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Chapter Four Matrimonial Alliances and Conflicts
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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.

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Chapter Four Matrimonial Alliances and Conflicts
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