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Chapter Five Slaves and Their Owners
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Property and Negotiations

Slaves maneuvered in three spheres: as laborers in the countryside, as artisans in the city, and as servants in their owners' households. In each sphere the highly differentiated conditions of their work determined the negotiable degrees of freedom. Final success almost always depended on a fair share of luck and on the slaves' individual ability to present cases and arguments before the civil and ecclesiastical courts. Because the use of abuse and physical punishment was illegal, slaves from all walks of life frequently demonstrated that they had been vietims of cruelty or mistreatment in order to force an owner to grant his or her consent for their relocation or purchase by another owner, or perhaps to compel the owner to accept their payment and issue a carta de libertad . A slave had to prove that he or she had been the object of abuse, and this was not always an easy or inexpensive task. Witnesses had to be summoned and convinced that they should testify against


someone who generally occupied a superior social position. Moreover, a lawyer willing to file a suit had to be retained. Despite the obstacles, there was no lack of witnesses among the slaves themselves: another servant, a neighbor, an occasional visitor, or a godfather—each willing to testify in favor of a slave—as well as certain lawyers and bureaucrats who believed that slaves had to be defended and often subsisted on what slaves paid them for their services. In addition, the courts contracted with forensic experts who were in charge of verifying the visible marks of mistreatment. When a slave succeeded in assembling witnesses and obtaining a medical report, an abuse trial began.[1] The Caroline Code and the Cádiz courts prohibited mistreatment and cruelty. However, even individuals who did not directly witness abuse increasingly rejected corporal punishment as a form of correction. Since neither the laws nor the community at large sanctioned abuse, the doors to the courts were wide open to slaves. Charges of abuse became a strategy that slaves employed to change their owners or free themselves. However, since this recourse was common among slaves and their defenders, an individual could increase the chance of a favorable outcome even by an accusation of some religious or moral lapse that offended limeño society. The content of "abuse" extended to encompass more subtle infringements, which made slaves part of a wider "moral community."

When the slave Gregoria Santos appeared before the courts in 1811 requesting to be transferred to another owner, she claimed that aside from the abuse inflicted by the present owner, he was "a British individual perhaps foreign to our religion." Given the popular link between hostility to the British and dislike of non-Catholics, nothing was more effective in attracting the courts' attention than adducing the impiety of one's owner. This placed the slave on the side of the majority, and the owner on the side of a minority viewed with suspicion. In Gregoria's case, impiety was one of the arguments most revered by the judicial authorities, and it prejudiced them in her favor. A second argument that Gregoria used was that the owner's wife agreed with her. Both arguments—although with different objectives—were buttressed by public opinion. The slave would claim:

During this space of time I have been excessively oppressed, I have suffered infinité wrongs under the imprudent and inexperienced management of Don José Ignacio, who punishes his slaves excessively and for no reason. It is not necessary that I state or explain his general unseemliness nor that I divulge


his atrocious conduct and unprecedented acts because Doña María Pontejo, Don Ignacio's legitimate wife, said of him that he was ungovernable, deceitful, audacious, and indolent and anyone else would say so.... And if his own and very good wife, who could with these words state that Don Ignacio was as evil as I made known in the proceedings ... no one can doubt how much I must have suffered in these years because everyone is fully aware of Don José Ignacio's rashness and vehemence.[2]

An additional argument was added to those of impiety, public opinion, and his own wife's judgment: his youth, implying that owing to his scant experience the owner was not capable of adequately managing relations with his slaves. These arguments displayed a whole array of experiences and prejudices that were well known to the populace and authorities. The individual case vindicated Gregoria; her allegation was not formulated as a protest against the system but rather as personal experience and bad luck, reinforced by an abstract public sentiment that the authorities recognized as legitimate. As a system, slavery did not come into question, because it was "not deplorable in itself but rather became so when one was subjected to a capricious and mean owner."[3]

Witchcraft, sorcery, the evil eye, or in this situation British citizenship were arguments that complemented assertions of cruelty or emphasized the uniqueness of such cases and augured swift success before the judicial courts. Lacking arguments other than abuse, steps toward freedom because of inflicted mistreatment passed through legal channels that slaves and owners alike followed easily. All such steps by the slaves had to respect the bond of property and the rights of owners. Before slaves could search for a new owner, they had to deposit with the current owner a sum of money equivalent to the daily wages that would be lost during the quest for another owner. It was not easy for individual slaves to find a new owner; this process required time, and taking time off work placed the contribution of daily wages in jeopardy. When a slave did not possess money for a deposit, he or she had to turn to a guarantor: and, for a slave without a network of established social connections, it was difficult to obtain a guarantor. As Gregoria would say, "being black is enough so that no one wishes to stand surety for me."

