From black to Ladino


Material Information

From black to Ladino People of African descent, Mestizaje, and racial hierarchy in rural colonial Guatemala, 1600-1730
Portion of title:
People of African descent, Mestizaje, and racial hierarchy in rural colonial Guatemala, 1600-1730
Physical Description:
vii, 290 leaves : ill. ; 29 cm.
Lokken, Paul Thomas, 1960-
Publication Date:


Subjects / Keywords:
Blacks -- History -- Guatemala   ( lcsh )
Mestizaje -- History -- Guatemala   ( lcsh )
Race relations -- History -- Guatemala   ( lcsh )
History thesis, Ph.D   ( lcsh )
Dissertations, Academic -- History -- UF   ( lcsh )
bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )


Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Florida, 2000.
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 277-289).
General Note:
General Note:
Statement of Responsibility:
by Paul Thomas Lokken.

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
aleph - 022947069
oclc - 45080565
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Table of Contents
    Title Page
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    Table of Contents
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    Chapter 1. Introduction
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    Chapter 2. The "black threat" in early seventeenth-century Guatemala
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    Chapter 3. Mulatos, Ladinos, and racial hierarchy
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    Chapter 4. From black to mulatto: Marriage and mestizaje
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    Chapter 5. Mulattos and mestizaje on the Pacific Coast
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    Chapter 6. Testing the bounds: Social relations and racial hierarchy
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    Chapter 7. Militiamen of color
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    Appendix. Marriage petitions from Sonsonate and San Salvador and San Miguel
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    Sources cited
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    Biographical sketch
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Full Text








I thank the Tinker Foundation, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the

University of Florida, and the University of Florida's History Department for funding my

dissertation research. I also wish to express my sincere gratitude to the staffs of the

Archivo General de Centroamerica and the Archivo Historico Arquidiocesano

"Francisco de Paula Garcia Peliez," both in Guatemala City, and the Archivo General de

Indias, in Seville, for the assistance they provided to me.

Many individuals contribute to the writing of a doctoral dissertation, more than I

can name in this brief space. I wish, however, to single out a few people to whom I owe

a particular debt of gratitude. My advisor, Murdo MacLeod, supported me unstintingly

throughout my graduate career at the University of Florida. He also provides a model

for would-be scholars that is notable for the degree to which it is unlikely to be matched.

The other members of my committee--David Geggus, Kathryn Bums, Irma McClaurin,

and Tim Cleaveland--each directly influenced my work, although none bears (much)

responsibility for how I have chosen to interpret what they taught me. Jeffrey Needell,

Mark Thurner, and Jim Handy also had substantial input into my formation as a historian

of Latin America, Louise Newman introduced me to important theoretical literature

which I might otherwise have avoided, to my loss, and Marvin Harris reminded me of the

significance of material factors in the evolution of human societies.


Graduate students, at their best, form mutual support groups that are both

intellectual and convivial in nature. At the University of Florida, my thanks go in

particular to Caleb Finegan, Kym Morrison, Mike Cole, Jim Meier, and, especially, Doug

Tompson, and, in the archives, to Leo Hernandez, Christophe Belaubre, and Giulia

Tarantola. I am also indebted to Franz Binder, who is not a graduate student, but knows

the archives of Guatemala as well as anyone, and the sources for my own topic better

than I do.

My debts to family are the greatest. I owe thanks to my mother, Borgny Lokken,

who has always supported my academic endeavors, and to my in-laws, Peter and Mary

van der Veen, for their many kindnesses. Paula van der Veen needs little reminder of the

peculiar demands of academic life, and Annelise and Martine are learning fast. My

father, John Lokken, did not live to see me finish this dissertation, but never failed to

demonstrate an interest both in my specific work and in Central America in general. I

have lost, among much else, an attentive reader.


A CK N O W LED G M EN T S ....................................................................................... ii

A B S T R A C T ............................................................................................................. vi


I IN T R O D U C T IO N ............................................................................................... 1

SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY GUATEMALA ........................................... 19

The Establishment of an African Presence in Guatemala .............................. 25
African-descended Slaves in Rural Guatemala ............................................. 40
Ranch Hands, "Vagabonds," and Maroons ................................................. 52

3 MUL TOS, LADINOS, AND RACIAL HIERARCHY ...................................... 74

The Emergence of Militias of Color ............................................................ 74
From B lack to M estizo? .............................................................................. 78
The Many Faces of the Seventeenth-Century Ladino ...................................... 103


Region, Demography, and the Politics of Marriage ........................................ 112
S o u rce s ......................................................................................................... 1 19
The V alle de las V acas .................................................................................. 126
Chiquimula de la Sierra to the Caribbean ....................................................... 140
Sonsonate and San Salvador y San Miguel .................................................... 151
The W estern H ighlands 1................................................................................ 165

5 MULATTOS AND MESTIZAJE ON THE PACIFIC COAST ............................. 172

E scuintepequ e ............................................................................................... 176
Z ap o titldn ...................................................................................................... 19 3

G u azacap n ............................................. ..................................................... 2 0 3

SOCIAL RELATIONS AND RACIAL HIERARCHY ................................. 213

Cofradias and "C annibals" .............................................................................. 213
"Slave": A "M iddling R ole"? ......................................................................... 223
Contesting Social Mobility: Free Mulattos and Spaniards .............................. 237
From Mulato Libre to Ladino? ..................................................................... 250

AND THE REORDERING OF RACIAL HIERARCHY ............................. 253

Foreign Threats and the Challenge to the Tributo de Laborios ....................... 256
From Black To Ladino, But Slowly ............................................................... 262
C o nclu sio n ..................................................................................................... 2 7 0

SAN SALVADOR AND SAN MIGUEL .................................................... 276

SO U R C E S C ITE D .................................................................................................. 277

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH .................................................................................... 290

Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



Paul Thomas Lokken

May 2000

Chair: Murdo J. MacLeod
Major Department: History

This dissertation focuses on a little-studied aspect of the African diaspora in the

Americas: the seventeenth-century demographic and social contours of Spanish

Guatemala's rural African-descended population. It also contributes to literature which

examines the unstable nature of identities tied to origin, by exploring the apparent

disappearance of this population from the historical stage. Over the course of the

seventeenth century, an African-descended sector consisting in 1600 largely of enslaved

and marginalized individuals who were defined as black was transformed into one made

up of people who were mostly free, called mulatto, and linked with a broader and more

amorphous social category: gente ladina. The term ladino, of key importance in

Guatemalan history, was at the same time just beginning to be understood in a manner

consistent with its modem status as a catch-all label for people defined as non-Indian.

Several factors contributed to the transformation outlined here. These factors

included a drastic reduction in slave imports after the 1630s, the Spanish need to employ

non-indigenous people of color in military and administrative capacities, and the efforts

of blacks and mulattos to escape the position of inferiority assigned to them under the

Spanish colonial racial hierarchy. Underlying and fundamentally shaping these processes

was the dependence of Spaniards in Guatemala primarily on indigenous rather than

African labor. Socially exclusionary policies intended, in theory, to relegate individuals

of African descent to the bottom of the social ladder were undermined in practice

because the full weight of racial hierarchy fell on the Indian majority.

Marriage records, especially, reveal that imposed distinctions based on origin did

not constrain the mobility of individuals of African origins to the extent desired by the

Spanish. Enslaved black men secured free birth for their children by marrying indigenous

women, while those free children, defined as mulattos, might wed mestizos or even

Spaniards. Free women of color were most likely to slip the allegedly fixed bounds of

classification by origin, as other studies of marriage in Spanish America have predicted.

Examined in conjunction with population counts, marriage records also indicate

that people defined by African origins formed a large proportion of Guatemala's non-

Indian sector by the late seventeenth century, and the majority in some regions. At the

same time, though, free mulatto social mobility was undermining distinctions among the

non-indigenous population. A key signal of this development occurred early in the

eighteenth century, when militiamen of color gained relief from an alternative tribute

owed by free people of African descent. They thus shed a key marker of "inferior"

origins that was henceforth to be associated only with Indians: tribute status.



Visiting Guatemala City's Museo Popul Vuh in the spring of 1998, 1 encountered

a puzzling inscription at the entrance to the lone room dedicated to the colonial period.

The inscription described social stratification in Spanish Guatemala by stating that

colonial society was comprised of five groups: "los espafioles (nacidos en Espafia), los

criollos (espafioles nacidos en Am6rica), los mestizos (hijos de espafioles e indigenas),

indigenas y negros." At first, I was pleasantly surprised to see people of African origins

mentioned as having been a significant presence in colonial Guatemala. The inscription

seemed to depart from the common depiction of early Guatemalan history as a field of

struggle between "Spaniards" and "Indians" alone. This apparent departure was

welcome to someone interested in the colonial African presence in areas of Spanish

America not traditionally considered to have much African background.'

'Like Guatemala, central Mexico (New Spain) and Andean Peru had large
indigenous majorities during the colonial period, a fact which has often led scholars to
overlook the social significance of African-descended minorities in these areas. The
historiographies of New Spain and Peru do, nevertheless, include classic studies of these
minorities, notably Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrin, Lapoblaci6n negra de Mxico, 1519-1810
(M6xico, D.F.: Ediciones Fuente Cultural, 1946); Frederick P. Bowser, The African
Slave in Colonial Peru, 1524-1650 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1974); Colin
A. Palmer, Slaves of the White God. Blacks in Mexico, 1570-1650 (Cambridge, Mass.:
Harvard University Press, 1976). Presently, historians of Mexico are beginning to pay
sustained attention to the colonial African presence, now sometimes called "la tercera
raiz" of the modem nation. See Adriana Naveda Chivez-Hita, "Los estudios


After reflecting a bit on this description of colonial Guatemala's social order,

however, its overall implications dawned on me. Those implications actually undermined

any intent which might have existed to incorporate the African presence into public

historical understanding of Guatemala's colonial roots. Blacks, the description

suggested, reproduced only among themselves, if at all, in Spanish Guatemala. Members

of the Spanish and indigenous populations, meanwhile, intermingled to produce mestizos,

but no one from either group found sexual partners of African origin. Thus mestizaje--

roughly understood as the mixing of diverse populations--operated in such a way in

colonial Guatemala as to exclude entirely the inconvenient classificatory (not to mention

other) complications that the forced importation of Africans introduced into most

colonial Spanish American societies.

The starkest interpretation of the museum's inscription, quite simply, is that the

negros of colonial Guatemala died out. This conclusion would be the one to draw, at

any rate, if one were to integrate the museum's description of colonial society with what

might be described as the "hegemonic" understanding--scholarly as well as popular--of

Guatemalan origins. Local African roots, if any, have been associated with small and

relatively isolated groups of English- and Garifuna-speaking peoples concentrated near

afromexicanos: los cimientos y las fuentes locales," La Palabray el Hombre 97 (1996):
125-139. Recent work on Peru's African background includes Christine Hunefeldt,
Paying the Price of Freedom: Family and Labor Among Lima's Slaves, 1800-1854
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994). The most widely known scholarly
exploration into "forgotten" populations of African descent in Spanish America may be
George Reid Andrews, The Afro-Argentines of Buenos Aires, 1800-1900 (Madison:
University of Wisconsin Press, 1980).

the country's Caribbean outlet.2 The presence in Guatemala of these groups, though,

does not date back further than the 1790s, when the British expelled the "black Caribs,"

or Garifuna, from St. Vincent.' The descendants of earlier immigrants who came directly

from Africa as slaves, meanwhile, are evidently no longer around.

Another curious aspect of the Popol Vuh museum's description of colonial

society is that the term ladino is not mentioned at all. This category is ubiquitous today

as the one into which the entire non-Mayan4 population of Guatemala is often slotted.

The failure to include the term cannot have been based on its absence from histories of

2The best example of this merges the scholarly and the popular. Ralph Lee
Woodward, Jr., the noted historian of Central America, does not mention a colonial
African presence at all in his extensive entry on Guatemala in Microsoft's Encarta
encyclopedia, other than to note the arrival of "black Caribs." See Ralph Lee
Woodward, Jr., "Guatemala," Microsoft Encarta 98 Encyclopedia.

3Ralph Lee Woodward, Jr., Central America: A Nation Divided, 2n ed. (New
York: Oxford University Press, 1985), 291.

