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!

Can Genealogy Be Racist? Identity, Roots & the Question of Proof

Cover, Alex Haley, Roots: The Saga of an American Family. Image: Wikipedia.

Oral history, Alex Haley’s Roots and the question of proof

Change takes time. It can feel glacial when looking at the time frame for the development of genealogy for people of color in the US. As Nicka Smith recently reminded us in the video of Ep20b of BlackProGenLIVE on Talks Diversity in Genealogy and Family History, our path is difficult because a fundamental building block is oral history. [1]  As she pointed out, ‘the problem of the color line‘ remains a very real one in genealogy.[2]  I’m into understanding that context, and want to take an opportunity to look back at another decade’s work where the push for truth served to reinforce a boundary.  The question of proof in genealogy always looms large.  For examples of practice, don’t miss the list of blogs at the end of this post.

A quote from a 1983 article that contained a relentless takedown of Alex Haley’s book Roots: The Saga of an American Family, reveals the seams along which professional genealogy developed, some eighty years earlier. This split posits the document against the voice in oral history as the legitimate source of data. Thirty-three years ago, this genealogical work was an endeavor that missed the boat in its insistence on paper as the ultimate proof, and perhaps the location there is significant, as it came out of the deep South.

“History Professor finds fraud in Haley’s Roots.” Tuscaloosa News, AL, Sunday Feb 23, 1993. Note page’s placement of headline below concerning a monument that Haley’s family wanted to erect near Florence, AL.

Facts, Claims and the Logic of Proof

The claim that ‘No ethnic group has a monopoly upon oral tradition or documentation, literacy or illiteracy, mobility or stability'[3] ignores the fact that enslaved people counted for chattel, that various populations were brought to labor in oppressive conditions here, and key is that most people of color were not party to creating documentation on their own behalf reflective of them as equal people with equal rights. This goes well beyond “superimposing racial divisions upon all aspects of life…”[4] and ignores that the struggle for civic recognition reaches back to the founding of the country. The fear expressed then, was that Haley’s book could constitute a ‘…delusion that encourages mediocre scholarship in the nascent field of Afro-American genealogy and relegates black family history to the academic dark ages from which Caucasian genealogy has already emerged…’.[5]

The problem is that this logic of ‘documentary proof as the only valid proof’ is part of the problem of structural racism, inadvertently or deliberately serving ‘to perpetuate social stratifications and outcomes that all too often reflect racial group sorting rather than individual merit and effort.’[6] To continue to claim this kind of proof as the only proof is an exclusionary exercise, in effect, one that insists on documentation within a context where one side holds the power, and is also one that perpetuates the gap between White Americans and Americans of color.

The following chart shows the interlocking parts of this system:

Chart: Structural Racism produces Racialized Outcomes. Aspen Roundtable on Community Change

In essence, what we are witnessing today is a gradual process of desegregation within genealogy practiced in the U.S.

Strategies and Projects: Restoring Visibility & Developing Methodologies

Within the last two decades, genealogists in the field of African American genealogy have developed strategies for working with oral histories and published accounts and have successfully incorporated them within the Genealogical Proof Standard.[7] It follows the growth of historical, sociological and cultural work on various dimensions of the experience and process of enslavement, the development of various communities of color and difference as legitimate fields of inquiry.  Now there is a growing awareness of combined efforts that defy simple ethnic or racial classification as with Marronage, those hidden and open maroon communities where people of African, Indigenous and varying admixtures stole themselves to, to gain self-determination. These historic episodes do not fit neatly into traditional genealogy and require new modes of recording, interpreting and disseminating data on the families of these communities.

Given the location, this work has neither a smooth or clear path to acceptance; for instance, one can look at the changes in the narratives offered by Monticello in the 1990s to the 2010s, with the recent Public Summit on Race and the Legacy of Slavery (Sep 2016) and the recent conference (Mar 2018) Interpreting Slavery    Also important are the in-place interventions by Joseph McGill of The Slave Dwelling Project, and Michael J Twitty’s rising recognition as a culinary and historical authority with his blog Afroculinaria and his important book The Cooking Gene are gaining wider regard.

The summit, “Memory, Mourning, Mobilization: Legacies of Slavery and Freedom in America” would not have been possible without the oral histories along with the genealogical and DNA data collected by the Getting Word project at Monticello. As a result, descendants now have the opportunity to stay overnight through the Slave Dwelling Project. McGill continues to expand to new sites, to have important conversations as a group participates in a simple, visceral experience of sleeping in slave cabins.

