary practices in rural areas, which ran from the simplest unadorned box to a highly finished coffin with stamped metal cherubs holding a garland inscribed with ‘Que en paz descanse’. Clearly then, this was top of the line and the maker stands at the head, arms folded behind him, separating him from the family next to him. 

Center Left: identifying Lorenzo Caban Lopez, Sepulturero de Moca

L- R, Felicano ‘Chano’ Caban Alonso, Lorenzo Caban Lopez & Balbino Gonzalez Perez
Screenshot: EFS

 

The identity of the man in the flat top hat is Lorenzo Caban Lopez, who was married to Lucia Alonso Font (1874-1956). [3]  In 1901 he was appointed by the municipal government as a Sepulturero y conservador (Gravedigger and caretaker) and as a Celador (Maker of grave markers and crypts) for the old Cementerio Municipal, which he did for 23 years until August 1936.[4] after his death, his son Feliciano ‘Chano’ Caban, who stands to the left, became Sepulturero. [5]  He and his family lived on the edge of Barrio Pueblo, on Calle de la habana.  As it happens, I share many connections with this Caban line.

Lorenzo was the father of Domitila Caban Lopez (1902-1982), my grandfather’s last partner before his death in 1948. She was a tejedora, a lacemaker and I exhibited some of her lace work at UPR Mayaguez along with that by other tejedoras, some who are no longer with us. Like lace, weaving these details together give us a recognizable pattern as we work through the questions.

By the 1940s

In the 1940 census, Alcides Babilonia Talavera was a divorced widower, and it is not until then that his occupation is listed as a maker of coffins. in the 1910-1930 census his occupation is  Agricultor- finca de cafe (Farmer- coffee farm). By 1920, his ex-wife, Concepcion Lopez Ramirez (1863-1925) lived next door to him and had a business as a ‘modista’ a dressmaker, living with several of her children while Alicides lived next door with children as well. In January 1925, Concepcion died suddenly.  His reaction was to call a photographer for one last image, altered to evoke the life of a portrait. It merely succeeded at lending an uncanny gaze emanating from her painted in eyes. I am not sure how much this experience shaped his funeral avocation, but he was likely well acquainted with the steps of caring for the dead, as people still arrived and departed from their homes. 

My grandfather, also named Alcides, made coffins, and in 1940 appears as a “ carpintero – propio taller” a carpenter with his own workshop. It was the year he married my grandmother Felicita, who later died that year of tuberculosis, which took many family members. By 1948, knowing he was going to die, he made a simple pine box for himself, but that’s another story.  He worked making coffins with his friend Rito Vargas, husband of Maria Lassalle, the lacemaker of Moca. Out of death comes a refashioning of self,  family and the ways we decide (and are able to) to honor their lives.

Unexpectedly, a photograph brings me closer to the past and to even more relatives, as I learn more about the work of Lorenzo Caban Lopez and Alcides Babilonia Talavera.  QEPD.

References

[1]Acta Defunción,  “Puerto Rico, Registro Civil, 1805-2001,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVJD-J3PV : 17 July 2017), Jose Manuel Gonzalez Y Pérez, 26 Sep 1929; citing Moca, Puerto Rico, oficinas del ciudad, Puerto Rico (city offices, Puerto Rico).

[2] Acta Defunción, “Puerto Rico, Registro Civil, 1805-2001,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVJD-FTL3 : 17 July 2017), Juana Perez Guebara, 17 Oct 1899; citing Moca, Puerto Rico, oficinas del ciudad, Puerto Rico (city offices, Puerto Rico).

[3] Lorenzo Caban Lopez’ death certificate lists his occupation: Celador- cementerio, Gob Municipal hasta Ago 1936, 23 anos; Acta Defunción “Puerto Rico, Registro Civil, 1805-2001,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVJD-NJMT : 17 July 2017), Lorenzo Caban Lopez, 14 Nov 1936; citing Moca, Puerto Rico, oficinas del ciudad, Puerto Rico (city offices, Puerto Rico).

[4] Antonio Nieves Mendez, Historia de un pueblo: Moca . Lulu.com 2008, 49.

[5] Victor Gonzalez, “Los Cuentos de Chano Caban” Mi niñez Mocana y algo más…. Segundo edición, Impresos Ideales, 1990, 19-21.

Some Amazing Things You Can Learn in the Registro Civil

If you’re doing Latinx genealogy tied to the Spanish empire, you’ll eventually hit a version of the Registro Civil, the Civil Register for births, deaths and marriages that keep track of the population. Depending on the country, these volumes of vital records begin in different years, and are incredible sources of information… depending on how well the person reporting the death knew the family.

Once you become more familiar with these volumes, you’ll notice shifts in the formatting as it goes from completely handwritten (for better or for worse) to progressively printed forms for entry. The forms evolve as the legal system evolves, with different requirements specified and vetted over time.  Ok so stay with me– while this is an example from Puerto Rico, there’s a bigger lesson about details here for you to think about.

Variations, Forms, Changes…

Recently, someone asked me about an ancestor tied to the Muniz line, and if you do genealogy, you know one person is never enough. So here’s an example of two 1917 death certificates, with significant differences in the  information given  by the Declarante (Informant). It’s a great example of the variations in registering information on life passages.

On the left, is the certificate for Petronila Aviles Gonzalez ( -1917), and on the right, Faustino Muniz Mendez (1877-1917).  For Petronila, the informant is the child of the deceased. Basically her son,  Basilio doesn’t know the names of his grandparents (pink arrows).  For Faustino, the informant is a sibling of the deceased. His brother Casimiro knows the wife, her age, the names of their seven children and… and this is a big one, the names of his paternal and maternal grandparents.

L- Petronila Aviles Gonzalez R- Faustino Muniz Mendez Acta Defuncion, 1917, Registro Civil, Moca, Puerto Rico [details w arrows transcribed below]
You can see these records on FamilySearch at https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVJD-NCNT 

https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVJD-NCNP

Details That Matter

In Petronila’s certificate, her son, Basilio Soto Aviles, is the informant, and his relationship comes later in the document. “Los abuelos paternos y maternos no lo conoce el declarante segun informa.” Translation:  “As the informant states he doesn’t know the names of his paternal  and maternal grandparents”

On the right, in Faustino Muniz Mendez’ certificate, his informant is his brother Casimiro Muniz.  Casimiro is able to name Faustino’s wife, his seven children, his parents, his mother’s parents and his father’s parents.  There are 16 people listed on his death certificate, and only 3 are listed in the transcription on FamilySearch. Good luck finding it by search- Muñiz is spelled Muñez.

In case you can’t read the image for Faustino’s certificate above, the red arrows point to significant information:

1. Casimiro Muniz mayor de edad, casado, de profesion labrador natural de Moca, PR y avecinado en el barrio de Cuchillas de Moca, PR…

2. Que era casado con Maria Hernandez, natural de Moca, blanca, de treinticinco anos de edad de cuyo matrimonio tuvieron siete hijos, seis que viven Amador, Martina Muniz y Hernandez, Toribio, Lauro, Telesforo, Francisco, Eulogio, los que residen en el barrio Cuchillas y este llamado Pablo difunto. 

3. Que era hijo legitimo de Eusebio Muniz y Paula Mendez, hoy difuntos

4. Abuelos Paternos: Manuel Muniz y Felipa Perez, naturales de Moca blancos y hoy difuntos

Abuelos Maternos: Juan Mendez y Maria Perez, naturales de Moca, hoy difuntos

So we know how old his wife was, that they had some 7 children, one no longer living, and where his grandparents on both sides were from.

Benefits

It pays to go beyond the transcriptions on FamilySearch and Ancestry. That way you can avoid situations like having a parvulo (infant)  listed in your tree as your great grandmother because you didn’t take the time to read the original document.  Thanks to Casimiro’s statement, we have three generations on one document, and the information brings us closer to the early 1800s.  Don’t take the notations for race literally, use it as a prompt to learn more about how people are categorized by official services.