4In this dissertation I use the term "Indian" rather than "Mayan," now preferred.
My reasoning is simple: this dissertation focuses on eastern and southern parts of the
colonial Province of Guatemala (including the territory of modern El Salvador) where
much of the indigenous population was not Maya in origin, but rather Nahuatl-speaking
Pipil, with pockets of Xinci and other groups in Guazacapan. The label indio was
applied indiscriminately to all of these people. Furthermore, indio, like negro and
mulato, carried specific connotations within the Spanish colonial racial hierarchy that is
in part the subject of this study. All three must be employed for their ramifications to be
understood. On the indigenous presence in Pacific-coast and eastern Guatemala, see
Richard N. Adams, Encuesta sobre la cultura de los ladinos en Guatemala, Joaquin
Noval, trans. (Guatemala: Editorial del Ministerio de Educaci6n Pfiblica, 1956), 48;
Sandra Orellana, Ethnohistory of the Pacific Coast (Lancaster, Ca.: Labyrinthos, 1995),
24-27; Lawrence H. Feldman, A Tumpline Economy: Production and Distribution
Systems in Sixteenth-Century Eastern Guatemala (Culver City, Ca.: Labyrinthos, 1985),
6, figure 5. On El Salvador's indigenous roots, see David Browning, El Salvador:
Landscape and Society (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971), Chapter 1.

the colonial period--it is universally noted to have been in use during colonial times.

Instead, the description's unspoken assumption is that ladino and mestizo meant, and

mean, the same thing. Such an assumption merely echoes standard modem definitions of

the term, which routinely slip suggestions to the effect that ladinos are of "mixed

indigenous and European descent" or a "mixture of Indians and Spaniards" into claims

that the category has no "racial" content, and applies purely to the use of "Western" or

"Spanish" cultural practices.5 But this definition appears to have had a relatively short

existence. It is perhaps indicative of a twentieth-century trend toward "forgetting" the

colonial African presence in Guatemala that dictionaries from 1958 and 1984,

respectively, gave the Central American definition of ladino as "descendiente de espafiol

e india" and "mestizo," while a 1916 encyclopedia--in a racist but perhaps more

historically informed entry--said "the ladinos of Guatemala are not properly speaking an

anthropological unit, but resulted from triple mestizaje in which the frizziness of the hair,

the black color of the skin, and the distinctive odor of the black have disappeared."6

'In other words, ladinos are "racially" mestizo. The quotations are taken from
"Color y amistad," in "Guia turistica," insert in La Prensa Grtfica (Guatemala), 4 enero,
1996, 2; Woodward, "Guatemala," Encarta 98. The anthropologist Richard N. Adams
warned as early as 1956 against confusing ladino with mestizo or blanco, but meant only
to say that "racially, a ladino can be white, mestizo, or even indigenous." He did allow
for the possibility that persons defined as ladino might have some African descent, but
his association of this possibility only with Guatemala's Caribbean coast was made clear
in his sole example, the town of Livingston. See Adams, Encuesta, 8-20.
6See "Ladino," in Real Academia Espafiola, Diccionario de la lengua espahola
(Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1984); "Ladino," in Martin Alonso Pedraz, Enciclopedia del
idioma: diccionario hist6rico y moderno de la lengua espaiola (siglos XII al XX)
etimol6gico, tecnol6gico, regional e hispanoamericano (Madrid: Aguilar, 1958);

In this dissertation, I seek to unravel some of the apparent contradictions in

Guatemalan myths of origin by writing two intimately related histories: one about

African-descended people in the mid-colonial period, and the other on the nature and

effects of the Spanish colonial racial hierarchy within which those people operated. The

two histories are inextricably intertwined, because the "disappearance" of colonial

Guatemala's black population was in part a matter of definition, or classification, which

is the stuff of racial hierarchies. Understanding how the Spanish categorized individuals,

and why, provides clues, for example, about the nature and direction of demographic and

social change. In turn, it was the social relationships in which people of African origins

were involved, and, most important, the material circumstances which surrounded their

forced immigration to and subsequent participation in colonial Guatemalan society, that

both infused the categories of the racial hierarchy with meaning, and changed that

meaning over time.7

I use the term "racial hierarchy" as a shorthand for the Spanish colonial system of

human classification--the sistema de castas--because that system was intended to assign

differential social status on the basis of individuals' actual or ascribed origins. I do not

"Ladinos," in Enciclopedia universal ilustrada europeo-americano (Madrid: Espasa-
Calpe, 1916). The definition's modem history and its relation to Guatemalan self-
imaginings certainly bears further investigation.

7The contrast in the Americas between highland colonial labor systems based
primarily on indigenous workers versus lowland ones built on the backs of imported
African laborers, and the consequences for subsequent "racial" and "cultural"
development, has been drawn most notably in Marvin Harris, Patterns of Race in the
Americas, (New York: Walker, 1964), esp. Chapter 2.

mean to imply that the term raza was used in colonial Guatemala, or that the

connotations assigned to "race" following the nineteenth-century advent of "scientific"

racism applied in earlier societies. It would be anachronistic in the extreme to suggest

that the residents of Spanish colonial America held modem notions about "race." But by

the same token, as Nancy Leys-Stepan has argued, nineteenth-century conceptions of

fundamental biological divisions among humankind did not emerge ex nihilo, but

received acceptance precisely because they resonated with older ideas about human

difference based on origin.'

Sixteenth-century Spaniards, for example, brought with them to the Americas a

conception of society as hierarchically ordered by divine will on the basis of hereditary

privilege. Nobility was conferred by birth, at least in theory. In addition, the Spanish

were increasingly obsessed at exactly this point with limpieza de sangre (purity of

blood), a result of both the Reconquest of Muslim-ruled portions of the Iberian peninsula

by Catholic monarchs, completed in 1492, and the Inquisition's war after 1478 on

Spanish Jews and conversos: forcibly converted and, hence, suspect "New Christians."

By 1501, applicants for many public offices in the Spanish kingdoms were required to

prove descent from "Old Christian" stock. Emphasis on "purity" of ancestry only

intensified in the following decades.9

"Nancy Leys-Stepan, "Race and Gender: The Role of Analogy in Science," in
ISIS 77 (1986): 261-277, esp. 265-266.

9Mark A. Burkholder, "Honor and Honors in Colonial Spanish America," in
Lyman L. Johnson and Sonya Lipsett-Rivera, eds., The Faces of Honor: Sex, Shame,

But while limpieza de sangre was linked primarily to religious origins in the

Spanish homeland, the notion underwent modification upon translation to the Spanish

American colonies. There, "Spanishness" came to be defined, at least in part, as a

quality that set one apart from, and above, members of large indigenous and African-

descended populations."0 The colonial social hierarchy which Spaniards endeavored to

impose in their American possessions was anchored firmly enough in categories intended

to reflect Spanish, African, or indigenous origins for the purposes of implementing

discriminatory legislation that it may, with some reservations, be termed "racial.""

The mechanics of this study involve an exploration of mostly seventeenth-century

documentation relating to the demographic and social history of that sector of the

and Violence in Colonial Latin America (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico
Press, 1998), 19-22; Ann Twinam, "The Negotiation of Honor," in Johnson and Lipsett-
Rivera, eds., Sex, Shame, and Violence, 74-76.

l"Burkholder, "Honor and Honors," 28, 34-37; Twinam, "Negotiation," 76-77.
Spaniards in the Americas were not a homogeneous lot, however. Occupational status,
legitimacy, and numerous other factors produced significant differentiation among them.

"Theodore Allen is largely correct in asserting that "[h]owever one may choose
to define the term 'racial,' it concerns the historian only as it relates to a pattern of
oppression (subordination, subjugation, exploitation) of one set of human beings by
another." See Theodore W. Allen, The Invention of the White Race, Volume One:
Racial Oppression and Social Control (London: Verso, 1994), 27. On "race" itself,
Noel Ignatiev, discussing the U.S. context, cites the "well-known phenomenon that a
white woman can give birth to a black child, but a black woman can never give birth to a
white child" to argue that the "only logical conclusion is that people are members of
different races because they have been assigned to them." See Noel Ignatiev, How the
Irish Became White (New York: Routledge, 1995), 1. For a classic comparative
demonstration of the logical absurdities inherent in systems of racial classification, see
Harris, Patterns of Race, 54-58.

colonial population which was identified by terms connoting African descent: negro and

mulato. The most important sources employed include correspondence between the

Spanish Crown and the audiencia in Santiago de Guatemala, capital of Spanish Central

America;12 the records of civil and criminal processes; a partial census of Central

America conducted during the 1680s; and, especially, marriage petitions filed by

members of the non-tributary3 population during the last half of the seventeenth century.

I also examine slave sales, some records of wills and estates, and petitions to the

audiencia from militias of color and sundry other groups and individuals. By casting my

research net more widely than deeply, I have hoped to produce a broad portrait of the

mid-colonial population of African origins, and the social relations in which its members

were involved.'4

2The term audiencia was applied both to the administrative district--the
audiencia of Guatemala, which stretched from present-day Chiapas to Costa Rica--and
to the royal court which sat in the capital, comprised of a President, sometimes also
Captain-General, and three or four oidores, or justices. See C.H. Haring, The Spanish
Empire in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1947), 70-77.

3"Tributary" is used in this dissertation to refer to those members of the
indigenous population--the vast majority--who owed tribute and labor to the Spanish
Crown or its most favored representatives. Although blacks, mulattos, and some Indians
owed an alternative tribute called the laborio--see Chapter 3-I align them with non-
tributaries in order to emphasize what I argue became a key distinction of the colonial
racial hierarchy: that between Indians who owed regular tribute, and everyone else.
14This research strategy has also been necessitated by gaps in seventeenth-century
documentation. For example, I found few marriage petitions from rural areas before the
1650s. It would be unduly pessimistic, though, to presume that efforts to conduct
demographic inquiry into what a well known historian of Latin American populations
called the "pre-statistical period (1555-1744)" are futile because of a paucity of
documentation. That documentation has yet to be exhausted. See Nicolis Sinchez-

The dissertation's specific geographic focus is the colonial provincia de

Guatemala, an administrative unit within the audiencia of the same name which

encompassed roughly the present-day republics of Guatemala and El Salvador. The

boundaries of this provincia essentially matched those of the ecclesiastical diocese of

Guatemala and Verapaz, which lends a substantial degree of territorial cohesiveness to

the documentation produced. Secular as well as ecclesiastical administrations were

centered on Santiago de Guatemala,5 capital of the audiencia and by far the most

important city in colonial Central America. Santiago, though, is little discussed here. I

concentrate instead on areas outside the capital and its environs, for two reasons. First,

much of rural mid-colonial Guatemala--particularly areas south and east of the capital--

has received relatively little scholarly attention.16 Yet, as Murdo MacLeod has noted, the

countryside was increasingly central to colonial life in Guatemala during the seventeenth

century, as long-term economic depression drove urban residents into rural areas in

search of subsistence."7 Second, Christopher H. Lutz's Santiago de Guatemala is as

Albornoz, The Population of Latin America: A History (Berkeley: University of
California Press, 1974), 9-10, 88.

5Originally Santiago de los Caballeros. The site which the capital occupied from
1541 to 1773 is presently Antigua Guatemala, located just west of Guatemala City.

6Significant exceptions include Murdo J. MacLeod, Spanish CentralAmerica: A
Socioeconomic History, 1520-1720 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973) and
J.C. Pinto Soria, El valle central de Guatemala (1524-1821): un andlisis acerca del
origen hist6rico-econ6mico del regionalismo en centroamirica (Guatemala:
Universidad de San Carlos, 1988).

'7MacLeod, Spanish Central America, esp. 381-385. MacLeod's thesis has been
challenged by scholars who argue that a seventeenth-century decline in an export-

thorough and impressive a demographic examination of the capital as is likely to be

done." Although African-descended populations are not his specific subject, his clear

demonstration of their importance in Guatemala's urban life serves as a starting point for

my own work.'9

oriented economy centered on indigo production produced more vibrant and diverse
internal markets, not depression. See, for example, Elizabeth Fonseca Corrales,
"Econonia y sociedad en Centroamerica (1540-1680)," in Julio C~sar Pinto Soria, ed.
Historia General de Centroamrica, 2"d ed. (San Jose: FLACSO, 1994), 2:138-140;
Gustavo Palma Murga, "Economia y sociedad en Centromerica (1680-1750)," in Pinto
Soria, ed., Historia General, 2:219-224. While I do not enter this debate directly, I see
my focus on rural demography and social relations as one response to Palma Murga's
suggestion that there "still remains much to investigate" with regard to seventeenth-
century "ruralization" in Central America. I might note also that Pinto Soria calls
mestizaje "one of the lacunae in Central American historiography." See Palma Murga,
"Economia y sociedad (1680-1750)," 223; Julio C6sar Pinto Soria, "Conclusiones," in
Pinto Soria, ed., Historia General, 2:311-312.

"SChristopher H. Lutz, Santiago de Guatemala, 1541-1773, City, Caste, and the
Colonial Experience (Norman: University of Nebraska Press, 1994).