On Episode 315 (Mar 15 2018) of Research at the National Archives and Beyond, Bernice Bennett interviewed genealogist Kenyatta D. Berry, on her work with a consortium of 30 US universities currently researching and dealing with their involvement in slavery. Within their discussion the question of data, access and interpretation by descendants, genealogists and historians is in a process of development.  The variety of needs range from establishing a historical narrative to understanding context, creating macro and microhistories that can recombine with documentation to create  larger interdisciplinary spaces that can accommodate community. This is a coming to the table on a large scale, that holds the promise of shifting how we see our past and our future as a nation. Our family trees reach long and far indeed, with many finally linking their past to places beyond borders using documents, oral history and DNA.

Genetic genealogist Shannon Christmas is co-administrator of the Hemings-Jefferson-Wayles-Eppes Autosomal DNA Project and blogs on new tools and technologies for genealogy at Through the Trees. Robin R Foster has been blogging since 1985 at Robin Saving Stories.  There are incredible collections of records and articles on Toni Carrier’s Lowcountry Africana, which covers the rice growing region across South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. Or look at the work of my cousin, Teresa Vega in Greenwich, Connecticut regarding the Historic Byram African American Cemetery on her blog, Radiant Roots, Boricua Branches.  (Scroll down for latest news)

Also consult the blogs of members of Black ProGen below (scroll down) to see more projects that take on various facets of genealogy to see examples of this broader change, and join us at  BlackProGen LIVE twice monthly on YouTube.

Weighing what matters

I’m not saying that Alex Haley’s work cannot be analyzed for the errors it contains, but instead, that the weight of its context and the moment of its production mattered. Cited in The NY Times  (and unnamed in a later article) was eminent Yale historian Edmund Morgan, who recognized that Roots was “a statement of someone’s search for identity… it would seem to me to retain a good deal of impact no matter how many mistakes the man has made. In any genealogy there are bound to be a number of mistakes.”[8] Morgan was the author of American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia (1975), a title that points to the persistent contradiction in the founding of this nation. Overall, historians were not alarmed. Ultimately, Haley’s book proved more novel than fact, but more importantly, it captured the imagination of millions, inspiring many to pursue their own genealogy and family history. The stakes were high for claiming a rightful place as part of US history.

What Haley achieved at the time of the National Bicentennial was to tell a story of national import from a black perspective, as he hoped “his story of our people can help to alleviate the legacies of the fact that preponderantly the histories have been written by the winners.”[8]. One early reviewer of his work noted, “And so, he did write his entire story from the Black perspective which is sorely needed to connect the institutions and fill the void left by the omission of ‘objective’ white historians, the winners in the war of human degradation—slavery…. it is the cultural history laid bare upon the canvas of time devoid of the misconceptions and misinterpretations of a people rationalizing their sins against humanity.”[9]

Roots and its subsequent miniseries did not omit the range of violence perpetrated on a fully human people and claimed a historical place in the narrative of America. It countered a dominant historical and legal framework of being partially human at best, and defied the weight of stereotypes from popular media. Roots is not a pretty picture of inheritance, but instead one that spoke to audiences the realities of enslavement, resilience, continuity and survival in a vivid, cinematic fashion, from a narrative with an origin in the spoken word. That challenge and denial of oral history as a legitimate basis of the experiences of people of color is slowly eroding…. Slowly.

Quote,  Audrey Lorde, Sister Outsider, 1984 #CiteBlackWomen

There is an equivalence in the genealogical field that is beginning to be dismantled, an implicit claim whereby scholastic levels of genealogy equates to whiteness. Yet to paraphrase Audrey Lorde, one cannot dismantle the master’s house with the master’s tools.[11] This work is done as the field opens up to POC more broadly, who bring a different set of experiences, lineages and techniques that draw upon contexts both within and outside of traditional genealogy.[12] It is also up to genealogists who are not POC to weigh what that legacy is and how it impacts the who, what and where of their practice.

In order to see the connection between genealogy and the ideology of whiteness more clearly, one has to go back to the 1880s, when genealogy was part of the toolkit for the pseudoscience of eugenics. This was a conduit for previous ideas about racial inferiority from the previous century, now cloaked in respectable ‘science’. It was buttressed by social and institutional dynamics that maintain racial hierarchies and racialized public policies and institutional practices, a shifting framework that is still in operation today. [13]  It is a discourse of social division and superiority emergent after the election of November 2016, thrown into relief by the events at Charlottesville, Virginia.

Eugenics: technologies of segregation, genealogy & policy

Second International Eugenics Congress logo, 1921, held at the American Museum of Natural History  in New York City. Image: Wikipedia. note the role of genealogy

At its most basic, eugenics is a set of beliefs and practices about how to improve the human population. There was ‘positive eugenics’ aimed at promoting sexual reproduction among those with desired traits and ‘negative eugenics’, which sought to limit certain populations from reproducing. The movement started in the UK and spread to many countries, including the US and Canada in the early twentieth century. This instigated the formation of programs intent on improving the population, that led to marriage prohibition and forced sterilization programs.[14]   These experiences are part of thousands of family histories tied to experimentation, social policies, with roots in settler colonialism.

