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?
In reviewing a transcription of notary documents, I came across a pair of Hernandez sisters whose sale of property in mid century Aguadilla included 15 enslaved ancestors in total. What can we learn about the context of their lives? And can these details extend out to make connections to descendants today? I’ve gone over several connected documents, two records of sale, and several wills, all tied to Caimital Alto in Aguadilla in 1854. It’s about four miles inland from the coast.
Documents & context
In May 1854, Da. María de Pilar y Da. María Dolores Hernandez Portalatin went before the notary with D. Juan Jose Duprey, to whom they decided to sell their inheritance. The two Marias were the daughters of D. Juan Hernandez and Da. Rosa Portalatin Hernandez, who filed a will two years earlier. Duprey, like the Hernandez Portalatin sisters, also lived in Caimital Alto, Aguadilla, as did the sixteen people they held in bondage. Eventually these properties were tied to the history of sugar that goes back to the 16th century and the start of the African slave trade that brought some 15 million Africans to the New World, while only 2 million Europeans emigrated.
Gleaning details & a little history of Aguadilla
The names mentioned in the wills show three distinct networks of relationships tied by blood, or property, with large tracts of land subdivided among siblings and families, or sold, with the final transaction recorded by a notary.
The documents may contain a description of structures with useful details, such as the names of the other families that bordered their property, and often one finds siblings, cousins, among them. Given the focus on the economic history of the movers and shakers of hacendado society, here is something different, a microhistory that sheds light on the labor of POC that made it all possible, over the course of a year, 1854.
Aguadilla was founded in 1775, the last municipality established out of the former Partido de la Aguada, under the Capitan poblador Juan Bernardo de Sosa, who happens to be my 6th GGF. At that time, the town consisted of 58 homes and bohios with 195 families. By 1812, the municipality was at 6,196 people, 1,273 lived in the pueblo, 4,523 across the rural area, with 647 enslaved persons providing the labor for sugar, coffee and other agricultural produce in addition to an entire range of projects and duties.
Urban development in Aguadilla was a slow process— until 1817 a bohio (hut) was used for the official government buildings of the Casa del Rey and a jail, when a new stucco building was constructed. Until 1823, one road, the Camino Real connected Aguadilla to Isabela and Aguada, and some plantation owners did not want the trouble of a road nearby their complexes. As the population of the city grew, during the 1820s, several fires struck the urban sector, destroyed dozens of homes, which led to the construction of new streets near the plaza. By 1837, three rural barrios were established and Caimital was one of them, divided by the Sierra Jaicoa into Caimital Alto and Caimital Bajo. Over the next two decades the urban areas continued to grow and markets expanded. Ultimately, these situations provided advantages for those in the municipality.
Back to the Sale Document: Property, Land & Human
According to folios 226-228 of the sale by Maria Pilar and Maria Dolores Hernandez Portalatin, living adjacent to the south side of the property in Caimital was their sister Anistacia Hernandez Portalain, on the east, Carlos de la Rosa, and to the west, Maria Lopez, widow of Luis Cubero, an emigre from the Canary Islands. The house in town was on a 22 x 40 vara (61 x 111 ft) lot, next to D. Juan Chico in one side, and on the other D Lino Acevedo, conveniently located near the town plaza.
D. Lino Acevedo is Martin Lino Acevedo y Lopez de Segura (1817-1891) my 1C4R, while his wife Maria Domitila Talavera Hernandez is my 3G Aunt; they married in 1852 and had at least 4 children. One daughter, Domitila Acevedo Talavera 1C3R (1863) married the surgeon Dr. Julian Benejam Dominguez of Moca. The Benejam family were also slave owners.
Lino’s grandfather (and my 4th GGF) is Capt. Martin Lorenzo de Acevedo y Hernandez del Rio (1749-1828), whose string of titles demonstrated the rise of the Lorenzo de Acevedo among the colonial ruling class of NW PR- Alferez Real of Aguada, Teniente de Guerra and Alcalde for Moca between 1792 and 1810, despite his advanced age. Lino’s father, Juan Martin Lorenzo de Acevedo y Gonzalez, and his second wife, Marta Rosa Maria Lopez de Segura y Vives (my GGGG Uncle and Aunt) served as Alcalde (Mayor) of Aguadilla and approved the plans for building streets near the plaza in the 1820s.
