What are the origins of the Ubiles families of Barrio Mabu, Humacao? This post is part of a larger project that explores the lives of ancestors who lived centuries before in Northeast Puerto Rico. As a genealogist, this was an opportunity to delve into the ancestry of Marie Ubiles, and share more about what documents hold about her ancestors, Juan Lorenzo Ubides Rodriguez and Petrona de la Cruz Amaro. First I needed to explore who were among those who held the surname during the late seventeenth-early eighteenth century in Northwest Puerto Rico. Here is the first chapter of the project.
The locations for the Ubiles family clusters extend across the Northeast by the early eighteenth century.
In Puerto Rico, the surname Ubiles begins with Capt. Miguel Joseph de Ubides y Espinosa, born in 1699 in Puerto de Santa Maria, Cadiz. Son of Juan de Ubides and Ysabel Calderon, it is unclear as to whether his parents came to the island at all. Miguel de Ubides was once a partner and then an enemy of Capitan Miguel Enriquez, the privateer who rapidly ascended San Juan’s social caste, only to be turned upon later. Both Enriquez and Ubides’ were enslavers and slave traders, and here lies the origin of the Ubides of color. Over time, the spelling of those once enslaved changed.
Capt. Miguel de Ubides married Cecilia Sanchez Araujo on 8 July 1720 in the Cathedral de San Juan, and they had at least four children. One reached adulthood, Juan Manuel Ubides Araujo born in July 17341. Unlike many dwellers of the time in San Juan, Ubides lived in a two-story building. It was described by historian Angel Lopez Cantos, and based on a July 1725 inventory of de Ubides’ embargoed property:
Y la casa de fiel ejecutor del cabildo de San Juan, Miguel de Ubides, tambien era de dos plantas. En la anterior había una ‘sala’ que ocupaban mitad del espacio y la otra un ‘aposento’ y una ‘despensa’. Abajo solo había un habitación que servia de tienda y el postal. El hueco de la escalera lo habían tapiado y hacia las veces de ‘almacén2’.
And the home of the faithful executor of the cabildo of San Juan, Miguel de Ubides, was of two floors. In the rear was a large hall that took up half the space, another chamber and a pantry. Below there was a bedroom that served as a store and the post office. The space underneath the stairs was closed off and at times, served as a warehouse.
This lends an idea of the kinds of property and labor that de Ubides used in his business—there would be a need for domestics, cooks, storekeeper, clerk, and porters, all roles that could be done with enslaved workers. This knowledge also represented a route to freedom in early San Juan, if one were able to arrange buying it. To know these aspects of how to run a business oneself meant one could openly support their own families once out of bondage.
The sixteenth – seventeenth centuries were a time of smuggling in the Caribbean, as Spain paid more attention to the development of silver mining in the Yucatan and its other colonies. As a result, Puerto Rico was a hotbed of smuggling activity that connected merchants to Curacao, Venezuela and other islands . The ships and cargoes taken as prizes by Spanish and Spanish American merchants were sold in the British West Indies. [See Cromwell 2018]
Miguel de Ubides was involved with Captain Miguel Enriquez, the privateer hired by the Spanish government. Eventually, Enriquez was turned against by the elite of San Juan, disturbed by his rapid social climb and business expansion. Another reason they resented him was that Enriquez was the grandchild of an enslaved woman from Angola, and in a world where the proximity to Europe was paramount, he did not fit in. de Ubides was among those who pitted themselves against Enriquez, and he also suffered the embargo of his property not long after. The larger question is how much of their business was involved with the slave trade. Lopez Cantos suggests that Enriquez’ holdings numbered over 200, including those enslaved who worked plantations. There is only a trace of people held by de Ubides and Enriquez in surviving parish records.
Enslaved Persons Held by Miguel de Ubides
The earliest mention of enslaved Ubides is in the pages of the extant books for Nuestra Senora de los Remedios in Viejo San Juan.
This July 1748 baptism for “Maria Antonia, hija de Antonia, morena esclava de Dn. Miguel de Ubides. Padrino, Joseph Manuel Carrillo3” is among the few documents for the enslaved persons held by Ubides. Antonia’s age is not noted, and she may be anywhere between 12 to 45 years of age, probably born in Puerto Rico.
Maria, a Black woman enslaved by Miguel de Ubides in 1738 gave birth to Joseph, who was baptized on 26 October 1738, and Manuel de Jesus served as his godparent. This entry illustrates how ‘new property’ was registered through parish records. Additional documentation for Maria and Joseph may no longer be extant.
When Joseph Antonio, a formerly enslaved man from St Thomas was baptized on 17 January 1739, Dn. Miguel de Ubides served as his godfather5. Joseph Antonio, a freedman, was baptized together with Antonia, an enslaved woman held by Capitan Andres Antonio. Joseph Antonio’s conversion to Catholicism was an assurance to the Spanish crown of his loyalty . What is unusual in this record is that two men brought two persons to be baptized, one who liberated himself from a British colony and the other, an enslaved woman. Why the double baptism? Were they a couple? There is no additional information to go on. Apparently, Joseph Antonio took the surname of his padrino after 1739- and is the same Joseph Antonio Ubides who dies in May 1770, married to Ana Lerey.
Several people of African descent carried the de Ubides surname in early-mid eighteenth century San Juan. As documentation is scarce, there is evidence of them in parish records. There are several clusters of this surname with a connection by name or association.
How many enslaved persons were held by Capt. Miguel de Ubides is unknown. Given that his property (like Enriquez) was impounded, an inventory was made of his holdings. It is possible that enslaved people appear on these pages, either as a numeric count, or perhaps, a named list. Protocolos from this time period for San Juan are unfortunately, not extant.
If you’re from one of the Ubiles family communities, I hope you’ll share your story.
5. Joseph Antonio, Acta de Bautismo 1739″Puerto Rico, registros parroquiales, 1645-1969″, database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:6DBL-YF8Z : 15 December 2021), Joseph Antonio Miguel de Ubides in entry for MM9.1.1/6DBL-YF8C:, 1739.