Historias, a 1992 performance/installation by Merian Soto and Pepon Osorio, engaged the issues of violence and mass sterilization of women in Puerto Rico. One third of PR women were sterilized between 1907-1930s.

Genealogy was important to eugenicists, because it was a map that traced the transmission of ‘defective germ-plasm’ through families, which contrasted with the legacy of white western men with genealogies of ‘quality’. This ultimately translated into policies that generated thousands of sterilizations, destroyed families with the fear of miscegenation, and transformed poverty into a problem of the individual, not society. Yet many states passed laws,  as did Virginia that led to over 7,000 people being sterilized– and increasingly as archives make these documents available to the public, a better understanding of the high cost of eugenic policy emerges. Many paid, and continue to pay with their lives.

#PublicRecords become #history. Tweet, Library of Virginia 3.17.2018 for Sterilization Register, State government records collection.

 

Paul Popenoe & Roswell Hill Johnson’s Applied Eugenics (Macmillan, 1918) is an appalling and unapologetically racist book. In it, the authors suggest that genealogy become the study of heredity and the legacy of traits in a family.  It denies the backdrop of colonialism and slavery to blame peoples of African descent, immigrants and those living in poverty for the conditions that result from exploitation. Conveniently, context does not come into their analysis:  “The historical, social, legal and other aspects of genealogy do not concern the present discussion. We shall discuss only the biological aspect…”[15] Genealogy was seen as the way to accomplish the goal of identifying certain lineages as social problems to be dealt with via policy decisions.

Consider the backdrop for the publication of this text- in 1915, Popenoe  presented his paper on eugenics at the First International Congress of Genealogy, sponsored by the California Genealogical Society and held during the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. That same February that this world’s fair opened, also saw the release of D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation, 3 hours of racist propaganda that fired up the Lost Cause, the KKK and stoked racial violence.  None of this is lost on myself as a colonial subject, a Taino woman of ethnic admixture with a disability, who was elected and happened to be the first POC to become President of the California Genealogical Society just a century later.  I worked with the board to change our motto to “Connecting people to their diverse family heritage.” I imagine Mr. Popenoe is spinning in his grave.

Over three decades, eugenic explanations went over big in the US. The authors pointed to the centrality of genealogy in delivering eugenics as a means to controlling populations ‘scientifically’:

“The science of genealogy will not have full meaning and full value to those who pursue it, unless they bring themselves to look on men and women as organisms subject to the same laws of heredity and variation as other living things. Biologists were not long ago told that it was essential for them to learn to think like genealogists. For the purpose of eugenics, neither science is complete without the other; and we believe that it is not invidious to say that biologists have been quicker to realize this than have genealogists. The Golden Age of genealogy is yet to come.” [16]

Medicine, law, sociology and statistics were seen as the beneficiaries of genealogical information collected at centers in the US. This led to some 60,000 Americans being sterilized in the US between 1907 and the 1970s. [17]

Popenoe’s book offers justifications for segregation, and falls back on phrenology’s racial hierarchies for explanations of inferiority as intrinsic to the body. In terms of the black body, the book conflates the limitations of resources with a lack of progress, noting that “If so, it must be admitted that the Negro is different from the white, but that he is eugenically inferior to the white.”[285]

Depiction of the Casta system in Mexico. Ignacio María Barreda, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18378593

Those who did better on the tests were surmised to have “more white blood in them” and proceeds to determine a racial quantum based on percentages as did Thomas Jefferson in his Notes on the State of Virginia (1781), and the eighteenth century Casta paintings of Mexico. [288]. You can revisit some of Jefferson’s ideas about African peoples excerpted here .

It follows that Papenoe and Hill Johnson proposed to prohibit interracial marriage, and their chapter on ‘The Color Line’ culminates with recommendations to put this into law as four states did (LA, NV, SD, AL) by 1918, before turning to immigration. [296]

Across the text, begins to appear the familiar language that Nazi Germany put into operation— the idea that the colonizers of North America were of the Nordic race appears on p 301, and proposals for implementing sterilization to stop those  ‘whose offspring would probably be a detriment to race progress.” [185] The plan is to remove people to a colony, tracts of land with large buildings to separate out the unwanted [189] [17]

From Applied Eugenics. Photographs facing p. 192, show the formation of colonies for those deemed unfit. Note most of the adults depicted are people of color.

