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Chapter Four Matrimonial Alliances and Conflicts
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Chapter Four
Matrimonial Alliances and Conflicts

To a great extent, the course of slaves' marriages and family life was determined by the direct or indirect interference of owners. Because they were slaves, many women followed the expectations of their owners. In partial response to a question raised at the end of the preceding chapter, I believe that the sexual appetites of masters often set their slaves' choices for marriage and family life. For many female slaves in domestic service sexual relations with owners were all they knew of marriage and family life. But these relationships were not the only option for female slaves, nor was the matrimonial universe one defined wholly by owners.

Slave Women in Domestic Service

The day-to-day life of urban slave women took place in three different realms: within the master's household as a servant in residence; on the street as a day laborer but part of the master's household; and as a day laborer outside the master's household. Whatever the arrangement, the slave could be both a mother and a wife.

The statistics that we have indicate a relatively higher proportion of women in the urban setting, and the census figures show a more rapid increase of women from free casta groups than of men from this category, which may reflect women's greater success in the process of manumission. Between 1792 and 1818 the male slave population decreased 27 percent; the female population, 45 percent (Haitin 1986, 186). As we have seen, daily wages complemented domestic service, while residence with masters set up other mechanisms that help explain the results of this census. In the context of domestic service, emotional and social blackmail often became the basis for negotiations for the journey toward freedom.


Benefits and Dangers of an Owner's Household

The kind of work slaves assumed in the owners' households was closely linked to the owners' social status. A greater number of slaves meant not only higher social status for owners and slaves (and division of daily chores among the slaves) but clearly understood boundaries between owners and slaves as well. The proximity (or dependence) was less in households with fewer slaves where duties were multiple and a greater level of familiarity promoted inverted relations of dependence and such forms of male owner-female slave cohabitation as concubinage. Joint residence gave rise to affective ties. And only on rare occasions did owners use violence to secure sexual favors from female slaves or, if they did, would compensate for the initial violence with a series of concessions that female slaves would learn to use.

Lorenzo Rioja was a merchant and one of the municipality's asentistas . He was married and owned a slave named María Isabel who had been born in her master's house. Lorenzo had taken advantage of her for many years. When she reached fourteen years of age, María Isabel stated:

It was his desire to have illicit intercourse with me; I was forced to yield for two reasons: the first because of the master's status; the second because ... it being certain that the greater the interest of one's master, the better his treatment for us women. I sought my alleviation by faking pleasure when he reached out for me.[1]

The owner expressed his sexual interest in the slave and she consented. She perceived her master's status and knew that she could exploit it to receive benefits: clothing, good treatment, and perhaps freedom too. Alone and with no access to daily wages, a slave had limited means to change her condition. Yet within the immediate possibilities, such a transaction could ease her situation. The apologetic tone in her statement transferred the blame of moral transgression to the owner; he was employing his power as owner (and allowing her a chance to benefit). The attitude was not an isolated phenomenon; María Isabel was not speaking for herself alone. Female slaves talked among themselves and owners also exchanged opinions, as the statement of María Isabel's owner shows us.

I am very certain, as are many more owners with even greater reason, who have suffered similar false imputations at the hands of their slaves and have experienced such fatal misfortune, that such kinds of demands are not new,


but rather very old, and very hackneyed, so that if the slaves do not manage to obtain de facto freedom, the least that happens is that the slaves become shameless and licentious, and live for a long time at the cost of presenting a false suit, ridiculing their owner.

Aside from elucidating an attitude common at the time, the owner shielded himself behind his position as owner: "There is no law that grants freedom to the slave woman because of a master's lewd treatment, and there exists only such a law that might consider the owners' wantonness to be spiritual cruelty."

María Isabel turned the argument around: "He is right when he declares that the owner's sexual intercourse corresponds to spiritual cruelty, but this is not so when rape and corrupted virginity are involved because this latter carries the punishment of freedom [for the slave], and even more so if there exists a pact or word that should be enforced with complete rigor as an example for rash owners who take advantage of their power."

A promise of freedom had been made, and the slave demanded fulfillment of the owner's word. The specific aggression or "spiritual cruelty" was not defined, and the slave—although denied juridical personality—invoked her condition as a raped woman. The law specified that if a victim could substantiate her claim, the offender had to marry her, pay her monetary compensation, or go to jail. Thus, a woman who petitioned to be freed was asking for a kind of monetary compensation and was demanding what society conceded to all women. María Isabel's response implicitly asserted that the courts should ensure the compliance of word and pacts, and that compliance should depend on a person's honor and integrity rather than on her status as a slave. Owners had defined themselves as honorable people and María Isabel was claiming that her master had not acted accordingly. The female slave assumed that she herself was complying with the standards of honor; the owner had transgressed his stipulated code of honor.

Other owners could grasp the dangers and implications of arguments such as María's: the assertions enunciated in her case might serve to obtain justice on a personal level and also become the principal postulates for others who suffered injustices, even if the final step of their litigation process was not successful.

For more than six years—until Lorenzo Rioja's death in 1814—the presence of his female slave fueled continuous disputes within the house, where not only Lorenzo and his wife lived, but her sisters as


well. Lorenzo faced their repeated recriminations. Neither inside nor outside the house was his liaison with the slave a secret: on more than one occasion he had to turn to the services of a midwife, most of them black females who were known to disseminate the news of an illegitimate birth and of the newborn's racial features. When Lorenzo died, his wife would assume the litigation pending against the slave. Despite her efforts, María Isabel did not obtain freedom and was finally sold to another owner for two hundred pesos.

Emotional closeness between masters and slaves was greater when the master was a bachelor or lived apart from his wife. In these circumstances, many slave women were fully incorporated into their owners' households and assumed all the roles demanded of legitimate wives. They served as their replacements and in general cost far less to maintain: "Fear of poverty persuaded [owners] to remain unmarried" (Macera 1977, 312). Whereas a husband might pay out at least twelve pesos a month to support a wife, a female slave could supply her master with daily wages. Slave women carried out domestic chores, sustained themselves, and into the bargain often produced surpluses and eventually more slaves (through buying them or bearing them). We need hardly remind ourselves that in the event of conflict, while the female slave could be sold, the wife could not.[2] In such circumstances the only reason to marry was a woman's whiter skin or her ability to further aspirations of social ascent. However, choosing a female slave as a concubine had its costs: female slaves who had taken on the work and role of wives would not easily allow their owners to treat them as slaves, especially when they were lighter skinned (or so perceived themselves).

María Mercedes Oyague, the parda slave of a military officer who owned a cake shop, had helped rear her owner's daughter for one year. when the owner first requested María's services, she was working for another owner. María Mercedes stated that the military officer "desired with much resolve to provide the money for my price, assuring me that he needed a maid for the upbringing and companionship of a child, his daughter of minor age, since his legitimate wife, Doña María Encarnación, had abandoned him."[3]

He managed to convince her. The rearing of the child soon evolved into something more: "It always was the intention of the stated, my owner, as he did not have a wife during that epoch, to do everything to bring me closer to his lewdness. After he offered to


grant my carta de libertad , I finally yielded to his desires, living by his side and in comfort."

Several years later the owner tried to punish María Mercedes, depositing her in a panadería . She deeply resented this attempt and insisted on obtaining the promised freedom or, in any case, a new owner. The owner experienced little inconvenience; the established facts show that he managed to retain María Mercedes by not appearing at the summons ordered by the civil court and by evading the delivery of her carta de libertad .

The dual role female slaves assumed makes it difficult for us to define their place in the slaveholding system and as one-half of a domestic couple. Their social articulation was rooted in daily, individual interaction that ultimately favored the slaves. Even if slave women represented a capital reserve for use in the event of an emergency or conflict, owners could not always exercise this option or assure their mastery by the usual mechanisms of punishment that threatened the slave population. Often what owners wished to secure was not simply property.

We see in the experience of Matea Neyra a version of the story of María Mercedes. Matea had also been "assaulted with the vehement impulses and promises" of her owner's husband. For a long time she was kept in "illicit friendship, and under the firm belief that the word [of freedom] that I had been promised was going to be fulfilled." But circumstances forced Don Juan Balada, the husband, to sell the slave without redeeming his promise. Matea stated, "I left his power and went to another master, however Don Juan soon returned requesting my return with great insistence, and telling me that if he had not fulfilled the promise it had not been for lack of love [!] but because of his scarcities, and that he now found himself in another condition, and that I should let him purchase me again; that I would soon be free as he had promised me."