  • notice patterns in family names
  • find different barrios (wards) that the family lived in
  • determine an end date for grandparents based on mention of whether they are alive or have passed away
  • another point of origin for your family, either on a local level or internationally
  • you may also find unexpected details such as additional marriages or living arrangements, recognized or unrecognized children

Caveats

Most of this information is not transcribed on Ancestry or FamilySearch.

Not every certificate from the Registro Civil has this range of information, it varies by year, with some decades offering up more data than others.

Next for my Geneabuds…

Feel free to watch the upcoming episode #72 of Black ProGen LIVE with hosts Nicka Smith & True A. Lewis— coming up on Tuesday 13 November 2018:   Life After Death: Getting More With Death Records – click here to watch live on YouTube.  Tune in & discover the leads you can gather from obtaining, reviewing and distilling death records.  I’ll be on the panel!

Hasta luego!

The escape of Juan de la Rosa: A Runaway Slave Ad from Moca, December 1842

“Anuncios”

In December 1842, after much planning, Juan de la Rosa finally decided to do something about his situation. He took an old hat, the clothes on his back, and left the plantation of dona Andrea Gonzalez de la Cruz in the rural Barrio of Capa in Moca. This was maroon resistance, and the news of Juan de la Rosa stealing himself is one of the few advertisement for a runaway slave out of Moca, Puerto Rico in an official government newspaper.  In this blog post I pull together a range of maps and documents, to reconstruct a glimpse of one enslaved ancestors life in 1842. Much of what I  explore here are covers – those of landscape and of clothing,

“Anuncios.” Gazeta de Puerto Rico San Juan PR, 29 Dec 1842, image 4.

“ANUNCIOS.
El 19 del mes proximo pasado desaprecio del territorio de la Moca un esclavo nombrado Juan de la Rosa, de la propiedad de Dona Andrea Gonzalez, cuyas senales son las siguientes: estatura baja, formado de cuerpo, color mulato claro, ojos tristes, nariz chata y corta, pelo pasa, habla un poco fanoso, natural de esta isla, come de treinta anos de edad; llevan pantalones de coleta blanca, camisa de aliado y sombrero de empleita muy viejo —3”

Translation:
On the 19th of last month, fugitive from the territory of Moca is a slave named Juan de la Rosa, property of Dona Andrea Gonzalez, whose details are the following: low height, developed body, clear mulato color, sad eyes, nose flat and short, tightly curled hair, has somewhat nasal speech, born on this island, about 30 years of age; is wearing pants of white linen, matching shirt and a very old woven hat. —3

The runaway slave advertisement from Moca, Puerto Rico in issues of La Gaceta de Puerto Rico, are few in number. At the moment I’ve located only one other advertisement from the 1830s. The three that appears at the end of the advertisement for Juan de la Rosa is an instruction to the printer for how many times the ad was run- 3 editions, with 3 issues weekly. It’s a question how much the ads cost to be placed, and the much larger question is the outcome. The specific dates spanned the weeks of holiday at the end of the year; the last week of December, 24, 27, 29, 31; the first week of January 3, 5 & 7, Jan 17, 1843.

While in Puerto Rico this kind of notice is not as copious as the numbers of runaway advertisements seen in some stateside publications, the Gaceta’s ‘Anuncios’ (announcements) column carried similar details regarding human and non-human property, so that notices posted by various slaveowners about runaway slaves appear along those of lost horses and livestock.  Yet, what skill sets did Juan de la Rosa have? Was he a farm laborer or a carpenter? Was it that he was the bulk of the labor on the Gonzalez plantation? Apart from reclaiming scarce labor, what drove the slaveowner to place a notice?

This entry contrasts with the next runaway ad that appears below it, which is for an African woman named Victoriana who fled with two other men, Manuel and Antonio.  Considerable time is spent describing her country marks- her ritual scars, along with the scars of abuse that mark her face and abdomen, filed teeth, dark skin, down to her small hands and feet. Victoriana managed to make it from a rural plantation in Naguabo to the capital of San Juan, where she was apprehended and jailed. The Governor and Captain then ask that the owner show up in three months, otherwise she will be sold and the funds used to benefit the administration.

That tight circle of property and sale also circumvent issues that today can be understood as the suppression of self determination through force exerted by agents of the state, the church and the slaveowners. For the most part, individuals and families who embodied the authority of one, two or all three institutions made their legal decisions in support of profit. Some freed people purchased their family members freedom, through the process of coartación, paying their owners full value in exchange for freedom. (For examples, see Gaining Freedom: gleaning narratives from Caja 1444, Moca, Puerto Rico, 1848-1854)

Who was Juan de la Rosa?

As is often the case with working with enslaved ancestors, there is more to be gleaned about the person who held Juan de la Rosa in bondage, than Juan de la Rosa himself. Yet there are some key details to consider: he was born about 1812 in Puerto Rico, and likely in Moca. Juan de la Rosa was short, and had a distinctive, nasal way of speaking. His skin was not mottled, but a clear, light brown color that spoke to admixture, with no distinguishing scars or problems mentioned. Given his age in a previous record and identity as mulatto, there remains a possibility that he was related to the Gonzalez or the Morales families. In terms of racial categories, consider that the terms used to identify Indigenous ancestry were reduced to colors, with high percentages of AmerIndian mtDNA haplogroups today, it’s possible that this is also part of Juan de la Rosa’s blended ancestry.

Hair texture was a detail noted in documents, a barometer of sorts for the potential to pass or escape notice. Like many people of African descent, Juan’s hair was tightly curled. The term pasa comes from the Spanish word for raisins or currants, not pasa as in the verb pasar, that means to pass or go. A hat would help buy time and delay being identified by authorities, however on some plantations about this time, enslaved workers were given red hats, visible from a distance.

Recently, a series of articles on-line discussed the use of braiding cornrows in various patterns to communicate imminent departures to a literal representation of a pathway out. [2] One wonders what modes of communication supported Juan de la Rosa’s escape from slavery in a rural area.

Petit Marronage = Diasporic Marronage

Put it down to timing. Juan de la Rosa likely received an allotment of clothes, and, as by December the harvest was over, he decided to make his escape as the season of celebration just got underway. The dry season had begun, rain was less than in November and after December, rainfall would be low for the next two months. By traveling during the long religious holiday that extends from early December to early January, runaways took advantage of long nights, gatherings and celebrations where they might blend into a crowd, gain resources and information.  Juan de la Rosa left under a full moon that began two nights earlier on 17 December, affording him light to make his way. [3]

There is no mention of shoes in Maria Andrea’s notice; he like many, went barefoot. What is clear is that Juan de la Rosa got to the point where he valued his life enough to risk it, leaving everything to get his freedom through an act of petit marronage.  This act, as historian Jorge L Chinea noted, “hit the slaveowners where it hurt most: in the pocket… paralyzing or shutting down production and depriving owners of their labor force.” The maroons became thorns and pricks in the colonial regime’s side. As Chinea points out this networked movement of those who freed themselves, this resistance, had a larger social impact that disseminated culture and influenced colonial and intercolonial affairs, which he terms, ‘diasporic marronage’.[4] Juan de la Rosa was part of a larger group of people who decided on freedom by any means necessary.