The idea of separation and segregation was one endorsed by law across the US and funded by various non-profits that discovered ways to ‘elevate’ those with ‘Nordic’ ancestry, while subjecting the poor, infirm, immigrants and people of color to identities and practices such as sterilization that reinforced their subjugation. As historian Edwin Black noted, “California was the epicenter of the eugenics movement” that had “extensive financing by corporate philanthropies, specifically the Carnegie Institution, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Harriman railroad fortune. They were all in league with the some of America’s most respected scientists hailing from such prestigious universities as Stanford, Yale, Harvard and Princeton.”

Charities were paid to seek out immigrants in “crowded cities and subject them to deportation, trumped up confinement or forced sterilization.” The Rockefeller Foundation even funded a program that Josef Mengele worked in before he went on to Auschwitz. It comes as no surprise then, that such organizations propagandized for the Nazis, and funded them in Germany. If one fell beyond the gentrified genetic lines such as those persons who worked, researched and enabled the legal structures of these programs, those deemed weak or unfit were subject to extraction.

In August 1934, California eugenicists arranged for a Nazi scientific exhibit to be shown at the LA County Museum as part of the Annual Meeting of the American Public Health Association.[18] Such exhibits legitimized what circulated in American popular culture through the 1920s and 1930s at state fairs and even world fairs.[19]  Similar ideas are circulating today within Far Right channels and from members of the US Government today; internationally, we see the growth of this ideology spread within sites of settler colonialism.

Eugenics hit its nadir within a decade through its association with Nazi Germany, and later testimony at the Nuremberg trials, where human rights abuses carried out as eugenics programs were claimed to be little different than the US. [20]  What is problematic is that wherever such programs are employed, the criteria of selection are determined by whatever group is in political power. [21]

It is precisely this history that the field of genealogy has to recover from.

Conclusion

As a field, genealogical practice has expanded beyond the accumulation of facts and details to encompass the social histories of those overlooked or at risk of falling into obscurity. Cemeteries are being restored and along with that, the local histories of suppressed, exiled or earlier occupants of towns and cities are coming into visibility- and let us include and embrace our diasporic connections and activities within this circle.

Documentaries, podcast series like those of Angela Walton-Raji’s African Roots podcast and Bernice Bennett’s Research at the National Archives and Beyond help to disseminate new information, findings and work through social media channels. These sources have reached audiences well beyond the journal publications of various genealogical and historical societies.

There is an opening up towards acknowledgement of past harms done to various communities, that acknowledge pain while transforming it into knowledge and sites where people can come to the table and support each other in unpacking the past. This is not a kumbaya moment, but one where the aftermath of enslavement and its social and institutional reach into the present can be faced.

DNA adds another dimension, revealing past relationships that range from the coercive to the consensual that happened, and when augmented by oral history and documents, the process literally brings into visibility parts of ourselves through enslaved ancestors, free and freed people and slave holders. There are many of us who seek the receipts that establish this more contentious family history, fraught with scars and triumphs, that confirms and grounds a movement toward freedom and self determination.

The fears of the last century about the reach of one book that captured the imagination of millions as a faulty model for genealogical research were ultimately unfounded. After Haley’s book was published and the program series Roots aired, “letters of inquiry and applications to use the National Archives rose 40%.[22] General interest in genealogy continues, as it offers a path to situate personal history in the larger context of national history, and to continuing education.

Recently, course offerings for genealogists are focused on writing family histories, and now, genealogical societies are taking it one step further and offering seminars on writing historical fiction based on family history. What the Abolitionist movement of the nineteenth century knew was that an audience had to hear not just facts, but a narrative, conveyed by a powerful voice or on the page, and if possible, to offer visual proof through photographs— all media used to convey their urgent message.

Ultimately, our task is to make visible and thereby end the historical erasure of difference (ethnic, race, gender, class) in the historical and genealogical record, and thereby honor those who came before us, our ancestors and their struggles.

