On the trail of compassion and wonder: a meditation
Lately, I’ve been pondering how a broader historical framework for the genealogies and family histories can make displacement visible, particularly for identities shaped by the experiences of diaspora and migration.
Shouldn’t we ask questions about how beginnings are constructed? What’s the significance of an origin story? Who gets to tell about the dawning of a deeper historical consciousness among people? For whom does this story matter? Stories are containers for memory, with purpose.
I want to speak to the depth of this experience not because this perspective grants a sense of ‘survival beyond the odds’, but because when one listens to the bits of histories encoded in our stories and in the genes of our ancestors, these experiences can instill both compassion and wonder.
In turn, compassion and wonder feeds the hope of survival, can enable sympathy, free suppressed identities, and through this recognition, foster social change. Our family histories contain worlds within them and perhaps answers that can help us heal in the present.
2. So, how best to convey and define this complexity? There are so many questions to consider when pondering how to proceed. How can we locate and embrace the foundations created by Indigenous ancestors who kept a particular world view embedded in how they lived? Who can guide us on this journey? How do we come to terms when we discover our enslaved ancestors? Of those who were enslavers? Our task is to quilt together the narratives of survival and remember those that came before us.
These ancestries, family histories and narratives are more visible today thanks to technologies of social media and the regeneration of concepts out of these deeper pasts. But more needs to be done to unfold the hidden margins of these narratives and reveal nodes of connections- location, place, time so that you becomes we. We are a constellation of microhistories.
3. For many Puerto Ricans / Borincanos / Tainos who identify as the descendants of pre-European Boriken, already a blend of Native and African peoples, there is a growing recognition of self and community that stands in relief to a backdrop of colonization. Indigenous identity is long denied because many grew up hearing the stories of extinction, then some deemed it an impossibility because it was not 100%. What happened however is Taino people were not gone, not frozen in time and continue to incorporate change in the present. There’s a culture and the question of language, which doesn’t negate a continued presence. This identity undergoes acknowledgement and recognition both on and off the island with the situation exacerbated by the pandemic. There’s a level of acknowledgment rather than a challenge, and communities that confirm continuity, a slow shift over the decades. Growth and regeneration continues.
4. There’s extraction as a process constantly mobilized by different interests across time. Key to destroying the landscape is forgetting our fundamental interconnectedness from the seemingly inert to overtly active lifeforms. One prays for a respite from the machine of capital, from the desire for gold that threatens El Yunque, a tropical rainforest and sacred space for the Taino people. The land everywhere needs to heal and needs its stewards. Historically, assimilation was the order of the day in policy imposed on Puerto Rico, an echo of how the U.S. dealt with the nations contained within its own borders. Assimilation is an old multifaceted story whose journeys can cost us the past, its details trapped in bits of oral history. What are we remembering? What do our ancestors tell us today?
5. The backdrop of change is a constant. It goes from enslavement to industrialization to a globalization that traps and impoverishes many. Today one can begin to lay claim to this heritage while gaining visibility with less certainty of disenfranchisement. And because of technology, we can make connections with others that increases our chances of survival through the progressively larger gatherings that take place across the country. This connection can be an antidote for the historical amnesia that fades with accountability and the remembrance of survival. Can knowledge stop trafficking? Can memory heal? To receive and share their stories, heal and connect is a blessing. What lessons come from the worlds our ancestors inhabited? How are you we?
Abstract: The only slave narrative from Puerto Rico is included in Luis Diaz Soler’s Historia de laesclavitud negra en Puerto Rico (1953; 2002). This article considers this embedded account as part of the literature of slave narratives to address a gap in the literature; this is perhaps due to the account’s singularity and brevity. Beyond this, the other source for understanding the experience of enslaved women in Puerto Rico is through legal and parish documents, generated by a colonial government and church supportive of slavery. As a result, lives under enslavement are quantified statistically, and the lack of oral history or personal accounts hampers understanding of the effects of enslavement from an individual perspective. Documenting such a life comes with its own set of issues, as shown here by demonstrating the limits of various archival resources. There is no one methodology to follow to reconstruct lives and family histories under slavery, an institution designed to prevent the formation of a historical sense of self and agency. Factoring in familial connections makes my own location as a researcher visible, as knowledge is not neutral. Despite its brevity, considering Leoncia Lasalle’s account, and that of her daughter, Juana Rodriguez Lasalle, in terms of its multiple contexts—microhistory, similarities with U.S. and Cuban slave narratives, family histories, and the archive—reveals the constructed nature of the idea of historical knowledge, which also has implications for genealogical practice involved with slavery and life post-emancipation.
Wednesday April 28, 2021 from 7-8PM– Register via the link below
Independent scholar and genealogist Ellen Fernandez-Sacco will discuss Spain’s role in the transatlantic slave trade. She will talk about its connection to her research and how it shapes her family history in Puerto Rico.
Oh, America. The labor, sweat and blood that went into the infrastructure of this country, into its buildings and roads is a history, that for 400 years was presented as someone else’s. All of this effort, excellence, and memory can’t be crammed into the shortest month of the year– nor can it be recounted on one day.
Regardless, we need to honor those that came before us, and one way I can think of is to find those ancestors embedded in the shadows of a suppressed history. It takes time and work to find the details , but it’s so worth it.
As I write this on Juneteenth, I see it as a very different day this year because so many decided to stand over the last month, right after the lynching of George Floyd. His death was a catalyst, a wake up call for the complacency with an investment in death. On Black ProGen, we have talked about the crushing effects of structural racism on BIPOC families, which in turns shapes the documentation that we can access to research the lives of our ancestors.
I was honored to speak the names of Leoncia Lasalle, Dionicia Rodriguez Lasalle, Juan Tomas Gandulla and Tomas Gandulla yesterday on the Juneteenth Celebration held by Black ProGen Live with host Nicka Smith, True A. Lewis, Shelley Murphy, Andre Ferrell and James Morgan III, all bringing knowledge to a lively discussion on different dimensions of what gets folded into Juneteenth, the effort, the freedom and the struggle. It makes one pause how much sitting on knowledge played into this all, how much hiding of violence, how much denial, how much disregard was surmounted in pressing for equality.
Hey- It’s been awhile! The last three months have been full, juggling health, writing & researching several projects. Most recently, we had a great discussion on BPG’s Ep. 106: History Unscripted: Perception is Everything with Regina Jackson, thanks to hosts Nicka Smith and True Lewis, Dr Shelley Murphy & myself. The focus is on perception via three different news articles: image as representative of community, versus image as threat across different contexts- a photo project in a Southern town, the brouhaha over the recent novel, American Dirt and the definition of civil rights activists as the problem by government agencies that should be protecting them.
Check out Ep 106 here:
Regina Johnson, presently Chair of the Oakland Police Commission, talked about ongoing changes in Oakland, California (my former hometown) and her efforts in providing services for Black youth in the face of reduced services and the pressures of gentrification. Working with youth is a context that can open possibilities and facilitate resilience in the face of difficulty, so important for getting through life. History Unscripted aims to spark thought about further dialogues and point to next steps toward change that one can take, so check out past and upcoming episodes!
Another BPG activity is #CREWChat on Twitter- a fun way to share genealogícal tips on a range of films. This month was Glory (1989), on the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment of the USCT, in conjunction with the African American Civil War Museum. Coming next: Imitation of Life (1959) on March 18th, 9PM EST, join in!
I’m working on a series of short blog posts, to help Mr. Orlando Williams find family in time for his Family Reunion coming up in June. Tree Climbing With Mr Williams may help you get through some brick walls and find a connection! I’ll be talking about some of the recent finds that lead to several states: AL, GA, FL, SC & NC. There is so much history in this tree! I’ll be posting soon.
Finally… I’ve submitted my article, “Reconstructing District 3’s Missing 1872 Registro Central de Esclavos for Northwest Puerto Rico” to Hereditas: Revista de Genealogia Puertorriquena, and had the pleasure of working with Ernie Rivera and Eliud Nieves on their great grandmothers who were enslaved on the plantation of Juan Labadie and its previous owner, Pedro Pellot, in Moca, Puerto Rico. Their cedulas are among those I transcribed and sought to provide context for. Pellot (hispanicized from Peugeot) was among a cluster of emigres from the Pyrenees region- from both the French and Spanish sides of this mountain range— who eventually wound up in Puerto Rico. The article will be out in the next issue ofHereditas, complete with a transcription of the cedulas for 492 enslaved ancestors taken in 1870.
Like I said, busy! Feel free to reach out and comment if you find a connection on these pages!
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.
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.
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
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 liveon YouTube. Tune in & discover the leads you can gather from obtaining, reviewing and distilling death records. I’ll be on the panel!
In December 1842, after much planning, Juan de la Rosa finally decided to do something about his situation. He took an old hat, the clothes on his back, and left the plantation of dona Andrea Gonzalez de la Cruz in the rural Barrio of Capa in Moca. This was maroon resistance, and the news of Juan de la Rosa stealing himself is one of the few advertisement for a runaway slave out of Moca, Puerto Rico in an official government newspaper. In this blog post I pull together a range of maps and documents, to reconstruct a glimpse of one enslaved ancestors life in 1842. Much of what I explore here are covers – those of landscape and of clothing,
El 19 del mes proximo pasado desaprecio del territorio de la Moca un esclavo nombrado Juan de la Rosa, de la propiedad de Dona Andrea Gonzalez, cuyas senales son las siguientes: estatura baja, formado de cuerpo, color mulato claro, ojos tristes, nariz chata y corta, pelo pasa, habla un poco fanoso, natural de esta isla, come de treinta anos de edad; llevan pantalones de coleta blanca, camisa de aliado y sombrero de empleita muy viejo —3”
On the 19th of last month, fugitive from the territory of Moca is a slave named Juan de la Rosa, property of Dona Andrea Gonzalez, whose details are the following: low height, developed body, clear mulato color, sad eyes, nose flat and short, tightly curled hair, has somewhat nasal speech, born on this island, about 30 years of age; is wearing pants of white linen, matching shirt and a very old woven hat. —3
The runaway slave advertisement from Moca, Puerto Rico in issues of La Gaceta de Puerto Rico, are few in number. At the moment I’ve located only one other advertisement from the 1830s. The three that appears at the end of the advertisement for Juan de la Rosa is an instruction to the printer for how many times the ad was run- 3 editions, with 3 issues weekly. It’s a question how much the ads cost to be placed, and the much larger question is the outcome. The specific dates spanned the weeks of holiday at the end of the year; the last week of December, 24, 27, 29, 31; the first week of January 3, 5 & 7, Jan 17, 1843.
While in Puerto Rico this kind of notice is not as copious as the numbers of runaway advertisements seen in some stateside publications, the Gaceta’s ‘Anuncios’ (announcements) column carried similar details regarding human and non-human property, so that notices posted by various slaveowners about runaway slaves appear along those of lost horses and livestock. Yet, what skill sets did Juan de la Rosa have? Was he a farm laborer or a carpenter? Was it that he was the bulk of the labor on the Gonzalez plantation? Apart from reclaiming scarce labor, what drove the slaveowner to place a notice?