All of them were involved in some level of slave owning, and it remains to be seen which ancestors were involved in some kind of Abolitionist project. I can understand that between these tight bounds of blood, land, and power, they would not be partial to the project of freedom. I can say that many seem to have disposed of their small holdings in the latter half of the 19th century to the progressively large companies that formed to deal with wringing profit out of sugar, coffee and people.
Fifteen Ancestors, some born in Africa
In preparation for the impending sale, there was the stress of the examination violating personal boundaries for an event that potentially threatened to divide families. In this case, everyone and everything was sold to d. Juan Jose Duprey Navarro.
9 males, 6 females – 15 total – (values that follows are estimates from Measuring Worth website.)
Nicolás (1826) born in Africa 28 valued at 400 pesos, €1,840.00
Valentín (1841) 13 valued at 200 pesos, €919.00
Policarpo (1850) 4 valued at 150 pesos, €689.00
Juan (1820 ) 34 born in Africa, valued at 400 pesos, €1,840.00
Encarnación (1832) 22 valued at 300 pesos, €1,380.00
Carolina (1853) 2 valued at 160 pesos, €735.00
Clotilde (1838) 16 valued at 320 pesos, €1,470.00
Dominga (1840) 14 valued at 290 pesos, €1,330.00
Ramona (1832) 22 valued at 350 pesos, €1,610.00
Celestina (1852) 2 valued at 100 pesos , €459.00
Enrique (1827) 27, born in Africa, valued at 300 pesos, €1,380.00
Joaquín (1842 ) 12 valued at 260 pesos, €1,190.00
Rosa, (1832 ) 22, born in Africa, valued at 350 pesos, €1,610.00
Victoriano 3 (1851) valued at 100 pesos, €459.00
Eugenio 13 (1841) valued at 350 pesos, €1,610.00
The total value of these 15 souls in Euros is €18,521 which equals $22,892 in today’s dollar.
Those assigned the highest values were Nicolas and Juan, both born in Africa, while the women’s values ranged according to age, apparently priced in anticipation of the potential of the child bearing capacity of Carolina, while the 16 year old Clotilde was assigned the next highest value after Ramona and Rosa, both age 22.
I squirm considering these young teenage girls sold among these documents, wondering what led to the sale and whether they were being sold from one adult male to another in a form of trafficking with multiple consequences that could range from violence, death to rape. This coercive dimension was constantly present and surviving these experiences continued regardless.
An Unexpected Reversal
Oddly enough, on July 1854, Juan Jose Duprey Navarro sold back the entire farm along with the enslaved people listed before, to D. Juan Hernandez and his daughter, Maria del Pilar Hernandez Portalatin for the same amount– 10,071 pesos, which was their inheritance from their mother Rosa. Was this planned, a means of delaying arrangement because of funds or, was the sale simply imperiled by the death of one party?
For this second transaction, the enslaved ancestors are listed as a group:
“los esclavos Nicolas de 28 años, Policarpo de 4 años, Valentin de 13 años, Juan [,] Encarnación, Clotilde, Lorenza, Dominga, Ramona, Celestina, Enrique, Celestino, Joaquín, Rosa, Victoriana y Eugenia”
Note the slight differences- the mention of Celestino is new, while Victoriano and Eugenio have apparently become Victoriana and Eugenia.
Maria Dolores Hernandez Portalatin (1818 -1854)
After arranging the sale earlier that May, Maria Dolores Hernandez, age 36, made a will on 25 May 1854. Three days later, she was buried in Aguadilla. Sudden illness interrupted everything; she was married to D. Angel Gaya just eight months earlier. Gaya made a desirable partner, as he worked as part of Aguadilla’s administration, and so, would bring an income into the union. Although there were no children from the marriage, property was an issue. The solution to maintaining control over Dolores’ property was to have it revert to her father, D. Juan Hernandez; should he die, it would then go to her husband, D. Angel Gaya.