Finding Juan de la Rosa in other documentation

He is likely the same as Juan age 10 listed in Moca’s 1826 Relación de Esclavos. As mentioned before, this was an island-wide inventory of the humans held in bondage. It was done in accordance with the recent passage of the 1826 Reglamientos, a new slave code issued by the Spanish government, a the guidelines that outlined the rights of owners and the enslaved. Fortunately the 1826 Relación is not a numeric list, and has details such as name and age.  Listed with Juan are Maria Antonia age 6 and Isabel age 4, close enough in age to potentially be siblings-(starred in the chart below). [5]

As small slave owners formally and informally sold enslaved people to family and neighbors, enslaved families could potentially live nearby. Another chart, Tabla XI. Parejas de esclavos en Moca para el siglo XIX. by Nieves Mendez, based on baptism and marriage parish volumes between 1786-1813. Among the 15 slaveowners is Maria Morales, who held in bondage the couple Felipe and Juana and their two children, Maria Antonia and Juan de la Rosa towards the start of the nineteenth century [6 ]

Juan de la Rosa’s parents, Felipe and Juana were likely married, and their children baptized in keeping with earlier versions of the Reglamentos. As owners of eight enslaved people, Maria Morales and Manuel Gonzalez were among the larger slave owners in Moca. [6] In 1782, they lived in Ojo de Agua, an area in the south of Aceitunas, today known as Ojo de Valencia, and the property was still there into the 1830s. They are likely descendants of earlier military families   such as the Morales del Rio and related lines that extend to older settlements such as Arecibo.  Maria Morales (bca 1755) was married to Manuel Gonzalez (bca 1770), and their 5 children were: Andrea, Manuel, Ynes, Rosa ‘Rosalia’ and Juana Gonzalez Morales.

Enslaved persons owned by Gonzalez & Morales Slaveowners, 1775-1824

Notes for this Table 1775-1824: line entries record information from each table and some persons appear more than once. Relationships between Gonzalez remain to be clarified.
Information from Tables relating to enslavement, Antonio Nieves Mendez, Historia de un pueblo: Moca 1772 al 2000. lulu.com, (2008)
Tabla VI – Esclavos y esclavistas de Moca, 1775-1785. 347.
Tabla VII – Esclavos y esclavistas de Moca, 1800-1810. 361.
Tabla VIII – Esclavos y esclavistas de Moca, 1810-1824, 361-364
Tabla X -Identificacion de matrimonios de esclavos registrados por la Iglesia de Moca 1792-1821. 365
Tabla XI – Parejas de esclavos en Moca en siglo XIX. 365.

Tabla XI data based on parish books of Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Monserrate, Moca:
L2 1786-1813 Mat
L3 1813-1824 Mat
L5 1800-1810 Baut
L6 1811-1813 Baut

Information provides the identity of Juan de la Rosa’s family: his parents Felipe and Juana, and sibling Maria Antonia, at Ojo de Agua in Aceituna before 1813. By 1826, Juan, Maria Antonia and Isabel (with ages that vary by 3 years) are listed as slaves of Andrea Gonzalez, who has the estancia Guamaes in Capa. By December 1842, Juan de la Rosa departs. The transfer of enslaved persons occurred by inheritance or purchase, perhaps prompted by the death of Maria Morales, Maria Andrea’s mother. The children’s parents, probably born in the 1770s, may have died or were sold by this time. There is likely more documentation in the notarial documents of the Archivo General de Puerto Rico

Those not included in the charts

In January 1810, Manuel Gonzalez gave his mulata servant Dolores, 25 years old, her liberty after she paid 200 silver pesos for her freedom. In October 1811, Manuel Gonzalez traveled to Aguadilla to purchase from Pedro Ferrer, the enslaved servant Felix, 25 years old and born on Puerto Rico. Two weeks later, he purchased Geronima de la [roto] a servant 29 years old who Antonio Hernandez of Cabo Rojo had inherited from his mother. These transactions involve either Manuel Gonzalez, husband of Maria Morales or their son, Manuel Gonzalez Morales, who married Rosa Hernandez, and then his second marriage was to a —- Vazquez Vega. Each of the Gonzalez Morales children likely benefitted from the continued accumulation of property both human and material over time. [7]

Historian & genealogist David Stark found that “more than half of these marriages in Caguas, San German and Yauco involved slave shows owners were linked by ties of the first degree, that is, the owners were either siblings, a parent and child and son or daughter in law.” [8] This enabled the informal lending of enslaved family members from one plantation to another, and created an existence where they lived “within two family cycles: their own and that of the masters.”[9]

By 1826 there are 3 Manuel Gonzalez in the 1826 Relacion de esclavos– either the same or related persons owning property in two different barrios, Capa and Aceituna. By 1826, those enslaved ancestors that appeared in the parish records— Juana, Maria Vicente, Juana Simona, Marcelo, Maria Victoria, Santiago, Ana Maria Rafael — do not appear, either due to sale or death. Felipe may appear as widowed in later documentation. In 1826, the Felipe owned by Manuel Gonzalez is some two decades too young to be the father of children with Juana (who does not appear in the census) regardless, by 1826, they are owned by Andrea Gonzalez. Just as in Parnaiba, Brazil, most slaves who married off their masters estates had partners among their extended family. This in turn, increases the likelihood that owners were related.

Mapping out information about enslaved ancestors across documentation provides suggestions for exploring specific relationships, establish timing and location to build out nodes of data that can help extend branches of family trees. This also supplies additional insight into female slave ownership in Puerto Rico.

The 1826 Reglamentos

In 1826, Governor don Miguel de Torre issued a long document intended to regulate the treatment of the enslaved. The passage of the Reglamento sobre la education, trato y ocupaciones que deben dar a sus escalos los duenos y mayordomos en esta Isla, 12 agosto 1826 [11] addressed common complaints, issues and provided a detailed standard for treatment by slave owners in its sixteen chapters. More importantly for genealogists and family historians, this law also culminated in an island-wide census that enumerated and centralized information on slaves in Puerto Rico.

The 1826 census of the enslaved also intended to account for the porous population of African and Native descended people who fled from slavery to form free communities. It also helped the Spanish government get a handle on the ‘informal’ slave trade after 1808, the year the British declared an official end to the traffic. Spain’s subjects in the Caribbean continued to purchase people up until the official end of slavery, 1873 in Puerto Rico and 1886 in Cuba. [13]

Capitulo V of the Reglamento specifically speaks to the collection and storage under lock and key of farming tools at the start and end of each day, lest the tools be taken up in an insurrection. [12 ] In this case, fears about the power of enslaved labor collided with a growing awareness that the same force could be channeled against the powers that be. The struggle for abolition was advanced by multiple forms of resistance, of which running away was one. Movement was controlled, visits to other plantations limited, trade with another enslaved person on plantations were prohibited in Capitulo VI, and diversions, separated by gender within prescribed limits were outlined in Capitulo VII. The facets of the law reveal white fears about resistance and violence, just as it prescribed and justified the use of violence as a cultural and social resource against the enslaved.

Capitulo XIII: Obligaciones de los esclavos y penas correccionales

Capitulo XIII: Obligaciones de los esclavos y penas correccionales outlines the obligations a the enslaved had toward a master and lists the punishments by the owner or his majordomo. Given the required ‘obedience and respect’ leaves questions as to how perception and interpretation of responses led to any number of punishments: prison, shackles, chain, mallet,
or stocks, or by whipping, limited to 25 strokes.  [13]

This pattern of using violence ties back to elimination as a feature of the process of settler colonialism, where murder, multiple diasporas and displacement of populations pushes against the desire and right to self determination.   What this document does not specifically address is the fallout of this system— trauma, the constant threat of death, persecution, hunger, illness, assault and rape that are blind spots in earlier Puerto Rican historiography. By delving into multiple sources one can work against the erasure and denial of elements of a system with structures that remain in the present for POC. Revisiting these contexts is key for gleaning details that can connect an investigation or a narrative further.