This entry contrasts with the next runaway ad that appears below it, which is for an African woman named Victoriana who fled with two other men, Manuel and Antonio. Considerable time is spent describing her country marks- her ritual scars, along with the scars of abuse that mark her face and abdomen, filed teeth, dark skin, down to her small hands and feet. Victoriana managed to make it from a rural plantation in Naguabo to the capital of San Juan, where she was apprehended and jailed. The Governor and Captain then ask that the owner show up in three months, otherwise she will be sold and the funds used to benefit the administration.
That tight circle of property and sale also circumvent issues that today can be understood as the suppression of self determination through force exerted by agents of the state, the church and the slaveowners. For the most part, individuals and families who embodied the authority of one, two or all three institutions made their legal decisions in support of profit. Some freed people purchased their family members freedom, through the process of coartación, paying their owners full value in exchange for freedom. (For examples, see Gaining Freedom: gleaning narratives from Caja 1444, Moca, Puerto Rico, 1848-1854)
Who was Juan de la Rosa?
As is often the case with working with enslaved ancestors, there is more to be gleaned about the person who held Juan de la Rosa in bondage, than Juan de la Rosa himself. Yet there are some key details to consider: he was born about 1812 in Puerto Rico, and likely in Moca. Juan de la Rosa was short, and had a distinctive, nasal way of speaking. His skin was not mottled, but a clear, light brown color that spoke to admixture, with no distinguishing scars or problems mentioned. Given his age in a previous record and identity as mulatto, there remains a possibility that he was related to the Gonzalez or the Morales families. In terms of racial categories, consider that the terms used to identify Indigenous ancestry were reduced to colors, with high percentages of AmerIndian mtDNA haplogroups today, it’s possible that this is also part of Juan de la Rosa’s blended ancestry.
Hair texture was a detail noted in documents, a barometer of sorts for the potential to pass or escape notice. Like many people of African descent, Juan’s hair was tightly curled. The term pasa comes from the Spanish word for raisins or currants, not pasa as in the verb pasar, that means to pass or go. A hat would help buy time and delay being identified by authorities, however on some plantations about this time, enslaved workers were given red hats, visible from a distance.
Recently, a series of articles on-line discussed the use of braiding cornrows in various patterns to communicate imminent departures to a literal representation of a pathway out.  One wonders what modes of communication supported Juan de la Rosa’s escape from slavery in a rural area.
Petit Marronage = Diasporic Marronage
Put it down to timing. Juan de la Rosa likely received an allotment of clothes, and, as by December the harvest was over, he decided to make his escape as the season of celebration just got underway. The dry season had begun, rain was less than in November and after December, rainfall would be low for the next two months. By traveling during the long religious holiday that extends from early December to early January, runaways took advantage of long nights, gatherings and celebrations where they might blend into a crowd, gain resources and information. Juan de la Rosa left under a full moon that began two nights earlier on 17 December, affording him light to make his way. 
There is no mention of shoes in Maria Andrea’s notice; he like many, went barefoot. What is clear is that Juan de la Rosa got to the point where he valued his life enough to risk it, leaving everything to get his freedom through an act of petit marronage. This act, as historian Jorge L Chinea noted, “hit the slaveowners where it hurt most: in the pocket… paralyzing or shutting down production and depriving owners of their labor force.” The maroons became thorns and pricks in the colonial regime’s side. As Chinea points out this networked movement of those who freed themselves, this resistance, had a larger social impact that disseminated culture and influenced colonial and intercolonial affairs, which he terms, ‘diasporic marronage’. Juan de la Rosa was part of a larger group of people who decided on freedom by any means necessary.
Finding Juan de la Rosa in other documentation
He is likely the same as Juan age 10 listed in Moca’s 1826 Relación de Esclavos. As mentioned before, this was an island-wide inventory of the humans held in bondage. It was done in accordance with the recent passage of the 1826 Reglamientos, a new slave code issued by the Spanish government, a the guidelines that outlined the rights of owners and the enslaved. Fortunately the 1826 Relación is not a numeric list, and has details such as name and age. Listed with Juan are Maria Antonia age 6 and Isabel age 4, close enough in age to potentially be siblings-(starred in the chart below). 
As small slave owners formally and informally sold enslaved people to family and neighbors, enslaved families could potentially live nearby. Another chart, Tabla XI. Parejas de esclavos en Moca para el siglo XIX. by Nieves Mendez, based on baptism and marriage parish volumes between 1786-1813. Among the 15 slaveowners is Maria Morales, who held in bondage the couple Felipe and Juana and their two children, Maria Antonia and Juan de la Rosa towards the start of the nineteenth century [6 ]
Juan de la Rosa’s parents, Felipe and Juana were likely married, and their children baptized in keeping with earlier versions of the Reglamentos. As owners of eight enslaved people, Maria Morales and Manuel Gonzalez were among the larger slave owners in Moca.  In 1782, they lived in Ojo de Agua, an area in the south of Aceitunas, today known as Ojo de Valencia, and the property was still there into the 1830s. They are likely descendants of earlier military families such as the Morales del Rio and related lines that extend to older settlements such as Arecibo. Maria Morales (bca 1755) was married to Manuel Gonzalez (bca 1770), and their 5 children were: Andrea, Manuel, Ynes, Rosa ‘Rosalia’ and Juana Gonzalez Morales.
Enslaved persons owned by Gonzalez & Morales Slaveowners, 1775-1824
Notes for this Table 1775-1824: line entries record information from each table and some persons appear more than once. Relationships between Gonzalez remain to be clarified.
Information from Tables relating to enslavement, Antonio Nieves Mendez, Historia de un pueblo: Moca 1772 al 2000. lulu.com, (2008)
Tabla VI – Esclavos y esclavistas de Moca, 1775-1785. 347.
Tabla VII – Esclavos y esclavistas de Moca, 1800-1810. 361.
Tabla VIII – Esclavos y esclavistas de Moca, 1810-1824, 361-364
Tabla X -Identificacion de matrimonios de esclavos registrados por la Iglesia de Moca 1792-1821. 365
Tabla XI – Parejas de esclavos en Moca en siglo XIX. 365.
Tabla XI data based on parish books of Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Monserrate, Moca:
L2 1786-1813 Mat
L3 1813-1824 Mat
L5 1800-1810 Baut
L6 1811-1813 Baut
Information provides the identity of Juan de la Rosa’s family: his parents Felipe and Juana, and sibling Maria Antonia, at Ojo de Agua in Aceituna before 1813. By 1826, Juan, Maria Antonia and Isabel (with ages that vary by 3 years) are listed as slaves of Andrea Gonzalez, who has the estancia Guamaes in Capa. By December 1842, Juan de la Rosa departs. The transfer of enslaved persons occurred by inheritance or purchase, perhaps prompted by the death of Maria Morales, Maria Andrea’s mother. The children’s parents, probably born in the 1770s, may have died or were sold by this time. There is likely more documentation in the notarial documents of the Archivo General de Puerto Rico
Those not included in the charts
In January 1810, Manuel Gonzalez gave his mulata servant Dolores, 25 years old, her liberty after she paid 200 silver pesos for her freedom. In October 1811, Manuel Gonzalez traveled to Aguadilla to purchase from Pedro Ferrer, the enslaved servant Felix, 25 years old and born on Puerto Rico. Two weeks later, he purchased Geronima de la [roto] a servant 29 years old who Antonio Hernandez of Cabo Rojo had inherited from his mother. These transactions involve either Manuel Gonzalez, husband of Maria Morales or their son, Manuel Gonzalez Morales, who married Rosa Hernandez, and then his second marriage was to a —- Vazquez Vega. Each of the Gonzalez Morales children likely benefitted from the continued accumulation of property both human and material over time. 
Historian & genealogist David Stark found that “more than half of these marriages in Caguas, San German and Yauco involved slave shows owners were linked by ties of the first degree, that is, the owners were either siblings, a parent and child and son or daughter in law.”  This enabled the informal lending of enslaved family members from one plantation to another, and created an existence where they lived “within two family cycles: their own and that of the masters.”
By 1826 there are 3 Manuel Gonzalez in the 1826 Relacion de esclavos– either the same or related persons owning property in two different barrios, Capa and Aceituna. By 1826, those enslaved ancestors that appeared in the parish records— Juana, Maria Vicente, Juana Simona, Marcelo, Maria Victoria, Santiago, Ana Maria Rafael — do not appear, either due to sale or death. Felipe may appear as widowed in later documentation. In 1826, the Felipe owned by Manuel Gonzalez is some two decades too young to be the father of children with Juana (who does not appear in the census) regardless, by 1826, they are owned by Andrea Gonzalez. Just as in Parnaiba, Brazil, most slaves who married off their masters estates had partners among their extended family. This in turn, increases the likelihood that owners were related.
Mapping out information about enslaved ancestors across documentation provides suggestions for exploring specific relationships, establish timing and location to build out nodes of data that can help extend branches of family trees. This also supplies additional insight into female slave ownership in Puerto Rico.
The 1826 Reglamentos
In 1826, Governor don Miguel de Torre issued a long document intended to regulate the treatment of the enslaved. The passage of the Reglamento sobre la education, trato y ocupaciones que deben dar a sus escalos los duenos y mayordomos en esta Isla, 12 agosto 1826  addressed common complaints, issues and provided a detailed standard for treatment by slave owners in its sixteen chapters. More importantly for genealogists and family historians, this law also culminated in an island-wide census that enumerated and centralized information on slaves in Puerto Rico.
The 1826 census of the enslaved also intended to account for the porous population of African and Native descended people who fled from slavery to form free communities. It also helped the Spanish government get a handle on the ‘informal’ slave trade after 1808, the year the British declared an official end to the traffic. Spain’s subjects in the Caribbean continued to purchase people up until the official end of slavery, 1873 in Puerto Rico and 1886 in Cuba. 
Capitulo V of the Reglamento specifically speaks to the collection and storage under lock and key of farming tools at the start and end of each day, lest the tools be taken up in an insurrection. [12 ] In this case, fears about the power of enslaved labor collided with a growing awareness that the same force could be channeled against the powers that be. The struggle for abolition was advanced by multiple forms of resistance, of which running away was one. Movement was controlled, visits to other plantations limited, trade with another enslaved person on plantations were prohibited in Capitulo VI, and diversions, separated by gender within prescribed limits were outlined in Capitulo VII. The facets of the law reveal white fears about resistance and violence, just as it prescribed and justified the use of violence as a cultural and social resource against the enslaved.
Capitulo XIII: Obligaciones de los esclavos y penas correccionales outlines the obligations a the enslaved had toward a master and lists the punishments by the owner or his majordomo. Given the required ‘obedience and respect’ leaves questions as to how perception and interpretation of responses led to any number of punishments: prison, shackles, chain, mallet,
or stocks, or by whipping, limited to 25 strokes. 
