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