6. Did Joseph Antonio Ubides serve in the military, as many free Black men did in Cangrejos? See: David M Stark, “Rescued from their Invisibility: The Afro-Puerto Ricans of Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century San Mateo de Cangrejos, Puerto Rico.” The Americas 63:4 (Apr 2007), 551-586.
Two decades ago, I was in the Special Collections of U InterAmericana looking at their Herman Reichard Collection, where I photographed historian Eduardo Neumann Gandia’sResena historica sobre la fundacion y crecimiento del municipio de Moca of 1910. Despite the homemade cover, this was one publication of at least two tracts by Neumann Gandia that served to circulate a brief history of a municipality.
Eduardo Neumann Gandia (1852-1913)
It’s a brief 11 pages, taken from a larger work as can be seen from the numbered pages 79-90. There’s no mention of what the original text was. Nor do can we tell the entire volume was by a single author, or if it was a collection that includes multiple municipalities. He published his two volumes of Benefactores y hombres notables de Puerto-Rico: bocetos biográficos-críticos con un estudio sobre nuestros gobernadores generales, in 1896 and 1899, which contained mini-biographies of figures in government and business.
Herman Reichard Esteves (1910-2005), who preserved this pamphlet and other archival materials, was a librarian and professor based in Aguadilla. He was an avid genealogist whose work continues to inform many today, and which Dra. Haydee Reichard is making available through the Archivo Digital Nacional de Puerto Rico ADNPR.net. I made photographs of Neumann Gandia’s work, and (over 110 years later) ran it through an OCR program to make a PDF from the images.
You can download the pamphlet from the link at the bottom of the page.
1972: Historia de Moca 1772-1972
This text was the basis for the 1972 bicentennial publication, Historia de Moca 1772-1972, produced by Sociedad Civico-Cultural Pro-Conmemoracion del Bicentenario de Moca, Inc. Published by the Dept de Instruccion Publica, Estado Libre Associado de Puerto Rico, both organizations spoke to a particular moment of identification on local and state level, and a recognition of a shared history that extends to the eighteenth century.
There is no mention of the fact that Moca is an indigenous name, nor of any survival in these pages. Additional information builds out Neumann Gandia’s brief history and benefits from photographs of the location and personages, as for the biography of the educator Adolfo Emeterio Babilonia Quinones (1841-1884). He married into the Yturrino family, whom i’ve written of in a previous post.
Cover, Historia de Moca 1772-1972. Edición bicentenario. Collection of the author.
Cultural Memory, ancestors & what gets overlooked…
The purpose of Neumann Gandia’s text and its later iterations was on the importance of a cultural memory. These local histories can be crucial for creating the microhistories of our ancestors on different parts of the island. This is not the same as a building a romanticized story of the past. Instead the intent is to write to reflect the struggle to live, have families or not, to stay or to go, to become part of groups that yielded forms of support, or produced a variety of creative expressions.
The 1972 book devoted two pages to mentions of enslavement: La Esclavitud Negra:(breves anotaciones) en Moca. There are a couple of paragraphs detailing the presence of enslaved people in Moca since its founding. Quoted is the 1945 interview by Luis M. Diaz Soler in Historia de la esclavitud negra en Puerto Rico. This excerpt acknowledges the experiences of Leoncia Lasalle and her daughter Juana Rodriguez Lasalle under bondage. Looking back at Resena, for early Puerto Rico, Neumann Gandia simply elides the topic (save for the statistics) yet the system of enslavement permeates the economic activity of the era he describes, the 1840s on.
Neumann Gandia, Resena historica de sobre la fundacion y crecimiento del municipio de Moca Page 82
Neumann Gandia’s Moca of the 1840s, p.82
“…Así se vivía en aquella época patriarcal y primitiva desprovista de ideales, aspiraciones y huérfana de comodidades, donde no habia a sola escuela en todo el partido. Pocos sabían leer y menos escribir, pero había suma honradez en las compra-ventas y contratos. Se vivía como en familia y las viandas que faltaban en una casa se suministraban por los vecinos reciprocamente. Los compadres se estimaban como si fuesen hermanos, y todos los habitantes del partido se estimaban entre si con gran afecto y consideraciones. No existían escrituras públicas y según cuenta la tradición oral que se ha trasmitido hasta nuestros días, de padres á hijos al finalizar los contratos bervales, se arrancaban mútuamente un cabello de la cabeza, en señal de su cumplimiento, y rara vez, ó casi nunca, dejaban de llevarse á cabo sus pactos los cuales cumplían con religiosidad. Pocas demandas ó ningunas se interponían y eran raros los asesinatos y desconocidos por completo el robo y el pillaje en esta comarca, así como en toda la isla. Eran estos vecinos muy católicos y a veces muy superticiosos. A la entrada de sus casas ó en los bateyes de las mismas, levantaban el signo de redención, ó sea cruces de madera, y rezaban diariamente el rosario, como su oración favorita. vestían con camisa de listado, pantalón de coleta y sombrero de paja, é iban enteramente descalzos. Sobre todo, sentían gran placer por los bailes fandan-gos, celebrando muchas fiestas por Navidad, Año Nuevo y Reyes, que duraban semanas enteras y distribuían pasteles, almojábanas, alfajores, majarete, manjar blanco, mundo nuevo y otros dulces criollos, así como licores y refrescos á la gente que á ellas concurrian. El carácter alegre y jovial de los pobladores, originarios, los más, del medio día de España, prevalecía entre estos vecinos.“
“That is how life was in that patriarchal and primitive time devoid of ideals, aspirations and orphaned of accommodation, where there was not a single school in the entire region Few knew how to read and even less how to write, but there was honesty in sales and contracts. One lived as family and the vegetables that one household lacked was taken care of by the locals reciprocity. Godfathers treated each other as if they were brothers, and all the inhabitants of the area regarded each other with great affection and considerations. There were no public documents and after oral tradition that has been transmitted to the present, of fathers and sons finalizing their verbal contracts, each would pull a hair from the other’s head as a sign of fulfillment, and rarely, or almost never, left from taking to completion their pacts, which they accomplished religiously. Few demands or none were and rarely were there murders or unknowns who robbed and pillaged in this county as in the rest of the island. These inhabitants were very Catholic and very superstitious. At the entry of their homes or in the bateyes of the same, they raised the sign of redemption, that is to say, wooden crosses and daily recited the rosary as their favorite prayer. They dressed with striped shirts, canvas pants , a straw hat and went entirely barefoot. Above all they were greatly pleased by the fandango dances, celebrated many parties through Christmas, New Years and All Kings Day, that lasted entire weeks, and distributed pasteles, “almojábanas, alfajores, majarete, manjar blanco, mundo nuevo” and other local sweets, along with liquor and refreshments to those to whom they agreed with. The happy and jovial character of the original founders, more from the middle age of Spain prevails among these locals…”
Neumann Gandia lays out a different world for the early nineteenth century. His was not an inclusive history, and the only cultural source recognized is European. AfroIndigenous or African cultural survivals or influences are not mentioned. This was instead a peasant society composed of a superstitious and illiterate populace prone to violence, whose ‘happy character’ is simply an expression of early Spanish culture. Look at those numbers though on p.82. Taking the categories of free and unfree together, the 2,299 BIPOC population is significant yet has no role in the historical scenario he sketched above.