Mentioned in the will is her sister Timotea Hernandez, who preceded her in death, and willed Dolores a third of her goods; her sister Pilar, and her nephew Tomas Talavera Hernandez (b.1817), son of her dead sister Teresa Hernandez Portalatin, my third GGM. Another sister, Anastasia Hernandez was widowed, and that year also gave Angel Gaya permission to put her name forward in any business dealing with the affairs of her mother, Rosa Portalatin Hernandez. This is also the line of my grandfather’s grandmother, that goes back along a line of slaveowning people that by the 1860s, married with the Babilonias of Moca, if not earlier.
In 1854, Dolores Hernandez Portalatin held five people in bondage: Encarnacion and her four children, Dominga, Clotilde, Jose Elias and Carolina. All worked as enslaved servants in her home in Barrio Caimital, Aguadilla and as property, would revert to her father according to her will. Some of the persons have an age listed in the sale document to Duprey, so I have used that to create family groups.
June 1854, Another Sale – Angel Gaya & the sale of Dominga, 15
On 14 June 1854, Angel Gaya sought to settle his wife’s debts according to her will by selling the 15 year old Dominga, a servant for 300 pesos to D. Jose Eugenio Milan. Just eight days later, Milan sold Dominga to Da. Natividad Acevedo, wife of Jose Fulgencio Milan. Natividad Maria Acevedo Lopez was the daughter of Juan Martin Lorenzo de Acevedo y Gonzalez (1781-1844) my 4th G Uncle and his wife, Maria de la Encarnacion Lopez de Segura (ca 1786-bef 1854). Maria Encarnacion may be a sister or first cousin to his second wife, Marta Rosa Maria Lopez de Segura y Vives, whom he married in 1831. Both sides link to sets of my 4th Great Grandparents, which may help me figure out more about the people they bought and sold. I can’t help but wonder what happened to Dominga, born in 1839, sold and traded from one brother and his family to his sister in law and her family.
It’s also important to look at the parents of the Hernandez Portalatin sisters in order to see if there are additional details on these enslaved ancestors, who may appear in additional documents. Both parents, D. Juan Hernandez and Rosa Portalatin held significant properties, plantations that were among the largest in Aguadilla.
D. Juan Jose Duprey: From Guarico, Cap-Haitien to NW Puerto Rico
About 1803, Jean Baptiste Dupre and his wife Luisa Navarré e Doudins, French nationals from Guarico in Haiti, arrived in Puerto Rico, where their names were translated to Juan Bautista Duprey and Luisa Navarro. The couple bought wealth in the form of enslaved ancestors and currency that they used to buy land in Aguadilla, Aguada and Arecibo. They had twelve children, and after Duprey’s death in 1822, his wife divided the slaves and part of the land between a society (small group of investors) and Juan B. Doumerg. She eventually remarried, to a French-born plantation owner German L’Aufant Nalo in Aguadilla in 1826. It remains unclear as to what was the Duprey’s situation, and whether they were or were related to largest and wealthiest free population of color in the Caribbean, as were some families from Hispaniola who arrived and settled in Aceituna for example.
There are extracts of parish registers from Haiti that may show Jean Baptiste Dupre as baptised on 13 February 1787, a date which still fits his timeline:
Dupré Jean Baptiste, figure sur le registre des baptêmes de Haïti (ex colonie française de Saint- Domingue), la date de son baptême figurant sur le registre était le 13 février 1787. There are a set of documents in the FamilySearch collection, Record of Foreign Residents in Puerto Rico, that includes the 1808 file on Duprey, which enabled the government to affirm his Spanish citizenship on Puerto Rico.
Juan Jose Duprey Navarro married Martina Cerezo Sosa (1817-1892) my 3C3R, daughter of Maria Manuela Sosa Vives (my 2C4R) and Ramon Cerezo Gallardo. Maria Manuela is the granddaughter of the Irish emigres on her maternal side, who arrived early to PR. Here too is involvement in slave owning that extends to more families. Josefa Maria Suarez Estopinan, with the help of her husband d. Epifanio Sosa, by matrimonial license notes “she gives royal sale to da. Martina Cerezo, wife of d. Juan Jose Duprey, for a servant slave named Rosa age 14, which she inherited from her mother, Maria Estopinan”, according to a document dated Juan 1841, for the price of 280 pesos. Thanks to her rights as a wife, Josefa was able to sell the 14 year old Rosa for a significant price, five years before her marriage.