The owner spoke of love, the slave of an illicit friendship that was preventing her from marrying a free man of "known industry and honesty, who proposed to me with perseverance, seeing my disposition for work."[4] Matea returned to the power of Don Juan and then, observing that he was breaking his promises (and we must remember that to grant her freedom, Don Juan had to relinquish her to another man), went to the marqués de Fuente Hermosa, a friend of Don Juan, to whom he had "confessed his crime." The marqués wrote a letter to the


civil court endorsing Matea's version of the story. Nonetheless, Don Juan obstructed her emancipation from slavery by claiming that she belonged not to him, but to his wife.[5]

In these episodes was a chain of possible situations ranging from owners' startled responses at the accusations of female slaves to emotional commitments with these slaves; from slaves' awareness of the owner's supremacy to acceptance of their own weaknesses. And neither side was oblivious to what was taking place. Inverting the argument of female slaves—that illicit intercourse should lead to freedom—owners, as proof of their innocence, would then allege that the female slave "was not so stupid as to avoid seeking her freedom because of the mere fact that she had lived with her owner."[6] In many cases owners came out ahead, managing to seduce their slaves and later promising to free them if they could pay their purchase price.[7]

Occurrences such as those we have depicted were so frequent that liaisons with slaves were hardly ever a secret to the erring husbands' legitimate spouses. What did these latter think and feel when confronted with female slaves, especially when the relations involved deep feelings among all parties? And what occurred within the internal hierarchies of households if female slaves received better treatment than wives? As we shall see, the female universe encompassed not only master-slave relationships but emotional competition as well.[8] How did a wife react when her husband exhibited a clear preference for the domestic slave?

After five years of marriage Francisco Torquera, fifty-five years old, was in his house screaming at his wife. He reproached her: "What devils and demons did I have in my body to marry a sow and pig like you? It would have been better if I had married my maid Teresa who, more than you, deserves marriage to me and is the one I most esteem: compared to Teresa you are of no use to me."[9]

The ideal marriage was one in which the home and children were the legitimate wife's ordained field of action. The expenses of supporting a legitimate spouse were high—both socially and sexually—partly because a wife's education was oriented more toward religion than toward carnal matters. And from a subjective angle, a wife's upbringing must be one of the reasons underlying owners' predilection for female slaves. Torquera's description of his first days of marriage confirm this:


I soon recognized the lack of willingness and love that [my wife] professed to me, making it clear with the hundreds of contemptuous words with which she constantly reproached me, and most important because she denied me with no just cause to consent to what was owed, such that in the few occasions in which I made her comply with my requests, it was always with repugnance and in a very disagreeable manner. Thus it resulted that a few days after our wedding we were already divorced in terms of the nuptial bed, and the stated [wife] separated from my side.

By definition, carnal intercourse was to take place only within the confines of marriage; however, sex was both an obligation required of wives and an act tinged with sin. To remain morally and spiritually intact, wives had to resist and silence their desires. The presence of slave women filled this gap between desire and sin, a gap that female slaves recognized and used. This situation offered advantages to both sides, although on different levels, and it is evident that there were serious limitations to the effectiveness of ecclesiastical recommendations. For a man, his wife's sexual and affective rejection was an argument to legitimize his partiality toward a female slave. Many men sought neither pretext nor justification and more than one wife, night after night, perhaps did not see but at least heard her husband take the slave into his bedroom. For years Juan Gutiérrez Prio, a retail merchant, maintained relations with his slave while he beat his wife and openly admitted to her his fondness for the slave. Their matrimonial strife reached such an extreme that he was willing to return a large portion of the dowry to his wife to rid himself of her; the confrontation between slave and wife led to the slave physically harming the wife. Even after this altercation, the merchant decided to liberate the slave rather than punish her, as his wife requested."[10]

A society that left room for such possibilities would obviously open the doors wide not only to the so bewailed insubordination of its bottom layers but would also create immediate advantages for those who knew how to use them. Across all layers of urban society there was evasion of the rules of domination. The cases examined until now involved female slaves and male owners who belonged to the civil and military bureaucracy or who were petty merchants and shop owners, individuals who owned one or two slaves. Yet domestic service was the patrimony par excellence of the elite; nobility was not free from flaws. And when the penchants of the master of the house became public knowl-


edge, rumors did not induce obedience among dependents. In some cases, the wife became an object of mockery and jokes, and within the household slaves began to take sides.

In a letter addressed to the archbishop Las Heras, the marquesa of Santa María expressed her complaints against her husband:

Although I tried all the prudent methods to make my legitimate husband Don Fernando Carrillo, the marqués of Santa María, comply with his duties, they have not sufficed to obtain a social life that accords with the obligations into which we entered with the sacred tie of marriage. Your Excellency knows that before this time I found myself in need of withdrawing to a convent with the permission of Your Excellency in order to see if this action had a good impression on my husband. My heart always willing, with the recompenses that he promised me, consented to his suggestions, and thus I returned to his house; however as soon as I arrived I began to experience worse resistance, especially since I was without the presence of my uncle, the marqués of Casa Dávila. I begun to suffer from indifferent and insolent treatment. In matters concerning the household, I saw that a chola and three zambas were those who had the say, and that this [situation] arose from certain origins that modesty and moderation cause me to hide. For this reason, I was looked upon as a worthless person, as these [women] entered and left my presence without granting me any attention or greetings of courtesy.
I endured these events so offensive to religion, and to my own honor, to see if my silence and discretion would bring an end to so much disorder. My new separation, although silent, brought to light the mismanagement of my husband: this consideration, and knowing how important our marriage was to his honor, and to the education of my children, obligated me to endure this flood of disorders at which I have only hinted, even at the risk of my conscience. However, they reached such extremes that I could not bear it any longer. ... I see that because of my birth I cannot remain in this state, and that other circumstances must be sought for me. I have to look out for myself, given the liberty of this century. Even if I go on silencing this disorder as until now, I am still exposed to the gossip of the common people.

The marquesa again withdrew to a convent, from whence she initiated the judicial battle to recover her property.[11]

All the weapons that the wife had within her reach to make her husband "comply with his duties" (separation, the convent, intervention of a respected family member, silence) did not change her husband's conduct. This situation escalated to such a degree that finally the "maids devoted to him declared war on those at my service."[12] It is no surprise that given these experiences, a black slave would disobey both


owners and set her own field of action with respect to daily chores.[13] Thus relations established through daily contact could be more effective than decrees to ease the oppression and abuses inflicted on slaves. Disagreements and conflicts in the family lives of owners—as we have seen in rural-urban relations—were used by slaves to expand their field of maneuverability and promote their own interests.

A distinct interaction within a household concerned relations between a domestic male slave and his female owner. Given the traditional subordination of women, we understand that examples do not abound, most likely because they were less common; similarly, the owners' feminine modesty probably inhibited them. In cases such as these, social and moral recrimination played a role. Was it easier for a male slave to obtain freedom because he could use social and personal pressure against his owner? The punishment imposed for rape was severe, and the rarity of this domestic situation despite the residence of male slaves and female owners in the same house suggests that intimate relations developed if the female owner encouraged them. One such case illustrates proximity and its consequences.

In the divorce case filed by Manuela Vargas Machuca and Francisco Bernardo Sánchez de la Concha after eight and one-half years of marriage, the husband accused the wife:

She gave herself to this slave with the greatest pleasure, so that he would delouse her, and strip off her stockings when it was time to go to sleep, he would take off her clothing, after having undressed her so she could sleep, he would return in the morning to awaken her; and finally, she preferred his service for these functions over those of the maid: whereupon she contributed to the situation, the entire crime of the consequences fall on her sole person, and thus the punishment should fall on her, and not on the slave.

Apparently, the relationship with the slave had preceded the marriage. The husband complained that his wife had not been a virgin, and his spouse, agreeing with this fact, stated that the perpetrator of the rape was not the slave but her lapdog. Don Francisco stated, "By concealing the accomplice in the rape, she places the crime of bestiality on herself." As we can see, after several years of marriage and the birth of a few children, anything was acceptable except a relationship with a slave.[14]

While the marquesa's partner accepted his wife's game of honor, withdrawal to the convent, and silence, even managing to convince her that he had changed and clearly improved, Doña Manuela's husband


filed for divorce and exposed his wife's arguments one by one. For an adulterous wife, the worst response was to admit the adultery, but if it involved a slave, better to blame a lapdog. And here we see a husband willing to defend the slave and lay all the blame on his wife. What the wife should have done—according to the husband—was to accept the services of a female maid, not a male servant, especially when the demanded services were similar to those of Louis XIV's courtly rituals.

When relationships between a female owner and a male slave were discovered, the former could always claim that she had been raped. The moral (and physical) recriminations would fall on the slave in order to safeguard the woman's honor. Since by definition the husband was the guardian of his wife's property, it would be problematic for the wife to grant the male slave freedom even if she so desired. Only fears of social ridicule—which did not inhibit Don Francisco—would drive a husband to rid himself of a slave, and only if he could do so without going to court. Aside from the punishments imposed, such fears explain why we know so little about relationships between male slaves and female owners. Furthermore, the balance of power between men and women would be unlikely to encourage a male slave to pursue freedom by establishing relations with a female owner.

