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Chapter Four Matrimonial Alliances and Conflicts
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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.


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