In this context the cofradías —as we have seen—could serve as an alternative channel. Cofradías represented a possible source of credit, yet seeking their support could be risky. They lent money. If a slave's


attempt at manumission failed, the cofradía would recuperate its investment by selling the slave at a higher price in order to cover the slave's initial value, the surety, and potentially contracted diseases. But other less compromising alternatives existed.

Within a slave's social network, relatives and friends might stand surety or at least offer help in the search for a new owner.[4] If it was difficult for owners to hush up a slave's flaws and recover the money invested in his or her purchase, for slaves to do the same was a genuine feat. Slaves had to face additional expenses such as obtaining a sum equivalent to the deposit of outstanding daily wages, had no immunity against possible diseases, and in general had to earn their own livelihood during the period between the old and new owner. All these circumstances called for a rapid solution, especially when the slave was not in a position to pay his or her purchase price. Thus, another way to obtain a guarantee was to secure the interest of a new owner who might be willing to give the slave his or her entire purchase price in exchange for a commitment of labor until the incurred debt had been paid. Such covert tactics prolonged slave status or in any case made slavery into a kind of debt-peonage in which the slave temporarily gave the new owner his or her carta de libertad as insurance and recovered it as soon as his or her debts had been settled.[5] In this way the surety guaranteed by legislation perpetuated slavery in a more sophisticated manner—under the liberal mandate of property. It was a way of reaching a truce with a still weakly defined liberal ideology without prejudicing the "interests dear to the nation" (i.e., to slaveholders).

To be on the safe side, so that the slave would not flee once he or she had expressed his or her desire to leave the owner's control, some owners placed their slaves in panaderías until the transfer had finally been arranged. Consequently, slaves would be faced with more problems and have less time to track down guarantors or new owners and more complications, a situation that in the words of the slave Pablo Calero was "very unjust, as [in this case, his wife] does not have a person who will carry out the stated proceedings for her, since I am a slave and unable to separate myself from my obligations for one instant, only running the risk of finding myself in the same state [deposited in a panadería ]."[6]

The lower the slave's price, the greater the possibilities of obtaining a new owner and also ultimately of freedom. An efficacious way to lower one's price—aside from testamentary negotiations, emotional blackmail in the context of domestic relations, or claims of good ser-


ce—was to possess "defects": to be a habitual runaway, a drunk or loafer or thief; to be sick or to claim that one was either too young or too old for a certain job or duty.[7] In other words, inversion of the moral code to claim ineptitude could be a path toward freedom. But owners also used the device to rid themselves of a slave in failing health whose treatment meant expenses. In some cases, self-accusations and feigned illnesses were strategically utilized by slaves and supported before the courts by persons interested in purchasing the slave. Both parties—slave and new purchaser—would secure benefits. For the former a lower price meant a smaller payment for the purchase of freedom in a foreseeable future. Moreover, the transaction (the change of owner and the price) would figure in notarial record books that offered documentary proof of the slave's value, critical in a legalist society such as Lima's to restrict the new owner's arbitrariness. And the new buyer would gain, simply because he or she had to pay less for a slave. This silent complicity had concrete expressions.