The fact is that the island was a process of settler colonial society, with a system that required violence and the use of force to control the enslaved and sharecroppers ‘of various colors’ within a stratified society. Born in 1852, slavery shaped Neumann Gandia’s world. Freedpeople were very much around in 1910, and the process of emancipation terminated in 1886. Also interesting is that Neumann Gandia’s collection of Taino bird effigy bowls was purchased by Jesse Walter Fewkes. This remains for us to discuss in understanding our ancestors lives today and their world.
The best history of Moca is Antonio Nieves Morales’ Moca 1772-2000: Historia de un pueblo (Lulu.com, 2008). Nieves Mendez’ work is groundbreaking as a full history, one that includes tables listing enslavers and the enslaved, and his own connection to this past, via his family history.
Miguel A. Babilonia Talavera, Alcalde de Moca
Lost is the original cover and the introduction to the section on Moca, a message by the mayor, Miguel A. Babilonia Talavera (1867-1947) who became Alcalde in 1899, and again from 1905-1910. He is my great uncle, brother to my great grandfather Ambrosio Alcides Babilonia Talavera (1860-1951), who I knew from my mother’s recollections of her childhood there.
He served as mayor after the annexation of Moca from Aguadilla took place in 1905. On pages 50-51, the 1972 Historia de Moca volume reproduces part of page 79 from the Neumann Gandia pamphlet as “Don Miguel A. Babilonia se despide de sus conciudadanos” written in December 1910.
I want to express my deep thanks to all the members of the Babilonia family and their descendants, and members of SAMocanos for sharing their information and photographs with me over the years. I especially want to thank my cousin Gaspar Babilonia, for sharing his collection of his grandfather’s photographs.
Now digitized images of ancestors and their communities populate a variety of places on social media, another way that descendants can connect to their past. Neumann Gandia’s work is but one expression of this from over a century ago.
In working with the histories of enslaved ancestors, one comes to the questions of survival and resilience in the face of all that bondage could entail. The mid-nineteenth century world of a rural hacienda in Puerto Rico where a young African woman is enslaved, is recreated in the pages of Dalma Llanos Figueroa’s 2022 novel, A Woman of Endurance.
It is an incredibly moving book that takes one through moments in her life, the episodes of violence and trauma, of learning, caretaking and trusting in a world hostile to recognizing the full humanity of the labor that built it. There is the potential for violence at every turn.
We glimpse the lives of the women who are working for the big house in different capacities, and Pola makes a transition from working the fields to the sewing room. This and other events ripple through the groups whose lives are not under their own control. Through the figure of Pola, there is healing. Community and love, however vulnerable it may make a situation, is what helps one survive.
The story of Pola takes us through an experience that replicates the experiences of many enslaved women. In Yorubaland, West Africa in 1831, Keera, a very young woman comes to know of her power from her mother. After surviving the Middle Passage and assaults, we come to know her as Pola, with this brief glimpse of life before capture and enslavement in a flashback. The vision comes while she recovers in another hacienda.
Llanos-Figueroa recreates this world vividly, with descriptions of situations that do not shy from the violence of losing children, or finding love and understanding in the middle of a forced labor camp.
Note the cover art, a woman in a silk dress with a pattern on her back that echos the pattern of scars on the back of a painting of Gordon, who served as a Sargent in the Louisiana Native Guards during the Civil War. The painting is based on the cabinet card photo where he reveals his back, and the arrangement of painting, flowers, beads and symbols suggest this is an altar that honors Gordon’s experiences as an ancestor. The fabric of a life.
This is one of the most incredible novels i’ve read, and on my list of key texts for our times.
Available in Spanish as Indomitable. Amistad Publishing.
Last night, Nicka Smith & True Lewis hosted a panel for Special Episode of Black ProGen Live History Unscripted on reparations for African American communities in the US. Among the panelists were Dr. Shelley Murphy, Andre Ferrell, Ressie Luck-Brimmer, myself, with Teresa Vega, and Robyn Murphy Walker.
A lot has happened over the past five years that is beginning to yield redress for some. However, when the enormity of enslavement, its permutations and contemporary manifestations bear down on family histories, it’s on a collision course with producing documentation to establish identity for a reparations program.
These programs are growing, as are calls for the acknowledgement of harm across a constellation of institutions. Descendants will find genealogical skills key for navigating and reconstructing their family histories in locations across the country. A good part of what we talked about were some of the unforeseen limitations and the fraught emotions a process for engaging reparations can bring up. As True Lewis said, “Think about your family what can you do – as family historians – do to prepare our community and families for what’s to come?”
Those Black ProGen playlists are going to come in handy.
Documentary by Erika Alexander and Whitney Dow on the passage of tax funded reparations program in Evanston, IL. This begins to give an idea of how long this struggle has taken in regard to the passage of H.R. 40, and how this process unfolded in one city despite the pandemic.