Certainly the presence of slaves in the domestic realm caused severe familial disturbances. Extramarital liaisons were facilitated by common residence. Concubinage and adultery were frequent. Although statistics on illegitimacy do not only refer to slaves, extremely high percentages of illegitimacy (around 22 percent—depending on the ethnic group) for the whole of limeño society corroborate such behavior.[15] Thus, we are only one step away from affirming that illegitimacy was a social behavior that gradually led to freedom. It was one more path of social ascent for the black population to follow. Cohabitation created margins for negotiation that varied for masters and slaves and also for men and women. The proliferation of such margins, as well as the harsh tones of owners' petitions for recourse against them from the courts and the interpersonal violence of their underlying tensions, were signs of increasing social unrest that was visible even within the domestic sphere. And this situation was apparently not particular to Lima. Equally dramatic expressions have been recorded for slave women in the United States, as Ellison assures us (1983, 56):

They [slaves] fought unremittingly against misuse and brutality and refused to become mere victims. They sought to bend and undermine an iniquitous system so that they could win some degree of independence for themselves.


They often succeeded in making an intolerable institution more bearable and they evolved subversive techniques that were varied and devious enough quite frequently to make a mockery of the system itself. At the very least, they managed to alter slave laws and evade restrictions to create better lives for themselves and their families.

This assertion fits the actions of Manuela, Manuelita, and the many other female slaves we have encountered in the preceding pages. What we note in the final decades of slavery's existence is that the average percentage of all methods of attaining freedom (self-purchase, intervention of relatives or other persons, and grants of freedom) was much higher for women than for men. The average percentage for manumissions of women in 1830, 1840 and 1850 was 65 percent, a ratio of nearly 2:1 in favor of women.[16] This ratio corresponds to the average of urban female manumissions for Latin America as a whole (62–67 percent from Mexico City to Buenos Aires [Klein 1986, 227]). At the heart of these high percentages was the presence of slave women in urban life as domestics and wage laborers.

However, this was not all. An important component of the male owner-female slave bond were the children born from these relationships. Their presence gave the claims of slave women added force and complicated matters for the colonial and republican authorities.

The Children of Owners

Only in the mid-eighteenth century were genetic permutations that produced a black child from the union of black parents and one of lighter skin from a white and a black parent held to be facts rather than random occurrences; the observations led to the conclusion that both sexes participated in procreation. In 1854 the fusion of gametes in frog embryos was finally observed for the first time through a microscope (Tannahill 1980, 344 ff.). The Church opted in the meantime for the theory that the human being was reproduced by the decisive participation of the ovum, and thus legislators and slave owners would argue that slavery was inherited from the womb. Certainly the abolition of slavery in Peru owed less to theology or biology than it did to economic factors such as the growth of guano exports, yet perhaps the concurrence of the dates between the discovery of the fertility process and the abolition of slavery represents more than mere coincidence.

In a society as highly sensitive to differences of complexion and ancestry as Lima's, slave children were evidence of domestic realities


and sources of additional conflict. Faced with the same few contraceptive options available to women at all levels of Peruvian society, slave women bore children inevitably. The prevailing legislation conveniently left the moral management of such cases to the authority of owners. Owners could recognize their children or not, feed them or not, sell them or raise them in their own houses. The decision depended on the emotions and prejudices (or ignorance) at work and, therefore, an important part of slave reproduction depended on individual actions. This fact placed the reproduction of urban slaves in a context distinct from that of slavery on plantations, whose owners weighted decisions for or against reproduction (the "buy or breed" dilemma) more by the profitability of the labor force and the market prices of slaves.[17]

Virginity, as we have seen in several previous cases, was a property valued by slaves as by other individuals; it offered slave women an ethical argument (of "corrupted virginity") to compromise owners before the courts. An owner who claimed innocence when confronted with this argument found his argument compromised if slave children existed. The opinions and feelings of a female slave acquired added weight if she could appeal to the values of the society in which she lived to persuade the court that the child or children were the owner's progeny. Given the lack of scientific information or definitive proofs of paternity, and amid contemporaries' determination to perpetuate a racially divided society and the social prejudices in force, slaves used the argument of miscegenation to obtain freedom.[18] One slave, Norberta, explained her understanding of the facts:

According to the rigor of the law he is obligated to grant me freedom because he has had illicit intercourse with me, a result of which was the birth of the mentioned daughter, Manuela; and furthermore Doña Teresa, the legitimate wife of my said owner, having come to know about her husband's criminal deed has punished me severely and frequently, not for my bad conduct in domestic service but rather for revenge after she ascertained the details of her husband's seductions ... I should enjoy my freedom; and my daughter Manuela with much more reason; because no one could imagine, and nature opposes [such a possibility], that one's own blood be sold. If my owner attempts to do so, it is despicable and monstrous even to suggest this proposal because Manuela is his daughter. Well before claiming fifty pesos for my daughter, he is obligated to apportion her food.[19]


Along with her children, the female slave was vulnerable to the reprisals of the female owner because the latter now knew with certainty—because of the children's existence—that her husband was enjoying the favors of the slave. Added to this situation, which was part of daily family life with slaves, was the clear notion expressed by Noberta that it was unusual to wish to sell one's own kin. She demanded the acknowledgment of paternity with all its implications: freedom for Norberta and her daughter and a maintenance allowance. The female slave would not hesitate to turn to the courts. Laws did not define the obligations of a father-owner: they did not admit to the obvious because it was morally distasteful.

The courts' charge to settle these situations was not easy. First, it was necessary to know if a slave was lying about the owner's paternity, since many owners—as we have seen—were conscious that slaves often demanded freedom through this strategy. The only available method to evaluate the question was an informed comparison of skin color. But the prevalence of mestizos made pigmentation an unconvincing argument for paternity, and for this reason the reports written by Lima's Protomedicato were not scientific treatises but rather reflections of the father's status and of contemporary social conventions.

In the case of Manuela, Norberta's daughter, the inspection carried out by the Protomedicato circled warily around the possibilities:

We examined the mentioned Manuela with attention to the class of the mother, which is that of white mulata, quarterona ; it was not easy to form a secure opinion of the daughter, given that, in the case of having been fathered by a Spaniard she would also be the daughter of a Spaniard; and if she originated from a black, or from a mulato , the said girl would be mulata , or quarterona , like the mother. It seems that these three possibilities, that is, Spanish, mulata , or quarterona , cannot be deemed in her appearance; the judgment remaining inclined that the mentioned Manuela might be the daughter of a cholo [darker-skinned person without clearly defined racial features] father. But as these conjectures are so fallible no final judgment may be ascertained.

A delicate question of conscience concerned whether a child whose mother was a slave could be declared a Spaniard if the father was known to be one. And nobody would think of suggesting that a Spaniard could be a slave. This tight spot in which the scientific and ecclesiastical authorities found themselves explained a necessarily loose ruling: Manuela was a chola . There were laws that determined


the obligations and rights of the distinct racial groups, but cholo did not figure among them. Thus the owner, the female slave, the state, and the Church bore no responsibility. For some time all parties could rest peacefully. But as rumors about these episodes began to spread throughout the slave population and as claims put forth by female slaves were increasingly substantiated, the questions grew louder and more insistent.

Disputes persisted until after the abolition of slavery. In 1839 Archibald Smith, an English traveler, asserted that "Such is the influence which slave domestics exercise over the feelings and comfort of private families, and we would even add, over the moral and physical features of the community, that it would be impossible to give a correct picture of the state of society without first cursorily viewing the condition of the slave population in Peru" (1839, 1: 106).

Given the social implications of the presence of slave children in owners' households, it is likely that only a fraction of such cases were aired in the courts. The modesty of wives and the trepidation of slave women encouraged silence, which often brought slaves manumission quietly and discreetly, to safeguard the family honor. Solutions within the four walls of the household were more feasible and less disturbing. These solutions did not necessarily end the relationship between the male owner and female slave. With varying enthusiasm, slave children would assume household chores and occasionally acquire the privileges of legitimate children. These alternatives emerged after slavery was abolished in 1854, in many cases that sought to demonstrate relationships of filiation. An example—with additional discord between slave siblings—was the case of Cesilio and his sister, both children of Don Felipe Alvarado and the slave Catalina Paniso.[20]

In 1857 Cesilio Alvarado filed a suit against the estate of his father, Don Felipe Alvarado, in order to prove that Don Felipe was his father. Cesilio claimed, "During my entire life I have worked only in the service of my father, even managing and having active say about his property." Prominent witnesses—among them several merchants and mine owners—orroborated Cesilio's assertions. The sister (according to Cesilio she was a child of the same father and mother) accused Cesilio of being a mere slave of her father and claimed that she was the only heir. Cesilio managed to prove his filiation with his carta de libertad, which stated that Don Felipe and Catalina Paniso had five children, two of whom were Cesilio and his sister Isabel.