This pattern of using violence ties back to elimination as a feature of the process of settler colonialism, where murder, multiple diasporas and displacement of populations pushes against the desire and right to self determination. What this document does not specifically address is the fallout of this system— trauma, the constant threat of death, persecution, hunger, illness, assault and rape that are blind spots in earlier Puerto Rican historiography. By delving into multiple sources one can work against the erasure and denial of elements of a system with structures that remain in the present for POC. Revisiting these contexts is key for gleaning details that can connect an investigation or a narrative further.
As historian Milagros Denis wrote: “In Puerto Rico the slave population revolted. They caused fear and chaos. The white elite were afraid of blacks. By rebelling, the slaves made the unthinkable and the unexpected. They broke up the racial and class hierarchies embedded in the island’s colonial system.”  This was despite Articulo 2ndo, Capitulo XI, which awards liberty to any slave who discovers and reports any conspiracy either by other slaves or free people that aimed to disturb the pubic order, or kill the owner, his wife, son or father of the owner. Freedom was to be paid by the body of hacendados, and an additional reward of 500 pesos given with a public notice. If the denouncers were many, the money could be subdivided, but individuals would have to pay for their own freedom. 
Denis’ observations in her review essay on the repercussions of resistance on racial and class hierarchies connects to how history was written— mostly disconnected from any effort to offer critiques that could effect real change. Historian Ileana M. Rodriguez-Silva speaks to the role of gratitude and deference in post-abolitionist thought of the 1870s, a distortion that served to “rearticulat[e] white superiority and patriarchal authority”.
What “Political practices such as gratitude highlight [are] the liberal features of benevolence and paternalism and undermine efforts to critique the structures of power, especially through critiques of racialized domination. Paradoxically, creole political leaders and intellectuals minimized slavery but felt the need to celebrate abolition, by which they constantly rewrote the history of slavery.”  By the 1940s and 1950s this view accompanied assurances that slavery in Puerto Rico was mild in comparison to Cuba or the American South, a recycling of views from a century before. Colorism mutated over time.
Taken as a whole, the Reglamentos of 1826 was an attempt to address every aspect of keeping persons in bondage, its chapters turning from clothing to health to work day, the restrictions on pregnant women and nursing, the standards are suggestive of the wide range of conditions and violations that led to the creation of this document. It justified the separation of mothers from the care of newborns, in a house or hut with other children cared for by one or two women.  Yet its standards were often expressed as if they were ideal, which some writers, like the pro-slavery apologist Colonel George A Flinter wrote of as a mild form of slavery, with many possible ways to generate income from the enslaved and their agricultural labor. This is the industrialization of the body.
The 1826 inventory of enslaved people listed slave owner, names of the enslaved and their ages. The next inventory, the Registro de esclavos came a half century later, in 1870. Both the 1826 and 1870 Registros are of great benefit for genealogists and family historians as both documents cover every municipality on the island (in one form or another), and more importantly, the inventory is not numeric, and can be cross referenced with other sources.
Still, I’m left with a question- how well did slave owners follow a 16 chapter document that attempts to address all aspects of slavery when literacy was below 20%?
1826 Registro de esclavos, Moca
A transcription of the 1826 Registro de esclavos is in Antonio Nieves Mendez’ Historia de un pueblo: Moca 1772 al 2000. This registro has the names of the enslaved and their ages, but does not include the locations for each slaveowner. Extracted are those enslaved owned by Manuel Gonzalez and Andrea Gonzalez; I added an estimated year of birth for each person.
The organization of the names on the list suggests parental relationships, for example, Maria 30 and Petrona 3; Maria Ramona 30 and Ramona 7 and Dolores 5. Manuel Gonzalez’ name appears three times in the Registro, and it is unclear whether this is one, two or possibly three individuals. Under Maria Andrea Gonzalez are the children Juan, Maria Antonia and Isabel, which corresponds to the information from the parish records above, the children of Felipe and Juana. The fact that only the children appear is likely due to a transfer of their ownership through inheritance from her mother, Maria Morales.
The total number of enslaved people listed in the 1826 census is 684 souls, with a higher number of males the total number of women, 318 to 266.  The 1847 Censo de Riquezas lists the number of enslaved persons in each barrio; for Aceituna, the number was much higher than for Capa. The list shows how several estancias combined resources in the production of coffee, a crop suited for the region. In 1826, this organization and concentration of production was just getting started.
Location, location, location: Fugitive landscapes of NW PR
Two areas figure in this narrative— the south of Aceitunas and within the center of Capa, circled in the image of the barrios below. Over the course of the decades, colonial administrations became more specific in identifying crops, yield and values.
The censo and riquezas became more detailed as did the legal structures of enslavement, which were refined and redefined each time Reglamentos were issued. We can better understand the constraints on the lives caught in these cycles of rights, production and profit, as we trace these ancestors. Familial relationships connect in myriad ways within an economy based in slavery.
In 1847, Andrea Gonzalez owned the estancia Guamaes, in Barrio Capa, where there were 38 estancias and one hacienda, named La Suerte owned by Tomas Roman. Neighboring owners had different uses for areas of land that ranged from mono-crops of sugar, coffee, cotton or tobacco, to the subsistence crops of ‘frutas menores’ or pasture. The need for labor whether free or enslaved, depended on the crop and amount of land. For example, in 1847, Roman owned 4 people and had 20 free peons working some 22 of 133 acres of land. In contrast to Roman, Gonzalez had 3 of 8.5 acres worked by one enslaved person and one peon. Size wasn’t necessarily an indicator of slaveholding— even Gregorio Velazquez with 6 cultivated acres of 130 acres, he only had two peons working his farm. 
The small number of free and enslaved people in Moca helps to delimit the possibilities when identifying a person. Also consider there is only one consistent family unit. As Maria Morales disappears from the subsequent list by 1810, she is most likely Maria Morales born mid-century, married to Manuel Gonzalez, who had five children before 1780.
The Google satellite map above shows that part of the landscape consists of ridges that to the north rise into the Cordillera Central, with the Bosque Estatal de Guajataca (Guajataca Forest) just a few miles north of Capa.
The close up satelite images in these Google Maps shows the ridges that comprise much of where the homes are in Capa today. That bears comparison to the topographic 1889 Military Map, the Itinerario de San Sebastian a Moca.  These hand drawn, hand-inked maps are full of details useful for understanding the topography of the Cordillera and how people navigated these features.
In the full sized screenshot of the map below, the area of Barrio Capa is indicated by a red rectangle just off center, and the road that extends from left to right is today designated Rte. 125. Next, compare the Google Map image with Rte. 125, the road that extends East and West of the red marker, with the rendering of the road some 129 years before in the military map; litte has changed. The first image shows the entire stretch from Moca’s border with Aguadilla on the left, and San Sebastian on the right, as mapped by Spanish colonial military; the image below is the demarcated area that shows Capa in detail.
What’s interesting about both maps, (available on ISSUU.com) are the names attached to features and to property. The names on the 1899 map Itinerario de S. Sebastian a Moca, indicate the names of then property owners in Barrio Capa . On the map are Pedro Lasaye (Lassalle) Donato Lassalle, D. Salazar Escobar, Felipe Soto, C Ramon Molinari, SMJ Vargas, Galin Perez, D. Lorenzo Roman, D. Amador Roman. One consistent surname from the past here is Roman.
Las rutas del Norte
In Benajmin Nistal-Moret’s Cimarones y esclavos prófugos, from which this image of the 1837 map is taken, are notices from 1831 that warns the soldiers stationed along ‘La ruta del Norte’, about escaped slaves. Various Teniente a Guerra of each village received official news & notices from the capital of San Juan or directives from elsewhere along these routes.  The ridges of the Cordillera were considerable features that determined access and the kinds of crops that farms and plantations grew.
How this landscape was seen by some in 1837 is revealed in this map of La Ruta del Norte, Sur y Este. The region was known to be permeated by water, whether sea, creek, river or tropical rainfall, the northern route that connected the municipalities around the island were for the most part, narrow dirt roads that were eventually widened over time. The ridges of the Central Cordillera sweep from east to west, and the military road cuts across it. One function of the map is to suggest the potential reach of the official government, yet, the administration’s reticence to publicize or emphasize loss, the later absence of pertinent documents on organized slave resistance encountered in archives by historians, taken with the sheer density of the forest both then and now, contradicts the ideal of an efficient all powerful colonial military.
On the 1837 map above, Capa, Moca falls within the narrow end of “V” that straddles the NW corner of the island. The port city of Aguadilla is on the West and Isabela on the North, bisected by a river that meets with the town of El Pepino (San Sebastian)- (just off the center of the Visible is the part of the small mountain range, the Cordillera that rises up into Isabela. These three locations were major towns tied to agricultural production, and in Moca, thirteen creeks feed into the Rio Culebrinas, making areas impassable during the rainy season.
If one could reach water, or travel a safe route known to few, there was hope of getting beyond the reach of authorities. Some of the locations that runaways escaped to were the port cities of Mayaguez and Ponce. The changing landscape meant removal of vegetation and forests that served to hide Maroon communities, that likely existed at different locations within the Bosque Estatal that includes karst caves. If there was no direct escape to water, the next strategy getting to a free community and becoming part of it.
The other area that Juan de la Rosa knew from his childhood was Ojo de Agua, in Aceitunas, a barrio to the north between Aguadilla and Isabela. His parents Felipe and Juana, and his sister Maria Antonia, were enslaved by Maria Morales, the wife of Manuel Gonzalez. They appear in Ojo de Agua in 1782, and the plantation continued until its purchase in the 1830s by Juan de las Nieves, and subsequently became Ojo de Valencia, the expansive coffee plantation owned by Francisco Cirilo de Acevedo in 1844. He added another 1200 acres in 1866.
In 1847, 531 enslaved people worked the pasture, livestock, growth and processing of crops in Moca. They likely sewed the clothes, dressed and fed families and owners. The column with the number of salaried peons reflect some kind of ambivalence, with 209 listed and the additional 695 in brackets unexplained in the form. 627 owners, 627 farms and 531 enslaved men, women and children.
Despite the constant reference to small slave ownership in Puerto Rico in comparison to Cuba or other Caribbean islands, just how organized self-stealing was and whether there was a network of Abolitionists dedicated to a version of a Puerto Rican Underground Railroad remains a question.
Clothes, diaspora, trade & survival
The notice for Juan de la Rosa made note of the type and color of garments he wore at the time of his escape. What would make his flight successful was visually blending in a free community, so the opportunity to change garments could mean knowing where to obtain another set of clothes. There is relatively little scholarly work on clothing of the enslaved in the US southern plantations, and even less for Puerto Rico.
According to Article 2, Capitulo III of the Spanish government’s Reglamento sobre la education, trato y ocupaciones que deben dar a sus esclavos los duenos y mayordomos en esta Isla, 12 agosto 1826, owners were to provide three changes of clothes a year, made of a shirt and pants and a hood or hat, a handkerchief and a shirt of jacket of bayeta (baize) a cheap wool fabric, for winter. There were two sets of shirt and pants provided and a third set issued eight months later. 