References

1.    BlackProGen LIVE, 11 October 2016. Ep.20b Talks Diversity in Genealogy and Family HIstory. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G1Z7Anc4Fj8&t=2s
2.    Nicka Smith, “The Problem of the Color Line”, Who is Nicka Smith?.com http://www.whoisnickasmith.com/genealogy/the-problem-of-the-color-line/
3.    Elizabeth Shown Mills and Gary B. Mills. “The Genealogist’s Assessment of Alex Haley’s Roots.” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 72 (March 1984): 35–49. 35-36. Digital image. Elizabeth Shown Mills, Historic Pathways. http://www.HistoricPathways.com : [9 Oct 2016].
4.    “Although some Americans have been conditioned to superimpose racial divisions upon almost all aspects of life, such academic distinctions cannot exist in the science of genealogy.
It is true, at the same time, that certain procedures in the pursuit of black genealogy do differ from those in the pursuit of English genealogy, that the pursuit of ancestral research among white Creoles of Louisiana is different from that among the Pilgrims of Massachusetts, that research in Virginia differs from research in Tennessee, that research on black families in Alabama differs from that on black families in New York.” Elizabeth Shown Mills and Gary B. Mills. “The Genealogist’s Assessment of Alex Haley’s Roots.” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 72 (March 1984): 35–49. 35-36. Digital image. Elizabeth Shown Mills, Historic Pathways. http://www.HistoricPathways.com : [9 Oct 2016]
5.    Gary B. and Elizabeth Shown Mills, “ROOTS and the New ‘Faction’ a Legitimate Tool for Clio?.” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 89:1, Jan 1981, 4. Digital image. Elizabeth Shown Mills, Historic Pathways. http://www.HistoricPathways.com : 15 Oct 2016.

6.    “The structural racism lens allows us to see more clearly how our nation’s core values— and the public policies and institutional practices that are built on them — perpetuate social stratifications and outcomes that all too often reflect racial group sorting rather than individual merit and effort. The structural racism lens allows us to see and understand: the racist legacy of our past; how racism persists in our national policies, institutional practices and cultural representations; how racism is transmitted and either amplified or mitigated through public, private and community institutions; how individuals internalize and respond to racist structures. The structural racism lens allows us to see that, as a society, we more or less take for granted a context of white leadership, dominance and privilege.” The Aspen Institute Roundtable on Community Change, Structural Racism and Community Building. June 2004, 12. https://assets.aspeninstitute.org/content/uploads/files/content/docs/rcc/aspen_structural_racism2.pdf Accessed 9 Oct 2016.

7.    See the steps and bibliography for James Ison’s syllabus “Using the Genealogical Proof Standard for African American Research” presented at two national conferences in 2010 https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/Using_the_Genealogical_Proof_Standard_for_African_American_Research  Accessed 15 Oct 2016
8.    Edmund Morgan quoted in Israel Spencer, NYT, 10 Apr 1977; in Mills, “ROOTS and the New ‘Faction’, 4.
9.    Alex Haley, quoted in Nancy Arnetz, “From His Story to Our Story: A Review of “Roots”. Journal of Negro Education, 46:3, Summer 1977, 367-372. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2966780, 367
10.    Arnetz, “From His Story to Our Story: A Review of “Roots”. Journal of Negro Education, 367-372, 368.
11.    “Without community there is no liberation, only the most vulnerable and temporary armistice between and individual and her oppression. But community must not mean a shedding of our differences or the pathetic premise that these differences do not exist. Those of us who stand outside the circle of this society’s definition of acceptable women; those of us who have been forged in the crucible of difference— those of us who are poor, who are lesbians, who are Black, who are older— know that survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths. For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define the master’s house as their only means of support.” Lorde’s title and her question remain pertinent: “What does it mean when the tools of a racist patriarchy are used to examine the fruits of that same patriarchy?” It is important to note that this seminal essay was written in acknowledgement of the lack of participation of Third World women of color at NYU’s Institute for the Humanities Conference. Audry Lorde, “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Ed. Berkeley Press, 1984. http://muhlenberg.edu/media/contentassets/pdf/campuslife/SDP%20Reading%20Lorde.pdf Accessed 16 Oct 2016.
12.    Consider the development of networks of genealogical organizations AAHGS and institutes, such as MAAGI, the AAHGS’ Afrigeneas.org project, the explosion of genealogical groups on Facebook, and efforts such as the transcription of the Freedmen’s Bank papers on FamilySearch among many others that point to the blossoming of the field. There remains more to be done in terms of acceptance and incorporation of difference for genealogy by POC.
13.    “Structural Racism Produces Racialized Outcomes.” See Chart, Structural Racism and Community Building. The Aspen Institute Roundtable on Community Change. June 2004, p12. https://assets.aspeninstitute.org/content/uploads/files/content/docs/rcc/aspen_structural_racism2.pdf