For example, after his slave Juan de la Cruz Zapata had asked to be sold, Doña Rufina Trevino stated that "sickness is a pretext to lower his own cost and thus more easily purchase his freedom."[8] These arguments could be a double-edged sword. Owners countered with the same reasoning, which bordered on social and religious hypocrisy in more than a few cases. Judges often heard counterarguments such as the one by Luciana Josefa's owner, Doña Paula Almogera:

Especially when she brings this suit against me just because I ordered her to come to my house as a servant, and because other persons are enjoying her services. These persons incite her to file this suit that they uphold in her name, trying to make me believe that she is sick; and this is another reason why her request to be transferred to a new owner or gain freedom should be denied, because her health should be discussed first, not her freedom. What advantage will the new buyer derive from a supposedly sick slave? Would it not be inhumanity, after the distinguished merits and benefits that she says she has provided for me, to demand public compassion because her owner grants her freedom when she is sick and cannot be of service? Never, Sir, will such a thing be stated of me, I do not agree nor will ever agree to such nonsense. I wish to treat and assist her, if she is sick; and if she is well it is necessary that I seek protection of the property that I have of her service, of which I cannot be stripped because I own her.[9]

We can assess the sincerity of Doña Paula's declaimed humanitarian sentiment from what took place. She allowed the slave to die in a hospital rather than yield to the petitions formulated by the interested


parties and the slave. And none of the other interested parties were willing to pay for the slave's treatment. Luciana assumed the costs for a sickness so grave that it ended her life in the midst of the legal proceedings. Sickness, then, was not always a lie to lower a slave's price. Nonetheless, slaves turned to similar arguments with such frequency that owners used this assertion before the courts as a convincing allegation against slaves. An authentic sickness might impel a poor owner who lacked money to pay for his or her own burial to sell an old and faithful slave.[10] Furthermore, in some cases genuine illness can explain why a slave clung to an owner; it was the only guarantee that the costs of illness would be financed. Before the courts slaves could invoke the Catholic mercy of owners, insisting upon the moral and religious accountability of masters. In extreme cases their eloquence persuaded the Church and state to intervene in order to condemn—on the basis of a broader social critique—an owner's evil intentions.[11]

Owners were required by law to pay for their slaves' treatment and for injuries and thefts their slaves caused to third parties. Only rarely could they add the costs incurred to a slave's price. On the contrary, the more widespread the rumor that an owner had ordered a search for a maroon slave or the more often a slave was seen in neighborhood bars and cantinas, the worse his reputation and the lower the price to be obtained for him. For owners, ridding themselves of slaves—male or female—known to be drunkards or runaways was the most desirable option. Rumors of a slave's misdeeds could cause disaster to an owner's pocketbook. As soon as flight and stealing became the topics of gossip buzzing throughout the city, the likelihood of selling a slave waned considerably.

Given the spread of fears and accusations, we might well imagine that these were a subjugated population's passive mechanisms of resistance or its careful invention and utilization of strategies to obtain freedom. What could an owner do with a slave who gave himself over to continuous intoxication, who simply did not wish to work, who stole, who escaped for days and nights ... or perhaps even combined all these attributes?

An order for the slave's retrieval from the pulperías (small shops that were both taverns and grocery stores) or a search for him or her by the rural or urban police also involved expenses, and the costs would be in vain if the slave were not found. Neither was sale necessarily the best solution because if owners decided to be frank with the


new purchaser, they risked losing money; if they were not honest, the swindled buyer might sue to cancel the sale. In this last case the deceived purchaser would receive not only the entire value of the "defective" slave but payment for the damage, theft, delinquent amount of daily wage, and legal costs as well. Similar conflicts between owners and slaves were the order of the day; insults and even street scuffles resulting from the actions of slaves were part of daily urban life.

In 1817 Doña Jacoba Centurión ventured to sell a "faulty" female slave to Don Martín Gonzales, without informing him of her defects. The wronged party complained:

That the mentioned slave, aside from the vice of drunkenness, also suffers from that of maroonage, and she has suffered from these for many years, even though she has on several occasions been placed in various panaderías by the stated Doña Jacoba, thus, that for this reason, as well as her continual drunkenness, she is incapable of service, principally when she goes so far that for twenty-four hours or more she remains completely unfit and incapacitated to work in the kitchen or prepare food, or [do] anything else useful.[12]

The owner's laments were confirmed by witnesses who had observed the slave in "continual disputes in the pulperías , intoxicating herself, and almost all the time she stayed outside her house in the cofradías , so that Doña Jacoba Centurión, her owner at that time, frequently ordered that she be sought in those places." Doña Jacoba had to return the total amount of 300 pesos to Don Martín. In the meantime both owners had lost daily wages, and Doña Jacoba would be doomed to continue losing them. Apparently no type of control that owners were capable of exercising was sufficient to prevent the slave from getting drunk or obtaining money to purchase liquor.