These stipulations created what costume historian Robert Duplessis called a ‘new regime of clothing’, visual markers of another status that eventually blends among the dress of free workers. Below, a chart from an official report of 1765 demonstrates the striking distinction between the amount spent on clothes between free and enslaved people. There was a just a fraction of the cost ascribed to the latter.
The use of linen and wool may be an indication of British trade, as “linens were yet more dominant in the British colonies than the French, reflecting the considerable gap, in the British colonies in prices between cheap linens and cheap cottons…cheap woolens like bays (baize) were frequently included in the British Caribbean…”.Luis Diaz Soler in Historia de la esclavitud en Puerto Rico (1985) has several details about that cloth used to create garments for enslaved people in the 18th century:
“La tela era de lienzo ordinario importado de Mallorca, de color azul con listas negras. Gran cantidad de ella era adquirida en el negocio de contrabando establecidos con las Antillas inglesas. La usaban indistintamente hombres y mujeres….”
Translation: “The fabric is ordinary linen imported from Mallorca, blue with black flecks. A great quantity of it was acquired via contraband with the British Antilles. It was indistinctly used for both women and men….”] 
Striking is the disparity between what was spent by free people on clothing versus the enslaved as reported by General O’Reilly in his 1765 report on the island. This also lent a scale for government to judge how much smuggling went on then- and continued with an illegal slave trade, paired with official permissions to purchase Africans into the 1840s.
Ships with dry goods under different flags traded across the Caribbean, and it makes sense that part of those goods would be used on plantations, towns and small farms anywhere the enslaved labored. At some point since 1765, the black flecked blue linen used for slave clothing became plain white linen fabric. In the US South in 1860, yards of fabric were issued as an allowance to enslaved workers and supervised and/or fashioned by mistresses and their daughters.
As Madeline Shaw writes: “Some owners issued fabric, expecting the slaves to cut and sew their own clothing; some plantation mistresses cut out or supervised the cutting out of garments from plantation-made or purchased cloth, to be made up by slave seamstresses or by the mistress and her daughters; and sometimes ready-made garments or pre-cut garment pieces were imported from northern manufacturers….Hard agricultural labor in an unforgiving climate is likely to have taken a serious toll on the integrity of a field hand’s clothing. Just as men’s worn out trousers became women’s leggings, other remnants of previous allotments must have been re-used.” 
This 1842 list of import taxes on fabric from Mexico published in the Gaceta de Puerto Rico shows different weights of linen ‘Lienzos’ in two columns. Notice there’s a wide variety of painted and woven fabrics and lace that points to the growth of consumption, new markets for self fashioning. It’s not clear where the fabric used for Juan de la Rosa’s linen coletas were sourced from Mexico, or somewhere in Europe. Given the trade networks in the Caribbean, many kinds of arrangements were possible, with goods arriving in ports on the west side of the island too.
As the century wore on, precut or ready made garments were part of the trade in cloth; in the 1840s, industrial production was beginning but not on the island. The work of transforming fabric into clothing by hand sewing was a means of employment for women in the garment industry. Feminist historian Maria del Carmen Baerga Santini gives an idea of this development in Europe:
“Historically women were concentrated in industries with low grades of mechanization; while the sale of production was smaller, larger was the concentration of female labor… From the start of the industrial system one of the principal sources of female manufacturing labor was work related to dress. At the start of the nineteenth century the expansion of demand for ready made clothes translated into the incorporation of thousands of women in the industrial system of France and England.” 
And yet, whether the cloth was brought by the yard or pre cut, in Puerto Rico there was a need for manufacture given that the only industry that had limited technical development was sugar cane processing, sewing would still be accomplished by hand by groups of women. Enslaved ancestors also gained these skills which contributed to their survival and support after freedom. Sewing and lacemaking were skills transmitted from person to person on estancias and haciendas, and elite women learned needlework as part of their education. . What remains to be learned are specifics on the scale of production for clothing the enslaved in the late eighteenth to early nineteenth century Puerto Rico.
For those who stole themselves, clothing meant opportunity, a chance to regain control over the conditions of their lives, and ultimately keep moving to freedom. What Juan de la Rosa wore that December 1842, the landscapes he remembered, and the unknown outcome of his flight still matter.
This journey through the past of Juan de la Rosa was a challenge presented by a newspaper advertisement tied to the place where my mother was born. What impelled me to search was knowing that regardless of the time or place, people seek their freedom under conditions of oppression. The desire to have self determination was constantly upheld in daily life and, as the example of Haiti showed, was an achievable ideal. The numbers of free people grew as many scraped funds together to purchase themselves from their owners.
Was stealing oneself an effective strategy? Benjamin Nistal Moret notes that of over 700 cases that he studied, there were an additional 800 cases of libertos who ran away between 1873-1876 just as the contracts for free labor to the actual abolition of slavery occurred— and they disappeared without a trace. 
The sale of humans as property and the embodiment of the state, church and slaveowner, that interlocking set of conditions that constituted a social structure designed to support slavery is a dimension overlooked by those who want to relegate the institution of slavery to the past. It is much easier for some to instead substitute a nostalgic past devoid of daily violence.
Refuting perspectives that would reconstitute the past as a tropical ‘Gone with the Wind’, serves to obscure enslavement’s very real legacy in the present— so cast a critical eye on those vacation advertisements. The residues and residual structures are very much still with us (13th Amendment; shackles are now electronic, POC disproportionately impacted). That these issues still reach into the present is why working alongside friends, families and institutions willing to unpack such moments can help to connect and shift the narrative on the past and the stories we tell, the world we share.
Raise your ancestors into visibility!
I highly recommend Guillermo A. Baralt’s esclavos rebeldes: consipriaciones y sublevaciones de esclavos en Puerto Rico (1795-1873). Ediciones Huracan, 1981; published in English Slave Revolts in Puerto Rico, Marcus Weiner Publishers, 2007; Ivonne Acosta Lespier’s amazing “Mujeres esclavas en Mayaguez, 1872″ http://www.mayaguezsabeamango.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=763&Itemid=101 brings attention to the attempts at & resistance to dehumanization and the phenomenon of female slave owners. Benjamin Nistal Moret’s Esclavos profugos y cimarrones: Puerto Rico 1770-1870, Editorial UPR (1984) also helped to understand the network of powers that those who undertook ‘diasporic marronage’ sought to evade. Milagros Denis’ long review article is also worth reading & thinking with. These works informed my discussion of the Reglamentos, or slave codes in Puerto Rico.
 “Anuncios.” Gazeta de Puerto-Rico. [volume] ([San Juan, P.R.) 1806-19??, December 29, 1842, Page 624, Image 4 Image provided by University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus, Library System https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/2013201074/1842-12-29/ed-1/seq-4/ #date1=1789&sort=date&date2=1963&words=Andrea+Gonz%C3%A1lez& searchType=basic&sequence=0&index=2&state=Puerto+Rico&rows=20&pr oxtext=andrea+gonzalez&y=11&x=7&dateFilterType=yearRange&page=1
 Accounts from Brazil and Columbia testify to the power of hair to relay messages: DeNeen Brown, “Afro-Colombian women braid messages of freedom in hairstyles.” Washington Post, July 8, 2011. “Mapping Out Freedom: Escaped Slaves Used Braids For Direction”. https://hellobeautiful.com/2877570/braids-cornrows-maps-for-slaves/ ; “The Interesting Fact About How Slaves Used Cornrow Hair Braiding To Escape”, 4 Nov 2017
 Jorge L Chinea “Diasporic Marronage: Some Colonial and Intercolonial repercussions of Overland and Waterborne Slave Flight, with Special Reference to the Caribbean Archipelago” Revista Brasileira do Caribe Brasília, Vol. X, no19. Jul-Dec 2009, 259-284; p263; S.v. Maroon resistance and settlement on Danish St. Croix..” Retrieved Apr 06 2018 from https://www.thefreelibrary.com/Maroon+resistance+and+settlement+on+Danish+St.+Croix.-a0280557943
 Antonio Nieves Mendez, Historia de un pueblo: Moca 1772 al 2000. lulu.com, 372
 Nieves Mendez, Historia de un pueblo: Moca 1772 al 2000. 366
 Nieves Mendez Historia de un pueblo: Moca 1772 al 2000. 311
 David Stark, “Discovering the Invisible Puerto Rican Slave Family: Demographic Evidence from the Eighteenth Century” Journal of Family History, 21:4, Oct 1996, 393-418; 403
 Metcalf, quoted in Stark, Discovering the Invisible Puerto Rican Slave Family: Demographic Evidence from the Eighteenth Century”; 403
 Reglamento sobre la education, trato y ocupaciones que deben dar a sus escalos los duenos y mayordomos en esta Isla, 12 agosto 1826
 Documento No. 179. “Reglamento sobre la education, trato y ocupaciones que deben dar a sus escalos los dunes y mayordomos en esta Isla, 12 agosto 1826” El proceso abolicionista en Puerto Rico: Documentos para su estudio, Vol II: Proceso y efectos de la abolición, 1866-1896, 103-112.1978 , 110
 Documento No. 179. “Reglamento sobre la education, trato y ocupaciones que deben dar a sus escalos los dunes y mayordomos en esta Isla, 12 agosto 1826” El proceso abolicionista en Puerto Rico: 106
 Milagros Denis, “Review Essay, The Problem of Slavery in the Puerto Rican Society Reseña de “Sugar, Slavery, and Freedom in Nineteenth Century Puerto Rico” de Luis Figueroa, “La esclavitud menor: la esclavitud en los municipios del interior de Puerto Rico en el siglo XIX” de Mariano Negrón Portillo and Raúl Mayo Santana y “Slave Revolts in Puerto Rico” de Guillermo Baralt. Centro Journal, vol. XXI, núm. 1, 2009, pp. 236-245 http://www.redalyc.org/articulo.oa?id=37721248012
 Documento No. 179. “Reglamento sobre la education, trato y ocupaciones que deben dar a sus escalos los dunes y mayordomos en esta Isla, 12 agosto 1826” El proceso abolicionista en Puerto Rico: 109
 Ileana M. Rodriguez-Silva , “Abolition, Race, and the Politics of Gratitude in Late Nineteenth- Century Puerto Rico” Hispanic American Historical Review 93:4, 621-657
 Capitulo III Art. 3, 4. Documento No. 179. “Reglamento sobre la education, trato y ocupaciones que deben dar a sus escalos los dunes y mayordomos en esta Isla, 12 agosto 1826” El proceso abolicionista en Puerto Rico: 105
 Antonio Nieves Mendez, Historia de un pueblo: Moca 1772 al 2000. 372.
 Nieves Mendez, Historia de un pueblo: Moca 1772 al 2000. 385.