1If Lutz is in many ways responsible for having brought the topic to the level of
historical consciousness, Guatemalan students were among the first to examine the
region's African background in any depth. See Ofelia Calder6n Diemecke de Gonzalez,
"El negro en Guatemala durante la epoca colonial" (Tesis de Licenciatura, Universidad
de San Carlos, 1973); Danilo Palma Ramos, "El negro en las relaciones etnicas de la
segunda mitad del siglo XVIII y principios del siglo XIX en Guatemala" (Tesis de
Licenciatura, Universidad de San Carlos, 1974). General histories by MacLeod, Miles
Wortman, and Severo Martinez Peliez, meanwhile, refer often to blacks and mulattos,
especially in their labor role. See MacLeod, Spanish CentralAmerica; Miles L.
Wortman, Government and Society in Central America, 1680-1840 (New York:
Columbia University Press, 1982); Severo Martinez Peliez, La patria del criollo: ensayo
de interpretaci6n de la realidad colonial guatemalteca, 13t ed. (Mexico, D.F.:
Ediciones en Marcha, 1994). I discuss the latter work's scholarly ambivalence regarding
the African presence in Chapter 3. Calls for additional study of the African presence in
colonial Guatemala have appeared, for example, in Murdo J. MacLeod, "Ethnic
Relations and Indian Society in the Province of Guatemala, ca. 1620--ca. 1800," in
Murdo J. MacLeod and Robert Wasserstrom, eds., Spaniards and Indans in

Castillo de NP
San Felipee dN'
Huehuet enango a cobim
San Crist6bal
Quezalt:enango Acasaguastln i HONDURAS
Xnazatenango oPetopa
Escuintla. "Jutiapa
O~uaz ac apikn
*'.a qoera
PACIFIC N Sonsonate San Salvador
OCEAN San Miguel.
Figure 1-1. Provincia de Guatemala, ca. 1670
Sources: Lovell and Lutz, Demography and Empire, 2,
figure 1; Feldman, Tumpline Economy, 3, figure 3.

Thus far I have stressed the demographic and social aspects of the study which

follows. Demographic and social analysis of colonial Guatemala's African-descended

population is slippery, however, and not only because of the difficulties posed by the

relative absence of consistent data. Such analysis is complicated by the existence of the

Southeastern Mesoamerica: Essays on the History of Ethnic Relations (Lincoln:
University of Nebraska Press, 1983), 204-205; and W. George Lovell and Christopher
H. Lutz, Demography and Empire: A Guide to the Population History of Spanish
CentralAmerica, 1500-1821 (Boulder: Westview, 1995), 12.

colonial Spanish American racial hierarchy, and its particular manifestation in the

Province of Guatemala. Examination of the workings of that hierarchy, and of the terms

employed to distinguish among individuals positioned differently within it, is key to

achieving any useful understanding of colonial demographic and social developments.

Not only must the meanings of terms like espafol, indio, mestizo, mulato, negro, and

ladino be understood in the contexts in which they were used, but the nature of social

relationships between the people slotted into different categories must be determined.

A fundamental problem embedded in this endeavor may apply to all demographic

study. The problem is perhaps best illustrated with an observation taken from the work

of Sanchez-Albornoz. Remarking on a phenomenon whereby Indians fleeing their

villages in the Norte Chico of Chile became mestizos if they returned, he said it

constituted "an interesting sociological point, but one which is beyond the scope of a

purely demographic study."2 It would seem, instead, that understanding the nature of

such transformations should be at the very core of this work. What factors, for example,

determined the stability of labels across, and even within, generations? Rather than

simply "counting heads," then, demographic work should assess a host of inherently

unstable factors. These factors include, but are not limited to, the relative attractiveness

of labels to the people identified with them, the degree of difficulty in escaping from

unflattering or undesirable categories, and the effects of variables such as marriage or

20Sfnchez-Albornoz, Population of Latin America, 94.

migration on classification.21 In other words, the study of demography and of identity

must be intertwined.

Understanding how identities are constructed over time is surely nowhere more

important than in accounting for the apparent historical disappearance of an entire group

of people defined by a shared geographical origin, in this case Africa. Stuart Hall, a

prominent student of the African diaspora in the Americas, has called attention to the

manner in which emphasis among the descendants of Africans in the Americas on a

common African ancestry has sometimes obscured understanding of disparate identities

created by divergent New World experiences. Hall's focus is solely on the Caribbean,

where African roots do not go unrecognized, but even there, he says, there are "critical

points of deep and significant difference" in experience, especially across boundaries

resulting from diverse colonial histories.22 Such a view is "unsettling," Hall goes on, and

"reminds [people of African descent in the Americas] that what [they] share is precisely

the experience of a profound discontinuity."' How much more unsettling might it be to

consider the case of Guatemala, regularly left out of general works that focus explicitly

2It should be evident that I emphasize imposed aspects of identity, which I see as
crucial to the maintenance of racial hierarchies. For an analysis of imposed "ethnic"
identity in a modem context, see Judith Friedlander, Being Indian in Hueyapan: A Study
of Forced Identity in Contemporary Mexico (New York: St. Martin's, 1975).
22Stuart Hall, "Cultural Identity and Cultural Diaspora," in Patrick Williams and
Laura Chrisman, eds., Colonial Discourse and Post-Colonial Theory (New York:
Columbia University Press, 1994), 394. Emphasis in original.
23Hall, "Cultural Identity," 394-395.

on the African presence in Latin America?24 Perhaps the concept of"hybridity" which

Hall evokes to understand changes in cultural identity could be deployed to re-integrate a

sense of African as well as European and indigenous backgrounds in areas of the

Americas, like Guatemala, where what was once known is only now beginning again to

impinge on shared historical consciousness. The reasons why this knowledge was

"forgotten" in the first place, however, must first be understood.25

A brief outline of the dissertation follows. Chapter 2 provides a historical profile

of the African-descended population in the Province of Guatemala up to the 1640s. It

focuses particular attention on the character of the threat which a growing population of

blacks and mulattos was said to pose to social order, at least in the minds of Spaniards.

Chapter 3 briefly discusses the formal incorporation of free blacks and mulattos into

colonial Guatemalan militias in the 1640s--a highly significant event--before exploring

the nature and operation of the Spanish colonial racial hierarchy in the Province of

Guatemala around the middle of the seventeenth century. By examining labels tied to

24See, for example, Luz Maria Martinez Montiel, cdra., Presencia africana en
Centroamnrica (Mexico: Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, 1993); Dari6n J.
Davis, ed., Slavery and Beyond: the African Impact on Latin America and the
Caribbean (Wilmington, Del.: Scholarly Resources, 1995).

2It is encouraging in this respect that one scholar of colonial Central America
who downplayed the role of people of African descent quite recently--referring to them
only in the context of slavery and avoiding mention of free mulattos--has shifted, 6 ia the
Mexican example, to saying that the "element of African origin was present in Central
America from the sixteenth century on... and ought to be considered as our third root."
See Elizabeth Fonseca Corrales, "Economia y sociedad (1540-1680)," passim; Elizabeth
Fonseca, Centroam&ica: su historia (San Jos6: FLACSO/EDUCA, 1996), 113.


origin as well as the manner in which identities were ascribed, it acts as a prelude to the

following two chapters, which center on demography.

In Chapters 4 and 5, I present a demographic portrait of the black and mulatto

presence in the Province of Guatemala during the second half of the seventeenth century.

This portrait is based primarily on marriage petitions that all colonial subjects save

tributary Indians were required to file, a 1683 census of Central America, and

information drawn from the observations of contemporary chroniclers like Francisco

Antonio de Fuentes y Guzmfn.26 These chapters reveal that, by the end of the

seventeenth century, the African-descended population of colonial Guatemala was

largely free and mulatto--due in part to a near-absence of slave imports after the 1630s--

and increasingly operated at the middle ranges of society.27 They also demonstrate that

free mulattos and other people of African origins generally constituted the largest non-

indigenous sector in eastern and southern portions of the Province of Guatemala.

Chapter 4 divides the Province into five regions in order to enhance through

comparative analysis the importance of factors such as geography and the nature of local

economies in determining where people of African origins lived, and how they fit into

local social hierarchies. Chapter 5 focuses in relatively microscopic detail on the three

26Francisco Antonio de Fuentes y Guzman, Recordaci6nflorida: discurso
historial y demostraci6n natural, material, militar, y politica del reyno de Guatemala,
3 vols, Biblioteca "Goathemala" 6-8 (Guatemala: Sociedad de Geografia e Historia,
271 mean the middle ranges of society in terms of social status. Most colonial
subjects, including many espaholes, would best be described as poor.

districts making up one of the five regions isolated in Chapter 4: the southern and

southwest Pacific coast. I do this in part to underscore the effects of regional

differentiation within even relatively small areas, and also to emphasize the particular

importance of black and mulatto populations along the Pacific coast.2

If regional differences appear in Chapters 4 and 5 as crucial determinants of the

manner in which diverse populations were distributed throughout the Province of

Guatemala, gender emerges in the same chapters as a key factor in structuring the nature

and direction of the processes of mestizaje that linked together people of diverse origins.

Far from being arranged hierarchically solely on the basis of "racial" origin, Spanish

colonial society was, at the least, doubly stratified, in such a way that "gender [was]

always also a racial category and race a gender category."'29 In colonial Guatemala, this

28Colombia is one of the best known Spanish American examples of regional
differentiation in processes of mestizaje involving people of African descent. Peter
Wade notes the importance historically of "the local economic and social context" in
producing this differentiation. See Peter Wade, Blackness and Race Mixture: The
Dynamics of Racial Identity in Colombia (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press,
1993), 56.

'The quotation, a reference to "cultures stratified by both race and gender," is in
Sandra Harding, The Science Question in Feminism (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University
Press, 1986), 18, cited in Elizabeth Anne Kuznesof, "Ethnic and Gender Influences on
'Spanish' Creole Society in Colonial Spanish America," Colonial Latin American
Review 4:1 (1995): 159. I employ the concept of gender, in which is entailed the social
construction of differing male and female roles, because, as Verena Stolcke (Martinez-
Alier) has put it, the biological facts of sex difference "acquire social significance only
within wider systems of meaning." Gender in colonial Spanish America encompassed,
among other things, the socially organized subordination of women, with a primary aim
being control over the processes by which social hierarchy was reproduced. See Verena
Stolcke (Martinez-Alier), "Introduction to the Second Edition," in Verena Martinez-
Alier, Marriage, Class, and Colour in Nineteenth-Century Cuba: A Study of Racial

double stratification was reflected, for example, in the fact that marriage between

partners of differing origins tended to involve women of lower and men of higher

"racial" status. Most striking in this regard is evidence that "free" indigenous women

who wed enslaved men of African descent were actually marrying up on the racial

hierarchy, and thus ensuring that their children would enjoy status as non-Indians. The

enslaved husbands of these women, meanwhile, gained free birth for those same children,

making use of a gendered pathway to emancipation, at least for their offspring, to which

slave women did not have access.

Chapter 6 relies especially on the records of civil disputes and criminal cases to

delve more closely into the social relations in which members of the African-descended

population were involved. In doing so, it largely confirms what the evidence presented

in the previous chapters suggests: that the social position of free mulattos, in particular,

was increasingly at odds with the lowly status ascribed to them under the racial

hierarchy. That status was enforced, in theory, through the collection of an alternative

tribute and segregated militia service. In practice, the very fact that free mulattos

participated in defending the realm helped undermine their tribute status, the decline of

which in turn eliminated a marker that had singled them out for segregated militia duty in

the first place.

Attitudes and Sexual Values in a Slave Society, 2nd ed. (Ann Arbor: University of
Michigan Press, 1989), xiv.


The concluding chapter looks closely at the process by which militiamen of color

shed their tribute status in the early eighteenth century. Their success vividly illustrates

how the fact that the heaviest burdens of racial hierarchy in Guatemala fell on the

indigenous majority allowed members of the African-descended minority some space in

which to renegotiate the terms of their lives. That process of renegotiation did not

undermine the entire racial hierarchy, however. The Spanish elite remained on top, and

the tributary majority on the bottom. If anything, the escape by people of African origins

from the lowest rungs of the social ladder strengthened the position of Spaniards, by

clarifying and cementing distinctions between non-Spaniards who owed tribute--indios--

and those who did not--ladinos.3

3Both the persistence of tribute status as a mark of "inferiority," and the vital
role of "divide-and-rule" strategies in undergirding Spanish colonial power, are exhibited
in a 1788 warning from the governor of Nicaragua against royal efforts to reimpose
tribute on blacks and mulattos there. The latter would fiercely resist such an action, the
governor said, because they were "falsely persuaded of the superiority of their class over
the Indians, whom they judge as degraded because of [Indians'] status as tribute-payers.
." However "false" the governor may have believed the distinctions between the two
non-Spanish groups to be, he was clearly in no hurry to see them ended. The document
is in Richard Konetzke, ed., Colecci6n de documentospara la historia de laformaci6n
social de Hispanoamerica, 1493-1810, 3 vols. (Madrid: Consejo Superior de
Investigaciones Cientificas, 1953- ), 3:628-631; and cited in Ronald Escobedo Mansilla,
"El tributo de los zambaigos, negros y mulatos libres en el virreinato peruano," in
Revista de Indias 41:163-164 (1981): 45, footnote 6.