14.    “Eugenics.” Wikipedia.org  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eugenics Accessed 12 Oct 2016.
15.    Paul Popenoe & Roswell Hill Johnson, Applied Eugenics (Macmillan, 1918) 339. 
https://archive.org/details/appliedeugenics00popeuoft
16.    Christina Kennedy, “Invisible History of the Human Race.” Huffington Post, 5 Jan 2015. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/christine-kenneally/genealogy-eugenics_b_6367344.html? Accessed 11 Oct 2016.
17.    Popenoe & Hill Johnson, Applied Eugenics.
18.    Edwin Black, “The Horrifying American Roots of Nazi Eugenics.” History News Network, Sept, 2003.  http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/1796 Accessed 12 Oct 2016.
19.    Steve Selden, University of Maryland. Eugenics Popularization. http://www.eugenicsarchive.org/html/eugenics/essay_6_fs.html  Accessed 12 Oct 2016.
20.    Black, “The Horrifying American Roots of Nazi Eugenics.”
21.    “Eugenics.” Wikipedia.org
22.    ERIC, “ERIC ED 462329: Discovering our Roots: Making History Meaningful. A Guide for Educators.” 2001. https://archive.org/details/ERIC_ED462329 Accessed 12 Oct 2016.

Resource List: Blogs

Check out the blogs of the professional genealogists and researchers on Black ProGen below:

Bernice Bennett: Research at the National Archives and Beyond   http://www.blogtalkradio.com/bernicebennett

Linda Buggs-Sims: Mississippi Rooted  http://www.mississippirooted.com/

Toni Carrier:  Low Country Africana: African American Genealogy in SC, GA & FL http://www.lowcountryafricana.com/

Shannon Christmas: Through the Trees http://throughthetreesblog.tumblr.com/

Melvin J Collier: Roots Revealed: Viewing African American History Through a Genealogical Lens http://rootsrevealed.blogspot.com/

Vicki Davis-Mitchell: Mariah’s Zepher: An Ancestral Journey through the winds of time planting seeds in Harrison and Grimes County Texas  http://mariahszepher.blogspot.com/

Ellen Fernandez-Sacco: Latino Genealogy and Beyond https://LatinoGenealogyandBeyond.com

Robin R. Foster: Saving Stories: People gathering around family history  http://www.robinsavingstories.com

George Geder:  Geder Writes http://www.gederwrites.com/

True Lewis: Notes to Myself http://mytrueroots.blogspot.com/

Dr. Shelley Murphy: Family Tree Girl https://familytreegirl.com/

Drusilla Pair:  Find Your Folks: A Journal about Family and History http://findyourfolks.blogspot.com/

Renate Yarborough-Sanders: Into the the LIGHT  http://justthinking130.blogspot.com/

Nicka Smith: Who is Nicka Smith? http://whoisnickasmith.com/

Michael J Twitty: Afroculinaria  https://afroculinaria.com/

Teresa Vega: Radiant Roots, Boricua Branches http://radiantrootsboricuabranches.com/

Angela Walton-Raji: African Roots Podcast  http://africanrootspodcast.com/

Monticello
Getting Word Project:  https://www.monticello.org/getting-word

Coming Home with Slave Dwelling Project:  https://www.monticello.org/site/blog-and-community/posts/coming-home-slave-dwelling-project

Podcasts for Genealogists & Family Historians: 1: Uncivil

Uncivil: Episode 10: The Portrait

Sgt. Alexander Chandler, 44th Inf. Reg. Co. F, MI and Silas Chandler, enslaved body servant.

I recently discovered the podcast Uncivil (Gimlet Media) in searching for significant events for discussion on the upcoming episode of Black ProGen Live. Right now, Uncivil consists of 10 episodes so far,  spanning different episodes in nineteenth century US Civil War history The latest show ( Ep. 10 podcast, released 27 December 2017) dealt with the myth of the Black Confederate soldier.

Uncivil is hosted by Chenjerai Kumanyika, author, journalist, and professor of journalism and communications at Rutgers University, and Jack Hitt, a Peabody Award-winning journalist, author and radio producer. The programs intend to bring “stories that were left out of the official history of the Civil War, ransacks America’s past and takes on the history you grew up with.” Indeed, we need these reexaminations, and it’s great to have this material available to think with.

Uncivil, Ep 9: The Portrait (image only)

The trajectory of this particular story followed an arc that began with unpacking of historical knowledge via a young caller to the show, and culminates with the descendants of Silas Chandler (1 Jan 1837-Sept 1919). They discovered their ancestor being discussed in a photograph brought to Antiques Roadshow in 2009.  During the program, the moment to explain enslavement was lost, the myth took over, leading to a division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans placing a metal cross on his grave in Mississippi, and stealing Silas Chandler’s image by reproducing it on various surfaces from t-shirts to films, prints and photos all proclaiming this evidence of participation.

The Weight of Images & Problematic Histories

The photograph is a tintype, and close up, its surface reveals a cracked emulsion with an ornate copper colored metal edge. Notable details are the position of the two men, side by side, visually composed to emphasize their inequality. The younger Andrew Chandler’s hips were elevated to lend height well above Silas, whose seat is tilted back at the hips to make him seem shorter than his slave owner’s. To read Silas’ smile is to read a face weary of waiting for a moment, if not the war and slavery itself, to be over.