Juan Jose’s brother, Luis Duprey Navarro owned Hacienda Casualidad in Barrio Guayabo, Aguada between 1845 and 1852; he also owned a brick factory there according to the Riqueza Industrial of 1852. Luis’ son and Juan Bautista’s grandson, Luis Duprey Gaya, married Ana Roque Geigel de Duprey in 1853. A recent pamphlet on her scientific work that culminated in a major botanical collection offers a brief overview of her life and included a significant incident without mentioning her husband.
The last paragraph states: “She was 19 years of age when she stopped someone from punishing her husband’s 80 slaves by making them kneel. It was 1872, one year before the Abolition of Slavery.”
However there is no other context given that connects slavery, the economic basis of her family’s business, to the larger context of education, and her position as a woman within a society that did not consider them academic equals, is explained solely in terms of developing public education. The juxtaposition is jarring as the fields of the sciences clash with the reality of the sugar and coffee cultivation in the Sierra Jaicoa of NW PR.
As with other plantation based families in NW PR, the Duprey Navarro family’s investment in sugar and coffee continued well into the 19th century.
The Struggle for Freedom in Saint Domingue
The arrival of the Dupreys is eventful when considered against the previous seven years. By 1795, a significant sale of enslaved persons occurred in Aguadilla, which included several imprisoned for their alleged role in the 1789-1791 uprising in Saint Domingue. However, the official plan of selling these prisoners from the French half of the island, across the sound in Puerto Rico to sell them here, simply brought the knowledge and experience of insurrection closer to home.
Precisely when the Dupreys show up in Puerto Rico isn’t specified, yet they were careful to note their arrival from Guarico, the original Indigenous name for the area, rather than Cap-Francaise, or after 1804, Cap-Haitien. Cap-Francaise was the capital of Saint Domingue until 1770, when Port-au-Prince became the capital until 1804. His papers simply state that he’s not in great health, and lives in the country with his family, no mention of his wealth in land and people. These kinds of reassurances serve to detach the explosive events of the last decade.
Yet the scale of slavery in Saint Domingue simply staggers: “The labor for these plantations was provided by an estimated 790,000 African slaves, accounting in 1783–1791 for a third of the entire Atlantic slave trade. Between 1764 and 1771, the average annual importation of slaves varied between 10,000 and 15,000; by 1786 it was about 28,000, and from 1787 onward, the colony received more than 40,000 slaves a year. However, the inability to maintain slave numbers without constant resupply from Africa meant the slave population in 1789 totalled to 500,000, ruled over by a white population that numbered only 32,000.” [Saint-Domingue, Wikipedia] At the cusp of the 19th century, this situation and the violence required to maintain it, is at the core of white fears in the Caribbean .
In October 1795, there was a slave uprising in Aguadilla, and historians suspect those sold here brought knowledge that inspired those enslaved here to resist. However, despite requests for the files in Spanish and Puerto Rican archives, official reports on the uprising are missing, which speaks to the strength of the desire to show that the island was under control by the government.
Another aspect as I have discussed before, were the close familial ties involved that could cast family members in a negative light. This is yet another reason for a report to conveniently be misplaced or lost, however at the same time, attempts to control the enslaved population continued by passing further restrictions in revamped versions of the Black Codes and instituting rules that reflected heightened fears, known as the ‘Haitian Syndrome’.
Ultimately for Puerto Rico, the uprising and the destruction of plantations in Saint Domingue, and the arrival of the Europeans, creoles, African and African descended peoples to the island was an incredible opportunity. The major provider of sugar and coffee lost its place in the world market, and Spain sought to raise its claim on the market. What hid behind the product was a hell on earth, morphing as the sources of sugar began to diversify.
Another factor to consider when tracing ancestors is an ongoing illegal traffic in slaves that escape count at times because purchasers of slaves had to pay a 25 peso fee to have the enslaved entered into official records. Will further knowledge of these lives eventually come to light?
This illegal traffic in turn, skews the numeric charts that list the number of blancos, pardos libres, negro esclavos & negros libres [whites, free people of color, black slaves and free blacks] at any given time on the island. This seems to come up when comparing the tallies for municipalities versus national totals, which tells us there’s more to know about this illegal trade in people.