In my recent blog post Yturrino: Looking at a collateral line, I had questions about what kind of business Felipe Iturrino Arzua (1811 -1894) of Anasco was in. While I was able to follow some notary documents that described a string of land purchases in different municipalities, it really wasn’t clear what he had invested in.
These land purchases now make more sense after finding him listed in the 1872 Registro de Esclavos. Yvonne Santana Rios’ transcription of Anasco and Cabo Rojo portions of the 1872 volume led me back to searching the FamilySearch database ‘Slave Registers, Puerto Rico, 1863 – 1879 ‘. I still have no name for the hacienda that these individuals worked, and know more or less where it was located, in barrio Cerro Gordo, Anasco. Yturrino and his family lived in barrio Corcobada to the east of Cerro Gordo, and later in a house in barrio Pueblo.
In barrio Cerro Gordo, Anasco, Yturrino enslaved over 20 people, whose cedulas are receipts for the transfer of ownership from the individual slave holders to the colonial government, and they received 120 pesetas per document. The status change to libertos (freedmen or freedwomen) meant rights were established over time.
According to the terms of the Moret Law, these men, women and children entered a contract to work for their former enslavers or for a different plantation owner. They received no pay, but their freedom at the end of three years. For the youngest, this process of manumission lasted until 1886.
Labor: de Esclava/o a Liberta/o
There were a range of tasks, however few were dependent on women becoming domestics in elite households, or took in laundry, or were dress makers. The majority of enslaved women worked as Labradoras, field laborers alongside men. This ran contrary to the ideal of an enslaved person that circulated in prints and paintings, often depicted as male. Men worked as cooks, carpenters and mostly as field laborers in the sugar centrales that grew after the Spanish American war, and women’s labor shifted to the domestic.
While the categories for labor in the documents for the Registro de Esclavos are few, these do not give a precise idea of the range of tasks that a person had, nor how expert they had become. Cerro Gordo was elevated land, better suited for coffee cultivation, and this is likely the crop that Yturrino’s enslaved workers were raising. Given the patterns of inheritance, there is a high probability that the Hacienda de Iturrino in the 1893 Military Map for Anasco to San Sebastian is the same location as in 1870, situated near the streams in the hills that ran between Anasco and Moca.
Say Their Names: Enslaved families, children, locations
Below is a list of 20 persons listed on cedulas from 1868 on which D. Felipe Yturrino y Arzua appears as dueno (owner). The oldest was Agustin an 80 year old man born in Africa; the youngest was 2 year old Josefa, born in Cerro Gordo, one of the children of Evangelista and Vicenta. Nearly half of those enslaved were children.
The few families I could trace to the Registro Civil opted to take a different surname; not one kept Iturrino as a surname. Some moved to Mayaguez in the years that followed. With the collapse of coffee prices after the 1870s, sugar plantations soon dominated the landscape.
Should these names be familiar to you, please feel free to reach out.
Juan Jose Carrillo & Antonia Maria Figueredo Santana: 6th GGPs
I’m still reeling. This was a momentous week in more ways than one. Recently I was compiling a list of African ancestors from the 1870 cedulas, and my cousin Miguel Valentin forwarded some links on FamilySearch for Carrillos in case they might connect.
Then I saw Liza Ceballos’s post on Facebook on Carrillo and in her search on my Carrillo cluster, she collected a couple of posts that happened to be on my line. I couldn’t believe it, my ancestor Simon Carrillo had siblings and now, the names of his parents were in those baptisms. Although I suspected that this line would be the most likely to have a connection to Africa, my DNA percentages were low, and I wondered if i’d ever have a location.
With the name Juan Josef/ Juan Joseph/ Juan Jose Carrillo, I began my search and there was his death certificate– and I was floored. Above is William Snellgrave’s 1734 map of the region of Guinea that my 6th Great Grandfather was taken from made near the time he was born. To have a location identified is so rare, and unexpected since in his children’s records he and his wife are described as ‘morenos libres‘ literally ‘free browns’.
A Free man, a soldier in the Militia, a landowner and farmer in Rio Piedras with a wife and thirteen children. So many questions, so much joy at finding this cluster of family.
En este pueblo de Nuestra Señora del Pilar y en Gloria de San Juan Nepomuceno de Río Piedras a tres de marzo de mil ochocientos y diez años Yo el Beneficiado Don Manuel Marcelino Martínez Cepeda, Presbítero Cura Rector de él por Real Patronato de cepultura eclesiástico en el cementerio de esta Yglesia e hize los oficios de entierro doble con el lia y misa cantadas al cadaver de Juan José Carrillo mis feligreses, natural de Guinea de edad de sesenta y cuatro años poco más o menos, negro libre y soldado cumplido de la Primera Compañía de Milicias Disciplinadas de Infantería que en común de Nuestra Santa Señora madre yglesia murió en su propia estancia Citio de los Ranchos de mi jurisdicción. Donde administran los santos sacraméntales de penetencia en [ ] y extrema unción: otorgó su testamento a estilo militar el diez de febrero del presente año, por ante Dn Francisco Roman subteniente del Regimiento de Milicias Urbanas de esta Ysla en la Compañía de Guaynabo de mancomún con la esposa el cual dispone su entierro de modo dicho con cuatro acompañados, mandado se celebran ocho misas resadas por su alma y las de purgatorio a nuestra señora del Rosario y del Carmen con tres más que fuera del su testamento en cargo de su hijo Joseph Vicente. Declaró había casado y velado en infacie eccles, con María Antonia de Figueredo, morena libre de este matrimonio deja trece hijos nombrados Simón, Juana Hilaria, Ysabel María, María Magdalena, José Vicente, Miguel, Cacimira, Ambrosía, Félix, Theodora, Roberto, Víctorio y Juan a quienes instituyó por ser legítimos herederos y por sus Albaceas su hijo y Victorio Marín su yerno de que doy fe.