On October 26'h, 1624, members of the audiencia of Guatemala left the chambers

where they deliberated as the highest court in Spanish Central America and walked out

onto the main plaza of the capital, Santiago, on their way to the city jail. Once there,

following weekly ritual, they carried out an inventory of the institution's involuntary

residents. The list they made that day included several different categories of prisoners.

Along with four people jailed "por crimen" were five others incarcerated for crossing the

tax-collecting arm of the Spanish Crown, and two for debts. A further ten individuals

were listed under two other categories headed by references not only to the type of

infraction involved, but also to the origin of those listed: "yndios por crimen" and

"yndios tributos." The largest group of prisoners, though, was denoted exclusively by

origin, without reference to any sort of transgression at all. Fifteen of the thirty-six

unfortunates in jail that day fell under the simple heading "Negros y Mulatos."'

'Archivo General de Centroamerica (hereafter AGCA), Al.43, Legajo 4876,
Expediente 41801 (hereafter in the following format: A1.43. 4876. 41801). This
expediente contains the complete records of 12 visitas of the jail carried out between 24
October 1624 and 21 June 1625. This equals roughly one-third of the total number of
weekly inspections that would have been effected during this period if inspections were
done regularly. There is no record of inspections conducted during the period from
20 December 1624 to 5 April 1625, except that the last page of an otherwise-missing
visita precedes the first page recording the inspection of 5 April. The category "Negros
y Mulatos" appears in all of the visitas except the final one, from 21 June 1625, in which


The inconsistency in the audiencia's system of prisoner classification suggests

the ascription of a single, shared origin to the various individuals categorized according

to type of infraction alone. All were undoubtedly deemed espaiioles. As in any colonial

society where individuals were ranked in law according to a hierarchy of ancestry, the

people in colonial Guatemala most likely to have their ascribed designation within the

prevailing hierarchy go unmentioned were those presumed to share the origins of the

officials doing the classifying. The primary intent of the Spanish racial hierarchy, after

all, was to identify and mark non-Spaniards in order to facilitate the maintenance of a

stratified social order and restrict access to colonial wealth, power, and privilege.2 The

exigencies of this social order were evidently such as to require that even jail populations

be classified carefully by origin. In all categories save one, the 1624 prisoner inventory

exhibits as clearly as any other seventeenth-century document the great social division

said to characterize colonial Guatemala, that between "Spaniards" and "Indians."3

a revised version of the category appears: "Mestizos, Negros, y Mulatos."

2Recent works examining the operation of the mid-colonial Spanish racial
hierarchy in major urban areas include Lutz, Santiago de Guatemala; and R. Douglas
Cope, The Limits of Racial Domination: Plebeian Society in Colonial Mexico City,
1660-1720 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1994). Lutz emphasizes rather
more than Cope the ultimate success of a Spanish "divide-and-rule" strategy. See Lutz,
Santiago, esp. 140 and Chapter 4; Cope, Limits, esp. Introduction and Chapter 1.

3In theory, colonial society in Spanish America was divided into two "republics"-
-the reputblica de los espaholes and the repuiblica de los indios--with the protection of
indigenous populations a stated aim. The introduction of African slaves and the growth
of mixed, or casta, populations rapidly undermined this neat social division in many
places, including the capital of Guatemala. See Lutz, Santiago, Chapter 3.

The final, and largest, category of prisoners listed on the inventory somewhat

disturbs the rather tidy social portrait which the others appear to suggest. The existence

of what might be termed a "middle group" situated between the two major opposing

populations is not surprising. Such groups, often comprised largely of people of plural

origins, have frequently emerged in societies sharply divided along lines of "race" or

"caste." It has been argued, in fact, that rule by a small, foreign population could not be

maintained for long in any society without the existence of a social sector able to mediate

between governors and governed.4 The obvious question to arise in the case of the

prison inventory described above is why its "middle" category was not "Mestizos," given

that individuals of mixed Spanish and indigenous descent might have been expected to

dominate such a group in colonial Guatemala. The category "Negros y mulatos" does

not by any conventional understanding imply mestizaje involving Spaniards and Indians

at all. Nor, as seen below, did it in colonial Guatemala. Arguments to the effect that

mulato did not connote African descent in Guatemala aside,5 Christopher Lutz's work,

and the present dissertation, demonstrate that the terms mestizo and mulato largely

retained their original meanings for the purposes of classification into the eighteenth


'See, for example, Harris, Patterns of Race, 86-89.

5See Chapter 3.
6See Lutz, Santiago, passim; Chapter 3, below. The classic studies of "racial"
terminology and the sociedad de castas in Spanish America are Lyle N. McAllister,
"Social Structure and Social Change in New Spain." Hispanic American Historical


The most important reason for the retention in seventeenth-century Guatemala of

the original meaning of the term mulato was the existence of a clearly identified

population of Afiican descent which was more substantial than is generally recognized,

and whose members operated within relatively well defined social parameters. A final

illustration drawn from the 1624 prison inventory mentioned above serves nicely to hint

at the relative demographic weights of the categories mulato and mestizo within the

population at large. A search on the prison list for individuals defined as mestizo turns

up just two names: Juan Clemente and Jacinto Ramirez. These men, along with the

"yndio" Juan de la Tieta, formed a trio of thieves placed by the official who compiled the

inventory under the category "Negros y mulatos."

As noted above, in only one of twelve jail inspections recorded between October,

1624 and June, 1625 was the term mestizo actually employed in a category heading, and

then only in conjunction with rather than as a replacement for negro and mulato.' The

classification mestizo, it seems, was simply not significant enough to rate much notice.'

Review 43, no.3 (1963): 349-3 70; and Magnus MOrner, Race Mixture in the History of
Latin America, (Boston: Little, Brown, 1967). Both are discussed in Chapter 3. For a
recent restatement of the need to understand "socio-racial and ethnic terms" in the
"immediate historical and social context in which they were used," see David Cahill,
"Colour by Numbers: Racial and Ethnic Categories in the Viceroyalty of Peru, 1532-
1824," in Journal of Latin American Studies 26 (1994): 341-342.

7See footnote 1, above.

8Elizabeth Fonseca Corrales notes, regarding mestizos, that "it would appear that
they were not very numerous during the seventeenth century." She makes little
reference, however, to the existence of a sizeable mulatto population. See Fonseca
Corrales, "Economia y sociedad (1540-1680)," 119.


Meanwhile, eleven of the twelve prisoners with whom Juan Clemente, Jacinto Ramirez,

and Juan de la Tieta shared a category on the October 24, 1624 prison inventory were

defined explicitly as negro or mulato, and constituted a third of the jail's total


A number of historians of colonial Spanish America, drawing mostly on

eighteenth-century evidence, have left the impression that the Spanish colonial racial

hierarchy was at all times extremely mutable, and bore little relation to social reality.'"

Such interpretations have tended to focus on the late-colonial hierarchy's fluid middle

reaches--between espahol and indio tributario in heavily-indigenous regions like

Guatemala--a range where distinctions had perhaps ceased to matter a great deal by the

later years of the eighteenth century. Early in the seventeenth century, though, legal

distinctions based, for example, on the perceived presence or absence of African descent

were enforced quite systematically, through such means as the imposition of a form of

tribute status on mulattos and blacks, but not mestizos." In Guatemala, attention to

these distinctions was sharpened by a steady growth in the number of Africans and their

descendants, both slave and free, a demographic development which colonial authorities

viewed as the source of significant social problems.

9AGCA, A1.43.4876. 41801.

1For a recent example, see Robert H. Jackson, "Race/Caste and the Creation and
Meaning of Identity in Colonial Spanish America," Revista de Indias 55, no. 203 (1995):

"For a detailed discussion, see Chapter 3.

In the capital, Santiago de Guatemala, gangs of unruly slaves appeared to

threaten social peace and order.2 In the countryside, meanwhile, the concerns of royal

officials centered on three specific phenomena involving blacks and mulattos. The first

of these was cimarronaje, or escape from enslavement, particularly as it related to the

establishment of maroon communities in coastal areas along both the Caribbean and

Pacific flanks of the Province of Guatemala. The second revolved around illicit activities

associated with the ranching economy. Highly skilled vaqueros of African origin, both

free and enslaved, were prominent in widespread and illegal cattle slaughter that reached

epidemic proportions during the first years of the seventeenth century. Finally, official

worries focused on persistent patterns of residence in and commerce with indigenous

communities on the part of non-Indians, despite repeated bans.

The black and mulatto actors involved in each of these developments had

acquired some combination of skills and independence that reduced, to varying degrees,

Spanish social control over them. Long desired as slaves by labor-starved Spaniards,

Africans and their descendants were increasingly viewed with suspicion, fear, and

outright hostility, as many achieved freedom, and more developed a sophisticated

understanding of Spanish society that had never been envisioned by their European

overlords. A precise demographic assessment of the rural African presence during the

early seventeenth century is not possible here, but Spaniards saw too many blacks and

mulattos, and feared being "overwhelmed." Ironically, in the 1640s Spanish officials

2See the description of a feud between the slaves of two households, below.


would begin incorporating into their defense forces many members of the very Afiican-

descended population viewed as dangerous during the previous decades. Those earlier

decades, as this chapter reveals, were crucial to the "pacification" of the people of

African origins who were least willing to accommodate themselves to inferior status

within the Spanish colonial social order.

The Establishment of an African Presence in Guatemala

The presence of Africans and their descendants in colonial Guatemala, as

elsewhere in the contemporary Americas, was a result almost entirely of the Atlantic

slave trade which operated between the African continent and the "New World.'13 Black

slaves likely accompanied Pedro de Alvarado's invasion force in 1524,"4 and were almost

certainly present in Alvarado's Guatemalan capital by 1533. In February of that year, the

cabildo decreed punishment for unspecified misdeeds it said were being committed in

and around water sources by both espaioles and negros. The miscreants, the municipal

3The literature on this commerce is voluminous. Good places to start include
Philip D. Curtin, The Atlantic Slave Trade: A Census (Madison: University of Wisconsin
Press, 1969); John Thornton, Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World,
1400-1680 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992).

4Gonzalo Aguirre Beltran states categorically that Alvarado brought black slaves
with him, but cites no evidence for this assertion. The historian best acquainted with
African slavery in sixteenth-century Guatemala, meanwhile, says such evidence "remains
undiscovered." See Aguirre Beltrin, Lapoblaci6n negra, 8; Robinson Herrera, "The
African Slave Trade in Early Santiago," Urban History Workshop Review 4 (1998): 6.
Alvarado did take as many as two hundred black slaves with him to Peru in 1534,
including Juan Valiente, a slave from Puebla who rose to the status of encomendero in
Chile, surely one of the most startling examples of upward mobility in Spanish colonial
history. See Bowser, The African Slave, 4; Peter Boyd-Bowman, "Negro Slaves in
Early Colonial Mexico," The Americas 26, no.2 (1969): 150-151.

council warned, were setting a "bad public example" for the conquered indigenous

peoples." This decree set two precedents. First, it identified people of African descent

as an "unruly" element in the new colonial society, and a negative influence on the

region's original inhabitants. Second, it underscored the social division between

European and African newcomers, establishing harsher punishment for offenders from

the latter category.16

However many people of African origins were present in Guatemala in 1533, no

large-scale importation of Africans to Central America took place prior to the Spanish

Crown's publication of the "New Laws" in 1542.17 This royal threat to the excessive and

unregulated Spanish exploitation of a native population that was already in severe decline

due to disease and overwork helped prompt a turn to African labor in certain

enterprises."i News of the Crown's legislation had yet to reach Central America, though,

18 February, 1533 order of the cabildo of Santiago, cited in Antonio de
Remesal, Historia general de las Indias Occidentales y particular de la gobernaci6n de
Chiapay Guatemala, 2 vols. (Mexico: Editorial Porrja, 1988), 1:45. On a similar
decree emitted in Ciudad Real de Chiapas in 1537, see 1:434.

16Remesal, Historia general, 1:45. The cabildo mandated sentences of four days
in the stocks and 100 lashes for black offenders. Spaniards were to be jailed for four
days and fined four gold pesos. In 1537, allegations that blacks were creating disorder in
the public market brought a decree barring entry to them, also on pain of 100 lashes for
disobedience, plus a ten-peso fine. See Remesal, Historia general, 1:46.
17On the New Laws and their initial impact in Guatemala, see Silvio Zavala,
Contribuci6n a la historia de las instituciones coloniales en Guatemala, 4' ed.
(Guatemala: Universidad de San Carlos, 1967), 28-32.