But Doña Jacoba had more luck than José Ignacio Palacio, the owner of Pedro Piélago. Whereas owners of drunken slaves lost daily wages, in the case of thieves and maroons, apart from the loss of daily wages, they had to assume responsibility toward third parties and conceivably loss of the slave as well. Don José had purchased Pedro Piélago for 250 pesos. After a few months, between the persecutions the slave had managed to avoid, and the costs of his retrievals, as well as his pilfering along the way, his value had increased to 425 pesos. As we can see, the expenses were higher than his initial price. The owner used this argument before the courts to request that Pedro's conque


be rescinded, so that he could sell Pedro to a hacienda or ask the court's assistance in selling him for 425 pesos. To the owner's surprise, the slave paid his purchase price with his own resources.[13] Within this logic, misdeeds were an obviously rentable commodity, even if owners occasionally took reprisals against the slave's relatives still under his authority.[14]

The more defective a slave, the more determined a fugitive, and the less willing a worker, the greater was the powerlessness of owners and the higher were their losses. The events that surrounded the slave José Gregorio summarize almost all the possibilities and malefactions of a slave in Lima. Reading his adventures, we can only conclude that in his comings and goings and in the manner in which he managed to get himself out of scrapes, he tricked all those with whom he had dealings. Furthermore, his case shows us the weaknesses in the mechanisms of control, the powerlessness of owners, and not least significant, the visible ruin of the slaveholding system. Therefore, his adventures merit description in great detail.

Doña Manuela Gonzales purchased José Gregorio from the widowed countess de la Vega. Using some excuse, the countess avoided showing the new purchaser the bill of sale, which stated that the slave could not be sold for more than 400 pesos, nor "outside the gates [of Lima]," and that his purchase price should always be accepted as long as he could provide it—whether to purchase his freedom or to change owners. As soon as Doña Manuela received the slave, her problems began.

Soon after José Gregorio entered into my power, I put him to work for his clothes and board, since he arrived almost naked and with nothing to cover himself up at night. The slave having offered to earn daily wages, I set him up as a water carrier at an expense of over 100 pesos in mules, materials, pipes, and other necessities. In the first week he wore down and mistreated the mule and returned without the pipes, stating that the mule had been stolen and that he had left the pipes at the pot maker's shop to be mended. I ordered he be given a second mule so that he might continue the work with other pipes; which had no effect because he fled and remained a fugitive for close to two months, at the end of which he was seized one night by Don Ignacio Negreiros and soldiers of his command in a store on Juan de la Coba street where José Gregorio along with other criminals of his class congregate to dance and spend what they rob from their owners. Quickly placed by aver-


dict in the supply house in the plazuela de San Francisco belonging to Don Juan Sisneros, without any work or punishment, as a form of reprimand, I made him go to the Chuquitanta hacienda managed by Captain Don Pablo Josef de Albarado, two leagues away from this capital, where he was treated with the greatest leniency and without the infliction of any harm through the favor that hacendado granted me.
I released the aforementioned after some time, believing him to be corrected; however the correction was stealing the water carrier's equipment, several books, a pan, and other items without sparing even the trimming scissors, paper, and penknife from the table. He again fled and after much time as a fugitive he was seen in the house of Señor Conde de Villar de Puente where, feigning my consent, he rented himself out for the service. He sent a mulato to ask me if I would be willing to sell José Gregorio, and my husband answered that he was willing to sell him but warned the buyer that José Gregorio was a thief and maroon in order to protect us from a suit to annul the sale by the stated count, whom the black had deceived. A dependent of the count then forged and produced in the name of José Gregorio the petition included in this file.

This petition stated our willingness to sell José Gregorio, with the condition and pact of being discharged from any claims to annul the sale. However the slave gave no respite to conclude these negotiations, because stealing new saddle gear and other articles, according to what the count stated as he withdrew from the sale. Instead of—as I insisted—putting José Gregorio in a panadería or directly assuring he would be delivered to me, the count just threw him out of his house.