Sites that proclaim that they have ‘evidence’ of Black Confederate soldiers, and one features a painting of a Civil War battlefield, no location just a battle scene. Just off center, is a kneeling black man holding the head of a white man wearing the gray uniform of the South. The military serviceman is injured and bleeding into a large handkerchief. It’s white surface creates an area that visually marks and makes central for the viewer, the tableau with a enslaved adult man at the center. He has no arms no gun, no rifle, he simply serves and tends to the white master, an ideological composition that seeks to deny historical reality by providing a romanticized tableau. This same idea was extended to the photograph,  a plain effort to define Silas Chandler as a soldier. He was not.

As Myra Chandler Sampson (Silas Chandler’s great-granddaughter) and Kevin M Levin note, “Interest in Silas’ military career has been fueled by a desire to affirm that Southern blacks were just as eager as whites to fight back against the invaders— an attempt to validate the belief that the war did not ignite over slavery but over predatory Northern acts.” They go on to ask: So what role did Silas really play in the war, and why did he choose to fight for the South—if he actually did? One thing is clear: Ever since the SCV posthumously ‘honored’ Silas, an enslaved body servant who accompanied his white master into service, accounts of black Confederate troops have surged in popularity, with some now claiming that upwards of 100,000 blacks fought willingly in Southern ranks.

While there were  a small number of enslaved black men who served in the Confederacy, but they comprised less than 1% of those who served. A 2015 article in The Root, goes into further details about this controversy. In a nutshell: “How many supported it? No one knows precisely. But by drawing on these scholars and focusing on sources written or published during the war, I estimate that between 3,000 and 6,000 served as Confederate soldiers. Another 100,000 or so blacks, mostly slaves, supported the Confederacy as laborers, servants and teamsters. They built roads, batteries and fortifications; manned munitions factories—essentially did the Confederacy’s dirty work.”  Note that African Americans were unable to enlist in the Confederacy until an order was issued in March 1865, the last month of the war. In contrast, almost 187,000 African Americans  joined the Union Army over the course of the war, with numbers rising for the last two years.

Details That Matter: The move towards freedom

Why does the story matter? Because this was a myth fed to fourth grade children in social studies texts and museum exhibits organized by descendants of the confederacy. There’s potential for these scenarios to be incorporated and disseminated into some family histories and genealogies, effectively casting the shadow of confederate myth over a lineage while declaring a white nationalist identity.

Silas was born into slavery on 1 January 1837 in Virginia and two years later, his slaveholder, Roy Chandler moved him and 39 other enslaved people along with the Chandler family to Palo Alto in Clay County, Mississippi. As an adult, once freed, Silas kept his owner’s surname.

Roy Chandler claimed a land grant after an 1831 treaty that displaced thousands of American Indian peoples in the area, and gave white settlers some 11 million acres of state land. Silas became the body servant to Roy Chandler’s son, Andrew born in 1844. Silas sits alongside Sergeant Andrew Chandler, the white man in uniform in the photograph. Yet the fear of armed black men ran rife through the Confederacy, and they supplied no guns, nor permitted combat roles for African Americans until the final weeks of the war; add the fact that thousands of African Americans were supportive of the North, to the point of escaping to Federal lines, and the desperation to legitimize the myth of participation becomes evident.

Silas weighed his situation, and “likely gained even more freedom of movement when Andrew was wounded and captured at Shiloh in April 1862 and imprisoned… Deemed human property he was legally bound to Andrew.” Although Silas returned and helped his master return home after injuries at the Battle of Chickamauga. Extant correspondence shows Silas’ return would be to his wife and newborn child. Silas served again in 1864, going with Andrew’s younger brother Benjamin, who served in the 9th Mississippi Calvary.

Why Silas Chandler’s Story Matters

Silas Chandler was a carpenter and helped found the first black church, Mount Hermon Baptist Church in West Point, Mississippi. He married Lucy Garvin about 1860, “daughter of a house slave named Polly and an unnamed plantation owner.” They had 12 children, 5 who survived to adulthood, and one son was the great-grandfather of Myra Chandler Sampson.  Silas lived to appear in the 1910 US Federal Census, where a glimpse of the life he built with his wife Lucy can be seen, some nine years before he died. In contrast, Palo Alto, MI, where he first lived in bondage, became a ghost town.  It’s worth noting that the Wikipedia article on Palo Alto mentions that “In 1876, Palo Alto was the site of an incident in which a group of heavily armed white men brought a piece of field artillery and broke up a meeting of the Republican Club in order to suppress black voters.” This is just one of myriad examples of retaliation committed against people of African descent  that numerous whites committed after Reconstruction and the passage of ‘black codes’ in 1865 and 1866.  Despite their efforts, Silas Chandler raised his family and contributed to his community.