 Gazeta de Puerto-Rico. [volume] ([San Juan, P.R.), 20 Aug. 1842. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/ 2013201074/1842-08-20/ed-1/seq-2/>
 Benjamin Nistal Moret, Cimarones y esclavos prófugos
 Documento No. 179. “Reglamento sobre la education, trato y ocupaciones que deben dar a sus escalos los dunes y mayordomos en esta Isla, 12 agosto 1826” El proceso abolicionista en Puerto Rico:
 Robert S. DuPlessis, « What did Slaves Wear? Textile Regimes in the French Caribbean »,
Monde(s) 2012/1 (N° 1), p. 175-191. https://www.cairn.info/revue-mondes1-2012-1-page-175.htm
 Luis Diaz Soler, Historia de la esclavitud en Puerto Rico. 169
 Madelyn Shaw, Slave Cloth and Clothing Slaves: Craftsmanship, Commerce, and Industry. Journal of Early Souther Decorative Arts. http://www.mesdajournal.org/2012/slave-cloth-clothing-slaves-craftsmanship-commerce-industry/ Also Linda Baumgartner, Clothes for the People–Slave Clothing in Early Virginia. Journal of Early Southern Decorative Arts (NoCar N 6520 .J67), Vol. 14 Issue 2, Nov 1988, p27-70 ; Eulanda A. Sanders, The Politics of Textiles Used in African American Slave Clothing Published in Textiles and Politics: Textile Society of America 13th Biennial Symposium Proceedings, Washington, DC, September 18- September 22, 2012. https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1739&context=tsaconf
 Maria del Carmen Baerga Santini, Introduccion, Genero y trabajo: la industria de la aguja en Puerto Rico y el Caribe hispánico. Editorial de la Universidad de Puerto Rico, 1993, 6
 Ellen Fernandez- Sacco, Mundillo, identity & tourism: The revival and transformation of handmade lace in Puerto Rico.” Maureen Daly Goggin & Beth Fowkes Tobin, eds. Women and Threads: Gender and the Material Culture of Textiles., Ashgate, 2009, 148-166. https://www.academia.edu/154024/Mundillo_and_Identity_the_revival_and_transformation_of_handmade_lace_in_Puerto_Rico
In reviewing a transcription of notary documents, I came across a pair of Hernandez sisters whose sale of property in mid century Aguadilla included 15 enslaved ancestors in total. What can we learn about the context of their lives? And can these details extend out to make connections to descendants today? I’ve gone over several connected documents, two records of sale, and several wills, all tied to Caimital Alto in Aguadilla in 1854. It’s about four miles inland from the coast.
Documents & context
In May 1854, Da. María de Pilar y Da. María Dolores Hernandez Portalatin went before the notary with D. Juan Jose Duprey, to whom they decided to sell their inheritance. The two Marias were the daughters of D. Juan Hernandez and Da. Rosa Portalatin Hernandez, who filed a will two years earlier. Duprey, like the Hernandez Portalatin sisters, also lived in Caimital Alto, Aguadilla, as did the sixteen people they held in bondage. Eventually these properties were tied to the history of sugar that goes back to the 16th century and the start of the African slave trade that brought some 15 million Africans to the New World, while only 2 million Europeans emigrated.
Gleaning details & a little history of Aguadilla
The names mentioned in the wills show three distinct networks of relationships tied by blood, or property, with large tracts of land subdivided among siblings and families, or sold, with the final transaction recorded by a notary.
The documents may contain a description of structures with useful details, such as the names of the other families that bordered their property, and often one finds siblings, cousins, among them. Given the focus on the economic history of the movers and shakers of hacendado society, here is something different, a microhistory that sheds light on the labor of POC that made it all possible, over the course of a year, 1854.
Aguadilla was founded in 1775, the last municipality established out of the former Partido de la Aguada, under the Capitan poblador Juan Bernardo de Sosa, who happens to be my 6th GGF. At that time, the town consisted of 58 homes and bohios with 195 families. By 1812, the municipality was at 6,196 people, 1,273 lived in the pueblo, 4,523 across the rural area, with 647 enslaved persons providing the labor for sugar, coffee and other agricultural produce in addition to an entire range of projects and duties.
Urban development in Aguadilla was a slow process— until 1817 a bohio (hut) was used for the official government buildings of the Casa del Rey and a jail, when a new stucco building was constructed. Until 1823, one road, the Camino Real connected Aguadilla to Isabela and Aguada, and some plantation owners did not want the trouble of a road nearby their complexes. As the population of the city grew, during the 1820s, several fires struck the urban sector, destroyed dozens of homes, which led to the construction of new streets near the plaza. By 1837, three rural barrios were established and Caimital was one of them, divided by the Sierra Jaicoa into Caimital Alto and Caimital Bajo. Over the next two decades the urban areas continued to grow and markets expanded. Ultimately, these situations provided advantages for those in the municipality.
Back to the Sale Document: Property, Land & Human
According to folios 226-228 of the sale by Maria Pilar and Maria Dolores Hernandez Portalatin, living adjacent to the south side of the property in Caimital was their sister Anistacia Hernandez Portalain, on the east, Carlos de la Rosa, and to the west, Maria Lopez, widow of Luis Cubero, an emigre from the Canary Islands. The house in town was on a 22 x 40 vara (61 x 111 ft) lot, next to D. Juan Chico in one side, and on the other D Lino Acevedo, conveniently located near the town plaza.
D. Lino Acevedo is Martin Lino Acevedo y Lopez de Segura (1817-1891) my 1C4R, while his wife Maria Domitila Talavera Hernandez is my 3G Aunt; they married in 1852 and had at least 4 children. One daughter, Domitila Acevedo Talavera 1C3R (1863) married the surgeon Dr. Julian Benejam Dominguez of Moca. The Benejam family were also slave owners.
Lino’s grandfather (and my 4th GGF) is Capt. Martin Lorenzo de Acevedo y Hernandez del Rio (1749-1828), whose string of titles demonstrated the rise of the Lorenzo de Acevedo among the colonial ruling class of NW PR- Alferez Real of Aguada, Teniente de Guerra and Alcalde for Moca between 1792 and 1810, despite his advanced age. Lino’s father, Juan Martin Lorenzo de Acevedo y Gonzalez, and his second wife, Marta Rosa Maria Lopez de Segura y Vives (my GGGG Uncle and Aunt) served as Alcalde (Mayor) of Aguadilla and approved the plans for building streets near the plaza in the 1820s.
All of them were involved in some level of slave owning, and it remains to be seen which ancestors were involved in some kind of Abolitionist project. I can understand that between these tight bounds of blood, land, and power, they would not be partial to the project of freedom. I can say that many seem to have disposed of their small holdings in the latter half of the 19th century to the progressively large companies that formed to deal with wringing profit out of sugar, coffee and people.
Fifteen Ancestors, some born in Africa
In preparation for the impending sale, there was the stress of the examination violating personal boundaries for an event that potentially threatened to divide families. In this case, everyone and everything was sold to d. Juan Jose Duprey Navarro.
9 males, 6 females – 15 total – (values that follows are estimates from Measuring Worth website.)
Nicolás (1826) born in Africa 28 valued at 400 pesos, €1,840.00
Valentín (1841) 13 valued at 200 pesos, €919.00
Policarpo (1850) 4 valued at 150 pesos, €689.00
Juan (1820 ) 34 born in Africa, valued at 400 pesos, €1,840.00
Encarnación (1832) 22 valued at 300 pesos, €1,380.00
Carolina (1853) 2 valued at 160 pesos, €735.00
Clotilde (1838) 16 valued at 320 pesos, €1,470.00
Dominga (1840) 14 valued at 290 pesos, €1,330.00
Ramona (1832) 22 valued at 350 pesos, €1,610.00
Celestina (1852) 2 valued at 100 pesos , €459.00
Enrique (1827) 27, born in Africa, valued at 300 pesos, €1,380.00
Joaquín (1842 ) 12 valued at 260 pesos, €1,190.00
Rosa, (1832 ) 22, born in Africa, valued at 350 pesos, €1,610.00
Victoriano 3 (1851) valued at 100 pesos, €459.00
Eugenio 13 (1841) valued at 350 pesos, €1,610.00
The total value of these 15 souls in Euros is €18,521 which equals $22,892 in today’s dollar.
Those assigned the highest values were Nicolas and Juan, both born in Africa, while the women’s values ranged according to age, apparently priced in anticipation of the potential of the child bearing capacity of Carolina, while the 16 year old Clotilde was assigned the next highest value after Ramona and Rosa, both age 22.
I squirm considering these young teenage girls sold among these documents, wondering what led to the sale and whether they were being sold from one adult male to another in a form of trafficking with multiple consequences that could range from violence, death to rape. This coercive dimension was constantly present and surviving these experiences continued regardless.
An Unexpected Reversal
Oddly enough, on July 1854, Juan Jose Duprey Navarro sold back the entire farm along with the enslaved people listed before, to D. Juan Hernandez and his daughter, Maria del Pilar Hernandez Portalatin for the same amount– 10,071 pesos, which was their inheritance from their mother Rosa. Was this planned, a means of delaying arrangement because of funds or, was the sale simply imperiled by the death of one party?
For this second transaction, the enslaved ancestors are listed as a group:
“los esclavos Nicolas de 28 años, Policarpo de 4 años, Valentin de 13 años, Juan [,] Encarnación, Clotilde, Lorenza, Dominga, Ramona, Celestina, Enrique, Celestino, Joaquín, Rosa, Victoriana y Eugenia”
Note the slight differences- the mention of Celestino is new, while Victoriano and Eugenio have apparently become Victoriana and Eugenia.
Maria Dolores Hernandez Portalatin (1818 -1854)
After arranging the sale earlier that May, Maria Dolores Hernandez, age 36, made a will on 25 May 1854. Three days later, she was buried in Aguadilla. Sudden illness interrupted everything; she was married to D. Angel Gaya just eight months earlier. Gaya made a desirable partner, as he worked as part of Aguadilla’s administration, and so, would bring an income into the union. Although there were no children from the marriage, property was an issue. The solution to maintaining control over Dolores’ property was to have it revert to her father, D. Juan Hernandez; should he die, it would then go to her husband, D. Angel Gaya.
Mentioned in the will is her sister Timotea Hernandez, who preceded her in death, and willed Dolores a third of her goods; her sister Pilar, and her nephew Tomas Talavera Hernandez (b.1817), son of her dead sister Teresa Hernandez Portalatin, my third GGM. Another sister, Anastasia Hernandez was widowed, and that year also gave Angel Gaya permission to put her name forward in any business dealing with the affairs of her mother, Rosa Portalatin Hernandez. This is also the line of my grandfather’s grandmother, that goes back along a line of slaveowning people that by the 1860s, married with the Babilonias of Moca, if not earlier.
In 1854, Dolores Hernandez Portalatin held five people in bondage: Encarnacion and her four children, Dominga, Clotilde, Jose Elias and Carolina. All worked as enslaved servants in her home in Barrio Caimital, Aguadilla and as property, would revert to her father according to her will. Some of the persons have an age listed in the sale document to Duprey, so I have used that to create family groups.