Also, realize that the sale of enslaved persons in the Caribbean and North America and Europe has a long standing history, so that by the 1780s an enslaved man from the American south marries his partner in the parish church of Aguadilla. Did this marriage begin as a story of distant sale as a result of resistance? Could such narratives be traced back to these parish pages? The uprisings that led to the foundation of Haiti in 1804 struck fear into slaveholders yet they continued to refine their means of holding people in bondage, even as change began to flag an end to aspects of this economic system. Although the story of insurrection is constantly relegated to silence, the details seep out, and my hope is that these histories can be restored.
After Emancipation: the challenge of tracing families into freedom
Some of the persons who match the list in terms of name and age continued to live out their lives in Aguadilla after 1873. As the volume for the Third District of 1872 Registro de Esclavos is missing, I have not yet cross-referenced them with this record set, and plan to. Instead of bearing the name of the first slave holder, I find that some match Duprey, or different surnames. The Duprey family had extensive holdings in Aguada, Arecibo and other properties in Aguadilla and Moca. Clearly, I will need these additional records to find the others listed.
In order to locate them, I used a very simple search, using the name and the date to see what might come up both in Ancestry and FamilySearch.org. Next, I checked additional details regarding potential locations, mentions of names and then cross reference those finds out, to build some branches.
Clotilde, Age 16
Among the 15 people was Clotilde. “Clotilde, 16 valued at 320 pesos”, I believe is the same woman as Clothilde Medrano/Lopez/Rosa b. 1838 in the Registro Civil.
She was the daughter of Cecilia Medrano (bca 1818), and continued a single female household of six children, named in her Acta: Pedro, Francisco, Sofia, Genara, Nicolasa and Carlos. During the course of her 50 years, she saw many changes, and raised seven children, some of whom are in the Registro Civil. She died in Barrio Victoria, an urban section of the pueblo of Aguadilla.
Her nephew, Mariano Abril reported her death. He worked as an agricultural day laborer who lived in Barrio Victoria, the same ward where Clotilde lived and died. This was not far from Barrio Pueblo of Moca. The informant for Clotilde is Mariano Abril Sanjurjo, (1853-1912). The relationship may be via his wife, Emilia Alonso Rosa (1862-1907). Mariano and Emilia’s son, Mariano Abril Alonso (1882-1960) was at one point, the partner of my grandfather’s sister, Eduviges Monserrate Babilonia Lopez (1895-1979) of Moca. It seems that neither Emilia nor her parents were married, adding more complexity to a search along that line for the family connection between Mariano and Clotilde. Regardless, the connections now span over a century.
A daughter of Clotilde’s, Nicolasa Medrano, moved to Utuado and married Jose Roberto Feliciano Velez (1866-1933) of Lares, a member of the Policia Insular. On the certificates for Nicolasa’s death in Santurce and marriage in Lares are several details that matter: both she and her mother appear as Nicolasa Lopez and Clotilde Lopez of Aguadilla, and Francisco Lopez is named as her father, and her mother appears under yet another surname, as Clotilde Rosa in her marriage certificate of 1897. The rest of the details concerning her husband are consistent. It is entirely possible that her father’s name was finally revealed to her late in life; he may be from Aguada or Aguadilla, and could be ‘blanco’ or light skinned, as she is identified as ‘mulata’.
A son, Francisco Medrano (bca 1862), married Maria Martinez of Maricao and had at least four children born between 1885-1889— Amelia, Maria de la Cruz, Francisco and Luis Medrano Martinez in Las Marias.
Another daughter, Sophia Medrano (1866-1916) lived in Barrio Guayabo, Aguada and died there of pneumonia in 1916.
I hope to learn more about these ancestors, and hope to post more in future.
If you’re related to someone mentioned in this post, Mabrika (Welcome)— please feel free to leave a comment and connect!
Angel Nieves Acevedo, Historia de Aguada Editorial Aymaco: lulu.com, 2012.
Angel Nieves Acevedo, Historia de Aguadilla, 1775-1899. Editorial Aymaco: lulu.com, 2012.
Antonio Nieves Mendez, Historia de un pueblo: Moca 1772-al 2000. Editorial Aymaco: lulu.com 2008.