Manuel Martínez Cepeda
In this town of Our Lady of Pilar and Glory of Juan Nepomuceno de Rio Piedras on the 3rd of March one thousand eight hundred and ten years I the Incumbent Don Manuel Marcelino Martínez Cepeda, Priest Rector for him by Royal Patronage for ecclesiastic burial in the cemetery of this Church and made double burial services with the [ ] and sung masses for the cadaver of Juan Jose Carrillo of my parish, natural of Guinea of the age of sixty four years more or less, free Black and soldier of the First Company of Disciplined Militias of Infantry. that in common with Our Sacred Mother Church died on his proper farm Place of the Ranches under my jurisdiccion. Where was administered the Holy Sacraments of Penitence and Extreme Unction: He gave his will in military style the tenth of February of this year, before Don Francisco Roman sublieutenant of the Regiment of Urban Milicias of this Island in the Company of Guaynabo jointly with his wife who arranged his burial so said with four accompanying. mandated that eight prayed masses for his soul and for purgatory to Our Lady of the Rosary and of Carmen with three more besides that of his will in charge of his son Joseph Vicente. Declares having married and veiled in presence of the congregation with Maria Antonia de Figuredo, free brown woman: of this marriage leaves thirteen children named Simón, Juana Hilaria, Ysabel María, María Magdalena, José Vicente, Miguel, Cacimira, Ambrosía, Félix, Theodora, Roberto, Víctorio y Juan to whom he instituted as his legitimate heirs and for his Executors, his son and Victorio Marin his son in law that I bear witness.
Manuel Martinez Cepeda
7th GGPs: Francisco Figueredo & Ana Santana
Antonia Maria Figueredo Santana dies at the age of 100 years in San Juan in 1830. Born about 1730, her parents are Francisco Figueredo and Ana Santana. I’m still researching and it seems she had at least one half sibling. Francisco gained his freedom sometime between 1711 and 1713. Records are fragmentary and i’m searching for more information.
For all the damaged and lost records I have seen for Puerto Rico, it is a miracle to learn their names. I want to thank all those who make the search easier, and possible via transcriptions & indexes- Yvonne Santana Rios, Yvette Izquierdo, distributed by Anna Bayala on her site Genealogia Nuestra, FS, the sharing of information in Facebook groups and list-serves, the DNA matches that come to be friends and family. There will be more to come…
I’ve finally submitted the materials, tables and text to accompany Part 3 of the Missing Registro Central de Esclavo volume for Northwest Puerto Rico to Hereditas. This set of transcriptions of cedulas are from Caja 2 (item 2) of 1870. The essay focuses on facets of the lives of 55 enslaved people held by Cristobal Benejam Suria or Serra in 1870, a Menorcan who arrived in Puerto Rico about 1817. Other family members were also enslavers. Several Benejam family clusters are traced from the cedula through the Registro Civil and census records, to reconstruct some of their history.
As it turns out, when I mentioned my project to my cousin, Julio Enrique Rivera, he mentioned that his dad, Julio Ester Rivera (looking very dapper in the photo above) was a Benejan. His great grandfather was Ricardo Benejam Vargas (1848-1924) born into slavery, the child of Maria Antonia Vargas and Pedro Benejam. This is Ricardo’s cedula of 1870.
I am struck by how fragmented some of the resources available are.
Some of the documents i’m looking at:
Municipal Document series – Censo y riqueza de Moca 1850
Cedulas, Registro Central de Esclavos
What I wish there were more of for NWPR: census, contracts, notary documents; basically a database that can help descendants pull these fragments together.
As for books & articles, am rereading Benjamin Nistal-Moret’s “The Social Structure of Slavery in Puerto Rico” (1985). I’d like to use the tables as a model for what I am working on, which is information missing from the numbers he is using. This was “the first time in Puerto Rican historiography, an analysis of this magnitude has been completed with a computer.” He tells an interesting story about locating a missing 1872 Registro Central de Esclavos volume at the Library of Congress, microfilming it and returning it during the summer of 1975. As he did his work in the 1980s, his statistical work was entered onto punch cards of a computer program used in sociology. Which volume it was, Nistal-Moret doesn’t say.
I wonder how much archival material was lost, for instance, after the US returned the series of documents of the Gobernadores Espanoles – T1121 Record Group 186- Records of the Spanish Governors of Puerto Rico (impounded on the terms of the Treaty of Paris in 1898) were transferred to the National Archives in 1943 and returned to Puerto Rico by joint resolution in 1957. The microfilm of the Registro de Esclavos and the Registro Central de Esclavos are part of that huge series, and NARA has a free version at the link above.
What I try to do in this series of articles are mini-histories of persons that appear on the 6 x8″ cedulas. Connecting someone in 1870 to their appearance in the Registro Civil that begins in 1885. The process takes time, as there is no mention of enslavement, save in the surname ‘Liberto.’ Some take different surnames, while many kept their enslaver’s name, or took that of a different owner when sold before 1870.
Some of the descendants of Luisa Benejan born about 1819 appear among the cedulas of Caja 4 of the Registro de Esclavos, while three appear in the Registro Civil. She doesn’t turn up on the Registro Civil. Still, the documents together reconstruct her family.
Also reconstructed are early family trees for Pedro Benejam of Moca, born about 1817 in Moca, and who partnered with Maria Antonia Vargas, who lived until 1902 and lived in Bo. Pueblo, Moca. Among their descendants is where my cousin Julio Enrique Rivera’s line connects. The families created after emancipation were often female headed households, with daughters that worked in the local service economy, and sons in agricultural labor.
We must continue to say their names.
Ricardo, 22, 3531. Caja 4, Registro de Esclavos, 1867-1876. “Puerto Rico Slave Registers, 1863-1879”, database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-CSK3-Z3WY-S?cc=3755445 : 21 October 2021), > image 1 of 1.
Benjamin Nistal Moret, “Problems in the Social Structure of Slavery in Puerto Rico During the Process of Abolition, 1872”. Manuel Moreno Fraginals, Frank Moya Pons & Stanley L. Engerman, eds.Between Slavery and Free Labor: The Spanish Speaking Caribbean in the Nineteenth Century, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University, 1985, 141- 57.
At the end of October, I was searching South Carolina probate records to see whether a Williams may have enslaved some of the ancestors I am helping to search for in Barnwell County.