The black continued as a fugitive, robbing whomever he could, for which I received several complaints principally about two dozen boxes, two ponchos, a pair of stockings, and a mule. At this time he wanted to marry and sent to me his fiancée's owner whom I warned about his vile deeds and bad conduct. Then he tried to hurt a black from whom he had stolen some bottles, on the occasion of helping him carry several large boxes of bottles from the warehouse to the purchaser's home.

One of the last nights of September, he broke into the house after midnight with the idea no doubt of cleaning out what was mislaid; his bad intentions manifested something worse, as evidenced in the fact that he came accompanied by another zambo or black of his class. On 27 September the stated went to the Chuquitanta hacienda claiming to have already been sold by me and convinced his new owner to transfer him to the nearby hacienda of Naranjal so he could recover from a sickness he did not have. On the morning of the 29th, about the time of mass, José Gregorio forced down a door, and breaking the lock he entered the yard and took the two best horses from


the stables. While he was stealing them he was surprised and placed in the pillory. In order to avoid work and punishment for his infamy, he feigned stomach pain and claimed to have two or four fistulas on his body. He was examined and nothing was found. Being returned to the pillory, he broke and splintered the roof from where he escaped, taking along with him a new pair of shackles.

The days before this last escape he was on the hacienda, and when he was put to work with two warders he pretended to be near death, turned his eyes white, and finally made them take him to the house exclusively to sleep and eat. At this time he had the boldness to fiercely cudgel with a solid stick one of the warders who opposed his escape.

After escaping in the described manner he associated himself with a certain zambo , slave of Don Josef Basurco, to whom he gave some reales so that he would act as a sponsor and return him to me. No doubt, he was preparing another swindle in an imperceptible manner. That night I attempted to secure him. Nevertheless, he jumped down the roof of the compost dump and could not be found either because he hid himself in the irrigation ditch or escaped by climbing on the neighboring roofs. However, the spectacular thing was that after this he returned to the kitchen when everyone was sleeping, he lighted the fire, heated something to eat, and after satisfying himself he dirtied pots, taking as he left half a hen, a hat, and a shirt from a boy who had just contracted smallpox.

He remained a fugitive until a few days ago when with the accustomed expense, some soldiers imprisoned him and placed him in the Santa Ana panadería , from where he was then moved to the panadería at the San Francisco plazuela, where he is now.

The black José Gregorio is the uttermost thief and maroon that can be imagined; but he is even more sneaky than a thief or maroon. I will not hide his defects from anyone, and there is no one who upon knowing them will give me one peso for him. Neither should he forever be in the panadería nor is it reasonable that he remain there ready to kill or be killed. Neither he nor his brothers are able to procure or arrange to find someone willing to purchase him. To his price of 400 pesos, 200 pesos or more from his thefts and other detailed vile acts should be added. It is necessary to make a firm decision in order not to lose everything.[15]

Unless we assume that the owner had an exceedingly active imagination, we must marvel at the slave's remarkable skills. They brought slaveholders and authorities to a standstill. The only alternative was to sell José Gregorio outside Lima. But we have come to know José Gregorio and other slaves like him: surely such a ruling came to nothing and he became another of the city's free black inhabitants.


Owners could buy and sell slaves; slaves could purchase, rent, and also sell themselves. For this final option, a possibility was to go out into the streets to search for a new owner, sometimes with the aid of a friend, sponsor, or other loved one. Another option was to do what owners did: appeal to slave brokers, key intermediaries who were at work when the colonial period began (Bowser 1977, 125). A slave broker could set up a dialogue between different purchasers and perhaps also a way for slaves to escape difficult circumstances. As agents of intermediation, slave brokers at times found themselves suspected of complicity with slaves, and intermediation most often became a thankless duty for persons belonging to casta groups. In negotiations between a not so meek slave population and owners dependent on slave labor and willing to perpetuate the slaveholding system, sometimes intermediation backfired on brokers.[16]

Owners and slaves could appeal to the services of brokers in exchange for payment of a commission that they would set. Owners did so in order to avoid suits to annul the sale and to obtain a good price for the slave. And the slaves did so in order to locate a new owner, especially if their former owner did not permit them to do so independently. The brokers, for their part, sought to assure the quality of their commodity and investigated the reasons why a slave wished to change owners. Once the slave had stated his or her reasons, the broker consulted the owner regarding the slave's possible defects (typically, being too old or young, ill or drunk, or a fugitive) and the more general stipulations of the conque . When the broker contacted potential buyers, he might then claim to have good references for the slave. Sometimes, the broker took the trouble to make additional inquiries among the slave's previous owners and acquaintances. A slave's social image was important.