Carlos Encarnacion Navarro, transcription. Instituto de Cultura Puertorriquena, Archivo General de PR, Fondo de Protocolos Notariales, Caja 1289, Serie- Aguadilla, Pueblo- Aguadilla, Escribano Lcdo. Manuel Garcia Ano 1854. Folios fol.226-v (a) 228, fol.310-v a 312
Carlos Encarnacion Navarro, transcription. Instituto de Cultura Puertorriquena, Archivo General de PR, Fondo de Protocolos Notariales, Caja 1434, Escribanos- Otro Funcionarios, 1852-1878, Cedula Testamentaria, Da. Dolores Hernandez, 25 May 1854.
Raquel Rosario Rivera, La presencia haitiana en Puerto Rico 1791-1850. 2015
Raquel Rosario Rivera, La presencia dominicana en Puerto Rico 1791-1850. 2015.
“Para la misma fecha (1803) se domicilia en Aguadilla Juan Bautista Dupre (Duprey), natural de Francia. Esta familia procedente del Guarico Francés, Haití, trajo fortuna en metálico y esclavos, adquirieron terrenos en Aguadilla, Arecibo y Aguada. El matrimonio de don Juan Bautista y doña Luisa Navarré y Doudins, natural de Haití tuvo doce hijos. Al morir el Señor Duprey en 1822 en Aguadilla, la viuda dividió los esclavos y parte de los terrenos que tenía en sociedad con el señor Juan B. Doumerg. Doña Luisa Navarré casó en segundas nupcias en Aguadilla el 12 de octubre de 1826, con el hacendado don Germán L’Aufant y Naló 7, natural de Niche, Francia. De este enlace sólo tuvo un hijo Adrián, quien nació en Aguadilla en 1827, y murió en Bremen, Alemania, en 1845.“
Haydee Reichard de Cancio, “Los Dominicanos en Aguadilla.” PReb.com Accessed Feb 8, 2018.
“Juan Bautista Duprey.” Record of Foreign Residents in Puerto Rico. FamilySearch.org https://www.familysearch.org/search/collection/1919700 Accessed 10 Feb 2018.
Données diverses Saint-Domingue, Guyane Généalogie. http://www.guyanologie.fr/Haiti.php?recherche=DUPRE&ty Accessed 10 Feb 2018.
Elvian Martinez Mercado, “Una scientifica rebelde: Los cuadernos recuperados de al Botanica antillana, Ana Roque de Duprey.” Para la Naturaleza. Centro de Periodismo Investigativo.
Note there is no father, Casto Medrano, this is a mangling of Cecilia Medrano, Clotilde’s mother in the transcription. “Puerto Rico, Registro Civil, 1805-2001,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVJ8-5F2G : 17 July 2017), Clotilde Medrano, 29 Oct 1888; citing Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, oficinas del ciudad, Puerto Rico (city offices, Puerto Rico).
“Puerto Rico, Registro Civil, 1805-2001,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVJX-XY98 : 16 July 2017), Clotilde Medrano in entry for Sofia Medrano, 19 Dec 1916; citing Aguada, Puerto Rico, oficinas del ciudad, Puerto Rico (city offices, Puerto Rico).
“Puerto Rico, Registro Civil, 1805-2001,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVJ4-1RVJ : 17 July 2017), José Roberto Feliciano and Nicolasa López, 29 May 1897; citing Lares, Puerto Rico, oficinas del ciudad, Puerto Rico (city offices, Puerto Rico).
“Puerto Rico, Registro Civil, 1805-2001,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVJX-WVMZ : 17 July 2017), Nicolasa Medrano in entry for Rosa Maria Feliciano Medrano, 24 Nov 1903; citing Utuado, Puerto Rico, oficinas del ciudad, Puerto Rico (city offices, Puerto Rico).
Note the mangling of ‘Feliciano’ in the transcription. “Puerto Rico, Registro Civil, 1805-2001,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVJS-9BKH : 17 July 2017), Nicolasa Lopez de Petroconio, 06 Apr 1933; citing Santurce (San Juan), Puerto Rico, oficinas del ciudad, Puerto Rico (city offices, Puerto Rico).
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. 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. 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.
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.”  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.”  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.