June 1854, Another Sale – Angel Gaya & the sale of Dominga, 15
On 14 June 1854, Angel Gaya sought to settle his wife’s debts according to her will by selling the 15 year old Dominga, a servant for 300 pesos to D. Jose Eugenio Milan. Just eight days later, Milan sold Dominga to Da. Natividad Acevedo, wife of Jose Fulgencio Milan. Natividad Maria Acevedo Lopez was the daughter of Juan Martin Lorenzo de Acevedo y Gonzalez (1781-1844) my 4th G Uncle and his wife, Maria de la Encarnacion Lopez de Segura (ca 1786-bef 1854). Maria Encarnacion may be a sister or first cousin to his second wife, Marta Rosa Maria Lopez de Segura y Vives, whom he married in 1831. Both sides link to sets of my 4th Great Grandparents, which may help me figure out more about the people they bought and sold. I can’t help but wonder what happened to Dominga, born in 1839, sold and traded from one brother and his family to his sister in law and her family.
It’s also important to look at the parents of the Hernandez Portalatin sisters in order to see if there are additional details on these enslaved ancestors, who may appear in additional documents. Both parents, D. Juan Hernandez and Rosa Portalatin held significant properties, plantations that were among the largest in Aguadilla.
D. Juan Jose Duprey: From Guarico, Cap-Haitien to NW Puerto Rico
About 1803, Jean Baptiste Dupre and his wife Luisa Navarré e Doudins, French nationals from Guarico in Haiti, arrived in Puerto Rico, where their names were translated to Juan Bautista Duprey and Luisa Navarro. The couple bought wealth in the form of enslaved ancestors and currency that they used to buy land in Aguadilla, Aguada and Arecibo. They had twelve children, and after Duprey’s death in 1822, his wife divided the slaves and part of the land between a society (small group of investors) and Juan B. Doumerg. She eventually remarried, to a French-born plantation owner German L’Aufant Nalo in Aguadilla in 1826. It remains unclear as to what was the Duprey’s situation, and whether they were or were related to largest and wealthiest free population of color in the Caribbean, as were some families from Hispaniola who arrived and settled in Aceituna for example.
There are extracts of parish registers from Haiti that may show Jean Baptiste Dupre as baptised on 13 February 1787, a date which still fits his timeline:
Dupré Jean Baptiste, figure sur le registre des baptêmes de Haïti (ex colonie française de Saint- Domingue), la date de son baptême figurant sur le registre était le 13 février 1787. There are a set of documents in the FamilySearch collection, Record of Foreign Residents in Puerto Rico, that includes the 1808 file on Duprey, which enabled the government to affirm his Spanish citizenship on Puerto Rico.
Juan Jose Duprey Navarro married Martina Cerezo Sosa (1817-1892) my 3C3R, daughter of Maria Manuela Sosa Vives (my 2C4R) and Ramon Cerezo Gallardo. Maria Manuela is the granddaughter of the Irish emigres on her maternal side, who arrived early to PR. Here too is involvement in slave owning that extends to more families. Josefa Maria Suarez Estopinan, with the help of her husband d. Epifanio Sosa, by matrimonial license notes “she gives royal sale to da. Martina Cerezo, wife of d. Juan Jose Duprey, for a servant slave named Rosa age 14, which she inherited from her mother, Maria Estopinan”, according to a document dated Juan 1841, for the price of 280 pesos. Thanks to her rights as a wife, Josefa was able to sell the 14 year old Rosa for a significant price, five years before her marriage.
Juan Jose’s brother, Luis Duprey Navarro owned Hacienda Casualidad in Barrio Guayabo, Aguada between 1845 and 1852; he also owned a brick factory there according to the Riqueza Industrial of 1852. Luis’ son and Juan Bautista’s grandson, Luis Duprey Gaya, married Ana Roque Geigel de Duprey in 1853. A recent pamphlet on her scientific work that culminated in a major botanical collection offers a brief overview of her life and included a significant incident without mentioning her husband.
The last paragraph states: “She was 19 years of age when she stopped someone from punishing her husband’s 80 slaves by making them kneel. It was 1872, one year before the Abolition of Slavery.”
However there is no other context given that connects slavery, the economic basis of her family’s business, to the larger context of education, and her position as a woman within a society that did not consider them academic equals, is explained solely in terms of developing public education. The juxtaposition is jarring as the fields of the sciences clash with the reality of the sugar and coffee cultivation in the Sierra Jaicoa of NW PR.
As with other plantation based families in NW PR, the Duprey Navarro family’s investment in sugar and coffee continued well into the 19th century.
The Struggle for Freedom in Saint Domingue
The arrival of the Dupreys is eventful when considered against the previous seven years. By 1795, a significant sale of enslaved persons occurred in Aguadilla, which included several imprisoned for their alleged role in the 1789-1791 uprising in Saint Domingue. However, the official plan of selling these prisoners from the French half of the island, across the sound in Puerto Rico to sell them here, simply brought the knowledge and experience of insurrection closer to home.
Precisely when the Dupreys show up in Puerto Rico isn’t specified, yet they were careful to note their arrival from Guarico, the original Indigenous name for the area, rather than Cap-Francaise, or after 1804, Cap-Haitien. Cap-Francaise was the capital of Saint Domingue until 1770, when Port-au-Prince became the capital until 1804. His papers simply state that he’s not in great health, and lives in the country with his family, no mention of his wealth in land and people. These kinds of reassurances serve to detach the explosive events of the last decade.
Yet the scale of slavery in Saint Domingue simply staggers: “The labor for these plantations was provided by an estimated 790,000 African slaves, accounting in 1783–1791 for a third of the entire Atlantic slave trade. Between 1764 and 1771, the average annual importation of slaves varied between 10,000 and 15,000; by 1786 it was about 28,000, and from 1787 onward, the colony received more than 40,000 slaves a year. However, the inability to maintain slave numbers without constant resupply from Africa meant the slave population in 1789 totalled to 500,000, ruled over by a white population that numbered only 32,000.” [Saint-Domingue, Wikipedia] At the cusp of the 19th century, this situation and the violence required to maintain it, is at the core of white fears in the Caribbean .
In October 1795, there was a slave uprising in Aguadilla, and historians suspect those sold here brought knowledge that inspired those enslaved here to resist. However, despite requests for the files in Spanish and Puerto Rican archives, official reports on the uprising are missing, which speaks to the strength of the desire to show that the island was under control by the government.
Another aspect as I have discussed before, were the close familial ties involved that could cast family members in a negative light. This is yet another reason for a report to conveniently be misplaced or lost, however at the same time, attempts to control the enslaved population continued by passing further restrictions in revamped versions of the Black Codes and instituting rules that reflected heightened fears, known as the ‘Haitian Syndrome’.
Ultimately for Puerto Rico, the uprising and the destruction of plantations in Saint Domingue, and the arrival of the Europeans, creoles, African and African descended peoples to the island was an incredible opportunity. The major provider of sugar and coffee lost its place in the world market, and Spain sought to raise its claim on the market. What hid behind the product was a hell on earth, morphing as the sources of sugar began to diversify.
Another factor to consider when tracing ancestors is an ongoing illegal traffic in slaves that escape count at times because purchasers of slaves had to pay a 25 peso fee to have the enslaved entered into official records. Will further knowledge of these lives eventually come to light?
This illegal traffic in turn, skews the numeric charts that list the number of blancos, pardos libres, negro esclavos & negros libres [whites, free people of color, black slaves and free blacks] at any given time on the island. This seems to come up when comparing the tallies for municipalities versus national totals, which tells us there’s more to know about this illegal trade in people.
Also, realize that the sale of enslaved persons in the Caribbean and North America and Europe has a long standing history, so that by the 1780s an enslaved man from the American south marries his partner in the parish church of Aguadilla. Did this marriage begin as a story of distant sale as a result of resistance? Could such narratives be traced back to these parish pages? The uprisings that led to the foundation of Haiti in 1804 struck fear into slaveholders yet they continued to refine their means of holding people in bondage, even as change began to flag an end to aspects of this economic system. Although the story of insurrection is constantly relegated to silence, the details seep out, and my hope is that these histories can be restored.
After Emancipation: the challenge of tracing families into freedom
Some of the persons who match the list in terms of name and age continued to live out their lives in Aguadilla after 1873. As the volume for the Third District of 1872 Registro de Esclavos is missing, I have not yet cross-referenced them with this record set, and plan to. Instead of bearing the name of the first slave holder, I find that some match Duprey, or different surnames. The Duprey family had extensive holdings in Aguada, Arecibo and other properties in Aguadilla and Moca. Clearly, I will need these additional records to find the others listed.
In order to locate them, I used a very simple search, using the name and the date to see what might come up both in Ancestry and FamilySearch.org. Next, I checked additional details regarding potential locations, mentions of names and then cross reference those finds out, to build some branches.
Clotilde, Age 16
Among the 15 people was Clotilde. “Clotilde, 16 valued at 320 pesos”, I believe is the same woman as Clothilde Medrano/Lopez/Rosa b. 1838 in the Registro Civil.
She was the daughter of Cecilia Medrano (bca 1818), and continued a single female household of six children, named in her Acta: Pedro, Francisco, Sofia, Genara, Nicolasa and Carlos. During the course of her 50 years, she saw many changes, and raised seven children, some of whom are in the Registro Civil. She died in Barrio Victoria, an urban section of the pueblo of Aguadilla.
Her nephew, Mariano Abril reported her death. He worked as an agricultural day laborer who lived in Barrio Victoria, the same ward where Clotilde lived and died. This was not far from Barrio Pueblo of Moca. The informant for Clotilde is Mariano Abril Sanjurjo, (1853-1912). The relationship may be via his wife, Emilia Alonso Rosa (1862-1907). Mariano and Emilia’s son, Mariano Abril Alonso (1882-1960) was at one point, the partner of my grandfather’s sister, Eduviges Monserrate Babilonia Lopez (1895-1979) of Moca. It seems that neither Emilia nor her parents were married, adding more complexity to a search along that line for the family connection between Mariano and Clotilde. Regardless, the connections now span over a century.
A daughter of Clotilde’s, Nicolasa Medrano, moved to Utuado and married Jose Roberto Feliciano Velez (1866-1933) of Lares, a member of the Policia Insular. On the certificates for Nicolasa’s death in Santurce and marriage in Lares are several details that matter: both she and her mother appear as Nicolasa Lopez and Clotilde Lopez of Aguadilla, and Francisco Lopez is named as her father, and her mother appears under yet another surname, as Clotilde Rosa in her marriage certificate of 1897. The rest of the details concerning her husband are consistent. It is entirely possible that her father’s name was finally revealed to her late in life; he may be from Aguada or Aguadilla, and could be ‘blanco’ or light skinned, as she is identified as ‘mulata’.
A son, Francisco Medrano (bca 1862), married Maria Martinez of Maricao and had at least four children born between 1885-1889— Amelia, Maria de la Cruz, Francisco and Luis Medrano Martinez in Las Marias.