As historian Milagros Denis wrote: “In Puerto Rico the slave population revolted. They caused fear and chaos. The white elite were afraid of blacks. By rebelling, the slaves made the unthinkable and the unexpected. They broke up the racial and class hierarchies embedded in the island’s colonial system.” [14]  This was despite Articulo 2ndo, Capitulo XI, which awards liberty to any slave who discovers and reports any conspiracy either by other slaves or free people that aimed to disturb the pubic order, or kill the owner, his wife, son or father of the owner. Freedom was to be paid by the body of hacendados, and an additional reward of 500 pesos given with a public notice. If the denouncers were many, the money could be subdivided, but individuals would have to pay for their own freedom. [16]

Denis’ observations in her review essay on the repercussions of resistance on racial and class hierarchies connects to how history was written— mostly disconnected from any effort to offer critiques that could effect real change. Historian Ileana M. Rodriguez-Silva speaks to the role of gratitude and deference in post-abolitionist thought of the 1870s, a distortion that served to “rearticulat[e] white superiority and patriarchal authority”.

What “Political practices such as gratitude highlight [are] the liberal features of benevolence and paternalism and undermine efforts to critique the structures of power, especially through critiques of racialized domination. Paradoxically, creole political leaders and intellectuals minimized slavery but felt the need to celebrate abolition, by which they constantly rewrote the history of slavery.” [17] By the 1940s and 1950s this view accompanied assurances that slavery in Puerto Rico was mild in comparison to Cuba or the American South, a recycling of views from a century before. Colorism mutated over time.

Taken as a whole, the Reglamentos of 1826 was an attempt to address every aspect of keeping persons in bondage, its chapters turning from clothing to health to work day, the restrictions on pregnant women and nursing, the standards are suggestive of the wide range of conditions and violations that led to the creation of this document.  It justified the separation of mothers from the care of newborns, in a house or hut with other children cared for by one or two women. [18] Yet its standards were often expressed as if they were ideal, which some writers, like the pro-slavery apologist Colonel George A Flinter wrote of as a mild form of slavery, with many possible ways to generate income from the enslaved and their agricultural labor.  This is the industrialization of the body.

The 1826 inventory of enslaved people listed slave owner, names of the enslaved and their ages. The next inventory, the Registro de esclavos came a half century later, in 1870. Both the 1826 and 1870 Registros are of great benefit for genealogists and family historians as both documents cover every municipality on the island (in one form or another), and more importantly, the inventory is not numeric, and can be cross referenced with other sources.

Still, I’m left with a question- how well did slave owners follow a 16 chapter document that attempts to address all aspects of slavery when literacy was below 20%?

1826 Registro de esclavos, Moca

A transcription of the 1826 Registro de esclavos is in Antonio Nieves Mendez’ Historia de un pueblo: Moca 1772 al 2000. This registro has the names of the enslaved and their ages, but does not include the locations for each slaveowner.  Extracted are those enslaved owned by Manuel Gonzalez and Andrea Gonzalez; I added an estimated year of birth for each person.

The organization of the names on the list suggests parental relationships, for example, Maria 30 and Petrona 3; Maria Ramona 30 and Ramona 7 and Dolores 5. Manuel Gonzalez’ name appears three times in the Registro, and it is unclear whether this is one, two or possibly three individuals. Under Maria Andrea Gonzalez are the children Juan, Maria Antonia and Isabel, which corresponds to the information from the parish records above, the children of Felipe and Juana. The fact that only the children appear is likely due to a transfer of their ownership through inheritance from her mother, Maria Morales.

entries, 1826 Registro de esclavos, Manuel Gonzalez, Andrea Gonzalez

The total number of enslaved people listed in the 1826 census is 684 souls, with a higher number of males the total number of women, 318 to 266. [18] The 1847 Censo de Riquezas lists the number of enslaved persons in each barrio; for Aceituna, the number was much higher than for Capa. The list shows how several estancias combined resources in the production of coffee, a crop suited for the region. In 1826, this organization and concentration of production was just getting started.

Location, location, location: Fugitive landscapes of NW PR

Two areas figure in this narrative— the south of Aceitunas and within the center of Capa, circled in the image of the barrios below. Over the course of the decades, colonial administrations became more specific in identifying crops, yield and values.

Barrios of Moca, PR, Aceitunas and Capa wards circled

The censo and riquezas became more detailed as did the legal structures of enslavement, which were refined and redefined each time Reglamentos were issued. We can better understand the constraints on the lives caught in these cycles of rights, production and profit, as we trace these ancestors. Familial relationships connect in myriad ways within an economy based in slavery.

In 1847, Andrea Gonzalez owned the estancia Guamaes, in Barrio Capa, where there were 38 estancias and one hacienda, named La Suerte owned by Tomas Roman. Neighboring owners had different uses for areas of land that ranged from mono-crops of sugar, coffee, cotton or tobacco, to the subsistence crops of ‘frutas menores’ or pasture. The need for labor whether free or enslaved, depended on the crop and amount of land. For example, in 1847, Roman owned 4 people and had 20 free peons working some 22 of 133 acres of land.  In contrast to Roman, Gonzalez had 3 of 8.5 acres worked by one enslaved person and one peon.  Size wasn’t necessarily an indicator of slaveholding— even Gregorio Velazquez with 6 cultivated acres of 130 acres, he only had two peons working his farm. [19]

The small number of free and enslaved people in Moca helps to delimit the possibilities when identifying a person. Also consider there is only one consistent family unit. As Maria Morales disappears from the subsequent list by 1810, she is most likely Maria Morales born mid-century, married to Manuel Gonzalez, who had five children before 1780.

Moca, Google Maps, 2016Contrast the outline of Moca’s barrios with on the shows the locations of Barrios Aceituna, between Aguadilla and Isabela and

The Google satellite map above shows that part of the landscape consists of ridges that to the north rise into the Cordillera Central, with the Bosque Estatal de Guajataca (Guajataca Forest) just a few miles north of Capa.

Barrio Capa, Google Maps, 2018.

The close up satelite images in these Google Maps shows the ridges that comprise much of where the homes are in Capa today.  That bears comparison to the topographic 1889 Military Map, the Itinerario de San Sebastian a Moca. [20] These hand drawn, hand-inked maps are full of details useful for understanding the topography of the Cordillera and how people navigated these features.

Cover, Mapa Militar de la Isla, Comision topografica de 1889 San Sebastian a Moca

In the full sized screenshot of the map below, the area of Barrio Capa is indicated by a red rectangle just off center, and the road that extends from left to right is today designated  Rte. 125. Next, compare the Google Map image with Rte. 125, the road that extends East and West of the red marker, with the rendering of the road some 129 years before in the military map; litte has changed.  The first image shows the entire stretch from Moca’s border with Aguadilla on the left, and San Sebastian on the right, as mapped by Spanish colonial military; the image below is the demarcated area that shows Capa in detail.

Itinerario de San Sebastin a Moca, 1899, Capa hightlighted

 

Bo. Capa, detail, Itinerario, 1899

What’s interesting about both maps, (available on ISSUU.com) are the names attached to features and to property. The names on the 1899 map Itinerario de S. Sebastian a Moca, indicate the names of then property owners in Barrio Capa . On the map are  Pedro Lasaye (Lassalle) Donato Lassalle, D. Salazar Escobar, Felipe Soto, C Ramon Molinari, SMJ Vargas, Galin Perez, D. Lorenzo Roman, D. Amador Roman. One consistent surname from the past here is Roman.

Las rutas del Norte

Detail, La ruta del Norte, Sur y Este (1837). from Benjamin Nistal-Moret, Cimarones y esclavos prófugos

In Benajmin Nistal-Moret’s Cimarones y esclavos prófugos, from which this image of the 1837 map is taken, are notices from 1831 that warns the soldiers stationed along ‘La ruta del Norte’, about escaped slaves. Various Teniente a Guerra of each village received official news & notices from the capital of San Juan or directives from elsewhere along these routes.  [21] The ridges of the Cordillera were considerable features that determined access and the kinds of crops that farms and plantations grew.