In its manifold variations in an owner's family life, the presence of slaves was the source of continuous mistrust and rifts. Female slaves found ways to bring their demands to the attention of owners; many male owners experienced emotional blackmail as the consequence of easy sexual access to female slaves. And the presence of slave children within their owners' households had to be hidden, by wives or by husbands for more obvious reasons. Cohabitation of owner and slaves dislocated relations among all parties, whether on the haciendas of Lima's hinterland or in the urban sphere. But the greater the distance from an owner's control, the greater autonomy slaves had to formulate family strategies—where they lived, what they were able to save, how they survived as families.

Whatever slavery's conditions or nuances of arbitrariness and cruelty, the slave family was the unit that furnished a base of action and affective—sometimes even spousal—links. In many places the family was the predominant social structure among slaves. In contexts as disparate as the United States (Gutman 1976) and Martinique (Tomich 1990) some contemporary authors interpret the slave family as a mechanism of social articulation and as a tool slaves used against the impositions of owners; they describe the family also as an administrative mechanism that owners (especially planters) set up to distribute food, clothing, and shelter and to enforce discipline as well as to guarantee the reproduction of the slave population. Thus, they note the merging of nineteenth-century Victorian codes with a rationale derived from managerial practices and portray the family unit as the universe of social and emotional cohesion for slaves and free persons alike and, for slaves in particular, as defense against the arbitrariness of the power that slave ownership implied and which it gradually undermined—even as it worked within the context of slaveholders' interests and contemporary ethical sermons. (Gutman 1976; 1975, 88 ff.)

Yet I believe that we must look carefully at the specific situations of slaves' married and family life: the circumstances and the responses varied widely, expressing multiple links as well as conflicts. Slaves, and especially female slaves, knew many different marriage arrangements and family lives, often enough a succession of situations. Invariably an owner's interests—sexual, economic, political, moral—had an impact on slaves' construction of emotional bonds. But conflict in slaves' marriages did not always come from an owner's interference. What about slave families who lived outside a master's


house, who had enough earnings that they and their children could survive, who had not undergone an owner's sexual assaults? If we find that conflicts within slave families differed from conflicts detectable in the rest of society, we can speak more specifically of the slave family and its peculiarities, of an intimate level of life reflected not only in the day-to-day existence of slaves, but also in the prevailing characteristics of gender domination.

The first point we must explore concerns slaves' patterns of gender relations and the diversity of their situations and responses, reflecting the heterogeneity of slaves' positions and intimate relationships as well as the divisions within black society. The conditions of slavery acted on individuals who were fathers and mothers, who worked to save money, who took part in community life. In the history of the Lasmanuelos family, we traced various patterns of marriage and conflict: in the first generation, the familial and matrimonial life of Manuel and Manuela, who jointly struggled over who would work in Lima and how to obtain freedom; in the second, the ethnic inequalities of Manolo and Manola that gave the wife greater earning capacity and the husband experience of banditry and maroonage, and that led them to separation and unemployment whereas in the circumstances of Manolo's brother Manolito, the needs of his wife's owner and the ups and downs of his own family determined their life.

These three sets of circumstances give us a context for reviewing the different expressions of conflict that slavery created in the private relationships—marriages and families—of Lima's slaves.

The Character of Matrimonial Alliances

In order to describe the character and significance of marriages between slaves and between slaves and free persons, I examined the records of all marriage licenses issued in Lima at ten-year intervals from 1810 to 1850.[21] One initial discovery was that the percentage of slaves who married (in other words, of couples with at least one slave spouse) was relatively high in contrast to the total number of marriages in Lima during this period (Table 10). As part of an agenda of social ascent, marriage guaranteed legitimacy, an important factor in terms of social respect and moral values. And as stated earlier, marriage could also be a step toward freedom.

If we compare the percentage of slaves' marriages to the rates of decrease of the black population during these five decades, we can


TABLE 10. Marriages among Slave and Free Population of Lima: 1810–1850


All Marriages

Marriages involving Slaves (%)

Slave-Slave Marriages (%)

Slave-Free Marriages (%)



138 (35.7)





97 (27.8)

69 (71.1)

28 (28.9)



64 (26.5)

48 (75.0)

16 (25.0)



44 (23.3)

29 (65.9)

15 (34.1)



16 (9.5)

6 (37.5)

10 (62.5)



20 (10.0)

9 (45.0)

11 (55.0)

Source . AA, Licencias Matrimoniales.

see that, in relative terms, the numbers of slave couples who formalized their unions rose slightly, whether one partner was free or both were slaves.[22] Marriage augmented proportionally, although in absolute terms it decreased.

Of the marriages in 1815, twenty-eight (28.8 percent) involved a slave spouse and a free spouse, and sixty-nine (71.1 percent) involved slave partners. In 1820, sixteen (25.0 percent) were between a slave spouse and a free spouse and forty-eight (75.0 percent) between slaves. In 1830, fifteen marriages (34.1 percent) involved a slave with a free spouse, and twenty-nine (65.9 percent) were between slaves. The percentages for 1840 and 1850 were 62.5 percent and 55.0 percent for marriages between slaves and free persons, and 37.5 percent and 45.0 percent for marriages between slaves, respectively. Thus, a second finding was the much more frequent choice of a free spouse in these decades. From an overwhelming percentage of marriages between slaves (85.5 percent in 1810), we move to a percentage in favor of marriages between free persons and slaves (bordering on 60 percent in 1840 and 1850). Between 1800 and 1820 the same tendency appeared, in the parish marriage records of San Lázaro and Santa Ana: twice as many of the marriages among casta groups were between slave and free spouses as between slaves (Table 11). Undoubtedly, the choice of free persons as spouses resulted from the decrease of slaves in Lima yet also reflected the high value that slaves placed on the


TABLE 11. Marriages between Slaves or between Slaves and Free Persons, Santa Ana and San Lázaro: 1800–1820


Santa Ana (%)

San Lázaro (%)

black-black partners




193 (56.3)

28 (59.6)


33 (9.6)

4 (8.5)

black-casta partners




40 (11.7)

6 (12.8)


77 (22.4)

9 (19.1)


343 (100.0)

47 (100.0)

Source . AA, Libros de Matrimonio; further explanation of source is in chapter 4 note 23.


TABLE 12. Ethnic Origins in Marriages within the Black Population of Santa Ana: 1800–1820


Free Man-Slave Woman (%)

Free Woman-Slave Man (%)


1 (2.7)

— —


— —

5 (12.5)


3 (8.1)

9 (22.5)


1 (2.7)

1 (2.5)


6 (16.2)

— —


11 (29.7)

9 (22.5)


2 (5.4)

— —


3 (8.1)

6 (15.0)


6 (16.2)

4 (10.0)


4 (10.8)

6 (15.0)


37 (99.9)

40 (100.0)

Source . AA, Libro de Matrimonio 3, Santa Ana.

state of freedom and on those means that increased the likelihood of its acquisition.

The higher frequency of marriages between free women and slave men documented in the parish registers of Santa Ana (Table 12) re-


flects the higher status of free women, the demographic imbalance between the sexes—an overwhelming majority of free casta women—and the fact that their children would be born free. Although in Santa Ana owners had more direct control over their slaves' marital choices, the discrepancy was almost nil with respect to the choices of slaves and free persons in San Lázaro, a parish in which—as we have noted—the black population had more capacity for mobilization and greater autonomy. This similarity most likely signifies that owners' wishes interfered very little in slaves' marital choices and that their option margin was quite wide and unfaltering. Another indicator that substantiates the same pattern is the frequency of marriages in both parishes. If we divide the number of each parish's inhabitants (in the 1813 census San Lázaro's population was 9,711 and Santa Ana's 11,432) between the number of partners to marriages between slaves and to those between slaves and free persons, we can verify a slightly higher incidence of marriage in San Lázaro (11.8 percent) than in Santa Ana (9.5 percent), a modest discrepancy that reveals some resistance to slaves' marriages. We will see later that the relative freedom of slaves' matrimonial choice expressed in such figures, along with the influence of owners, also fit into the broader process of the construction of families and conjugal ties.

The advantage of the parish registers is that they occasionally recorded ethnic origins for marriages within the black population's different subgroups. The figures gathered refer to the first two decades of the nineteenth century, and as in other matrimonial records, the data set is not always complete.[23] If we explore the same data for Santa Ana and San Lázaro, to elucidate the decisions of slave men and women to wed a slave or free spouse, we notice that among casta groups in Santa Ana, out of a set of 117 cases, 77 chose a free spouse and 40 a slave spouse. The partiality for a free spouse was even more evident in the smaller sample from San Lázaro, where out of a set of 15, 9 chose a free and 6 a slave spouse. Overall, including black and casta groups, about two-thirds of the recorded marriages involved two slaves (Table 11). Variations in skin color within the black population may well explain the choices of the free men and women who married slaves.