Another daughter, Sophia Medrano (1866-1916) lived in Barrio Guayabo, Aguada and died there of pneumonia in 1916.
I hope to learn more about these ancestors, and hope to post more in future.
If you’re related to someone mentioned in this post, Mabrika (Welcome)— please feel free to leave a comment and connect!
Angel Nieves Acevedo, Historia de Aguada Editorial Aymaco: lulu.com, 2012.
Angel Nieves Acevedo, Historia de Aguadilla, 1775-1899. Editorial Aymaco: lulu.com, 2012.
Antonio Nieves Mendez, Historia de un pueblo: Moca 1772-al 2000. Editorial Aymaco: lulu.com 2008.
Carlos Encarnacion Navarro, transcription. Instituto de Cultura Puertorriquena, Archivo General de PR, Fondo de Protocolos Notariales, Caja 1289, Serie- Aguadilla, Pueblo- Aguadilla, Escribano Lcdo. Manuel Garcia Ano 1854. Folios fol.226-v (a) 228, fol.310-v a 312
Carlos Encarnacion Navarro, transcription. Instituto de Cultura Puertorriquena, Archivo General de PR, Fondo de Protocolos Notariales, Caja 1434, Escribanos- Otro Funcionarios, 1852-1878, Cedula Testamentaria, Da. Dolores Hernandez, 25 May 1854.
Raquel Rosario Rivera, La presencia haitiana en Puerto Rico 1791-1850. 2015
Raquel Rosario Rivera, La presencia dominicana en Puerto Rico 1791-1850. 2015.
“Para la misma fecha (1803) se domicilia en Aguadilla Juan Bautista Dupre (Duprey), natural de Francia. Esta familia procedente del Guarico Francés, Haití, trajo fortuna en metálico y esclavos, adquirieron terrenos en Aguadilla, Arecibo y Aguada. El matrimonio de don Juan Bautista y doña Luisa Navarré y Doudins, natural de Haití tuvo doce hijos. Al morir el Señor Duprey en 1822 en Aguadilla, la viuda dividió los esclavos y parte de los terrenos que tenía en sociedad con el señor Juan B. Doumerg. Doña Luisa Navarré casó en segundas nupcias en Aguadilla el 12 de octubre de 1826, con el hacendado don Germán L’Aufant y Naló 7, natural de Niche, Francia. De este enlace sólo tuvo un hijo Adrián, quien nació en Aguadilla en 1827, y murió en Bremen, Alemania, en 1845.“
Haydee Reichard de Cancio, “Los Dominicanos en Aguadilla.” PReb.com Accessed Feb 8, 2018.
“Juan Bautista Duprey.” Record of Foreign Residents in Puerto Rico. FamilySearch.org https://www.familysearch.org/search/collection/1919700 Accessed 10 Feb 2018.
Données diverses Saint-Domingue, Guyane Généalogie. http://www.guyanologie.fr/Haiti.php?recherche=DUPRE&ty Accessed 10 Feb 2018.
Elvian Martinez Mercado, “Una scientifica rebelde: Los cuadernos recuperados de al Botanica antillana, Ana Roque de Duprey.” Para la Naturaleza. Centro de Periodismo Investigativo.
Note there is no father, Casto Medrano, this is a mangling of Cecilia Medrano, Clotilde’s mother in the transcription. “Puerto Rico, Registro Civil, 1805-2001,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVJ8-5F2G : 17 July 2017), Clotilde Medrano, 29 Oct 1888; citing Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, oficinas del ciudad, Puerto Rico (city offices, Puerto Rico).
“Puerto Rico, Registro Civil, 1805-2001,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVJX-XY98 : 16 July 2017), Clotilde Medrano in entry for Sofia Medrano, 19 Dec 1916; citing Aguada, Puerto Rico, oficinas del ciudad, Puerto Rico (city offices, Puerto Rico).
“Puerto Rico, Registro Civil, 1805-2001,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVJ4-1RVJ : 17 July 2017), José Roberto Feliciano and Nicolasa López, 29 May 1897; citing Lares, Puerto Rico, oficinas del ciudad, Puerto Rico (city offices, Puerto Rico).
“Puerto Rico, Registro Civil, 1805-2001,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVJX-WVMZ : 17 July 2017), Nicolasa Medrano in entry for Rosa Maria Feliciano Medrano, 24 Nov 1903; citing Utuado, Puerto Rico, oficinas del ciudad, Puerto Rico (city offices, Puerto Rico).
Note the mangling of ‘Feliciano’ in the transcription. “Puerto Rico, Registro Civil, 1805-2001,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVJS-9BKH : 17 July 2017), Nicolasa Lopez de Petroconio, 06 Apr 1933; citing Santurce (San Juan), Puerto Rico, oficinas del ciudad, Puerto Rico (city offices, Puerto Rico).
As three historians of Cuban slavery recently wrote,”Los notarios eran parte de este sistema de “escribir la esclavitud.” — Notaries were part of this system of “writing enslavement”, literally creating the legal structures through documents that recorded and controlled the lives and movements of over 51,000 enslaved POC by 1846. In this way, the documents further defined citizenship within a slave holding society. What I thread together here is the history of several people held in bondage, the predicament of pursuing freedom, its purchase and my own project of transcribing parts of a missing volume these certificates were entered into. At the end of this article is a translated list of names of those enslaved ancestors who gained freedom from one transcribed box of notarial documents.
The run of notarial documents in Caja 1444 show that between January 1848 and the end of January 1852, the elites of Moca freed, sold and bought enslaved people. Some distinctions made between those who were servants versus those who were laborers, but when a Carta de emancipación (Letter of Freedom) was issued, the bearer had proof of freedom that hopefully, led to self determination.
Several things become clear in this particular collection of notary documents, only 19 slaveholders liberated their human property, while 61 slave holding inhabitants continued to participate in selling them. Despite any bonds of blood or call to family that might exist, the exchange of money was paramount. The odds of gaining freedom in mid-nineteenth century Puerto Rico were indeed challenging.
The plaza at the center of Barrio Pueblo was used for drying coffee, and this 1914 image is telling of Moca’s deeply agricultural context. This town center was the neighborhood where many who gained their freedom moved to in search of employment. At this time, just 41 years after the end of slavery in Puerto Rico in 1871, a significant number of people from elders to adults had some experience with enslavement. I met their descendants in 2000s, and if we speak of context, there is not a single family member untouched by slavery.
Those Who Were Freed
Eight of those freed were male and eleven were female, the youngest being Ramona, 7 months old, and the oldest, Marcos, 70, born in Santo Domingo about 1781. He may have witnessed the events of the Haitian Revolution prior to reaching Puerto Rico; Ramona, if she survived, may have witnessed the string of uprisings that went across Northwest Puerto Rico with the Grito de Lares in 1868, and perhaps actively participated in the struggle for equality that continued for decades.
Some may still carry their memories, so there may be oral histories that tell of their lives. At the very least, their traces in the historical record speak to the constraints they had to live under, and hope for a better life after emancipation despite a spectrum of challenges.
The Emancipation of Mauricio and Ramona
Among those who gained their freedom were children, among them Mauricio 1 1/2 whose mother Monserrate paid for his letter of emancipation; 7 month old Ramona was purchased by Maria Encarnacion from d. Alberto Soto. In 1848, Maria Candelaria paid her slaveowner d. Cristobal Benejan for her own freedom, and in 1850, was able to buy that of her two-year-old daughter Maria, who was born on Benejan’s property and was raised by Paula, another enslaved woman who worked there. As of 1849, “…colonial authorities permitted interested parties to purchase the freedom of infant slaves at the time of baptism, for the sum of twenty-five pesos. The infant however, remained with the master who owned his/her mother until he/she reached adulthood.”  So far, there is no indication that freedom was Benejan’s intention.
One wonders what might have transpired within those two years, and how these free women worked to support their families. They became part of the free community that moved away from the rural agricultural areas to Barrio Pueblo. Here they worked providing services such as cooking, laundering, childcare, dressmaking and lacemaking among others, that continues into the present. Benejan descendants still live near the Plaza in Barrio Pueblo, Moca today.
In a transcription project on the 1870 Registro de Esclavos I’m working on, Cristobal Benejan y Suria was among the largest slave holders in Moca, with 54 persons. At this point in 1870, another three years of labor was required prior to emancipation.
Note this was 36 months of uncompensated labor, caught up in expectations of gratitude toward former owners on the part of the freed. Historian lleana Rodriguez-Silva wrote that “Political practices such as gratitude highlight the liberal features of benevolence and paternalism and undermine efforts to critique the structures of power, especially through critiques of racialized domination.”  So, the histories of abolition in the Caribbean were revised and rewritten to celebrate rather than expose how power functioned in the lives of POC.
Among the certificates of those owned by Benejan in the Registro, Paula’s name appears as the mother of Loreto, 11 (b.1859), and Calista, 1 (b.1869). There is a certificate for Paula, 29 (b. 1849) daughter of Juana, born the same year Maria Candelaria gained her freedom. What happened to the Paula that cared for Maria Candelaria’s daughter Maria? Was Paula freed in the two decades after she was entrusted with the care of Maria? Did she pass away before 1870? I’m left with more questions than I can answer.
Looking at my own tree, I have distant connections to the Benejam via marriage to another slaveholding family, the Lorenzo de Acevedo. Even one of my recent atDNA matches points to this connection on FTDNA, and there are likely more 4-5th cousins out there, like myself, with genetic ties to both slaveowner and those they enslaved.
The Benejam originate in Menorca, among the smaller of the Baleáricos Islands. They arrived in Puerto Rico during the 18th century, and became an important family in Moca, owning land and people that they freed after 1870. Cristobal Benejam purchased Juan from the parish priest Pbo.Jose Balbino David, who functioned as a local small slave dealer during the 1850s, buying and selling people to various individuals.
Living Transactions: currency & human devaluation
During the nineteenth century, the Puerto Rican economy struggled with a mistrust of paper currency, rudimentary banking practices and a lack of coinage. What was used were pesos macuquinos (‘Cob coin’), a silver coinage removed from circulation in Venezuela, and instead, was in circulation on the island for nearly a half century, without a real banking system. This meant real money was scarce.  Within this plantation economy, enslaved people were sold and the income from their sale was used by slaveholders to pay their own taxes and bills. The scant availability of cash on the island suggests the enormous difficulty of the situation that the enslaved faced in raising funds to purchase their own freedom, and the deep anxiety over maintaining family with the threat of sale and displacement constantly looming. Regardless, many continued their attempts and strategies to push for freedom.
Among the slave owners were Gonzalez, Perez del Rio, Benejan, Soto, Lopez, Vasquez, Salas, Suarez Otero, and de la Cruz; some entries give information on previous owners, and together with other notarial entries, one can glean details on the places those held in slavery by them lived and worked. The location of origin for most of the persons listed below was Puerto Rico, although some came from Costa Firme, Venezuela, the Dutch Caribbean islands, and Santo Domingo. The official inscribing the documents into the books was the mayor or Alcalde ordinario d.Casimiro Gutierrez de Canedo, as there was no official royal notary in Moca to record these acts between 1848 and 1852.
