Stories in a Box: Caja 1289, Slavery and the Hernandez family

View of Aguadilla, 1898, from Murat Halstead, Full Official History of the War with Spain: The True Inwardness of the War. [HL Barber, 1898]. Sepia by EFS
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.

Map of Aguadilla showing Caimital Alto. Google Maps, 2018.
Locator Map of Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. Wikimedia. Based on File:USA Puerto Rico location map.svg made by NordNordWest, highlighted by Dr. Blofeld

Documents & context

Barrios of Aguadilla, note border of Moca with Caimital Alto y Bajo.

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.

Excerpt from pamphlet “Una scientifica rebelde: Los cuadernos recuperados de al Botanica antillana, Ana Roque de Duprey.” Para la Naturaleza. Centro de Periodismo Investigativo. Note the sentence at the end.

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.

Sugar Plantation. Bringing the Cane to the Crushing Mill. (1898) Despite the modern central in the background, the process still involved backbreaking labor.

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.

Family Tree of Clothide Medrano (1838-1888). E. Fernandez-Sacco, 2018.

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!

References

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.

Leandro Prados de la Escosura,”Five Ways to Compute the Relative Value of a Spanish Peseta Amount, 1850 – 2000,” MeasuringWorth, 2018. URL http://www.measuringworth.com/spaincompare/

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).

 

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

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

Yams & communities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Digging the Roots in Moca

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

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

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

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

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

Cook it!

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

Wild Yams & Other Naming Practices

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

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

What’s in a name?

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

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

A bitter reality: sugar production & slavery

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

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

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

Increased numbers: Legal & illegal business, Dicey documents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resistance and Retaliation: Toa Baja, 1843

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

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

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

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

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

The death penalty in Puerto Rico, 1843

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

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

They were sentenced on the 18 May 1843.

Among the Longoba were:

Bembe (baptized Cornelio)

Enrique Longoba

Casimiro

Luis

Pedro

Lucas

and others from the hacienda owned by Francisco Cantero.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The family who owned Longoba people

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

Merging of powers

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

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

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

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

Uncertainty & instability: marriage, alliances, uprisings

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

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

Edge note on Hernandez-Pasalaqua marriage, F57v 1833

The text of the edge note says:

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

[firma]  Marrero

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hardened beliefs versus flexible realities, denial versus possibility

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

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

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

From Rios Plantation:

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

From Quinlan’s Plantation
Francisco
Juaquin
Francisco

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

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

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

Calling their names- Restoring the visibility of resistance

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

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

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

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

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

Enslaved workers unloading ice in Cuba, 1832

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

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

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

Map of Perico within Matanzas Province. Wikipedia.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worlds in a bodega

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

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

Listen.

References

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

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

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

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

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

[6]  Baralt, Slave Revolts in Puerto Rico 60

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[16] Baralt, 90

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

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

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

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

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

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