In the quest for buyers, brokers helped one another or shared out the brokerage. It was not unusual that even as brokers worked, slaves made their way through streets and into residences, searching for owners on their own. When an interested party was found, the slave remained "on trial" while the purchaser verified the flaws and attributes of his recent acquisition, including a medical exam. This trial period usually lasted no more than a few days, depending on the seller's impatience or the slave's eagerness to change owners. In the case of illness—including mange, which was widespread—or other defects, it was possible to renege on the sale and thus the cycle began again.


While the transaction was in process, the intervention of the broker demonstrated the will—whether of the owner wishing to sell or the slave to be sold—to reach an agreement and could ease strife between owner and slave. This intermediation engendered expectations on both sides for a speedy agreement. An intermediary could absorb tensions and possibly impede the slave's escape. However, the final objective was not always attained. When the proceedings with a broker stemmed from a slave's discontent with his or her owner, and the new purchaser made a negative decision after the trial period, the slave was likely to resist a return to the former owner's house. Some slaves took the opportunity to flee, especially if the potential buyer had directly communicated to the slave the decision not to purchase. The slave would not wait for the broker's return to fetch the slave in order to deposit him or her in the former owner's hands. Either possibility clearly depended on the treatment the slave received and also on the slave's initiative. And it hinged on the expertise of the broker, who at all costs would have to guard against the slave's discovery of the owner's decision.

If the slave managed to flee (or refused to return to the first owner), beyond an accusation of the broker's complicity with the purchaser to the detriment of the former owner's interests, an owner had little recourse against a less than honest broker who entered into direct negotiations with the new owner: in exchange for declaring that the slave had fled, the broker received money and hid the slave or transferred him or her to a hacienda. Or a broker might connive with the slave (for example, offering to lower the slave's price). Finally, a broker could claim that the former owner had lied by stating that his or her slave was not a maroon (however, as soon as a slave fled, he or she became a maroon, or bandit) or that a slave was an inherently risky commodity, a "commodity with feet." Some brokers were jailed for such occurrences, and when the broker had relatives among the black population, he could even end up in a panadería until someone paid his surety. In this way, brokers played the role of articulator and lived off an increasingly obstructed discourse between property and freedom—synthesizing the conflicts at the core of slaveholding that justified their services and allied them with slaves.

More broadly, the speed with which slaves changed owners was an indication of their mobility, added to that of their daily wages. Lima's urban slaveholders found ways to assure that slaves remained with a


proprietary family—for example, through arrangements such as womb inheritance or promises of future freedom—and in return slaves engaged in a more visible strategy of negotiation, the continual switching of owners. There would always be an owner interested in acquiring a slave under the best possible circumstances, which above all meant a low price. There were very few cartas de libertad signed by the master into whose hands the slave had been born, rather, specifications about the identity of former owners confirm that the same slave often passed through frequent transactions. In Santa Ana's residential census of 1808, cited earlier, only in one case did members of a slave family spanning three generations live together with their owners. The parallelism between the lives of owners and the lives of slaves had limits dictated by the conquest of greater spaces of freedom and of freedom itself. Switching owners could be a way to improve living conditions and in the long run could also serve as a supplementary instrument of negotiation.

To a greater or lesser extent—and using additional arguments—slaves on haciendas, others with daily-wage jobs, and ones in domestic service fought their own battles along lines similar to those of José Gregorio. Each interstice of the society left room for an original response, which over the course of the years freed individuals from slavery and made the contradictions of the whole society resoundingly obvious. There were more than a few cases in which the dominant sector experienced internal fissures as a consequence of the actions and the ingenuity of their slaves. Nevertheless, up until the final years of slavery owners wielded mechanisms and entities of control. Some were overt, such as the variously mentioned panaderías ; others such as unfilled promises made to slaves were more sophisticated.

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Chapter Five Slaves and Their Owners
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