How this landscape was seen by some in 1837 is revealed in this map of La Ruta del Norte, Sur y Este. The region was known to be permeated by water, whether sea, creek, river or tropical rainfall, the northern route that connected the municipalities around the island were for the most part, narrow dirt roads that were eventually widened over time. The ridges of the Central Cordillera sweep from east to west, and the military road cuts across it. One function of the map is to suggest the potential reach of the official government, yet, the administration’s reticence to publicize or emphasize loss, the later absence of pertinent documents on organized slave resistance encountered in archives by historians, taken with the sheer density of the forest both then and now, contradicts the ideal of an efficient all powerful colonial military.

On the 1837 map above, Capa, Moca falls within the narrow end of “V” that straddles the NW corner of the island. The port city of Aguadilla is on the West and Isabela on the North, bisected by a river that meets with the town of El Pepino (San Sebastian)- (just off the center of the  Visible is the part of the small mountain range, the Cordillera that rises up into Isabela. These three locations were major towns tied to agricultural production, and in Moca, thirteen creeks feed into the Rio Culebrinas, making areas impassable during the rainy season.

If one could reach water, or travel a safe route known to few, there was hope of getting beyond the reach of authorities. Some of the locations that runaways escaped to were the port cities of Mayaguez and Ponce. The changing landscape meant removal of vegetation and forests that served to hide Maroon communities, that likely existed at different locations within the Bosque Estatal that includes karst caves. If there was no direct escape to water, the next strategy getting to a free community and becoming part of it.

Ojo de Valencia, Aceituna, Moca. Google Maps, 2018.

The other area that Juan de la Rosa  knew from his childhood was Ojo de Agua, in Aceitunas, a barrio to the north between Aguadilla and Isabela. His parents Felipe and Juana, and his sister Maria Antonia, were enslaved by Maria Morales, the wife of Manuel Gonzalez. They appear in Ojo de Agua in 1782, and the plantation continued until its purchase in the 1830s by Juan de las Nieves, and subsequently became Ojo de Valencia, the expansive coffee plantation owned by Francisco Cirilo de Acevedo in 1844. He added another 1200 acres in 1866.[22]

In 1847, 531 enslaved people worked the pasture, livestock, growth and processing of crops in Moca. They likely sewed the clothes, dressed and fed families and owners. The column with the number of salaried peons reflect some kind of ambivalence, with 209 listed and the additional 695 in brackets unexplained in the form. 627 owners, 627 farms and 531 enslaved men, women and children.[23]

1847 Barrios de Moca, totales. AGPR; photo EFS

Despite the constant reference to small slave ownership in Puerto Rico in comparison to Cuba or other Caribbean islands, just how organized self-stealing was and whether there was a network of Abolitionists dedicated to a version of a Puerto Rican Underground Railroad remains a question.

Clothes, diaspora, trade & survival

The notice for Juan de la Rosa made note of the type and color of garments he wore at the time of his escape. What would make his flight successful was visually blending in a free community, so the opportunity to change garments could mean knowing where to obtain another set of clothes.  There is relatively little scholarly work on clothing of the enslaved in the US southern plantations, and even less for Puerto Rico.

According to Article 2, Capitulo III of the Spanish government’s Reglamento sobre la education, trato y ocupaciones que deben dar a sus esclavos los duenos y mayordomos en esta Isla, 12 agosto 1826, owners were to provide three changes of clothes a year, made of a shirt and pants and a hood or hat, a handkerchief and a shirt of jacket of bayeta (baize) a cheap wool fabric, for winter. There were two sets of shirt and pants provided and a third set issued eight months later. [23]

These stipulations created what costume historian Robert Duplessis called a ‘new regime of clothing’, visual markers of another status that eventually blends among the dress of free workers. Below, a chart from an official report of 1765  demonstrates the striking distinction between the amount spent on clothes between free and enslaved  people. There was a just a fraction of the cost ascribed to the latter.

The use of linen and wool may be an indication of British trade, as “linens were yet more dominant in the British colonies than the French, reflecting the considerable gap, in the British colonies in prices between cheap linens and cheap cottons…cheap woolens like bays (baize) were frequently included in the British Caribbean…”.Luis Diaz Soler in Historia de la esclavitud en Puerto Rico (1985) has several details about that cloth used to create garments for enslaved people in the 18th century:

“La tela era de lienzo ordinario importado de Mallorca, de color azul con listas negras. Gran cantidad de ella era adquirida en el negocio de contrabando  establecidos con las Antillas inglesas. La usaban indistintamente hombres y mujeres….”

Translation: “The fabric is ordinary linen imported from Mallorca, blue with black flecks. A great quantity of it was acquired via contraband with the British Antilles. It was indistinctly used for both women and men….”]  [24]

Striking is the disparity between what was spent by free people on clothing versus the enslaved as reported by General O’Reilly in his 1765 report on the island. This also lent a scale for government to judge how much smuggling went on then- and continued with an illegal slave trade, paired with official permissions to purchase Africans into the 1840s.

1765 Statiistics on clothing from O’Reilly. Diaz-Soler, 165.

Ships with dry goods under different flags traded across the Caribbean, and it makes sense that part of those goods would be used on plantations, towns and small farms anywhere the enslaved labored. At some point since 1765, the black flecked blue linen used for slave clothing became plain white linen fabric. In the US South in 1860, yards of fabric were issued as an allowance to enslaved workers and supervised and/or fashioned by mistresses and their daughters.

As Madeline Shaw writes: “Some owners issued fabric, expecting the slaves to cut and sew their own clothing; some plantation mistresses cut out or supervised the cutting out of garments from plantation-made or purchased cloth, to be made up by slave seamstresses or by the mistress and her daughters; and sometimes ready-made garments or pre-cut garment pieces were imported from northern manufacturers….Hard agricultural labor in an unforgiving climate is likely to have taken a serious toll on the integrity of a field hand’s clothing. Just as men’s worn out trousers became women’s leggings, other remnants of previous allotments must have been re-used.” [25]

Linens & laces from Mexico; List of taxes on imported fabrics. detail, Gaceta de Puerto Rico, 1842. LOC.

This 1842 list of import taxes on fabric from Mexico published in the Gaceta de Puerto Rico shows different weights of linen ‘Lienzos’ in two columns. Notice there’s a wide variety of painted and woven fabrics and lace that points to the growth of consumption, new markets for self fashioning. It’s not clear where the fabric used for Juan de la Rosa’s linen coletas were sourced from Mexico, or somewhere in Europe. Given the trade networks in the Caribbean, many kinds of arrangements were possible, with goods arriving in ports on the west side of the island too.

 As the century wore on, precut or ready made garments were part of the trade in cloth; in the 1840s, industrial production was beginning but not on the island. The work of transforming fabric into clothing by hand sewing was a means of employment for women in the garment industry. Feminist historian  Maria del Carmen Baerga Santini gives an idea of this development in Europe:

“Historically women were concentrated in industries with low grades of mechanization; while the sale of production was smaller,  larger was the concentration of female labor… From the start of the industrial system one of the principal sources of female manufacturing labor was work related to dress. At the start of the nineteenth century the expansion of demand for ready made clothes translated into the incorporation of thousands of women in the industrial system of France and England.”  [26]

And yet, whether the cloth was brought by the yard or pre cut, in Puerto Rico there was a need for manufacture given that the only industry that had limited technical development was sugar cane processing, sewing  would still be accomplished by hand by groups of women. Enslaved ancestors also gained these skills which contributed to their survival and support after freedom. Sewing and lacemaking were skills transmitted from person to person on estancias and haciendas, and elite women learned  needlework as part of their education.  [27]. What remains to be learned  are specifics on the scale of production for clothing the enslaved in the late eighteenth to early nineteenth century Puerto Rico.

For those who stole themselves, clothing meant opportunity, a chance to regain control over the conditions of their lives,  and ultimately keep moving to freedom.  What Juan de la Rosa wore that December 1842, the landscapes he remembered, and the unknown outcome of his flight still matter.

