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Chapter Four Matrimonial Alliances and Conflicts
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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.

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Chapter Four Matrimonial Alliances and Conflicts
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