I transcribed this list of 8 people, ranging from old to young, in hopes this may help someone find their ancestors.
On January 8, 1858, the Williams estate is described as follows: “…estate lying in Barnwell District on the waters of Tobey Creek, bounded on the west by Tobey Creek, on the East by the estate of John Martin, North by BH Brown and South by Joseph Still and Frederick Croft containing seven hundred and ninety five acres …” 8 Jan 1858
“All that I know of my ancestors was told to me by my people.“
The words of William J. Edwards, educator and founder of the Snow Hill Normal and Industrial Institute in Wilcox Alabama, are from his autobiography, Twenty-Five Years in the Black Belt (1919). The book both explains how he received knowledge of his ancestors, and shows what they, and by extension, the Varner and McDuffie families were up against in the nineteenth to twentieth century.
Born in 1869, Edwards was born on the cusp of Reconstruction, and his perspective is firmly turned towards a brighter future of uplift. Given the centrality of oral history to this experience, it is worth reading the opening pages of Chapter 1. Childhood Days, as the Varners and McDuffies shared a similar history:
All that I know of my ancestors was told to me by my people. I learned from my grandfather on my mother’s side that the family came to Alabama from South Carolina. He told me that his mother was owned by the Wrumphs who lived in South Carolina, but his father belonged to another family. For some cause, the Wrumphs decided to move from South Carolina to Alabama; this caused his mother and father to be separated, as his father remained in South Carolina. The new home was near the village of Snow Hill. This must have been in the Thirties when my grandfather was quite a little child. He had no hope of ever seeing his father again, but his father worked at nights and in that way earned enough money to purchase his freedom from his master. So after four or five years he succeeded in buying his own freedom from his master and started out for Alabama. When he arrived at Snow Hill, he found his family, and Mr. Wrumphs at once hired him as a driver. He remained with his family until his death, which occurred during the war. At his death one of his sons, George, was appointed to take his place as driver
As I now remember, my grandfather told me that his mother’s name was Phoebe and that she lived until the close of the war. My grandfather married a woman by the name of Rachael and she belonged to a family by the name of Sigh. His wife’s mother came directly from Africa and spoke the African language. It is said that when she became angry no one could understand what she said. Her owner allowed her to do much as she pleased.
My grandfather had ten children, my mother being the oldest girl. She married my father during the war and, as nearly as I can remember, he told me that it was in 1864. Three children were born to them and I was the youngest; there was a girl and another boy.
I know little of my father’s people, excepting that he repeatedly told me that they came from South Carolina. So it is, that while I can trace my ancestry back to my great-grandparents on my mother’s side, I can learn nothing beyond my grandparents on my father’s side. My grandfather was a local preacher and could read quite well. Just how he obtained this knowledge, I have never been able to learn. He had the confidence and respect of the best white and colored people in the community and sometimes he would journey eight or ten miles to preach. Many times at these meetings there were nearly as many whites as colored people in the audience. He was indeed a grand old man. His name was James and his father’s name was Michael. So after freedom he took the name of James Carmichael.
One of the saddest things about slavery was the separation of families. Very often I come across men who tell me that they were sold from Virginia, South Carolina or North Carolina, and that they had large families in those states. Since their emancipation, many of these have returned to their former states in search of their families, and while some have succeeded in finding them, there are those who have not been able to find any trace of their families and have come back again to die. 
Edward’s account traces the movement of families, their sale and separation across states, the role of faith that was a path for his grandfather becaming a preacher, those who heard the voice of his African great grandmother who spoke an African language and through these traces, he makes the outlines of his community visible. All of these details were handed down via oral history, and made a document through the pages of his 1919 book.
The photo of Uncle Charles Lee standing before his home, supported by two canes, begins to tell of the conditions that Edwards sought to address after attending Tuskeegee and returning to Snow Hill to establish the first institute for Black education in Wilcox. The powers that be had little interest in seeing those who labored in bondage literate, educated and successful. And when they did gain it, threats intensified.
Violence &The Social Landscape of Wilcox County
A barometer of the low regard that people of African descent were held in is evident in this article “Extension of Slavery” from the 1862 issue of The Southern Cultivator, originally published in the Wilmington Journal. It evinces a line of white supremacist readership stretching from the middle to southern states, and the intent to keep the enslaved as a permanent unfree eternally laboring underclass.
What is telling is the absence of a name for the author, which speaks to fears about the power and potential of those fighting for their freedom from bondage. It is also an example of a proto-eugenic logic of an inherent, biological inferiority circulated via print media by the descendants of enslavers and their cohorts that later blossomed in the early twentieth century as eugenics. This reductionism still circulates in the present, as we struggle with 21st century issues of prison abolition and the returning semblance of debt peonage.
In case you can’t read the image:
A correspondent of the Wilmington Journal makes the following prediction: “I am not a prophet, nor am I the son of a prophet, but I now predict that one of the consequences of this war will be, that in three years from the end thereof there will not be a free negro in America; that our institution of slavery will be established on a more firm basis than ever; that the Northern States Rights party will get into power as soon as the elections roll round; the abolitionists will be hunted down like mad dogs, and the whole civilized world will become satisfied the our slaves are in the very condition for which nature designed them. Mark the prediction.”
In 1860, Wilcox County held only 26 ‘free colored’ and 17,797 enslaved people, with 6,795 whites, proportions that cast light on the nature of social and political life before the Civil War. By 1870, the ‘colored’ population increased to 21,610, a 21% increase, yet the white population remained at 6.795. 
Benson Seller’s Slavery in Alabama (1950) while remaining the main study of enslavement in that state, never addresses the humanity or “soul value” of Blacks held in bondage. Instead, the emphasis reflects the concerns with production, so that there are entries such as the following regarding planter James Asbury Tait’s management of overseers and their counsel to them. Violence and terror are the means of control, yet the text is in denial; we know that details of mangled, murdered and lynched bodies are omitted from this volume, instead we hear about ‘efficiency’:
First glimpse: 1866 Alabama State Census of Colored People
Only three generations back, the story of the Varner family that Della McDuffie Varner descends from has its first outlines in the documents issued during Reconstruction. On the Alabama Black Belt, Wilcox County borders Marengo County, and it is there in the 1866 Alabama State Colored Census for Marengo County that three Varners appear: King Varner, Matilde Varner, Haig Varner.