Free men often married zamba and mulata slave women; free women most often chose partners outside the black population (Table 12). Slaves married to mestizas and indigenous women accounted for


35.0 percent of the Santa Ana sample, a choice that probably reflects the legal status of any children their wives might bear, since slavery was inherited from the womb. Aside from this quite visible emphasis, we might conclude that legal status was more important than actual skin color because the distribution was nearly equal with respect to other factors.[24] As we have seen, this assertion had a parallel expression in the election of cofradía queens.

A still larger perspective shows us that urban slaves usually chose spouses from the same ethnic group, a pattern that applied to all the urban racial groups. The percentage of marriages in which each partner belonged to the same ethnic group amounted to 64.4 percent in the parish of Santa Ana, and to 61.1 percent in San Lázaro from the marriages recorded between 1800 and 1820. Both these percentages are lower than those Haitin (1986, 293) reports for the period between 1790 and 1810, starting one decade earlier with the 1790 census. The gap between the percentages might indicate a greater opening toward interethnic marriages as the nineteenth century progressed, an option that was certainly also related to the casta population's increase and the slave population's decrease.

Therefore, several clear tendencies emerge despite differences between the parishes. Over the course of the first half of the nineteenth century more and more slave couples organized their lives and their families around their marriages. Status itself had more weight in marital selection than pigmentation: slave men wed free women or chose their partners from other subgroups within the black population such as mestiza , and especially indigenous, women.

Once they were married, slaves often found themselves in two universes—the households of two owners (if each spouse belonged to a different owner), or one inside and the other outside the owner's residence. In both spaces owners had some bearing on the couple's life, although in one case more than in the other. Given the frequent presence of one free spouse, conflict often involved mixed situations as one partner worked and lived in the owner's house while the other earned daily wages and lived independently in the urban area.


The Role of Owners in the Married Life of Slaves

To marry in the nineteenth century, a man or a woman needed the father's consent. Contravention of paternal power meant exclusion from the inheritance (Gilbert 1947, 38–39), although (as Seed [1988, 7 ff.] demonstrates for colonial Mexico) the patriarchalism that controlled matrimonial alliances as a powerful ideology in the era of Enlightenment was in no way monolithic. A growing stimulation of individual freedoms began to break down the all-powerful paternal authority (Mariluz 1960, 94). Many men and women who married in the nineteenth century had no living parents. Life expectancy in the general population hovered around the age of fifty-five. For slaves, an owner's authority replaced patriarchal supremacy because in their case the likelihood of having a father living or present was lower: parents and children were separated by the Atlantic trade, owners divided up slaves with successive sales, and the life expectancy of slaves was even shorter. Although the free choice of a spouse was an established fight dating back to the seventh century (Goody 1983) in colonial Lima as in Europe, other interests often stood in the way.

Even though the parental consent recommended for slaves was never officially ordered, it was exercised (Konetzke 1946, 20). As the Catholic church struggled against sinful cohabitation, immorality, scandalous life-styles, and superstition, it actively supported claims by slaves in the name of marriage and matrimonial life. Confronted with the accusations by slave women in domestic service against owners who "committed sin daily," the Church offered less decisive aid than in cases involving married slaves. In one case it would favor the owner's authority and in another, divine law and the right of choice and consent. Sexual life should take place within the boundaries of marriage; anything else was sin.[25] Nonetheless, ultimately it was up to the discretion of owners to follow these moral recommendations or not. Individual convictions and conscience, and possibly social pressure, were the only forces that promoted the acceptance of these suggestions.

Owners—who as we have seen were generally uninterested in the reproduction of their slaves according to Catholic law—did not always understand why the authorities should enforce social morality at their expense.[26] Slaves needed their owners' consent in order to marry; if


owners resisted, slaves had to request the Church's intermediation. In the Santa Ana parish in 1808, of a total of 763 slaves living in 187 households, 133 (17.3 percent) were or had been married,[27] a percentage much lower than the 35.7 percent that represented the number of marriages between slaves and between slaves and free persons in Lima in 1810 (Table 10). This statistic suggests that slaves who actually lived in their owners' households had to overcome resistance in order to marry and indicates that a higher percentage of married slaves (the difference between 35.7 and 17.3 percent) lived outside their owners' households, probably contributing day wages.[28] We may infer the resistance of owners in Santa Ana from the matrimonial age of slave men and women, which was slightly higher in Santa Ana than in San Lázaro.[29]

Owners always had the upper hand over slaves but less absolute authority over them once a couple married. The Church was very interested in maintaining the marital unit and often intervened to prevent the arbitrary relocation of a married slave from one place to another, least of all out of Lima; the sale of a married slave proceeded only with the ecclesiastical court's approval. Marriage gave slaves a way to acquire more freedom in their relations with owners and to expand their means of defense before the courts—even though it brought the Church into their lives and into owner-slave relations. Once married, they had to follow the same moral obligations as the rest of Lima's inhabitants. Measures such as the annulment of marriage for noncompliance with required formalities applied to slaves, as did decrees prohibiting marriage with a second or third spouse when the death of the previous spouse had not yet been confirmed and when the Church could suppose bigamy or any other encumbrance.[30]

On the margin of a possible annulment for nonfulfillment of required formalities (including an owner's consent), slaves—who could not be castigated with exclusion from the inheritance—had almost greater liberty than other couples to choose their spouses. Nonslave newlyweds who lacked parental consent faced social reprimands and forfeiture of any family legacy. However, slaves could ignore nonconsent of an owner without grave consequences. The only punishment conceivable was nullification of the marriage.[31] An owner who opposed the marriage of his slaves was not complying with a divine precept, and certainly slaves did not find it too difficult to renounce their inheri-


tance. Once married—with or without permission—the slave could be unwed only if the other partner appealed a slave's false claim to be free;[32] the owner had no say in the matter.

In extreme cases slaves defied an owner's power to stop the marriage. For example, to circumvent a master's right to interfere, a slave might argue that at the age of twenty-five he should have the same freedom from parental consent that the rest of the population had. Thus Rafael Astorga, a slave of the Caucato panadería whose owner refused to grant his consent for Rafael to marry the parda slave Petronila Torres, simply alleged that "the contracting party having reached the age of twenty-five years does not require the consent of the parents, and much less that of owners for their slaves ."[33] Using this argument, Rafael and his betrothed obtained the ecclesiastical court's permission to marry.

Underlying this constellation of strategies invented by owners and slaves alike to grant or deny or evade consent was a fundamental contradiction between slavery and free spousal choice. Freedom of action and of free will appeared in slaves' arguments when a thoughtful individual asked: "Although slaves might not wish to leave the house, will they be sold whether they like it or not just because their master might wish to sell them? Is there any justice that prevents them from being sold or experiencing any extortion? ... Masters are owners of the slaves in terms of the money they pay for them, but not in terms of their will."[34]

Within the margins of slavery, responses to the resistance of an owner fall into four categories: direct intervention by the ecclesiastical court, escape, search for a more compliant owner, and nonacceptance of the owner's authority over marital decisions, which often—as the slave we quote explained—involved not property rights but rather the right to exercise authority over a slave's will and conscience.

Another way to evade an owner's obstruction was manumission, a response situated outside slavery and within the opportunities offered by daily wages. Pablo Salazar, a free mulato , succeeded in convincing the archbishop of Lima that the arguments the count of San Miguel was using to prevent his marriage to a slave woman were arbitrary. The archbishop entrusted a religious attorney to "cut at the root the scandai that stemmed from the opposition." The count argued that the female slave had eloped with the mulato and deprived the count, her


owner, of daily wages. Later the slave woman returned to her owner's house. She was pregnant. While Pablo filed litigation against her owner, the count deposited the slave woman in a panadería , an act that according to Pablo had no other end but to "deprive her of communication with him." The ecclesiastical court intervened again, requesting that the pregnancy of the slave be certified. We do not know the end of this story, but we know that the owner's attitude shocked the archbishop, since before the escape Pablo had offered to pay the count the purchase price of the female slave.[35]

Here was a typical case: a free man who wished to marry a slave woman and was willing and able to pay her purchase price. He was outside, while she was inside an owner's household. The master did not let his female slave marry, yet against the property right the mulato opposed an economic argument (payment of the female slave's purchase price), a moral argument (marriage with the pregnant slave), and an ecclesiastical argument (spousal communication).

For male slaves as well, limeño society offered various alternatives. One such slave who recognized and took advantage of all the opportunities before him belonged to the priest Custodio Montesa. The slave's mother belonged to the same master and the slave had escaped. Repenting the escape, he requested that the priest take him back. Shortly after he returned, the priest gave him thirty pesos to purchase materials and learn the profession of shoemaker. Once established, the slave proceeded to get married without his owner's permission, telling the vicar general who recorded the marriage that he was of indigenous origin. He fled again and this time when he returned, he "proclaimed himself to be a soldier," of nothing less than the royal regiment, and "defined himself as a free man."[36] Apparently, changing ethnic status was possible and advantageous depending on the objective. The slave entered and left the master-slave relationship when he wished; it was almost as if he used a return into his master's care to catch his breath, rest, and then continue on. Neither did the change of legal status appear to be too complicated, which indicates that the legal barriers were blurry. Neither the state nor the Church had the authority or the means to control the adventures of this slave. The owner remained alone in his attempts, and he was the one who—with his slave's baptismal certificate in hand—would end up asking the viceroy for a refund.