Almost all the persons listed paid for their freedom, with five cases granting unconditional freedom with no money involved. Aside from these cases, 32 pesos was the lowest price and 300 pesos the highest. The total amount spent by the enslaved for their freedom was 1,947 pesos macuquinos. Depending on the calculation, this may be equivalent to just over $10,600 US according to the Consumer Price index or $10,900 US in relative wages in today’s money. 
Given the scarcity of cash at the time, it is an astounding figure that illustrates the extractive nature of slavery that POC were forced to navigate in mid-nineenth century NW Puerto Rico.
Letters of Freedom, Moca, Puerto Rico, 1848-1852
20 Jan 1848: Pedro Gonzalez, 28, criollo (born in Puerto Rico), single, bought his freedom for 32 pesos from d. Faustino Perez del Rio. F1
24 Jan 1848: Eugenio, 26, criollo (born in Puerto Rico), single, bought his freedom for 250 pesos silver from d. Maximo Gonzalez. F2
8 Feb 1848: Mauricio, 1 1/2, freedom bought by his mother Monserrate for 25 pesos from d. Juan Jimenez. F5v
8 Jun 1848: Candelaria, bought her freedom for 68 pesos from d. Cristobal Benejans. F17v-18
24 Jul 1848: Ramona, 7 mo., mother Maria Encarnacion bought her freedom for 37 pesos from d. Alberto de Soto. F48v
24 Jul 1848: Tomasa, 35, criolla (born in Puerto Rico), mulata, servant her freedom purchased for 300 pesos from d. Felix Lopez and his wife Petrona Vega. Tomasa was “born in the home of another of their slaves named Paula.” F23-23v
24 Jan 1850: Maria Ylaria o Isidora 2, born on his property, mother Maria Candelaria bought freedom for 70 pesos from d. Cristobal Benejam. F25v-26.
8 May 1850: Felix, 60, ‘natural de la isla’ (born in Puerto Rico) light mulato, for good services, granted freedom from d. Manuel Salas’ (-1850) will. F48v
8 Aug 1850: Lorenzo, who resides in Moca bought freedom for 300 silver pesos from Jose de la Cruz of Lares, who bought him from Juan, Antonio y Francisco de la Cruz. F100-100v
15 Oct 1850: Maria de los Angeles, 26, servant, bought her freedom for 300 pesos from d. Maximo Gonzalez. F128-129
22 Nov 1850: Maria de la Encarnacion, servant, bought her freedom for 100 pesos maququinos from d. Alberto de Soto. F151
9 Apr 1851: Marcos, 70, born Santo Domingo, dark skinned, bought his freedom for 60 pesos from d. Francisco Roman. F52v-53
16 Aug 1851: Matias, 60, Dutch, tall, chocolate color, graying hair, regular front with honey colored eyes, thick nose, large mouth, bushy eyebrows, to be granted freedom for his service, obedience, respect and honor upon the death of da. Rosalia Perez. F170v-171
16 Aug 1851: Prudencio, 8, reddish color, passing hair, regular appearance, honey colored eyes, wide nose, small mouth to be granted freedom upon of da. Rosalia Perez. F171-171v
16 Aug 1851: Catalina, 40, single, reddish black color, passing hair, sad eyes, thick, wide nose wide mouth and bushy eyebrows, for good conduct from the first day, with honesty and activity proper to a slave to her masters to be freed upon the death of da. Rosalia Perez. F171v-172
29 Aug 1851: Teresa, 56, single, mulato, to compensate for her distinguished services with real love and constancy to be granted her freedom by d. Manuel Morales. His son d. Enrique Morales signed as his father did not know how to write. F176v-177
27 Oct 1851: Pedro Pablo, 30, born in Puerto Rico, single, mulato, reddish hair, regular appearance, regular nose, brown eyes, regular mouth and scant beard, purchases his freedom for 200 pesos maququinos from from d. Pedro Vargas. F227-227v
23 Dec 1851: Encarnacion, 40, born Costa Firme, Venezuela, given freedom for her good service via the will of d. Vasquez, via son d. Leonardo Vasquez. F304v
24 Jan 1852: Maria de la Cruz, 14 criolla (born in Puerto Rico), single, light mulato, household servant, straight hair, small round face , black eyes, properly placed nose, regular mouth, freedom purchased by her father Pedro Cordero for 205 pesos maququinos from d. Jose Suarez Otero, deceased, via da. Teresa Cordero, his widow. F20-20v
 Michael Zeuske with Orlando García Martínez & Rebecca J. Scott. “Estado, notarios y esclavos en Cuba. Aspectos de una genealogía legal de la ciudadania en sociedades esclavistas.” Cuba. De esclavos, ex-esclavas, cimarrones, mambises y negreros. 102-165; Table 7.2 Population Increases by Race, in Olga Wagenheim’s Puerto Rico: An Interpretive History, p. 151 for 1846 lists a total population of 443,139; 216,083 White; 175,791 Free People of Color, and Slave at 51,265. By 1869, this number drops by -12,196 to 39,069 persons. Olga Jimenez de Wagenheim, Puerto Rico: An Interpretive History, from Pre-Columbian Times to 1900. NY: Marcus Weiner Publishers, 1998.
 Cartas de emancipación de esclavos compiled from Carlos Encarnacion Navarro, Transcription, Caja 1444, Serie Aguadilla, Pueblo Moca, 20 Jan 1848-31 Jan 1852, Fondo de Protocolos Notariales, Archivo General de Puerto Rico. Translations and extracts are my own.
 Antonio Nieves Mendez, Historia de un pueblo Moca, 1772-2000. Lulu.com 2008, p.146. Ref. Caja 1444, f4.
 “The politics of gratitude refers to the dynamics through which many came to see abolition as an effort to modernize the island, an endeavor for which everyone should be morally indebted to abolitionists and their successors. The politics of gratitude thus provided the structures through which liberal reformists could preserve a racialized and patriarchal social order in the absence of slavery. In the process, liberals also constituted themselves as the only inter- mediaries between popular subjects and the imperial state.” lleana M. Rodriguez-Silva, “Abolition, Race, and the Politics of Gratitude in Late Nineteenth-Century Puerto Rico.” Hispanic American Historical Review 93:4 621-657. doi 10.1215/00182168-2351656
 “3556. Paula, 29, hija de Juana.” 1 Mar 1870. Registro de Esclavos, Moca, Dist. Aguadilla, Caja 4, FHC Film 1511797.
If your Puerto Rican ancestor is on this list, then we’re related!
Since the mid-2000s, my digital family is expanding, and I’m enjoying some new connections. I tested my autosomal DNA on 23&Me, Ancestry and FamilyTree DNA, uploaded to MyHeritage, DNA.Land and am faced with hundreds, well, since the original blogpost, it’s now thousands of matches. I’m finding that some of the people i’ve known via social media are also distant relatives. I think back on when I lived in NYC as a child and how many times family have told me, wow, I used to live up there (Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan) too, and I wonder how many of those folks who passed me on the street were tied by blood.
Thanks to my prima Teresa Vega, who has the Radiant Roots, Boricua Branchesblog, I’ve been introduced to DNA, FB groups and i’ve been getting to know a lot of family and potential family. Our connection is through Rosa Maria Caban Mendez (2C4R), great granddaughter of my 5th GGP, Juan Cabal and Margarita Ruiz born sometime in the 1730s- 1740s in Aguada, Puerto Rico. Through Sociedad Ancestros Mocanos, we’ve found that quite a few people in our group have discovered DNA connections beyond the documents. And let me tell you, the level of endogamy on some of these lines ‘te da mareo’! (just makes you dizzy)
TL Dixon, of the FB group Native American Ancestry Explorer and Roots & Recombinant DNAblog graciously reviewed my atDNA GEDmatch results and noted the distribution across several different populations from several continents. There weren’t really surprises in there, as a lot matched what I was able to track via documents, contextual history and etymology of the Babilonia surname.
More recently, I’ve had the good fortune to have Fonte Felipe who has the wonderful blog, Tracing African Roots: Exploring the Ethnic Origins of the Afro-Diaspora look at my African results on Ancestry.com and see what matches come up. I’ll write more about discovering these ancestral roots in future posts, as I slowly learn to bring together local history, documents, trees and now, chromosome mapping and triangulation. However, knowing surnames can help point you in the right direction as to where that 3rd or 4th cousin might link up to you.
The Gift of Knowledge
Look, i’m related to two people on the panel on Black ProGen LIve, connections that we discovered much later. Perhaps some of you wonder why i’m on Black ProGen? It’s because one needs a space to speak to the realities of being POC and how one identifies, knowing what techniques and readings are helpful when nobody in your immediate family really has roots in New England, England or Ireland. There is definitely some up there in the mix, but it’s negligible, and my DNA looks like it went through a fan- ethnicities tossed in with no immediate connections to Europe outside of my dad’s grandfather. This is the face of the slave trade & mass migrations in your genes.
And this process never, ever stops. It doesn’t necessarily include the life sustaining ties of kin, people who are the family you make. Remember that there are ties that go beyond blood, or close ties, that make it possible for you to be here. This floating community of family changes over the course of our lives, and I am proud to say that despite the challenges of time and space I have relationships that sustain and heal– yet my tree may not show it. This too is in part, a legacy of slavery.
So, if your Puerto Rican ancestor is on this list, then we’re related!
Family Lines: Those starred on the list below are tied to Haplogroup C1b2 on the maternal line, and C1b4 on the paternal line, which is the Taino DNA that is on both my X chromosomes. More than half of the people here are on my maternal line in the NW, Aguada-Moca-Aguadilla. On the paternal line in the NE, San Juan-Santurce-Rio Grande, there is Haplogroup C1b4 via my paternal grandmother, Angelina Calo Vazquez. Y Haplogroup is European, R-L51, via my paternal grandfather, Ramon Fernandez Matos. On my maternal line, my grandmother, Felicita Rodriguez Vale is the source of my C1b2, which I could fortunately trace back to Tomasa Mendez, born about 1740.
These results fit with the resulting map of 1st to 3rd cousins on Puerto Rico as generated by 23&Me. While locations are self-reported, the results are consistent with family on both sides of my tree, and later generations may have moved south, as I don’t necessarily have specific ancestors in Yauco or Ponce areas. Eventually some arrived in New York City among the thousands who came in the early decades of the 20th Century, many escaping conditions that stemmed from the hurricanes of 1899 and 1928 that mangled Puerto Rico.
There’s always so much more to learn!
The List of my known Great Grandparents:
ps. those born outside of Puerto Rico are noted.
GG Grandfathers –
BABILONIA ACEVEDO, Manuel Miguel Narciso (ca 1804- >1868) Moca
LOPEZ DE SEGURA Y DE SOSA, Buonaventura (ca1825 – <1895)