Making it official: Haig Varner & Fannie Varner
Haig Varner (b.ca 1820) and Fannie Varner (b.ca 1825) are Della Varner McDuffie’s great grandparents, the furthest back in the tree we can go at present. What we can’t tell from the data in the 1866 AL state census is how close these Varner families lived, and whether they were family or kin, as this is not spelled out. What is evident is that one to three generations lived across these households, and as this remains stubbornly opaque when compared to later census, now further documentation is needed to flesh out the details as to where exactly they lived in Marengo, who they were enslaved by, and how long they were in Alabama. Information from later census can vary as to origins of parents noted across the Federal census.
The Civil War ended, and the passage of The Civil Rights Bill of 1866 and the ratification of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments offered up citizenship and the start of Reconstruction offered hope for change. Alabama Voter Registration records were created as a result of the Reconstruction Act passed on 23 March 1867. 
Just months later, as a free man, Haig Varner registered to vote in Marengo County in 1867, an arrangement made possible by the presence of Federal troops; King Varner also appears in Volume 13. Other Varners appear in another volume of Alabama voter registrations, with Henry Varner in Volume 11, Alfred Varner and Anthony Varner in Volume 7 .
Beyond the census, the total search results yield 16 Varners in Marengo County Alabama for the 1866 AL Register of Voters on Ancestry.com. The results are actually 8, as the page was shot twice on the microfilm:
Haig and Fannie Varner’s son, Richard ‘Dick’ Varner (1847-1920) took the opportunity to officiate his marriage vows, and have them recognized by the state on 25 March 1867. That they could marry and have their union officially recognized was also made possible by the Federal, rather than state government.
The Will of Samuel Varner, Marengo County, 1848
The names of some of these head of households—, Matilda Varner, Benton Varner also appear in the 1848 will of Samuel Varner, which I transcribed below. 22 enslaved people are listed. I found no appraisal documents online to determine age, but perhaps this post can help descendants locate further information. Another earlier will for John Varner contains the names of a smaller number of those he enslaved. Tharin’s Marengo County Directory for 1861 has three white Varner men living on M’Kinley: Benton Varner, mechanic, Ransom Varner, planter and James Varner “(deaf and dumb)” planter.
Note how the young girl Emely is selected to be an enslaved assistant for Varner’s mute children, so disability is yet another permanently assigned duty. Or were there additional services intended, given Varner’s words at the end of his will: “Should there be an increase in property before my death…”?
Will Record A, F291 Will of Samuel Varner 
Will of Samuel Varner, Decd
In the name of God [ ] I Samuel Varner of the county of Cahaba and the State of Mississippi, considering the certainly of life yet being of sound and perfect mind and memory do make and publish this my last will and testament making all others heretofore made no manner and form following (that is today). First I do give and bequeath to my two daughters Sara Bevel formerly Sarah Varner and Martha Lassater formerly Martha Varner the Sum of $2 each — Second I do give and bequeath to my Sons Joseph Varner, James Varner, John Varner also my said daughter Mahala Varner and Minerva Jane Whitley formerly Minerva Jane Varner the following and all Estate to wit one tract of land [Selnato?] lying and being in the County of Marengo in the State of Alabama, Consisting of one hundred and twenty acres, to wit — adjoining the now named Bevel tract of land which Said land the [Datoso?] road sent through the East corner of the same Also twenty two negroes to wit four negro men Nat. Ransom, Dave and Alfred & the following negro women and children, Emily and her six children to wit: Candis, Caroline, Norton, Emeline, Adaline and Mary Frances Courtney. Matilda and her two children, Levi and an infant girl[;] Fanny and her four children: Allen, Fairchild and Mariah and an infant and Mary and her child Spenser together with all my stock of every manner and description whatsoever with all my farming tools waggons carts plows and every manner of implement or thing needful and necessary for the carrying on the same and all my household and kitchen furniture Saving the beds and furniture with all monies, debts due to me owning in any manner or description whatsoever to have and to hold to my Said Children of the Second Bequest mention to them and items forever Subject to the following hereafter restrictions. I desire that when I depart this life that my remains be buried in a decent and Christian like manner and that all my just debts be paid before a division of my estate, and it is my desire that at my death the negro girl Emely shall belong to my daughter Mahala at her appraised value and shall answer So much to her portions of Said Estate in a final division, and it is my desire ^that Mahala have one bed and furniture and also James and Minerva Jane Whitely take the Same as Specific legacies and not come with a general division— and as my Sons Joseph Varner, James Varner, Mahala Varner are unfortunate being deaf and dumb and it being somewhat doubtful that no law whether they can take by the will. I do hereby constitute, nominate and appoint my son John Varner and my son in law Decator Whitely trustees for them and on their behalf to receive their intended portions of my estate for them & their use and benefit and in case one or both of said trustees should die or refuse to act then it wish that a proper count should be applied to competent to protect them and their property. – It is further my will and request that often deducting Specific Legacies and paying off funeral expenses & debts on a division of said Estate. Should any one depart this life without heirs the portions of said child it is my will should lapse in common to the equally divided will contained in the Second – bequest and it is further my will and request Should my life be Spared by providence and should there be an increase of property before my death, My desire is that it lapse in common to the equally divided with those contained in the Second bequest and in case of one’s death his share to his or her children — And I do lastly appoint John Varner and Decator Whitely Executors of my Estate in this my last will and Testament. Witness my hand and seal the 18 day of July 1848
Signed Samuel (his X) Varner, Seal, Signed Sealed and delivered
The Estate of James Varner, 1827
The earlier 1827 subdivision of “The Estate of James Varner” includes mention of a son also named Benton Varner and several minors. There was a writ for Letters of Administration and Lorian Tibbs, Elizabeth Moon with Wright Moor and Matilda Varner appear as heirs; Martha Lindsay was named as James Varner’s wife.