"8MacLeod, Spanish Central America, 109-116; William S. Sherman, Forced
Native Labor in Sixteenth-Century Central America (Lincoln: University of Nebraska
Press, 1979), 11, 130-132. MacLeod emphasizes the long-term impact of indigenous

when the first recorded arrival of a slave cargo from Africa took place: 150piezas de

indias landed on the Honduran coast, via Santo Domingo, early in 1543.19 The vast

majority of the slaves brought in during the period immediately following appears to

have been destined for labor in gold deposits on the Guayape River, in the Olancho

district of eastern Honduras. As many as 1,500 African slaves may have been working

there by 1545.20 Gold and, later, silver mining concentrated especially in Honduras and

northeastern Nicaragua consumed a substantial proportion of the slaves who arrived

during the following decades. The supply of slaves to these mining regions was never

sufficient, however, to satisfy the demand of colonists eager for quick riches.21

Sixteenth-century slave imports into the colonial province of Guatemala are less

well understood. There was no one enterprise similar to mining in Honduras which

produced both the capital and the labor requirements necessary to initiate imports on a

large scale. The exact nature of slave importation into early colonial Guatemala is in fact

demographic decline in promoting more cautious Spanish deployment of Indian labor,
while Sherman credits royal officials--the audiencia president Alonso Lopez de Cerrato
in particular--with instigating change.

'9J. Joaquin Pardo, Efemerides para escribir la historia de la muy noble y muy
leal ciudad de Santiago de los Caballeros del reino de Guatemala (Guatemala:
Sociedad de Geografia e Historia, 1944), 8. The term pieza de india referred to one
slave "unit," defined as a healthy, young male and hence not necessarily representative of
the actual number of individuals, including women and children, being transported. See
Curtin, Atlantic Slave Trade, 22-23.
2MacLeod, Spanish Central America, 60-61.

21The boom in Honduran silver mining hit a peak in 1584, with much of the
proceeds invested in African slaves. See MacLeod, Spanish CentralAmerica, 148;
Fonseca Corrales, "Economia y sociedad (1540-1680)," 119.


only now receiving the attention needed to establish a better demographic understanding

of the African presence there. Robinson Herrera has indicated recently that Spanish

colonists in Guatemala imported African slaves in "piecemeal fashion" rather than in

large blocks of humans because of their expense and the lack of highly lucrative

enterprises in which to employ them profitably. People of African origin entered the

region in twos and threes, many as personal servants of royal officials under license from

the King.22

In 1581, for example, the Crown granted the newly appointedfiscal of the

audiencia the right to take three slaves with him to Santiago, free from payment of the

duties usually required.2 Officials were prohibited from selling such slaves in the Indies,

although, as Herrera notes, this ban "likely went unheeded." It was rare during this

period, however, for three or more slaves to be sold at once in Santiago. The largest

sale, evidently, was a 1570 transfer of five male and four female bondservants between

Juan Maldonado de Guzman and don Francisco de la Cueva. By that year, nevertheless,

22Herrera, "African Slave Trade," 7. Herrera's article includes data on 249 slaves
bought and sold in Santiago between 1544 and 1587. See table on 7.

23Federico Argiiello Sol6rzano y Carlos Molina Arguello, eds., Monumenta
Centroamericae Hist6rica: Colecci6n de documentos y materialespara el estudio de la
history de la vida de los pueblos de la America Central (Managua: Instituto
Centroamericano de Historia, 1965), 764, document 622. Documents 623 and 624
exhibit two similar licences, granted in 1600.


the number of small-scale transactions was significant enough that a permanent location

for the conducting of slave sales had been established in Santiago.24

While the number of African slaves entering the Province of Guatemala during

the sixteenth century must have been relatively small, the black and mulatto population

of the capital was expanding steadily by 1600. According to Christopher Lutz's

estimates, the number of slaves in Santiago surpassed 1,100 in the 1 590s--some six

percent of the city's total population.25 The city probably also held around three hundred

free individuals of African descent, the core of a population that would expand at an

exponential rate over the following century.26 Figures for the countryside are much

harder to come by, since direct evidence for this period is almost non-existent, but Lutz's

estimates for Santiago provide a basis on which to begin building a portrait of rural


It may be assumed reasonably safely that the number of slaves entering

Guatemala during the sixteenth century was somewhat higher than any figures drawn

from surviving records might suggest. Many slaves were not imported directly into

Central America through the audiencia's official point of entry, Puerto Caballos on

Honduras' Caribbean coast, but came overland instead, from southern New Spain in

24Herrera, "African Slave Trade," 7-8.

25Lutz, Santiago, 239-242. Lutz's estimates are based on extrapolations from
parish records that are unfortunately incomplete for this early period.

26Lutz, Santiago, table on 242.

particular.27 This pattern apparently persisted well into the following century.

According to Lutz, some 150 piezas de indias were brought into Central America each

year by ship during the early decades of the seventeenth century--legally and illegally--

while an unknown number of others entered the territory by land.28 Citing evidence from

Santiago's baptismal records, he goes on to suggest that bozales continued to enter

Guatemala from New Spain in small numbers between the 1630s and 1690s, when

official imports had all but ceased.29

27Herrera, "African Slave Trade," 7-8. These slaves would quite naturally not
have been recorded as cargo on ships arriving off the Honduran coast, nor would they
necessarily have appeared in notary records in Santiago if purchased in, say, Oaxaca.

28Lutz, Santiago, 85-86. See also the suggestion, based on an estimate by an
aspiring slave trader, that the number of slaves brought into the Spanish Indies as a
whole before 1645 may have been substantially higher than is generally thought, in
Palmer, Slaves of the White God, 30.

29Lutz, Santiago, 86. According to one official, imports stopped altogether after
1638 for more than three decades. A Spanish ban on the slave trade between 1640 and
1662 due to imperial crises, plus low demand, were the most important factors in this
development, although imports did not pick up again even when officials in Santiago
began requesting new supplies after the ban was lifted. See AGCA, A1.23. 1517. 10072.
ff.108-108v. (1646); A1.23. 2197. 15751. ff.97 and copies on ff.1 Iv., 113 (1664);
A1.23. 2199. 15755. f.50 (1670); Frederick P. Bowser, "Africans in Spanish American
Colonial Society," in Leslie Bethell, ed., Cambridge History of Latin America, vol. 2
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 362. Some smuggling did occur. No
fewer than 86 slaves were landed illegally at Trujillo from the ship Santa Maria de los
Remedios y San Lorenzo in 1641, and as many as 76 of these made it to San Miguel the
following year. In 1660, meanwhile, the audiencia sold two slaves at auction who were
known to have escaped from a Dutch slaver docked for "re-supply" in Trujillo after
being "blown off course." See AGCA, A1.24. 1559. 10203. ff.35-37v., 93-95v. (1642);
A1.23. 1519. 10074. ff. 90-90v. (1662); Alonso Moratalla Tobar a la Corona, 10
February 1644, Archivo General de Indias (hereafter AGI), Guatemala, 16, R.5, N.30.

But no matter how many slaves remain unaccounted for, the total number

imported into the Province of Guatemala during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries

can have represented no more than a small minority of the overall population. That

population was at all times overwhelmingly indigenous. The greater significance of

Africans and their descendants, which I explore extensively in subsequent chapters, lay in

their importance to the demographic, social, and "racial" development of the non-Indian

population, especially south and east of Santiago de Guatemala.

It suffices here to consider that recent estimates of the number of Spanish

vecinos3' present in Central America as a whole during the 1620s range around 2,800."'

Somewhat more than half of this total resided in the Province of Guatemala, which was

home to the capital, the largest city by far in the audiencia of the same name. Following

the historical demographer Woodrow Borah's lead,32 one might use a multiplier of six to

account for the total population of espaiioles, including both family members and the

various hangers-on who typically resided in Spanish households, and still arrive at a

figure of fewer than 17,000 persons identified as Spaniards33 in the entire isthmus.

"Roughly speaking, the term vecino referred to a propertied head of household.

3Lovell and Lutz, Demography and Empire, 13.
32Cited in Lutz, Santiago, 104, table 8, note a.

33The total would have included Spaniards from the Iberian peninsula as well as
American-born persons defined by Spanish origin. Members of both groups were
commonly identified as espaiiol at this time. See Chapter 3. Note also that Spaniards in
religious orders are not included in this estimate.

Meanwhile, in the Valle de las Vacas alone--the present location of Guatemala

City and at the time a largely rural valley of sugar plantations, wheat farms, and cattle

ranches--the renegade English Dominican friar Thomas Gage saw more than 600 black

slaves during the early 1630s.34 While this important agricultural region near the colonial

capital might have been expected to hold a substantial number of slaves, it surely

absorbed nowhere near the number who went to the mines of Honduras and Nicaragua.

Increasing Spanish concern during the early decades of the seventeenth century over

steadily mounting numbers of both free and enslaved blacks and mulattos, discussed

below, reflected the growing fears of Europeans in Central America that people of

African descent were beginning to outnumber them.

Throughout the later sixteenth century and into the opening decade of the

seventeenth, Spanish colonists in Central America had petitioned steadily for more slaves

from Africa. The mining sector, especially, wanted an increase in imports, but the

demand for African slaves rose from a broad cross-section of Spanish entrepreneurs, as

the demographic catastrophe experienced by indigenous populations after the European

invasion was followed by increasingly insistent royal efforts to shield Indians from labor

not only in mining but also in the production of sugar, indigo, and textiles." Suddenly,

34Thomas Gage, Travels in the New World, J. Eric S. Thompson, ed. (Norman:
University of Olahoma Press, 1958), 198-199, 203-204.

"On Central American colonists' requests for more slaves, see letter of 12
March, 1570 from the cabildo of Santiago to the King, requesting 1,000 African slaves,
"Colecci6n de documentos antiguos del ayuntamiento de Guatemala," in Isagoge
historica apologtica de las Indias Occidentales y especial de la Provincia de San

though, Santiago's cabildo pleaded for a halt to imports in 1612. The petition was

repeated in 1617, and again in 1620.36 By the second decade of the seventeenth century,

it seems, the growing African presence had become a social threat no longer outweighed

by the need for an imported labor force.

Why was this? There is no evidence of any dramatic explosion in the African-

descended population during the second decade of the seventeenth century. Nor were

the profound economic difficulties which beset Central America toward mid-century yet

evident on the horizon.7 Furthermore, increasing the slave population had been the

Vicente de Chiapay Guatemala, Biblioteca "Goathemala" 13 (Guatemala: Sociedad de
Geografia e Historia, 1935), 327-328; 1579 request for 400 slaves for the mines of
Honduras, in Carlos Alfonso Alvarez-Lobos Villatoro y Ricardo Toledo Palomo, eds.,
Libro de los Pareceres de la Real Audiencia de Guatemala, 1571-1655 (Guatemala:
Academia de Geografia e Historia de Guatemala, 1996), 22-23; request of 20 October
1604 from vecinos of Nueva Segovia for 300 slaves to mine gold, in AGCA, A1.24.
1514. f.61; 1609 request from Santiago's cabildo for 2,000 slaves, in don Carlos
Vizquez de Coronado a la Corona, 19 May 1609, AGI, Guatemala, 42, N. 12. See also
MacLeod, Spanish Central America, 149-150. For discussion of estimates made
regarding the dimensions of indigenous population decline, see Lovell and Lutz,
Demography and Empire, 4-10. Royal decrees ordering the substitution of African or
"otro genero de servicio" for indigenous labor in various enterprises include those of 24
November 1601, AGCA, A1.23. 4576. 39529. ff.45v.-50; 24 November 1602, AGCA,
A1.23. 1514. ff.33-34; 26 May 1609, AGCA, A1.23. 1514. 67. See also extracts of
cedulas of 26 May 1605, 11 September 1610, 8 October 1631, and 12 March 1643, in
"Recopilaci6n de las Reales Cedulas que gobiernan en el Supremo Tribunal de la Real
Audiencia de Guatemala," Boletin del Archivo General de la Naci6n, 2a. epoca 1:1
(1967): 23, 37, 85, 108.
36Pardo, Efemerides, 41, 43.

37Central America's first indigo boom, in fact, was at its height between 1580 and
1620. See MacLeod, Spanish CentralAmerica, 176.


desire of many Spaniards as late as 1609.3 Instead, factors having to do with the threat,

real or imagined, that the African-descended population had begun to assume in the

minds of many Spaniards appear to have played a key role in the desire to halt imports.

One of these factors, almost certainly, was the news of an alleged conspiracy of

blacks and mulattos in Mexico City, savagely repressed early in 1612. Twenty-nine men

and four women of African origins were hanged, and the audiencia of New Spain

decreed severe restrictions on the public movements and dress of the entire African-

descended population.9 But while events in Mexico City may have finally tipped

Spanish sentiment in Guatemala against further growth in the African population, that

sentiment had been taking root for at least a decade.

