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Chapter Four Matrimonial Alliances and Conflicts
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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.

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