This male slave simply completely avoided the opinion and consent of his owner: the female slave's situation was more subject to negotiation and suggests that owners exercised greater control over female slaves. The contrast between the two cases is even more striking because in the first case the owner was also a woman, whereas in the second it was a man, a man who as a priest perhaps found that care for his position allowed him less room to maneuver in the city than his slave had.

Apparently within approximately half a century two factors had reduced the authority of masters: the decisive intervention of the Church and the advancement of the demands formulated by slaves. For example, in a case similar to the one described, a free man who wished to marry a slave woman in the 1750s had to deploy a complex strategy to get his case heard before the court and make it stand out from the plethora of similar cases: "He must arrive at the dissolution of slavery in this particular case without allowing [the case] to seem to attack the idea of slavery in general" (Trazegnies 1981, 156). Fifty years later, an owner's resistance to a slave's married life, to granting his permission, and to receiving payment for the female slave would be interpreted as "a scandal" that could provoke the intervention of Lima's archbishop.

Yet owners, in order to prevent slaves from using such stratagems to force their consent, had their responses, which the courts and slaves knew well. Owners could raise a slave's price or seek a new appraisal; either expedient made it difficult or even impossible for a slave to purchase his or her freedom or negotiate a transfer to another owner. Owners could put forth real or false accusations of robbery or other criminal offenses. They could—as in the case of Pablo—argue that they were owed daily wages. The simple announcement that a slave wanted to marry seems somehow risky, given that owners faced with such a decision might take precautions as severe as depositing the slave in a panadería (which would make it difficult to find a new owner) or attempting to sell the slave outside the city.[37] Nonetheless, these appeared to be isolated incidents.

We have observed some rather significant variations in owners' willingness to grant consent. They usually gave permission for both spouses who were slaves, and slightly more often for male slaves who wished to marry free women of other casta groups. Both tendencies


TABLE 13. Owners' Consent and Status of Partners in Slave Marriages: 1810, 1815, and 1820


Marriages (%)





Average with Owner's Consent

one owner (both slaves)





different owners (both slaves)





male black slave-black free woman





female black slave-black free woman





nonblack free man-female black slave





nonblack free woman-black slave man









Source . AA, Licencias Matrimoniales. Three-year sample.

indicate that owners knew that permitting a slave to marry a free person would generate problems and convert their slave property—given the greater capacity for accumulation that living outside the owner's household afforded—into a possession with a dubious future. And such tendencies suggest that owners preferred to keep greater control over slave women, perhaps because in many senses they were more useful. Yet whether slaves chose free or slave partners, most owners were quite willing to consent to the marriages. In the great majority of the cases (85.6 percent)—with or without pressure—owners granted their consent (Table 13). Delay was possible but over the long term a marriage was difficult to prevent.

Familial and Marital Life: Freedom with Conflicts

Slaves demonstrated their desire for a married life in their strategies such as the daily wage or seeking the Church's support against owners unwilling to give their consent. Similar arguments based on economic


achievement or on the sanctity of family bonds helped slaves avoid relocation outside the city as well. In all the cases in which slaves protested their owners' intention to transfer them outside Lima's gates, the ecclesiastical court's final decision mentioned the existence of marriage and required owners to maintain the couple's unity.[38] And some slaves, who had been separated for a few decades, used the argument of marriage to be reunited in the city. The judgment was the same even when the owner claimed that he had not known that his slave was married.[39] In this case the owner, who had sold his slave without declaring the slave's "flaw of being married," eventually had a suit (juicio de redhibitoria ) brought against him to cancel the sale. Owners clearly felt that a slave's marriage worked against their interests, especially when the spouse lived outside the household.

The task of obtaining an owner's consent was doubly difficult for a female slave who had maintained sexual relations with her owner. Depending on the degree of the owner's emotional proximity to the slave, a confrontation between two men over one woman might unfold. From the slave's perspective, "illicit intercourse" with the owner was an argument to use before the ecclesiastical court to forestall the owner's decision. A ruling in favor of a slave in this situation was plausible if the future bride had a judgment against her owner pending in court.[40]

When owners could not prevent a marriage, they often attempted to impose restrictions on the married life of their slaves. Using tactics similar to those we observed on Lima's haciendas, owners tried to regulate the frequency of spousal visits when one of the spouses lived outside the owner's house or belonged to another owner. Apparently, the established custom was that a free or slave man would spend Saturday night in his wife's place of residence.[41] However, even given these restrictions, there was no dearth of different commentaries to indicate that married life continued along lines not controlled by owners, even if these constraints could force a slave husband to hide under the kitchen table until his wife's master had retired to his own bedroom.[42] What is interesting is that when owners inveighed against such strategies in court—protesting slaves' nonobservance of the rules of game—the complaints were often dismissed because judges found them too insignificant, or perhaps too widespread.

When both slaves lived under an owner's roof, the circumstances of their marriage gave the owner a way to monitor their conduct and


perhaps to ensure the production of future slaves. Slaves recognized this other face of marriage. Francisco Carabalí, slave of Don Manuel Bittar, in a letter to the archbishop, stated that his owner had purchased him for domestic service, and "I have fulfilled my obligations without remark; to further ensure my person my stated master made me take the sacred vow of marriage with Dominga del Cristo of the Mina tribe and also a slave of the said owner." Married a short time, Francisco would complain because his owner had moved his "good compañera " to Pisco, "infringing the precepts of the sacred Church, making me commit sins against divine law." If his wife did not return to his side, "I might perhaps commit some blasphemy and lose my poor soul, which so cost the Creator; Your Highest Excellency is my protector, because it is clear that what God our Creator united, there is no power nor hand that can undo it. I expect consolation from Your Excellency."[43]

Therefore, while masters viewed residence within the same household as an efficient way to comply with ecclesiastical precepts and satisfy slaves' marital longings, slaves realized that this was not necessarily a just solution. Residence with the owner under the same roof could represent a permanent trap for slave women. We have seen how owners abused their female slaves; many owners did not bother to respect slaves' matrimonial ties. And certainly no slave husbands wished to witness their wives suffer rape or abuse. Francisco Ramirez, slave of Señor Portocarrero, revealed that "I find myself unable to agree that my owner bring my wife into the same house because many times we, poor slaves, living as a married couple in one house, are stifled when the owner punishes our wives. For natural reasons a husband feels fully like a man and this is the just reason for my wish that he not purchase my wife."[44] Being in the same house meant not only incurring the abuse an owner could inflict on a female slave but also submitting to the emotional blackmail that an owner's rules of conduct could impose. In a similar vein, slaves knew that dependence on a sole owner isolated them from contact with wider networks of jobs and assistance. The more masters slaves had, the greater the likelihood of patronage for individual slaves and of protection for couples and slave families.

In an increasingly emphatic manner, slaves demanded the fight to a married life. Ultimately, the formulations and arguments they used questioned the integrity of ecclesiastical officials and gave wider cur-


rency to the slackening of the slaveholding system that affected other sectors of the urban population as well. A certain Domingo explained his reasoning with honest indignation:

When I sold myself it was with the condition that I could always see my wife, and thus I did not leave Lima. Now, for what reason should something granted by our holy Church such as the sanctity of marriage be denied without any other reason except that masters are even greater despots than the Church superiors, causing such scandalous divorces, which here and now only emerge in very criminal cases.... I do not ask that my expectation be completely satisfied, nor that my wife's master be left without her services. The only thing I am requesting is to be permitted to be with her in my spare hours, without interfering with her duties.[45]

In a similar fashion Antonio Marris, another married slave, contended that "it is well known that owners do not have despotic control to dispose of slaves however they please; neither should any slave be harmed. However, provided that the slave supply them the money for his purchase price, they should agree, without assigning them the condition of place, unless they have [committed] some crime. Yes, sir, my wife has not committed any atrocity to be banished, nor should she be deprived of her husband, since I cannot follow her, also being a slave."[46] Testimony in the case stated that common practice obliged owners to accept the money of a slave's purchase price and liberate the slave. Hence Antonio was clearly aware of the way in which the rest of society expected such situations to be resolved, though he lacked the money to manumit his wife. Once he provided it, it canceled further material losses and the rights of ownership. Antonio carefully added that he did not wish to harm the owner's interest. Furthermore, given all these conditions, a slave would aptly be supported by the argument of marriage. The logic underlying the slaves' agenda was summed up by Pedro José Iturrizaga, a liemño slave, in a petition dated 1818:

If we the poor slaves were to understand at the time of marriage that we were not the perpetual owners of our bodies for our entire life but rather the victims of the arbitrariness and cruelty of an owner, who wants no part of responsibility and all the rest before God (for the harm and many evils of soul and body, for which they are the responsible party), I believe that no slave would ever marry.[47]


This argument was blatant blackmail directed at the Church. If marriage were not respected, slaves would not marry ... and would therefore live in sin. The force with which this reasoning was constructed and the circumstances in which it was formulated reinforced married life and gave slaves an effective way to gain freedom.