Conclusion

This journey through the past of Juan de la Rosa was a challenge presented by a newspaper advertisement tied to the place where my mother was born. What impelled me to search was knowing that regardless of the time or place, people seek their freedom under conditions of oppression. The desire to have self determination was constantly upheld in daily life and, as the example of Haiti showed, was an achievable ideal. The numbers of free people grew as many scraped funds together to purchase themselves from their owners.

Was stealing oneself an effective strategy? Benjamin Nistal Moret notes that of over 700 cases that he studied, there were an additional 800 cases of libertos who ran away between 1873-1876 just as the contracts for free labor to the actual abolition of slavery occurred— and they disappeared without a trace. [28]

The sale of humans as property and the embodiment of the state, church and slaveowner, that interlocking set of conditions that constituted a social structure designed to support slavery is a dimension overlooked by those who want to relegate the institution of slavery to the past. It is much easier for some to instead substitute a nostalgic past devoid of daily violence.

Refuting perspectives that would reconstitute the past as a tropical ‘Gone with the Wind’, serves to obscure enslavement’s very real legacy in the present— so cast a critical eye on those vacation advertisements. The residues and residual structures are very much still with us (13th Amendment; shackles are now electronic, POC disproportionately impacted). That these issues still reach into the present is why working alongside friends, families and institutions willing to unpack such moments can help to connect and shift the narrative on the past and the stories we tell, the world we share.

Raise your ancestors into visibility!

References

I highly recommend Guillermo A. Baralt’s esclavos rebeldes: consipriaciones y sublevaciones de esclavos en Puerto Rico (1795-1873). Ediciones Huracan, 1981; published in English Slave Revolts in Puerto Rico, Marcus Weiner Publishers, 2007; Ivonne Acosta Lespier’s amazing “Mujeres esclavas en Mayaguez, 1872″ http://www.mayaguezsabeamango.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=763&Itemid=101 brings attention to the attempts at & resistance to dehumanization and the  phenomenon of female slave owners. Benjamin Nistal Moret’s Esclavos profugos y cimarrones: Puerto Rico 1770-1870, Editorial UPR (1984) also helped to understand the network of powers that those who undertook ‘diasporic marronage’ sought to evade. Milagros Denis’ long review article is also worth reading & thinking with. These works informed my discussion of the Reglamentos, or slave codes in Puerto Rico.

[1] “Anuncios.” Gazeta de Puerto-Rico. [volume] ([San Juan, P.R.) 1806-19??, December 29, 1842, Page 624, Image 4 Image provided by University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus, Library System https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/2013201074/1842-12-29/ed-1/seq-4/ #date1=1789&sort=date&date2=1963&words=Andrea+Gonz%C3%A1lez& searchType=basic&sequence=0&index=2&state=Puerto+Rico&rows=20&pr oxtext=andrea+gonzalez&y=11&x=7&dateFilterType=yearRange&page=1

[2] Accounts from Brazil and Columbia testify to the power of hair to relay messages: DeNeen Brown, “Afro-Colombian women braid messages of freedom in hairstyles.” Washington Post, July 8, 2011. “Mapping Out Freedom: Escaped Slaves Used Braids For Direction”. https://hellobeautiful.com/2877570/braids-cornrows-maps-for-slaves/ ; “The Interesting Fact About How Slaves Used Cornrow Hair Braiding To Escape”, 4 Nov 2017
https://www.theblackloop.com/interesting-fact-slaves-used-hair-braiding-escape/

[3] http://astropixels.com/ephemeris/phasescat/phases1801.html]

[4] Jorge L Chinea “Diasporic Marronage: Some Colonial and Intercolonial repercussions of Overland and Waterborne Slave Flight, with Special Reference to the Caribbean Archipelago” Revista Brasileira do Caribe Brasília, Vol. X, no19. Jul-Dec 2009, 259-284; p263; S.v. Maroon resistance and settlement on Danish St. Croix..” Retrieved Apr 06 2018 from https://www.thefreelibrary.com/Maroon+resistance+and+settlement+on+Danish+St.+Croix.-a0280557943

[5] Antonio Nieves Mendez, Historia de un pueblo: Moca 1772 al 2000. lulu.com, 372

[6] Nieves Mendez, Historia de un pueblo: Moca 1772 al 2000. 366

[7] Nieves Mendez Historia de un pueblo: Moca 1772 al 2000. 311

[8] Carlos Encarnacion Navarro, AGPR, Caja 1327 1-30-1810 fol 19-20, 10-19-1811, fol. 54-54v.,10-30-1811 fol 55-55v

[9] David Stark, “Discovering the Invisible Puerto Rican Slave Family: Demographic Evidence from the Eighteenth Century” Journal of Family History, 21:4, Oct 1996, 393-418; 403

[10] Metcalf, quoted in Stark, Discovering the Invisible Puerto Rican Slave Family: Demographic Evidence from the Eighteenth Century”; 403

[11] Reglamento sobre la education, trato y ocupaciones que deben dar a sus escalos los duenos y mayordomos en esta Isla, 12 agosto 1826

[12] Documento No. 179. “Reglamento sobre la education, trato y ocupaciones que deben dar a sus escalos los dunes y mayordomos en esta Isla, 12 agosto 1826” El proceso abolicionista en Puerto Rico: Documentos para su estudio, Vol II: Proceso y efectos de la abolición, 1866-1896, 103-112.1978 , 110

[13] Documento No. 179. “Reglamento sobre la education, trato y ocupaciones que deben dar a sus escalos los dunes y mayordomos en esta Isla, 12 agosto 1826” El proceso abolicionista en Puerto Rico: 106

[14] Milagros Denis, “Review Essay, The Problem of Slavery in the Puerto Rican Society Reseña de “Sugar, Slavery, and Freedom in Nineteenth Century Puerto Rico” de Luis Figueroa, “La esclavitud menor: la esclavitud en los municipios del interior de Puerto Rico en el siglo XIX” de Mariano Negrón Portillo and Raúl Mayo Santana y “Slave Revolts in Puerto Rico” de Guillermo Baralt. Centro Journal, vol. XXI, núm. 1, 2009, pp. 236-245 http://www.redalyc.org/articulo.oa?id=37721248012

[15] Documento No. 179. “Reglamento sobre la education, trato y ocupaciones que deben dar a sus escalos los dunes y mayordomos en esta Isla, 12 agosto 1826” El proceso abolicionista en Puerto Rico: 109

[16] Ileana M. Rodriguez-Silva , “Abolition, Race, and the Politics of Gratitude in Late Nineteenth- Century Puerto Rico” Hispanic American Historical Review 93:4, 621-657

[17] Capitulo III Art. 3, 4. Documento No. 179. “Reglamento sobre la education, trato y ocupaciones que deben dar a sus escalos los dunes y mayordomos en esta Isla, 12 agosto 1826” El proceso abolicionista en Puerto Rico: 105

[18] Antonio Nieves Mendez, Historia de un pueblo: Moca 1772 al 2000. 372.

[19] Nieves Mendez, Historia de un pueblo: Moca 1772 al 2000. 385.