Silas Chandler & family, West Point Ward 2, Clay, MI, US Federal Census 1910. Lines 93-99.
Silas Chandler & family US Census 1910, detail.

What I appreciate about the Uncivil podcast is the content, and the website’s clear layout and availability of transcripts, allowing one to easily search for subjects. As an adjunct to genealogical study, it helps bring to the table some of the issues that POC genealogists and their families face when working on family lines that head straight into terrain already complicated by locating material. Understanding documentary context helps with document analysis, and depending on one’s location, its easy to see how details can be used and misused to serve very different needs. Hearing voices waver, be insistent, vulnerable or firm, reminds one that this history still matters enormously. The events in Charlottesville last summer speaks to the urgency of projects that seek to unpack the historical pain and experience of those populations born or taken into slavery who made this country possible from its inception, and this foundational fact can no longer be ignored. We are still navigating this past.

In this case, the attempt to hijack family history for an ideological purpose was foiled, precisely because these descendants pressed on to tell their stories, writing, broadcasting and, Myra Chandler Sampson continues to speak truth to power. May we all find the strength to bring our ancestors into the light.

References

“The Portrait.” 27 Dec 2017. Uncivil Gimlet Media. Podcast. http://uncivil.show/

“Silas Chandler.” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silas_Chandler Accessed 8 Jan 2018.

Myra Chandler Sampson and Kevin M Levin, “The Loyalty of Silas Chandler.” Civil War Times, Feb 2012, 30-35. https://www.academia.edu/5196718/The_Loyalty_of_Silas_Chandler  Accessed 5 Jan 2018.

“Yes There Were Black Confederates. Here’s Why.” The Root, 20 Jan 2015.  https://www.theroot.com/yes-there-were-black-confederates-here-s-why-1790858546 Accessed 8 Jan 2018.

“Military History of African Americans in the American Civil War.” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_history_of_African_Americans_in_the_American_Civil_War Accessed 8 Jan 2018.

“United States Census, 1910,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33S7-9RVX-DC?cc=1727033&wc=QZZW-XXL%3A133641901%2C134134901%2C135097501%2C1589089008 : 24 June 2017), Mississippi > Clay > West Point Ward 2 > ED 67 > image 10 of 10; citing NARA microfilm publication T624 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).

“Palo Alto, Mississippi.” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palo_Alto,_Mississippi Accessed 8 Jan 2018.

“Reconstruction.” https://www.nps.gov/civilwar/reconstruction.htm Accessed 8 Jan 2018.

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

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

Yams & communities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Digging the Roots in Moca

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

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

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

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

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

Cook it!

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

Wild Yams & Other Naming Practices

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

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

What’s in a name?

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

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

A bitter reality: sugar production & slavery

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

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

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

Increased numbers: Legal & illegal business, Dicey documents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resistance and Retaliation: Toa Baja, 1843

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

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

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

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

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

The death penalty in Puerto Rico, 1843

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

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

They were sentenced on the 18 May 1843.

Among the Longoba were:

Bembe (baptized Cornelio)

Enrique Longoba

Casimiro

Luis

Pedro

Lucas

and others from the hacienda owned by Francisco Cantero.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The family who owned Longoba people

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

Merging of powers

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

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

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

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

Uncertainty & instability: marriage, alliances, uprisings

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

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

Edge note on Hernandez-Pasalaqua marriage, F57v 1833

The text of the edge note says:

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

[firma]  Marrero

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hardened beliefs versus flexible realities, denial versus possibility

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

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

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

From Rios Plantation:

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

From Quinlan’s Plantation
Francisco
Juaquin
Francisco

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

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

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

Calling their names- Restoring the visibility of resistance

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

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

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

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

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

Enslaved workers unloading ice in Cuba, 1832

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

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

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

Map of Perico within Matanzas Province. Wikipedia.

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

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

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

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

Ruins of Hacienda Santa Elena, built ca 1790.  Rt.165, Toa Baja, P.R. Wikipedia
“Hacienda Santa Elena, Toa Baja, P.R.” Ferreras Pagán, José: Biografía de la Riquezas de Puerto Rico Riqueza Azucarera, 2 tomos, San Juan, s.e., 1909. 1:17.

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

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

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

Worlds in a bodega

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

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

Listen.

References

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

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

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

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

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

[6]  Baralt, Slave Revolts in Puerto Rico 60

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[16] Baralt, 90

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

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

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

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

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

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