Finally, slaves challenged not only morality—which was validated by Church and society—but the rectitude of the social structure. On this level of argumentation, a slave could show up the ignoble behavior of a member of the nobility and repudiate being treated as an animal. In 1803 Manuel Góngora, a free black, was married to María Aparicio, a slave who lived in her owner's house in the parish of Santa Ana. Being married, they had a child who died a few days after birth (or so the owner claimed). María became ill after labor, and it was Manuel who had to pay for his wife's treatment. Manuel then demanded that his owner pay him back for these expenses. Instead of fulfilling his duties as owner, the latter rented María out as a wet nurse. "Who would believe that a subject who flatters himself as a noble would behave in this manner, he is nothing," stated the slave. María's duties as wet nurse made it impossible for Manuel to see her. And as a last cruelty Manuel accused his owner of having hidden his child, that is, the child could not have died: "He completely denies me access to his home so that I may not find out where my wife is.... He greedily wishes to make use of his female slave in a manner in which animals are usually treated. Their offspring is hidden in order to extract milk from their mothers."[48] Beyond challenging sexual abuse and fear, Manuel's clear aim was to vindicate human rights, to expose slave owners who tended to treat slaves as animals. He clearly indicated that his paternal rights were as strong as any father's right and that only a base and ignoble noble could deny the righteousness of such feelings. In other words, slave fathers and mothers alike furnished arguments that conformed to the way in which all Lima's citizens perceived paternity, maternity, and conjugal love.

Such powerful and eloquent testimony might lead us to conclude that the slave couple represented a unit able to oppose the schemes of owners. And in fact, marriage was a weapon of war, even if the outcome (we must not forget Antonio, who hanged himself ) did not always demonstrate success. But the story does not end here. In spite of slaves' ability to use the prevalent moral principles in their own interests, slaves' marriages often replicated the patterns of behavior domi-


nant in society at large. Marital disappointments and violence could lead slave women to seek refuge with their former masters.

A set of 622 cases of matrimonial conflict recorded in Lima's Archivo Arzobispal from 1800 to 1820, and from 1840 to 1860, included fifteen cases (2.4 percent) in which one or both spouses were slaves.[49] Of these cases, fourteen took place between 1800 and 1820, which could indicate several things. Perhaps slaves no longer appealed to ecclesiastical intervention (of their own accord or because they were denied access), or slaves' marital conflicts decreased, or the number of slaves decreased (a fact that we can confirm.[50] Overall, conflict was less than that recorded in other ethnic groups because slaves had access to a wide array of solutions other than annulment or divorce.

With the aim of acquiring the permission and support of the Church, slaves—perhaps believing more in marriage's form than its content—tried to imitate the marital and familial behavior of the upper layers of society: fulfillment of matrimonial rites, separation between respective spheres of public and private life for men and women (which for some female slaves meant refusing to do menial work), and finally the differentiated treatment of children, by parents as well as siblings. However, to keep this ideal intact required daily monetary expenditures. A husband had to pay his owner the owed daily wages. If the wife abandoned her job, the debt doubled and occasionally intensified the tensions in the slave family. Slave husbands demanded "good behavior" from their wives (or rather, the behavior they observed among other women). Slave women, for their part, asked their husbands to comply with standard marital obligations—such as a maintenance allowance. Often such expectations contributed to conflict because slaves could not afford such luxuries.

Camrilo Rosales, a soldier in the pardo army and proprietor of a coach-building shop, saw his marriage in this light. His aspirations for his wife most likely related to his incursion into the military and his profession—fabricating coaches for the urban elite. He married a slave and related that after having been married for eight months "in accordance with an order of our holy mother the Church" to the stated María Candelaria, he had given "her the respect and assistance that I have earned in my profession as coachmaker and each month paid the four pesos and six reales of her daily wages to her owner, the cited Doña Francisca." Camilo, however, could restrain neither "the bold and chimerical temperament of the mentioned, my wife, nor more im-


portant, the adulterous tendencies that have been noted in her, with a mestizo whose first and last name I do not know, but who has been seen in the room of the referred Candelaria and for whom she cooks and washes clothes."[51] Camilo had not verified the circumstance of adultery; others had mentioned it to him. And here the inference of adultery from the acts of cooking and washing clothes for another man denotes the fragility of the marital relationship, which was summed up in Camilo's pointed reproach: he had to continue to pay only to receive an unfair compensation. Camilo managed to prove his wife's adultery and requested a separation. She, an indigenous zamba , returned to the house of her female owner.

In another case a free husband, a cartmaker, sold his house for three hundred fifty pesos in order to liberate his wife, a morena . After a short time the morena left him, and he reprimanded her not only for the investment in her manumission but also for the expenditure of more than one hundred pesos on her wardrobe before she abandoned him.[52] The supposition behind this reproach was that the purchased freedom carried the price of submission and eternal loyalty.

At the other extreme were those cases in which the woman was free, and the man a slave. In relationships of inverted economic dependence, we should expect greater equality between the couple. Yet what we find is the presence of more violence because as slaves they were unable to fulfill gender roles. Greater impotence on the part of males led to more broken bones and bruises, and perhaps monetary losses as well. One free bozal whose husband was a slave stated her complaint:

[As I slept,] he got up at midnight to take the key to my room and rob me of the personal labor that sweat and fatigue had earned me; he did not only do this to me but also to people in the street; in the plaza of this city he was at law for having stolen from the site of a butcher shop a quarter of meat, and he has cruelly beaten me for admonishing him for these and other excesses.

The wife, María Luisa Nieto, brought a claim against the owner hoping that he would discipline his slave. She alone could not reason with her husband for fear of physical reprisals. The owner promised to sell the slave outside Lima's gates. Nonetheless, in this case—and against María Luisa's will—the ecclesiastical court intervened in order to salvage the marriage. The vicar general stipulated that only "if the violence about which the wife complains recurs and is not tolerated by any person possessed of better education, and knowledge than corre-


sponds to a woman of this class," would the court allow the owner to separate the couple with the sale of the male slave.[53] Owners intervened similarly in the relationships between slaves and their children. The decision not to free a child was a way to chastise slaves and to regulate a child's behavior if the child "has turned out to be disobedient, and ungovernable, so that in all conscience we are absolutely advised not to consider his freedom."[54]

Slaves encountered a gap between what they desired and what was possible: a fundamental contradiction between the urgencies of slaves' psychological and intimate universe and the absence of alternative forms of collaboration and resistance against owners. Further compounding this situation for women was the struggle for authority between their husbands and their owners—a situation inherent to the slaveholding system itself.

Legally married men were the administrators of conjugal property, a right based on the duty of a husband to maintain his wife and children. In the case of slaves, the boundaries between the authority of husband and master often overlapped. Slaves did not own property (at least legally); they themselves were property, and female slaves worked for their masters unless someone—as sometimes happened—would assume payment of their daily wages. In principle, the owner distributed the food, clothed the slaves, and commanded their obedience. Arrangements were less complex when slaves resided outside the owner's household and furnished their own livelihood with daily wages. However, this latter option tended to increase economic hardship and tensions within families. Although domestic violence was not only the patrimony of the slave population, it became almost inevitable within this dysfunctional arrangement of rights and obligations. Whereas in the rest of society clearcut relations of economic dependence determined the authority within the family hierarchy, in the case of slaves fists occasionally imposed subordination, particularly among families who subsisted on the earnings of women, free or slave.

The many hostilities and situations of conflict that could arise from the superposition of two authorities merge in the history of a woman who was neither free nor slave. When Manuela Matallana and Tomás Venegas decided to get married, she was the slave of Doña Paula Villegas. Tomás sold lottery tickets and was a mayoral assistant. He decided to free his future wife. "Having money to spare, loving my wife, and not wishing to dishonor myself by marrying a slave," he gave the owner a portion of the price asked for Manuela. Her price was 380


pesos; the amount paid by Tomás amounted to 200 pesos. Once the couple married, the honeymoon did not last long. Tomás would soon accuse Manuela of adultery with a pardo slave and state that despite having liberated her from slavery, "today she pays me back only by committing adultery with a bachelor."