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.
Living Transactions: currency & human devaluation
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.  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.
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. 
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
 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.
 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.
 Antonio Nieves Mendez, Historia de un pueblo Moca, 1772-2000. Lulu.com 2008, p.146. Ref. Caja 1444, f4.
 “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
 “3556. Paula, 29, hija de Juana.” 1 Mar 1870. Registro de Esclavos, Moca, Dist. Aguadilla, Caja 4, FHC Film 1511797.
If your Puerto Rican ancestor is on this list, then we’re related!
Since the mid-2000s, my digital family is expanding, and I’m enjoying some new connections. I tested my autosomal DNA on 23&Me, Ancestry and FamilyTree DNA, uploaded to MyHeritage, DNA.Land and am faced with hundreds, well, since the original blogpost, it’s now thousands of matches. I’m finding that some of the people i’ve known via social media are also distant relatives. I think back on when I lived in NYC as a child and how many times family have told me, wow, I used to live up there (Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan) too, and I wonder how many of those folks who passed me on the street were tied by blood.
Thanks to my prima Teresa Vega, who has the Radiant Roots, Boricua Branchesblog, I’ve been introduced to DNA, FB groups and i’ve been getting to know a lot of family and potential family. Our connection is through Rosa Maria Caban Mendez (2C4R), great granddaughter of my 5th GGP, Juan Cabal and Margarita Ruiz born sometime in the 1730s- 1740s in Aguada, Puerto Rico. Through Sociedad Ancestros Mocanos, we’ve found that quite a few people in our group have discovered DNA connections beyond the documents. And let me tell you, the level of endogamy on some of these lines ‘te da mareo’! (just makes you dizzy)
TL Dixon, of the FB group Native American Ancestry Explorer and Roots & Recombinant DNAblog graciously reviewed my atDNA GEDmatch results and noted the distribution across several different populations from several continents. There weren’t really surprises in there, as a lot matched what I was able to track via documents, contextual history and etymology of the Babilonia surname.
More recently, I’ve had the good fortune to have Fonte Felipe who has the wonderful blog, Tracing African Roots: Exploring the Ethnic Origins of the Afro-Diaspora look at my African results on Ancestry.com and see what matches come up. I’ll write more about discovering these ancestral roots in future posts, as I slowly learn to bring together local history, documents, trees and now, chromosome mapping and triangulation. However, knowing surnames can help point you in the right direction as to where that 3rd or 4th cousin might link up to you.
The Gift of Knowledge
Look, i’m related to two people on the panel on Black ProGen LIve, connections that we discovered much later. Perhaps some of you wonder why i’m on Black ProGen? It’s because one needs a space to speak to the realities of being POC and how one identifies, knowing what techniques and readings are helpful when nobody in your immediate family really has roots in New England, England or Ireland. There is definitely some up there in the mix, but it’s negligible, and my DNA looks like it went through a fan- ethnicities tossed in with no immediate connections to Europe outside of my dad’s grandfather. This is the face of the slave trade & mass migrations in your genes.
And this process never, ever stops. It doesn’t necessarily include the life sustaining ties of kin, people who are the family you make. Remember that there are ties that go beyond blood, or close ties, that make it possible for you to be here. This floating community of family changes over the course of our lives, and I am proud to say that despite the challenges of time and space I have relationships that sustain and heal– yet my tree may not show it. This too is in part, a legacy of slavery.
So, if your Puerto Rican ancestor is on this list, then we’re related!
Family Lines: Those starred on the list below are tied to Haplogroup C1b2 on the maternal line, and C1b4 on the paternal line, which is the Taino DNA that is on both my X chromosomes. More than half of the people here are on my maternal line in the NW, Aguada-Moca-Aguadilla. On the paternal line in the NE, San Juan-Santurce-Rio Grande, there is Haplogroup C1b4 via my paternal grandmother, Angelina Calo Vazquez. Y Haplogroup is European, R-L51, via my paternal grandfather, Ramon Fernandez Matos. On my maternal line, my grandmother, Felicita Rodriguez Vale is the source of my C1b2, which I could fortunately trace back to Tomasa Mendez, born about 1740.