During the century's opening years, both free and enslaved blacks and mulattos

appeared frequently as protagonists in illegal activities. Many Spaniards in the colony

believed these activities threatened both their own personal safety and economic well-

38Don Carlos Vizquez de Coronado a la Corona, 19 May 1609, AGI, Guatemala,
42, N. 12. It should be noted, however, that if Santiago's cabildo had yet to express
misgivings about the growth of Guatemala's black population in 1609, Coronado, the
royal official who relayed its request for 2,000 slaves to the Crown, revealed clear
discomfort at the prospect of such a large number of African imports. Don Carlos
indicated his own belief that half of the requested number would be quite sufficient, in
part because the audiencia was "inhabited by few Spaniards, and there are in [it] a great
number of blacks and mulattos, slave and free."

39rving Leonard, Baroque Times in Old Mexico (Ann Arbor: University of
Michigan Press, 1959), 19-20; David M. Davidson, "Negro Slave Control and
Resistance in Colonial Mexico, 1519-1650," Hispanic American Historical Review 46,
no. 3 (1966): 250-251. See also the "Ordenanzas de la Real Audiencia de Nueva Espafia
sobre las juntas y trajes de los negros y mulatos," 14 April 1612, in Konetzke, ed.,
Colecci6n de documentos, 2, bk. 1:182-183.

being, and the peace and orderliness of indigenous communities. Ultimately, the

activities appeared as a threat to the social hierarchy itself The growth of a free

population of color not under the direct control of Spanish masters may seem at first to

have been most responsible for this development, but things were more complicated.

Slaves as well as free people of African origins openly flouted the law, as often as not

with the support of their Spanish owners or employers.

In 1609, officials in the capital opened an investigation into incidents involving

death threats made against slaves belonging to a prominent resident of the capital,

Francisco de Mesa.' The threats were directed in particular against a slave named

Lorenzo. As the investigation unfolded, the testimony of various witnesses hinted at a

world in which gangs of black slaves traversed the city streets at will, armed and

mounted on horseback, and with little fear of the Spaniards to whom they were bound in

theory to pay the utmost respect. The tangle of testimony hints at a rivalry between two

households: the one Mesa ruled, and another whose head was Andr6s de Molina. These

two men's slaves met in sometimes violent confrontation on back streets, in the main

square, and even at Mesa's house. The authorities, it appears, did little to intervene.

Part of the trouble stemmed from assistance Lorenzo was said to have provided

to an officer of the local jail, in an evidently unsuccessful attempt to arrest Molina for

40AGCA, Al. 15. 4093. 32467. Although rich, Mesa was seen as an upstart by
Santiago's elite families, who were outraged by the efforts of this "hombre sin m6ritos y
calidad" to buy his way into their ranks by purchasing municipal offices. See letters from
cabildo to Crown of 4 July 1597, 15 May 1599, and 29 April 1601 in "Colecci6n de
documentos antiguos," 357-358, 360-361, 362-364.

unknown reasons. Molina's slaves had defended their master during the incident, and

undoubtedly had his full blessing to take revenge for it. More immediately, though,

Lorenzo, backed by several other slaves belonging to Mesa, had accosted and harassed a

slave from the Molina household named Diego on a street in the neighborhood of Santo

Domingo. The affront to Diego brought his brother Domingo, also a slave, into the

feud. Domingo was owned not by Molina but, remarkably enough, by Melchor Godoy

de Santa Cruz, an alcalde of the Santa Hermandad, more or less the police force of the

realm. Domingo then evidently set out to hunt down Lorenzo with the assistance of a

number of Molina's slaves, the most prominent among them named Juan Criollo and

Ambrosio. As many as eight slaves at once from the Molina camp were alleged on

various occasions to have accosted one or another of Mesa's bondservants, both in the

city's main plaza and at Mesa's door. Witnesses had seen Domingo and Ambrosio

carrying swords, and had heard both Domingo and Juan Criollo making repeated threats

to kill Lorenzo or, if they could not find him, another of Mesa's slaves.4'

The testimony provided in the case must be approached cautiously, since it was

largely elicited from members of Francisco de Mesa's household, including his son and

five of his slaves. But a dispute clearly took place, apparently involving angry, armed

slaves roaming the streets of the capital at will and settling scores on their own. A

situation like this would have represented a frightening scenario for many Spanish

residents. One of these, Onofrio de Colindres Fuente, said he had seen Domingo and

41AGCA, A1.15. 4093. 32467.

two other negros come to Francisco de Mesa's house in search of Lorenzo. The most

striking aspect of the incident he witnessed, it seems, was Domingo's possession of a

sword. More disturbing to Colindres, though, may have been the scene he said he

encountered later in Santiago's central plaza, on his way to fetch an odor at Mesa's

request. Milling about on horseback in front of the jail and openly discussing their hunt

for Lorenzo, Colindres reported, were perhaps eight blacks and mulattos, at least three

of whom he recognized as Molina's slaves. That the odor and officers of the Santa

Hermandad were unsuccessful in apprehending this group can only have added to

Colindres' discomfort.42

The sight of armed, mounted slaves gathering in large groups in the heart of the

city was not likely to inspire much confidence among local Spaniards. Most

disconcerting, though, may have been the attitudes of the slaves engaged in these

activities rather than the activities themselves. Insolence on the part of people who

theoretically occupied the bottom rung of the social ladder could well have been taken as

the most ominous threat to the established hierarchy. The testimony of Francisco de

Mesa's son, don Tornis L6pez de Mesa, reveals dismay at the utter lack of respect

accorded him by Molina's slaves during an incident in which he had confronted them

demanding to know their intentions. Juan Criollo apparently replied without hesitation

that they sought to kill Lorenzo. Worse for the young Spaniard, though, was his

recollection of Ambrosio standing "with his cape aslant and a sword in hand." This

42AGCA, A].15. 4093. 32467.


haughty manner of personal presentation, don Tomas no doubt thought, was reserved to

people of his own elevated social condition, and certainly no prerogative of slaves. He

expressed grave concern over the matter to other Spaniards, complaining bitterly to don

Antonio de la Cueva and Luis de Monterroso "about the freedom with which Molina's

blacks lived."'43

As this case shows, urban slaves, as elsewhere in the Americas, often had a good

deal of freedom to move about the city on their own, especially if they were highly

valued artisans or domestic workers in charge of key aspects of the household

economy." It is also clear that in Santiago at least some owners armed their slaves along

the lines of private militias. This would have required a good deal of trust on the part of

the former, trust most likely maintained by the granting of a substantial measure of

liberty, privilege and protection from the law in return for obedient service to the master.

Most Spaniards, though, did not enjoy the economic or social position necessary to

43AGCA, Al. 15. 4093. 32467. Interestingly enough, the year after this episode
Francisco de Mesa was appealing for the release from jail of Lorenzo and another slave
on apparently unrelated charges, an indication perhaps that Molina's slaves were not
exceptional in their disregard for the law. See AGCA, A1.15. 5905. 50033 (1610).

"For some examples from sixteenth-century Santiago de Guatemala, see
Robinson Antonio Herrera, "The People of Santiago: Early Colonial Guatemala, 1538-
1587" (Ph.D. dissertation, University of California at Los Angeles, 1997), 277. For
examples from colonial Lima, Mexico City, and Havana, see Bowser, African Slave, esp.
Chapter 6; Cope, Limits, 95-98; Manuel Moreno Fraginals, "Peculiaridades de la
esclavitud en Cuba," Islas 85 (1986): 3-12. A fascinating first-person account from
outside Spanish America which suggests the relative advantages of life as an urban
versus a rural, plantation slave is Frederick Douglass, My Bondage andMy Freedom,
William L. Andrews, ed. (Urbana, I1.: University of Illinois Press, 1987), esp. 186.

afford either a substantial number of slaves or the open disdain for legal niceties inherent

in the creation of what amounted--at least for Andr6s de Molina--to a small, private

security force.45 It is not hard to imagine the fear as well as the resentment that the

behavior of slaves like Molina's would have aroused among the majority of the European

sector in Santiago. A growing chorus of complaints about slave misdeeds in the city was

quite possibly a major factor in the cabildo's sudden turnabout on the issue of further

slave imports.

Spanish perceptions early in the seventeenth century that "unruly" blacks and

mulattos posed a threat to the social order were not limited in scope to the capital,

however. True, the majority of Europeans probably encountered slaves most often in the

city, where the former were concentrated in the early seventeenth century. Santiago's

Spanish residents were also increasingly witness to unlawful activities conducted in and

around the capital by members of the small but growing sector of free people of African

descent.' But it was in the countryside where Spaniards felt the least sense of control

over both free and enslaved people of African origins--not to mention mestizos and poor

45The possession of expensive slaves in cities like Santiago de Guatemala and
Mexico served also as a status symbol. See a 1628 license allowing two men involved in
business dealings with the audiencia in Santiago to retain armed slaves "para la defensa y
ornato de su[s] personals]," extract of AGCA, A1.20. 685. f 446 (1628) in Juan Jos6
Falla, Extractos de escrituras pblicas, a/los 1567 a 1648, Archivo General de Centro
America (Guatemala: Editorial Amigos del Pais, 1994), 404; Cope, Limits, 13-14.

'Lutz notes that many free blacks and mulattos were pushed by numerous
occupational restrictions into illicit enterprises, including the waylaying of Indian traders
on the outskirts of town in order to obtain market goods by force at cheap prices--or
steal the goods outright--for resale later at a profit. See Lutz, Santiago, 142-143.

Europeans--and hence a much more serious problem, at least potentially, for the entire

colonial enterprise. The remainder of this chapter explores the contours of the rural

African presence in the early seventeenth century and, finally, the nature of the danger

which this presence appeared to offer to the Spanish colonial social order.

African-descended Slaves in Rural Guatemala

People of African descent--both slave and free--worked on three major types of

agricultural enterprises in early colonial Guatemala: indigo obrajes,47 sugar ingenios and

trapiches,48 and estancias on which cattle, especially, were run. Ranch hands of color

were probably the rural laborers considered most potentially dangerous to social

stability, but African-descended workers on the other types of agricultural enterprises

mentioned above carried more demographic as well as economic weight. In the late

sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, indigo produced in southern and eastern

lowland areas of the Province of Guatemala drove the entire regional economy,

47A term which in Spanish America generally signified a textile-manufacturing
establishment but was used frequently in Guatemala to refer to the dye works--the
obrae de afi/--found on indigo-producing plantations. The term was often in practice
applied to the entire operation: fields and dye works.

48These terms referred most narrowly to two types of sugar mill. The more
technologically advanced ingenio was generally powered by water, and the trapiche by
beasts of burden. The term ingenio, especially, was often applied more broadly, taking
in all facets of a sugar-producing operation. For examples from New Spain, see Ward
Barrett, The Sugar Hacienda of the Marqueses del Valle (Minneapolis: University of
Minnesota Press, 1970), 54.

providing shipments of highly valued dyestuffs for European markets.49 Sugar

plantations supplying a largely domestic demand, meanwhile, consumed the greatest

number of black and mulatto laborers.

While indigo growers initially employed an almost exclusively indigenous

workforce, they were eventually forced to rely in part on free blacks and castas--

mulattos and mestizos--for their labor needs. By the end of the sixteenth century, royal

authorities were endeavoring to ban the use by obraje owners of apparently fragile and

increasingly scarce Indian workers in the notoriously harsh conditions under which

harvested indigo was processed.5" But if this ban might have been expected to produce

large-scale importation of African slaves, it was never particularly well enforced. The

blacks and castas who ended up employed in indigo often avoided the most unpleasant

aspects of the work, tending instead to fill supervisory positions. Indians continued to

perform the hardest labor, illegally coerced by growers and their henchmen.51

49Gage, Travels, 192; Antonio Visquez de Espinosa, Compendioy descripci6n
de las Indias Occidentales (Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1948), 208; MacLeod,
Spanish Central America, 178, 181; Robert S. Smith, "Indigo Production and Trade in
Colonial Guatemala," Hispanic American Historical Review 39, no. 2 (1959): 182.

5Smith, "Indigo Production," 182-186; MacLeod, Spanish CentralAmerica,
185. See also the extract of AGCA, A1.20. 706. f.41 (1598), a contract under which
Pedro Hernandez, mulato libre of the milpa of Santa Isabel, outside Santiago, agreed to
harvest indigo in 1598 on the obraje of Pedro Velisquez Berdugo near Siquinali,
Escuintepeque, in exchange for an advance on his wages, in Falla, Extractos, 482.

"The Crown tried to enforce its ban on Indian labor, and encourage the use of
African slaves or other workers, through regular visitas of indigo-producing regions.
The officials conducting these visitas were quickly corrupted by indigo growers,
however. See texts of autos emitted by the audiencia in 1583, 1590, and 1636, and of a

The peculiar nature of the indigo cycle mitigated against a significant turn to

African slavery, because intensive labor was required for only a couple of months a year.