To punish his wife's immoral behavior, Tomás asked the authorities to deposit Manuela in a convent for correction. Such a placement cost money but he was not willing to provide it. Consequently, Tomás iniflated a long series of petitions directed at Manuela's female owner, to decide who would be in charge of maintaining Manuela in the convent—Tomás or the owner. As a solution, the ecclesiastical court offered to relocate Manuela to the San Bartolomé hospital, "particular to that same class of people ... as a prisoner entrusted to the nurse so that she is not allowed to leave the hospital, threatening her with shackles that will be put on her should the need arise." Maintenance expenses in the hospital would be lower but someone would need to pay them. Shortly after, Manuela was transferred to the Amparadas beaterio (an institution resembling a convent, administered by nuns, in which gifts received education and divorcing women found refuge); her owner paid the expenses. The owner stated that Manuela "has now been placed in the Amparadas beaterio by her husband, a barbarous and extremely dim man; he has not complied with his principal obligation: to feed, treat, and clothe her ... on the said person, my slave, he always inflicts severe abuse." In addition the owner claimed that only a divorce suit would resolve Manuela's case, "so that this woman remain in peace, and so that the acts of violence inflicted on her daily and permanently involving her in legal suits be cut at root."

The reason behind the owner's altruism was that Manuela had fallen ill in the beaterio , where it was impossible to treat her, and the owner feared that sickness might incapacitate Manuela and cause the owner to lose the remaining 180 pesos that she was demanding in court from Tomás. Finally, when the divorce complaint was presented, Tomás alleged that no marriage had occurred and thus no annulment was necessary. He claimed that when the couple married, he was convinced that his wife had been liberated from slavery, and since this premise was false, the marriage was void and the divorce petition obsolete. He demanded, in exchange, the 380 pesos he claimed he had paid. Several witnesses, among them Manuela and her owner, were able to prove that Tomás had paid only 200 pesos. Given the body of


evidence, the ecclesiastical judge revalidated Tomás and Manuela's marriage and ordered payment of the missing sum to the owner.[55]

Each party turned to the most convincing and convenient arguments when the fulfillment of responsibilities was concerned. The punishment imposed on an adulterous slave (wife or husband) would be placement in a panadería or sale outside the gates of Lima with consent of the other spouse and previous permission of the ecclesiastical court.[56] As we can see, moral transgressions by married slaves were punished in the same way as any other crime. A female slave would never be placed in a convent or beaterio for any reason; such institutions were reserved for nonslave women. In Manuela's case, the beaterio was an option because she was a half-slave. A monthly allowance had to be paid to a wife in a beaterio , and a wife—unlike a slave—could not earn daily wages or work to pay for her expenses. But the question circled, unresolved: who should provide an allowance to Manuela? Husband and owner searched—each within the context of his or her respective rights and duties—for ways to free themselves from the obligation. Though Tomás admitted having more than enough money, he relied on the owner's interest in a healthy slave and had no wish to make more payments; he assumed that Manuela's daily wages had completed payment of the amount needed. The owner had more at stake; she wished to keep the slave alive and recover the amount Manuela's husband owed; she interpreted the payment of daily wages as part of Manuela's obligation to her since the husband could not furnish the remaining 180 pesos. Given these attitudes, the slave chose to testify against her husband and return to the house of her owner. Her husband's abuse, as well as the experience during the separation, made the personal protection her owner offered the only choice possible. Thus Manuela bore the brunt of both relationships. The experience of marriage brought her neither freedom nor happiness.

Modern readers might wonder what divorce (the owner's suggestion) would have brought Manuela. Divorce, or annulment, was difficult to obtain; but if the ecclesiastical court had decreed divorce—on the argument that one spouse mistakenly believed the other to be free—Manuela would have received one-fourth of her husband's assets. In the circumstances, Tomás argued that there had never been a marriage. He allowed Manuela to slip back into slavery by evading the issue of the marital bond and of economic obligation as well.[57]


The opposite situation, in which the woman was free and the man a slave, is one the authorities must have found particularly puzzling, especially when it was the male slave who provided food and clothing to his spouse. Bonifacio Cuellar, a slave owned by Micaela Cuellar, was one of these slaves. In 1811 he complained before the ecclesiastical court about the disorderly conduct of his wife, Isidora Casaverde. Isidora had been the recipient of "the daily livelihood, underwear, and clothing that she needs along with all other necessary assistance," and she had developed "many bad habits," incessantly increasing his debts to third parties. Yet after eight months of marriage it was Isidora who ordered that Bonifacio be sent to jail, claiming that the owner had requested his imprisonment. The owner then intervened in order to save the slave from the harassment of his wife, who had supposedly been influenced by her stepfather. Now the slave requested that his wife be deposited in a beaterio .[58]

When marital conflict arose and the husband was required to fulfill his matrimonial obligations, being married to a slave had its advantages, even though fewer and fewer marriages involved partners who both were slaves (as we observed in Table 10). Responsibility for the slave's upkeep could be transferred to an owner, and divorce tacitly took place when the couple physically separated; a speedier and simpler kind of divorce than prolonged years of litigation before the ecclesiastical courts. When conflict emerged, and the husband—a slave—was paying for his wife's daily needs, the woman could order his imprisonment. Such requests were not uncommon, since slave status diluted a husband's authority, nor was the decision of a female slave, even if halfway to freedom, to shut herself up in her owner's house.[59] For some slaves, marital altercations (especially if they escalated to physical attacks) might mean a return to the owner's house after reaching a daily wage arrangement.[60] The paradox of this situation was summed up in a court sentence ordering that a slave "should be put free ... by being delivered to his owner."

In spite of the fact that we are dealing with a small set of cases of slave conflict (which unfold mainly in the first two decades of the nineteenth century and thus show no long-term changes), they do exemplify the main sources of marital discord between slaves. The presence of owners often occasioned conflicts, but incompatibilities within couples played a key role. In fourteen cases of conflict between 1800 and 1820, four of the male litigants lived in their owner's house, whereas


only two slave women did. In other words, of the twenty-eight persons involved in marital conflict only 21.5 percent were subjected to the vicissitudes of residence with owners;[61] the rest lived outside.

In eight of the fourteen cases, the accusation against the spouse was followed by a counteraccusation. Abuse, adultery, abandonment, and lack of food were the most repeated complaints, accusations common among the rest of the litigants in Lima's courts. Six of the fourteen cases involved adultery, five of them accusations against wives. This trend is also visible in the cases discussed earlier; accusations against wives might point to marital strategy rather than fact, since judges would pay more attention to moral arguments than to ones of personal economic convenience. Only (and perhaps surprisingly) two male slaves complained of abuse by their wives. Although the ecclesiastical court permitted temporary separations in cases of marital conflict, none of these cases reached a judicial ruling. The most frequent options it presented were agreement and return to married life or the owner's intervention in the resolution of the conflict (four out of fourteen). Sometimes intermediation meant a tacit marital separation, for example the transfer of a slave to a hacienda outside Lima. However, even if this possibility existed, the Church preferred to rescue the marriage rather than yield to spousal complaints or the exhortations (justified or not) of owners.

A slave woman might endure a beating by both her husband and her owner: the husband to vent jealousy or impotence; the owner to enforce property rights. In such a circumstance, to have a relative nearby who could echo her laments was certainly an enormous relief. When the slave Mariana Espinoza, who—"suffocated by passion"—was relocated to a hacienda in Ica, she was forced to marry a pardo ("a monster!" in the words of her sister). Beyond the forced marriage Mariana received prodigal whippings from her owner. In Lima, Mariana's sister presented a petition to the vicar general in her name, claiming that this double hardship was untenable "because hardship has its limits, and if both [husband and owner] mistreat her, she will be a capital victim of cruelty and a creature worthy of utmost compassion."[62] Similar help came from family members in two of our fourteen cases (14.2 percent) and perhaps occurred in other disagreements that did not reach the courts, through the intervention of the slaves' extended families or from the wider black community.


On the whole, married life presented difficulties for couples if one or both partners were slaves. At the outset newlywed slaves might evade an owner's consent, choose to live under the same roof (which under certain circumstances multiplied the potential conflicts between a slave husband and a master), or negotiate the contribution of a daily wage in exchange for residence outside the owner's household. In any of these situations, the slave couple would not escape the marital discord prevailing in society at large, and its resolution often demanded the presence of the owner and the ecclesiastical court. Even though slaves displayed creativity and ingenuity in dealing with stubborn or unreasonable owners who would not consent to slaves' marriage or grant immediate manumission, they could not transcend the limits of the existing system: more violence occurred among unhappy slave couples because solutions to their dilemmas did not exist. There is no case of a slave husband who returned to a former owner to parallel the case of the abused slave wife who returned to slavery. The wife's case embodies and illustrates the precise limits of the social creativity permitted and realizable in the slaveholding system beyond what contemporaries would call the "natural subordination" of women, and the search through all social channels to resolve a fundamental contradiction between husband and slave. Translated into simple terms: for slaves, marriage was a viable route out of slavery; if matrimonial conflict ensued, for a slave woman it was often safer to return to the refuge of her master—to remain a slave.


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