These results fit with the resulting map of 1st to 3rd cousins on Puerto Rico as generated by 23&Me. While locations are self-reported, the results are consistent with family on both sides of my tree, and later generations may have moved south, as I don’t necessarily have specific ancestors in Yauco or Ponce areas. Eventually some arrived in New York City among the thousands who came in the early decades of the 20th Century, many escaping conditions that stemmed from the hurricanes of 1899 and 1928 that mangled Puerto Rico.
There’s always so much more to learn!
The List of my known Great Grandparents:
ps. those born outside of Puerto Rico are noted.
GG Grandfathers –
BABILONIA ACEVEDO, Manuel Miguel Narciso (ca 1804- >1868) Moca
LOPEZ DE SEGURA Y DE SOSA, Buonaventura (ca1825 – <1895)
Much has happened since this blog post was written in 2012– the Cementerio Antiguo de San Sebastian in NW Puerto Rico was placed on the Historic Register (Ley Numero 158 of 9 Aug 2016), and it was the subject of several articles, in the Sociedad Puertorriquena de Genealogia‘s Hereditas , as a featured virtual site on KooltourActiva.com with lots of historical detail, and in the local press. In November 2016, Lester Jimenez reported in Primero Hora that conditions at the Cementerio had totally deteriorated, despite years of effort by a dedicated committee, led by Lic. Gladys Gonzalez Colon, the Sociedad Protectora Antiguo Cementerio Municipal del Pepino to gain support for its preservation.
As of September 2017, with the arrival and destruction of Hurricanes Irma & Maria, the question of preservation remains moot. Like many communities in the Caribbean Basin, reconstruction continues and life itself on the islands is a daily struggle for water, food and electricity.
We must not forget that we are all connected, despite the messages sent by some in power.
From August 2012
The excitement one feels when the past feels tangible through the records of ancestors and discovering the places they lived or were buried is profound.
Imagine then, what happens when one visits a site expecting to find a legible trace, and instead, discovers a 14 acre cemetery that is under active desecration. This was not simply finding broken tombstones, but instead, an overgrown place where coffins have been disinterred, bodies exhumed, bones stolen; where drug paraphernalia, beer bottles, animal and human feces along with clothing and underwear are strewn on the ground and within graves, where rituals are held and possibly, where bodies are now dumped. Broken coffins and bones are strewn all over; the tropical heat makes for an incredible stench. Most identifying information has disappeared from the gravesites, and I don’t know whether the cemetery exists in archival form. This is what’s left of one of the oldest cemeteries in NW Puerto Rico. It is enough to make one cry.
The Cementerio Viejo de San Sebastian is an open secret of sorts. One goes to the Mayor’s Office and asks to visit, and one is taken by a caretaker, who warns of the problems, opens the gate and then departs. Left alone, one is left shaken by the experience– things are indeed bad on the island, but frankly, one is unprepared for this. The main gate is locked, and in another area behind another locked gate with a bar is a spot where the living go to urinate. There’s plenty of places where people climb in, and go to take pieces of bodies, as if that will build their power. It is not a place to contemplate death, but to consider how it’s perpetrated on the living. This is the first time i’ve heard just how destroyed the site is. It leaves one with jaw agape. Te deja con boca abierta.
The original intent in visiting the Cementerio, first built in 1826, and re-established in 1863 was to find traces of a connection to the past, to see the names of ancestors, and it makes most cemeteries stateside seem downright bucolic in comparison. What of this cemetery as cultural resource and as a historical site? Is it a problem or a reflection of how violent life has become on an island that the US has squeezed for human capital and corporate benefit since 1898? What of this new traffic in bones?
Can anything be done? Although life is for the living, this is a situation that highlights the island’s historic lack of infrastructure, and sadly, the closeted nature of what can lurk under the label ‘bad condition’. A search quickly reveals that similar situations exist in other countries in Latin America and Europe, complaints that echo those made by a doctor in Spain in the medical journal Pabellón médicoback in 1863. There was no germ theory then, just the belief that illness was carried in bad smells.
Perhaps whatever records remain is all there is of the Cementerio Antiguo after all.
Genealogy, as a friend noted, can break your heart.
Have you had a similar experience? Please feel free to comment.
PS: Grave robbing was still happening as of a couple of weeks ago.