Costly slaves, thus, were generally unprofitable. In fact, the relatively small number of

enslaved blacks and mulattos who were employed on indigo plantations were as likely as

their free counterparts to serve as administrators of indigenous laborers during harvest

season, a striking instance of upward mobility which may have made more than a few

Spaniards uncomfortable. On the other hand, although the often skilled labor performed

by blacks and mulattos in indigo production was vital economically, the typical obraje

did not bring them together in large numbers, maintaining only a skeleton crew of

workers for much of the year.2

Sugar, by contrast, consistently united relatively large concentrations of Africans

and their descendants, free as well as enslaved.53 Ironically, labor forces on ingenjos

appear to have caused relatively less concern to authorities than those on other types of

rural holdings, in part perhaps because the sugar workforce was far more regimented,

real cedula of 3 June, 1631, in Manuel Rubio Sanchez, Historia de ahil o xiquilite en
Centro Amrica (San Salvador: Ministerio de Educaci6n, 1976), 12-14, 20-27. See also
MacLeod, Spanish Central America, 186-192; Smith, "Indigo Production," 186-190.

5MacLeod, Spanish Central America, 184-185.

5MacLeod suggests that sugar "was never of great importance in seventeenth-
century Guatemala," although the contemporary observer Fuentes y Guzrnn suggested
that local production largely satisfied domestic demand. More important, though, as I
indicate below, was the significant role of sugar plantations in the incorporation of blacks
and mulattos into colonial Guatemalan society. See MacLeod, "Ethnic Relations," 197;
Fuentes y Guzman, Recordaci6nflorida, 1:224.

providing fewer opportunities to acquire either dangerous skills or attitudes. But

ingenios also constituted probably the single most important site of interaction between

people of varying origins and legal statuses in rural Guatemala, especially later in the

seventeenth century. In addition, they brought large numbers of blacks and mulattos into

unusually close contact with the one colonial institution that might have been expected to

take an interest in their welfare: the Church. Religious orders--especially the

Dominicans--came to dominate large-scale sugar production in Guatemala. There is

little reason to believe, though, that many clerics were ever troubled by African slavery,

or took more than a cursory interest in their African-descended charges.'

By the early decades of the seventeenth century, much of colonial Guatemala's

sugar production was centered on ingenios and trapiches operating in and around the

Valle de las Vacas. In the 1630s, the ingenio Nuestra Sefiora del Rosario near Petapa--

owned by Esteb.n de Zavaleta, alcalde of the Santa Hermandad, and passed on to his

heirs Juan and Domingo Arrivillaga on Zavaleta's death in 1635--held some sixty

54Slaves were an important component in the households of prominent
Guatemalan churchmen. The notably refined environment in which Juan Cabezas
Altamirano, Bishop of Guatemala from 1610 to 1615, was said to have lived included
"the music of blacks that he brought from Havana." The 1612 mortual of the can6nigo
Hernando de Guti6rrez de Sibaja y Zarate, meanwhile, listed no fewer than nine slaves
among his possessions. See Remesal, Historia general, 2:662; Domingo Juarros,
Compendlo de la historia del Reino de Guatemala 1500-1800 (Guatemala: Editorial
Piedra Santa, 1981), 152-153; AGCA Al.15. 4109. 32563 (1612).

slaves.55 Around twenty more labored on a nearby, Augustinian-owned trapiche.6 The

largest sugar-growing estate in the area, though, lay in the vicinity of San Juan

Amatitlin. Formally named Nuestra Sefiora de la Encarnaci6n, it was known as the

"Anis" ingenio--a corruption of the name of its original owner, Juan Gonzi1ez Donis.

During the 1620s, it had passed under the control of Gonzi1ez Donis' son-in-law, Pedro

Crespo Suirez, postmaster of the realm. A 1630 inventory indicates the presence of

nearly 200 slaves on the property, said by the friar Thomas Gage to resemble "a little

town by itself for the many cottages and thatched houses of Blackamoor slaves which

belong unto it.''"

"Gage, Travels, 203; extracts of AGCA, A1.20. 588. 6 (1632), and A1.20.
590. f.93v. (1635) in Falla, Extractos, 344-345, 363.

56Gage, Travels, 203. I assume, but am not entirely sure, that the Augustinian
trapiche near Petapa was the same one owned, along with 22 slaves, by Gonzalo de
Peralta until his death in 1625. Its majordomo in 1632 was a black freedman named
Francisco de Mayorga, who had learned to read and write while a slave in the household
of a royal official in Panama and Mexico. Mayorga was able to obtain an unrestricted
license to carry weapons, since he carried money around. See AGCA, A1.43. 5925.
51614 (1625); A1.56. 5356. 45252 (1632).
1 AGCA, A1.20. 536. ff.296v.-302 (1630); extracts of AGCA, A1.20. 536.
ff 238, 250, 260, 277v., 281, in Falla, Extractos, 228-230; Gage, Travels, 203-204;
Visquez, Compendio, 206. It is interesting to note that funds from Crespo's estate,
augmented by the proceeds of slave-driven sugar production, helped underwrite the
establishment of the Universidad de San Carlos in 1681. See extract of AGCA, A1.20.
693. f.31 (1646) in Falla, Extractos, 456; Francisco Vazquez, Cronica de la Provincia
del Santisimo Nombre de Jesus de Guatemala de la Orden de Nuestro Serafico Padre
San Francisco en el Reino de la Nueva Espaia, 4 vols., 2' ed., Biblioteca
"Goathemala" 14-17 (Guatemala: Sociedad de Geografia e Historia, 1937), 4:375;
Pardo, Efemerides, 57, 76. My sincere thanks to Doug Tompson for taking time from
his own research to provide me with details from the GonzAlez Donis inventory.

Sugar was also produced on the Dominican holding of San Geronimo in the

northern region of Verapaz. Gage said the ingenio at San Ger6nimo held "a multitude of

slaves," and by the eighteenth century it would be the largest in the region, employing

hundreds of blacks and mulattos, both slave and free, and probably an even greater

number of Indians.8 Other land-holdings devoted to sugar production lay south of the

capital, in the Pacific lowlands. There were ten "piezas de esclavos" in 1604 on an

ingenio near Cerro Redondo in Guazacapin that was owned by Nufio Siez Marroquin.59

A hacienda and trapiche on the Guacalate River in Escuintepeque, meanwhile, held at

least 28 slaves in 1619, the year it became the subject of a lawsuit between Francisco de

Mesa and his daughter, dofia Francisca de Mesa, and son-in-law, don Juan de Ayala.6

Rural slave-holding was more dispersed both occupationally and geographically

than the foregoing suggests, however. According to Thomas Gage, around three

hundred--or roughly half--of the slaves he saw in the Valle de las Vacas during the 1630s

were distributed among forty to fifty houses and small farms owned by the hermitage of

Nuestra Sefiora del Carmel.6' Another one hundred or so belonged to the mule-train

"8Gage, Travels, 210-211. The number of slaves alone at San Ger6nimo ranged
from no fewer than 150 to as many as 700 during the eighteenth century. See A.C.
Beatriz Palomo de Lewin, "Esclavos negros en Guatemala, 1723-1773" (Tesis de
Licenciatura, Universidad del Valle, 1992), 72; Wortman, Government and Society, 55;
Martinez Peliez, Lapatria del criollo, 285 and 702 note 79.

59Extract of AGCA, Al.20. 432. f.267 (1604) in Falla, Extractos, 77.

6AGCA, Al. 15. 4103. 32523. The neighboring property was also a "hazienda
de a~ucar" established by a prominent Spaniard, in this case Francisco de Maldonado.
61Gage, Travels, 199.

entrepreneur Juan Palomeque, who lived nearby in the vicinity of Mixco.62 The obraje

and estancia of don Garcia de Avila Valenzuela near the Pacific coast in Escuintepeque,

meanwhile, was home to some 25 slaves on Avila's death in 1636, along with substantial

herds of livestock.3 And the 1642 will of Santiago's alguacil mayor, Capitin Pedro de

Nijera, described a set of land-holdings in Guazacapin--including the hacienda El Salto-

-which were said to be the "grandest" in the district, on which Nijera kept 18,000 to

20,000 cattle, more than 1,000 horses, 300 mules, and 35 to 40 "piezas de esclavos."'

Smaller rural operations often included a slave component among their labor

forces as well. The 1597 estate of dofia Isabel de Molina included an estancia and

indigo obraje located between Jalpatagua and Ahuachapain, and four slaves.6" Domingo

Rodriguez had fifteen slaves on a wheat farm in the valley of Mixco in 1603, and Pedro

G6mez ten more on a similar operation near Mataquescuintla, inventoried in 1610.6'

Maria de Silazar of San Antonio Suchitep6quez, widow of a cacao grower, was said to

have brought twelve slaves with her when she entered a lay religious order in the capital

62Gage, Travels, 199.
63See extract of AGCA, A1.20. 592. f 11 (1636) in Falla, Extractos, 371-372.

"See extract of AGCA, A1.20. 691. f 326 (1642) in Falla, Extractos, 442-443.
I focus much more extensively on ranching later in the chapter.
61AGCA, A1.43. 4820. 41532 (1600). Molina's husband also owned a slave.

66See extracts of AGCA, A1.20. 432. f210 (1603); A1.20. 1128. f.218 (1610) in
Falla, Extractos, 75, 504.

shortly after its founding in 1613.67 In his 1619 will, finally, Santos Lopez discussed the

hacienda Nuestra Sefiora de la Limpia Concepci6n, established between Zinacantan and

Nestiquipaque in Guazacapan and containing two indigo obrajes and four slaves.6

Slaves also turned up in areas far removed from the major agricultural enterprises

of the valleys just east of the capital and the coastal lowlands. Miguel Gonzalez, a

Portuguese merchant residing in the upland easternpartido of Chiquimula de la Sierra,

listed a black slave among his possessions in 1605.69 A cura in the same district,

Francisco Joseph de Ventimilla, owned three slaves when he died in 1642: the mulatta

Luisa de Molina and her two children, Eugenio Nicolis and Nicolks del Espiritu Santo.7"

More striking is the appearance of slaves in the western highlands, where the supply of

indigenous labor was seemingly endless. Five slaves were working in 1628 on the 1,000-

acre Mazariegos estancia near the major Quiche community of Quezaltenango, and

various members of the Mazariegos family were involved in a number of local slave sales

transacted between 1625 and 1632.7' Prominent residents of other major highland

67Vizquez, Cronica, 4:446-447.

68AGCA, A1.43. 4877. 41805 (1625).

69Extract of AGCA, A1.20. 433. f.226v. (1605), in Falla, Extractos, 88.

70AGCA, A1.24. 1559. 10203. ff. 355-357, 471-471v. (1642). It is possible that
Ventimilla and his slaves actually made up an informal family unit. The priest's will--
vigorously contested by his sister and sole heir--not only manumitted his three slaves, but
carefully specified religious vocations for each of them.

71AGCA, A1.20. 1488. 9968. ff.29v.-30 (1635?), ff 97-98v. (1632); extracts
from AGCA, A1.20. 564. f 14 (1625), f16 (1625); A1.20. 567. f.101v. (1630) in Falla,
Extractos, 277, 288. The date of the first sale noted here was unlikely to have been


centers like Totonicapin and Huehuetenango also bought and sold slaves, if never in lots

of more than two.' As elsewhere, highland slaves were a diverse lot at this time. They

included recently imported men and women listed as Angolan, Guatemalan-born black

and mulatto men, one mulatta woman and her infant daughter, and a young mulatto


Finally, there were many slaves who were not, properly speaking, tied exclusively

either to urban or rural environments, but nevertheless passed a good deal of time in the

countryside in the employ of mule trains, traders, and the occasional shipbuilder.7

Independent and possessed of a certain degree of status, like urban artisans, some of

these slaves often held responsibilities for significant portions of their owners'

businesses." An especially revealing case involved slaves who were not technically

residents of Guatemala, but whose owner, one Gaspar Fernandes of Puebla, fell sick and

1635, as I recorded it, but rather pre-1629.
72AGCA, A1.20. 1488. 9968. f.30v. (1629?), ff.39-40v. (1629), ff.53-54v.
(1630), ff.61-62v. (1630), ff.91v.-92v. (1632), ff.99-100 (1632); extract from AGCA,
A1.20. 583. f434 (1624) in Falla, Extractos, 323. The record of the first sale listed is
73See the two footnotes above.

74Pantale6n de Herrera, who spent much of 1602-1604 building a ship on a river
in the coastal district of Guazacapan, had at least five slaves in his employ. See AGCA,
Al. 15. 4090. 32446 (1605), a substantial portion of which is apparently missing. The
mule-train owner Juan Palomeque, as noted above, had dozens of slaves at his disposal.