[20] Gazeta de Puerto-Rico. [volume] ([San Juan, P.R.), 20 Aug. 1842. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/ 2013201074/1842-08-20/ed-1/seq-2/>

[21] Benjamin Nistal Moret, Cimarones y esclavos prófugos

[22] Documento No. 179. “Reglamento sobre la education, trato y ocupaciones que deben dar a sus escalos los dunes y mayordomos en esta Isla, 12 agosto 1826” El proceso abolicionista en Puerto Rico:

[23] Robert S. DuPlessis, « What did Slaves Wear? Textile Regimes in the French Caribbean »,
Monde(s) 2012/1 (N° 1), p. 175-191. https://www.cairn.info/revue-mondes1-2012-1-page-175.htm
[24] Luis Diaz Soler, Historia de la esclavitud en Puerto Rico. 169
[25] Madelyn Shaw, Slave Cloth and Clothing Slaves: Craftsmanship, Commerce, and Industry. Journal of Early Souther Decorative Arts. http://www.mesdajournal.org/2012/slave-cloth-clothing-slaves-craftsmanship-commerce-industry/ Also Linda Baumgartner, Clothes for the People–Slave Clothing in Early Virginia. Journal of Early Southern Decorative Arts (NoCar N 6520 .J67), Vol. 14 Issue 2, Nov 1988, p27-70 ; Eulanda A. Sanders, The Politics of Textiles Used in African American Slave Clothing Published in Textiles and Politics: Textile Society of America 13th Biennial Symposium Proceedings, Washington, DC, September 18- September 22, 2012. https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1739&context=tsaconf

[26] Maria del Carmen Baerga Santini, Introduccion, Genero y trabajo: la industria de la aguja en Puerto Rico y el Caribe hispánico. Editorial de la Universidad de Puerto Rico, 1993, 6

[27] Ellen Fernandez- Sacco, Mundillo, identity & tourism: The revival and transformation of handmade lace in Puerto Rico.” Maureen Daly Goggin & Beth Fowkes Tobin, eds. Women and Threads: Gender and the Material Culture of Textiles., Ashgate, 2009, 148-166. https://www.academia.edu/154024/Mundillo_and_Identity_the_revival_and_transformation_of_handmade_lace_in_Puerto_Rico

Gaining Freedom: gleaning narratives from Caja 1444, Moca, Puerto Rico, 1848-1854

1914 image of the plaza in Moca

Map of Moca, Puerto Rico, Google.com

Cartas de emancipación: Letters of Freedom

As three historians of Cuban slavery recently wrote,”Los notarios eran parte de este sistema de “escribir la esclavitud.” — Notaries were part of this system of “writing enslavement”, literally creating the legal structures through documents that recorded and controlled the lives and movements of over 51,000 enslaved POC by 1846. In this way, the documents further defined citizenship within a slave holding society.[1] What I thread together here is the history of several people held in bondage, the predicament of pursuing freedom, its purchase and my own project of transcribing parts of a missing volume these certificates were entered into. At the end of this article is a translated list of names of those enslaved ancestors who gained freedom from one transcribed box of notarial documents.

The run of notarial documents in Caja 1444 show that between January 1848 and the end of January 1852, the elites of Moca freed, sold and bought enslaved people.[2] Some distinctions made between those who were servants versus those who were laborers, but when a Carta de emancipación (Letter of Freedom) was issued, the bearer had proof of freedom that hopefully, led to self determination.

Several things become clear in this particular collection of notary documents, only 19 slaveholders liberated their human property, while 61 slave holding inhabitants continued to participate in selling them.  Despite any bonds of blood or call to family that might exist, the exchange of money was paramount. The odds of gaining freedom in mid-nineteenth century Puerto Rico were indeed challenging.

Plaza, Barrio Pueblo, Moca, 1914. Photo by Benito Rosa Quinones, 1914. From Historia de Moca, (1972). Image sepia toned by EFS.

The plaza at the center of Barrio Pueblo was used for drying coffee, and this 1914 image is telling of Moca’s deeply agricultural context.  This town center was the neighborhood where many who gained their freedom moved to in search of employment. At this time, just 41 years after the end of slavery in Puerto Rico in 1871, a significant number of people from elders to adults had some experience with enslavement.  I met their descendants in 2000s, and if we speak of context, there is not a single family member untouched by slavery.

Those Who Were Freed

Eight of those freed were male and eleven were female, the youngest being Ramona, 7 months old, and the oldest, Marcos, 70, born in Santo Domingo about 1781. He may have witnessed the events of the Haitian Revolution prior to reaching Puerto Rico; Ramona, if she survived, may have witnessed the string of uprisings that went across Northwest Puerto Rico with the Grito de Lares in 1868,  and perhaps actively participated in the struggle for equality that continued for decades.

Some may still carry their memories, so there may be oral histories that tell of their lives. At the very least, their traces in the historical record speak to the constraints they had to live under, and hope for a better life after emancipation despite a spectrum of challenges.

The Emancipation of Mauricio and Ramona

Among those who gained their freedom were children, among them Mauricio 1 1/2 whose mother Monserrate paid for his letter of emancipation; 7 month old Ramona was purchased by Maria Encarnacion from d. Alberto Soto. In 1848, Maria Candelaria paid her slaveowner d. Cristobal Benejan for her own freedom, and in 1850, was able to buy that of her two-year-old daughter Maria, who was born on Benejan’s property and was raised by Paula, another enslaved woman who worked there. As of 1849, “…colonial authorities permitted interested parties to purchase the freedom of infant slaves at the time of baptism, for the sum of twenty-five pesos. The infant however, remained with the master who owned his/her mother until he/she reached adulthood.” [3]  So far, there is no indication that freedom was Benejan’s intention.

One wonders what might have transpired within those two years, and how these free women worked to support their families. They became part of the free community that moved away from the rural agricultural areas to Barrio Pueblo. Here they worked providing services such as cooking, laundering, childcare, dressmaking and lacemaking among others, that continues into the present. Benejan descendants still live near the Plaza in Barrio Pueblo, Moca today.

In a transcription project on the 1870 Registro de Esclavos I’m working on, Cristobal Benejan y Suria was among the largest slave holders in Moca, with 54 persons. At this point in 1870, another three years of labor was required prior to emancipation.

Note this was 36 months of uncompensated labor, caught up in expectations of gratitude toward former owners on the part of the freed. Historian lleana Rodriguez-Silva wrote that “Political practices such as gratitude highlight the liberal features of benevolence and paternalism and undermine efforts to critique the structures of power, especially through critiques of racialized domination.” [4]  So, the histories of abolition in the Caribbean were revised and rewritten to celebrate rather than expose how power functioned in the lives of POC.

3556 Paula, hija de Juana, 29, “propiedad de Cristobal Benejans y Suria” 1 Mar 1870. Moca, Aguadilla District, AGPR Gobernadores Espanoles. Caja 4, FHC Film 1511797.

Among the certificates of those owned by Benejan in the Registro, Paula’s name appears as the mother of Loreto, 11 (b.1859), and Calista, 1 (b.1869). There is a certificate for Paula, 29 (b. 1849) daughter of Juana, born the same year Maria Candelaria gained her freedom. What happened to the Paula that cared for Maria Candelaria’s daughter Maria? Was Paula freed in the two decades after she was entrusted with the care of Maria? Did she pass away before 1870? I’m left with more questions than I can answer.

Looking at my own tree, I have distant connections to the Benejam via marriage to another slaveholding family, the Lorenzo de Acevedo. Even one of my recent atDNA matches points to this connection on FTDNA, and there are likely more 4-5th cousins out there, like myself, with genetic ties to both slaveowner and those they enslaved.

The Benejam originate in Menorca, among the smaller of the Baleáricos Islands. They arrived in Puerto Rico during the 18th century, and became an important family in Moca, owning land and people that they freed after 1870.  Cristobal Benejam purchased Juan from the parish priest Pbo.Jose Balbino David, who functioned as a local small slave dealer during the 1850s, buying and selling people to various individuals.[5]

Living Transactions: currency & human devaluation

Silver macuquinas. Image: Monedas macuquinas de plata. By NachoNumis – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3052173

 

During the nineteenth century, the  Puerto Rican economy struggled with a mistrust of paper currency, rudimentary banking practices and a lack of coinage. What was used were pesos macuquinos (‘Cob coin’), a silver coinage removed from circulation in Venezuela, and instead, was in circulation on the island for nearly a half century, without a real banking system. This meant real money was scarce. [6] Within this plantation economy, enslaved people were sold and the income from their sale was used by slaveholders to pay their own taxes and bills. The scant availability of cash on the island suggests the enormous difficulty of the situation that the enslaved faced in raising funds to purchase their own freedom, and the deep anxiety over maintaining family with the threat of sale and displacement constantly looming. Regardless, many continued their attempts and strategies to push for freedom.