Four persons enslaved by this Varner family were:
.”.that there are slaves name by Nancy, Ben, Isom and Peter cannot legally be divided and on motion of the Administration it is therefore ordered, by the Court that an order of sale do to sell” 
As additional papers were not included in the court records, and as it is a collection which is not complete, additional documents may exist, dispersed across the Special Collections of colleges and universities. There are two collections that feature Varner family papers, one at James Madison University, and the other, Campbell and Varner family papers at Virginia Military Institute . From the overview and information provided here, perhaps an interested descendant can take it back further through a combination of research and DNA testing.
A call to the libraries can confirm if there is relevant material. For the Varners of VA, while it is said there was no ownership of enslaved people at Stony Man Creek, unlike the remaining areas of the district in 1860. Robert H Moore’s post “Page County’s Appleberry/ Applebury men in the USCT.” notes some 30 men who served in the United States Colored Troops were born in Page County. 
Click on the bold link to see the Finding Aids for each collection:
Varner Family Papers -1774-1933 SC 0129 – Page County, VA James Madison University:
“The Varner family of Page County, Virginia was of German descent, and their name appears as early as 1801 on records of the Antioch Christian Church near Stony Man Creek, Virginia… Despite wide-spread anti-liquor sentiment in the Shenandoah Valley in the nineteenth century, the Varners operated a distillery.”
Campbell and Varner Family papers MS-0282 – Lexington, VA Virginia Military Institute 
“Robert Henry Campbell of Lexington, VA; shoemaker; served with Rockbridge Rifles during Civil War (1861 only); discharged due to illness (tuberculosis); Clerk, Quartermaster and Treasurer at the Virginia Military Institute, 1864-1870; d. 1870, age 28, Lexington, VA.
Charles Van Buren Varner, b. Lexington, VA. 1838; served with Rockbridge Rifles during Civil War; cabinetmaker; carpenter at VMI; d. 1907, Lexington.
The families were related through the marriage of R. Henry’s sister, Augusta, to Charles V. Varner.”
Emanuel Montee McDuffie: from AL to NC
Mrs Della McDuffie’s husband, William ‘Snowball’ McDuffie’s uncle– Emanuel Montee McDuffie — was among the people that left Snow Hill, precisely because of the efforts of William J. Edwards. After graduating from Snow Hill Normal and Industrial Institute, like his mentor, he became Principal of the Normal and Industrial Institute in Laurinberg, North Carolina, where he lived the rest of his life, until his death in 1953. This is not to say he escaped experiencing or knowing the potential violence of Jim Crow. His photo is on the upper left of the group, and appears in William J. Edwards’ Twenty-Five Years in the Black Belt. (1919)
A Change is Gonna Come
I can think of no better way to end than to leave you with Sam Cooke’s A Change is Gonna Come. These posts were written to honor the resilience and the survival of these ancestors, and to help write them back into history. “The arc of history is long but it bends towards justice.”
“…There been times that I thought I couldn’t last for long But now I think I’m able to carry on
It’s been a long, a long time coming But I know a change gon’ come, oh yes it will”
William J. Edwards. Twenty-Five Years in the Black Belt. Electronic Edition, Documenting the American South.
“History”. Alabama 1867 Voter Registration Records Database. http://archives.alabama.gov/voterreg/index.cfm
This morning I sit with the work of Paul Rucker, who manifests the realities behind terminology, and the coercive, body destroying violence that is a part of the legacy of white supremacy. His strategic use of sound and image in a multi-disciplinary performance reanimates imagery to memorialize the nearly 4800 African Americans lynched between 1882-1968. While people from different ethnicities were also lynched, African Americans were disproportionately targeted.
The video begins with his electronic score for revealing the rate of prison building in America, to one a day. Lights begin to appear, color coded to time periods in which areas rapidly spread and merge. This is a parasitic system on the body politic, something that continues to suck lifeblood as the system of penalties keeps removing access to education, housing, food out of reach while providing a captive labor force with wages under $2 an hour. This violence is slow moving, constraining millions of people from the ability to define themselves, their families and their lives. It’s enshrined in the 13th Amendment.
Yet many are unable to grasp just how high the social cost of imprisonment actually is, and that the US holds over 2.1 million people in prison, a disproportionately black population that continues to grow.
As genealogists & family historians, this growth means that working with records of incarceration will become a requirement as we close towards a present where generations are being shaped more by incarceration and deportation than schools, families and communities. And last week, we saw the plans for indefinite incarceration of brown people escaping violence and seeking asylum, and this weekend, people march against the policy, with over 750 locations across the country. That sinking feeling returns, yet knowing we are witnessing another round of the 1870s and 1890s gives me hope that this country can do better than inspire last century’s racist vision of purity. We have been here before.
There’s a close connection to the economy and the logic of targeting the poor as the reason, rather than the structural inequality of wealth produced in the US . The Great Depression was not caused by Americans living in poverty. That the GDP for Puerto Rico is half that of Mississippi, the poorest state in the country, was not caused by the people of Puerto Rico. Let us turn further back.
For hundreds of years, slavery removed or hampered access to equality for millions of people. Colorism (which is with us in myriad forms) then refined that access further. Both are legacies that need to be grappled with in the building of family trees and the acceptance of DNA results. The legal structures that made those issues possible are still present today, and continue to shape inequality. How to tell those stories differs, and different formats help to convey different facets of experience. I want to share the work of artists who communicate a complex story visually, to provide a visceral understanding for difficult historical and contemporary moments.
Rucker’s work transforms the news of lynching into dangling figures that remind us of the human toll, a legacy that cannot be denied or forgotten. Numbers serve to abstract realities , and when humans are represented by numbers, their lives can sink into definitions that render them unremarkable and disposable. We write against this tide.
“…when humans are represented by numbers, their lives can sink into definitions that render them unremarkable and disposable. We write against this tide.”
This ongoing work of restoring humanity to our ancestors continues. QEPD, May they Rest In Peace, may we realize a long term vision for a world with restorative justice. To seek an end to inequality, racial terror and trauma is the task of every generation, just as it is urgently ours today.