Among the slave owners were Gonzalez, Perez del Rio, Benejan, Soto, Lopez, Vasquez, Salas, Suarez Otero, and de la Cruz; some entries give information on previous owners, and together with other notarial entries, one can glean details on the places those held in slavery by them lived and worked. The location of origin for most of the persons listed below was Puerto Rico, although some came from Costa Firme, Venezuela, the Dutch Caribbean islands, and Santo Domingo. The official inscribing the documents into the books was the mayor or Alcalde ordinario d.Casimiro Gutierrez de Canedo, as there was no official royal notary in Moca to record these acts between 1848 and 1852.

Gaining Freedom

Almost all the persons listed paid for their freedom, with five cases granting unconditional freedom with no money involved. Aside from these cases, 32 pesos was the lowest price and 300 pesos the highest. The total amount spent by the enslaved for their freedom was 1,947 pesos macuquinos. Depending on the calculation, this may be equivalent to just over $10,600 US according to the Consumer Price index or $10,900 US in relative wages in today’s money. [7]

Given the scarcity of cash at the time, it is an astounding figure that illustrates the extractive nature of slavery that POC were forced to navigate in mid-nineenth century NW Puerto Rico.

Letters of Freedom, Moca, Puerto Rico, 1848-1852

20 Jan 1848: Pedro Gonzalez, 28, criollo (born in Puerto Rico), single, bought his freedom for 32 pesos from d. Faustino Perez del Rio. F1

24 Jan 1848: Eugenio, 26, criollo (born in Puerto Rico), single, bought his freedom for 250 pesos silver from d. Maximo Gonzalez. F2

8 Feb 1848: Mauricio, 1 1/2, freedom bought by his mother Monserrate for 25 pesos from d. Juan Jimenez. F5v

8 Jun 1848: Candelaria, bought her freedom for 68 pesos from d. Cristobal Benejans. F17v-18

24 Jul 1848: Ramona, 7 mo., mother Maria Encarnacion bought her freedom for 37 pesos from d. Alberto de Soto. F48v

24 Jul 1848: Tomasa, 35, criolla (born in Puerto Rico), mulata, servant her freedom purchased for 300 pesos  from d. Felix Lopez and his wife Petrona Vega. Tomasa was “born in the home of another of their slaves named Paula.” F23-23v

24 Jan 1850: Maria Ylaria o Isidora 2, born on his property, mother Maria Candelaria bought freedom for 70 pesos from d. Cristobal Benejam. F25v-26.

8 May 1850: Felix, 60,  ‘natural de la isla’ (born in Puerto Rico) light mulato, for good services, granted freedom from d. Manuel Salas’ (-1850) will.  F48v

8 Aug 1850: Lorenzo, who resides in Moca bought freedom for 300 silver pesos from Jose de la Cruz of Lares, who bought him from Juan, Antonio y Francisco de la Cruz. F100-100v

15 Oct 1850: Maria de los Angeles, 26, servant, bought her freedom for 300 pesos from d. Maximo Gonzalez. F128-129

22 Nov 1850: Maria de la Encarnacion, servant, bought her freedom for 100 pesos maququinos from d. Alberto de Soto. F151

9 Apr 1851: Marcos, 70, born Santo Domingo, dark skinned, bought his freedom for 60 pesos from d. Francisco Roman. F52v-53

16 Aug 1851: Matias, 60, Dutch, tall, chocolate color, graying hair, regular front with honey colored eyes, thick nose, large mouth, bushy eyebrows, to be granted freedom for his service, obedience, respect and honor upon the death of da. Rosalia Perez. F170v-171

16 Aug 1851: Prudencio, 8, reddish color, passing hair, regular appearance, honey colored eyes, wide nose, small mouth to be granted freedom upon of da. Rosalia Perez. F171-171v

16 Aug 1851: Catalina, 40, single, reddish black color, passing hair, sad eyes, thick, wide nose wide mouth and bushy eyebrows, for good conduct from the first day, with honesty   and activity proper to a slave to her masters to be freed upon the death of da. Rosalia Perez. F171v-172

29 Aug 1851: Teresa, 56, single, mulato, to compensate for her distinguished services with real love and constancy to be granted her freedom by d. Manuel Morales. His son d. Enrique Morales signed as his father did not know how to write. F176v-177

27 Oct 1851: Pedro Pablo, 30, born in Puerto Rico, single, mulato, reddish hair, regular appearance, regular nose, brown eyes, regular mouth and scant beard, purchases his freedom for 200 pesos maququinos from from d. Pedro Vargas. F227-227v

23 Dec 1851: Encarnacion, 40, born Costa Firme, Venezuela, given freedom for her good service via the will of d. Vasquez, via son d. Leonardo Vasquez. F304v

24 Jan 1852: Maria de la Cruz, 14 criolla (born in Puerto Rico), single, light mulato, household servant, straight hair, small round face , black eyes, properly placed nose, regular mouth, freedom purchased by her father Pedro Cordero for 205 pesos maququinos from d. Jose Suarez Otero, deceased, via da. Teresa Cordero, his widow. F20-20v

References

[1] Michael Zeuske with Orlando García Martínez & Rebecca J. Scott. “Estado, notarios y esclavos en Cuba. Aspectos de una genealogía legal de la ciudadania en sociedades esclavistas.”  Cuba. De esclavos, ex-esclavas, cimarrones, mambises y negreros. 102-165; Table 7.2 Population Increases by Race, in Olga Wagenheim’s Puerto Rico: An Interpretive History, p. 151 for 1846 lists a total population of 443,139; 216,083 White; 175,791 Free People of Color, and Slave at 51,265. By 1869, this number drops by -12,196 to 39,069 persons. Olga Jimenez de Wagenheim, Puerto Rico: An Interpretive History, from Pre-Columbian Times to 1900. NY: Marcus Weiner Publishers, 1998.

[2] Cartas de emancipación de esclavos compiled from Carlos Encarnacion Navarro, Transcription, Caja 1444, Serie Aguadilla, Pueblo Moca, 20 Jan 1848-31 Jan 1852, Fondo de Protocolos Notariales, Archivo General de Puerto Rico.  Translations and extracts are my own.

[3] Antonio Nieves Mendez,  Historia de un pueblo Moca, 1772-2000. Lulu.com 2008, p.146. Ref. Caja 1444, f4.

[4] “The politics of gratitude refers to the dynamics through which many came to see abolition as an effort to modernize the island, an endeavor for which everyone should be morally indebted to abolitionists and their successors. The politics of gratitude thus provided the structures through which liberal reformists could preserve a racialized and patriarchal social order in the absence of slavery. In the process, liberals also constituted themselves as the only inter- mediaries between popular subjects and the imperial state.”  lleana M. Rodriguez-Silva, “Abolition, Race, and the Politics of Gratitude in Late Nineteenth-Century Puerto Rico.”  Hispanic American Historical Review 93:4  621-657. doi 10.1215/00182168-2351656

[5] “3556. Paula, 29, hija de Juana.” 1 Mar 1870. Registro de Esclavos,  Moca, Dist. Aguadilla, Caja 4, FHC Film 1511797.

[6] Pedro Damian Cano Borrego, “La moneda macuquina Venezolana y su circulación en Puerto Rico.” Numismatico Digital, Marzo 2017, Edition 114, 27 agosto 2017,  http://www.numismaticodigital.com/imprimir-noticia.asp?noti=6383 . Accessed 27 Aug 2017.

[7] It seems the varying prices listed estimate both value as property and potential labor value, will be looking into this further. Values from two sites, Measuring Worth, https://www.measuringworth.com/calculators/spaincompare/relativevalue.ph and Currency converter Euro to US Dollarhttps://coinmill.com/EUR_USD.html#EUR=8991