"In 1584, for example, Magdalena de Escobar of Santiago placed legal control of
a mule train in the hands of her slave Pedro Xolofe (Jolof). See extract of AGCA,
A1.20. 423. f.43 (1584), in Falla, Extractos, 12.

died in the community of San Antonio Suchitepequez in 1620. At the time that he made

his will, Fernandes had sent two separate mule trains, comprised in total of 127 mules

loaded with cacao and indigo, back to New Spain. The majority of Fernandes' arrieros,

or muleteers, were slaves, including the individuals in charge of the respective outfits.

Most remarkable, though, is that at the very same time that Fernandes had entrusted his

entire investment into the hands of enslaved administrators, he was endeavoring to

recover at least three other bondservants who had fled him: two in Santiago de

Guatemala and one in Oaxaca.76

Most of the enterprises mentioned above employed free blacks and mulattos in

addition to slaves. Specific numbers are much harder to come by in the case of free

people of African descent, especially because they were not in a literal sense anyone's

property, and do not turn up, for example, in wills. Later chapters of this dissertation

contain demographic assessments of this population during the latter half of the

seventeenth century, a period for which marriage data are available for rural areas. The

argument that remains to be made here concerning the significance of the black and

mulatto "threat" in the early seventeenth century, however, relies on evidence that is

demographic in only the broadest of senses.

76AGCA, A1.43. 4876. 41796 (1625). Several of Fernandes' slaves remained in
Guatemala after his death, sold to local residents or, in the case of one runaway, in jail.
It is interesting to note that, in the sixteenth century at least, nearly half of the slaves in
Puebla, New Spain, were arrieros. See Boyd-Bowman, "Negro Slaves," 136, 147. On
free black and mulatto muleteers in Guatemala, see AGCA, A1.43. 5925. 51603 (1614);
Al.15. 4103. 32526 (1619).

It will also be apparent that enslaved, let alone free, women of African descent

receive relatively little attention in the present chapter. This absence is due in part to the

disproportionately male character of forced African immigration, which contributed to

situations like the one existing in 1619 on the trapiche which was the subject of a dispute

among members of the Mesa family, where 25 of a total of 28 slaves were male.77 But

the archival traces left by negras and mulatas living in rural areas during this period are

few in number for at least one other reason: they were less often than men the

protagonists in cases involving the sorts of infractions of the law that caught the

authorities' attention.

Just prior to refocusing on the nature of those infractions, I would note that one

role played by women of African descent which does emerge clearly from documents

such as wills and estates, although applying only to those who were enslaved, was the

reproduction of a slave labor force. On the Peralta trapiche, for example, two slave

women, Agustina Conga and one Margarita, had seven children between them. Both

were also listed as the wives of male slaves, a status which female slaves outnumbered by

their male counterparts seem frequently to have inhabited."8

"The Mesa property represented an extreme example of the skewed sex ratio
often associated with sugar production. The workforce on Gonzalo Peralta's trapiche
may have represented a sex division closer to the norm. Thirteen of its 22 slaves were
male in 1625, including seven of the eleven who appear to have been born in Africa. See
AGCA, Al.15. 4103. 32523.; A1.43. 5925. 51614.

7In fact, all six adult women on the Peralta trapiche were listed as wives of male
slaves. On the disputed trapiche in Escuintepeque, two of three enslaved women were
married to male slaves. See AGCA, A1.43. 5925. 51614.; Al.15. 4103. 32523.

The tolerance, and even encouragement of, such slave marriage in Spanish

American regions is a well established peculiarity of American slavery under Spanish

Catholic rule.'9 It is also widely known, however, that the legal and religious protections

extended to slaves under medieval Spanish law were frequently ignored when they ran

counter to compelling economic, or other similar, imperatives.' While slave women,

always in short supply in Guatemala, did often marry their male counterparts--and very

occasionally free men" --they remained largely subject to their masters' whims, as

arbitrary as those of slaveholders anywhere. Thus the wealthy mule-train owner Juan

Palomeque, mentioned above, was reputedly so intent on the sexual conquest of slave

women that he was said to purchase those belonging to other masters if they rejected his

advances, in order to submit them to his will. Thomas Gage's comment that Palomeque

79During a visita of his diocese in 1669-1670, for example, the Bishop of
Guatemala, Doctor don Juan de Santo Matias Sienz de Maliosca y Murillo, had as one
explicit goal the correction of anyone who was "trying to prevent, or ha[d] prevented,
the Indians, blacks and mulattos in his service from marrying, or, being married, from
pursuing conjugal life." See Maiosca y Murillo's decree of 4 November, 1669, in
Archivo Hfist6rico Arquidiocesano "Francisco de Paula Garcia Peliez" (hereafter AHA),
Visitas Pastorales, Tomo 1, T 163, f.5v.

8Spanish law, drawing on the Siete Partidas, confirmed slaves' right to marry in
the Americas, but also underscored owners' authority. See cidulas of 11 May 1526,
"Que no sean libres los esclavos negros que se casen, ni los hijos que tuvieron," and 26
October 1541, "Que los negros se casen con negras," in Konetzke, ed., Colecci6n de
documentos, 1:81-82, 210. David Brion Davis' comparative assessment of legal versus
actual conditions experienced by slaves across time, space and changing economic
circumstances remains insightful. See David Brion Davis, The Problem of Slavery in
Western Culture (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1966), esp. 227-243.

8This was rare because children assumed the status of the mother. The
ramifications of the "law of the womb" are discussed at some length in later chapters.

as a consequence "hasted to fill that valley [of Mixco] with bastards of all sorts and

colors" presents, of course, a far different aspect of slave women's role in reproducing

labor than that suggested by the evidence from the Peralta ingenio. "

Ranch hands, "Vagabonds," and Maroons

I turn finally to the three categories of "social danger" which constituted the

primary focus of Spanish concern regarding the rural African-descended population in

the early seventeenth century, beginning with the one great rural enterprise not yet

explored in any depth: ranching. One does not have to look far in order to find the

reasons for Spanish trepidation regarding cattle industry workers: ranch hands of color,

both slave and free, were notorious for their quasi-martial horsemanship. Indeed, in the

1640s, one agitated official would report that Spanish colonists had long grown "soft"

through city living, while the only people left in the region who could handle horses well

were the mestizos, mulattos and blacks of the countryside, natural rebels all.3

Perhaps the most important reason for the emergence of this much feared group

was that the period from the 1590s to the 1630s was the first great era of Spanish land

82Gage, Travels, 199. Gage's description of Palomeque's tormenting a male
slave named Macaco nearly to suicide is another indication of the arbitrary system under
which slaves ultimately lived, however socially mobile certain of them might be.
13MacLeod, Spanish Central America, 212. It is not entirely coincidental that
these same folks would begin to be incorporated into colonial militias en masse exactly
at this moment. The historical importance in colonial Latin America of African-
descended vaqueros, both slave and free, would be difficult to overstate. See, for
example, Davidson, "Negro Slave Control and Resistance," 237; Peter Stem, "Gente de
Color Quebrado: Africans and Afromestizos in Colonial Mexico," Colonial Latin
American Historical Review 3, no. 2 (1994): 198.

acquisition in the Guatemalan countryside.84 During this time there was significant

expansion in a ranching workforce whose permanent members tended less to be tributary

Indians than black and mulatto slaves and free castas. It was in the peculiar nature of

ranching, which differed in important ways from other rural labor, to afford those who

practised it both considerable freedom and training of a kind such as to transform them

collectively into a sector which Spanish authorities could construe as a near-military

threat to the colony.

The development of large livestock-running estates was a phenomenon

manifested most significantly in the same Pacific coastal region to the southeast of the

capital where indigo flourished. As the sixteenth century gave way to the seventeenth,

authorities in Santiago grew increasingly concerned over unprecedented shortages of

meat in the realm, and tried to exert strict control over both production and sale in the

wake of a precipitous decline in formerly abundant cattle populations. Officials sought

especially to clamp down on the practice of dejarretar6--or indiscriminate cattle

slaughter--by ranch owners and their employees in the region roughly between Taxisco,

4MacLeod, Spanish Central America, 3 81.

"Castas, it might be noted, were an important source of labor on Spanish-owned
rural enterprises for at least two reasons: they had little access to land and thus had to
hire themselves out; and they were frequently used to supervise mostly indigenous or
enslaved black workforces with whom they were unlikely to identify. See MacLeod,
Spanish Central America, 191-192, 212.

6The term meant literally to slice the leg tendons of cattle.


in Guazacapan, and La Villa de la Trinidad de Sonsonate.87 Cattle slaughter of alarming

proportions was producing a steady stream of contraband beef and tallow, and at the

same time sharply reducing herds. In their edicts forbidding dejarretar, authorities

targeted castas in particular. A 1599 prohibition mandated that perpetrators "fueze

negro, mulato o mestizo" receive 100 lashes for a first offense, and 200 lashes plus five

years unpaid royal service for a second. Indians found guilty of the practice would

receive fifty lashes. Espaholes went unmentioned.8

In 1600, the royal official Alonso Diego de Villegas Carasa was despatched from

Santiago to investigate illicit slaughter of cattle near Taxisco. Villegas found a tallow-

producing operation in an area called La Caiba de Mayorgua, complete with two huts

built "in the manner of fugitives" and a large quantity of tallow--as much as 60 arrobas,

or some 1,500 pounds--in various stages of processing. His informants attributed the

management of the operation to Ant6n del Chaves, the mulato majordomo of the

estancia on which the illicit establishment was located. One witness claimed to have

seen Chaves there in the company of fifteen or sixteen "mulatos e indios todos

87The practice was also rampant in the district of Acasaguastln, another
prominent cattle-ranching area northeast of Santiago de Guatemala, along the route to
the Caribbean. For the tale of a legendary mulatto cowboy said to have won fame for his
daring exploits in that region early in the seventeenth century, see Fuentes y Guzman,
Recordaci6nflorida, 2:242, 287-290.

88C~dula of 8 May 1599, AGCA, A1.23. 4588. 39541.

vaqueros."89 It is unlikely that the owner of the estancia, Alonso de Becerra Brizuela,

was ignorant of the doings of his majordomo, and probable, in fact, that he had ordered


The site at La Caiba de Mayorgua, Villegas alleged, had played a major role in

the "great destruction" of cattle that was occurring in the region. Worse, though, it was

a refuge for "all of the delinquents and cattle-slaughterers and black runaways on the

coast." He ordered the huts burned and issued a warning against tolerating similar

operations to all of the surrounding estancieros. But the closest he came to

apprehending Chaves was to seize the latter's possessions at his hideout in the port of

Lztapa. Chaves himself escaped into the surrounding countryside as the Crown's

investigator arrived in town."

The audiencia launched another investigation into illegal cattle slaughter in the

same coastal region in 1605, spearheaded in this instance by an official named Antonio

de Leiba. By the time Leiba was finished with his work, he had arrested a total often

people in connection with various incidents of dejarretar, including Gaspar de Moraga

Monroy, the owner of an obraje in Guazacapfn, who was apprehended alongside his

mulatto servant, Jusepe, and two black slaves, Agustin and Matias. The latter three were

"AGCA, Al.43. 4820. 41525 (1601). That another witness testified to having
seen a mulato speaking in "la lengua mexicana" to an Indian woman grinding corn at the
site suggests the degree to which people of African descent were integrated into the life
of the area, sometimes no doubt for the reason that they had indigenous mothers.

9'AGCA, A1.43. 4820. 41525.

not the only people defined by African descent taken into custody by Leiba. Six of the

ten accused, in fact, were blacks or mulattos. One, a self-described deer hunter named

Diego Velisquez, revealed clearly his perception that Spaniards associated African

origins with criminality when he appealed his conviction by claiming that although he

was a mulatto he had not engaged in illicit activities."

At the end of 1605, the Spanish Crown emitted a cedula in which it expressed

concern over the news that the principal cause of cattle depletion in the audiencia was

the fact that "many free mulattos and blacks" were engaged in slaughter. Worse, it was

rumored that these outlaws actually had the support of the estancieros who employed

them. The Crown warned landowners to withdraw their backing for such activities

forthwith, under pain of forfeiting both land and herds. But the most severe

consequences were reserved for negrosy mulatos, forbidden henceforth from riding

horses at all, with disobedience to be punished with 200 lashes and 10 years on the


91Velisquez also procured two Spanish witnesses to testify on his behalf, one of
whom referred to him as a "buen mulato." He was sentenced, nevertheless, to hard labor
on the new fortress at Santo Tomas de Castilla. See AGCA, Al. 15. 4092. 32461, esp.
ff.7-20v., 30-35.

92La Corona a la Audiencia de Guatemala, 22 December 1605, AGCA, Al.23.
1514. f 77-77v. This decree came in response to a letter from an oidor of the
audiencia, don Manuel de Ungria Gir6n, who blamed soaring prices for beef both on
estancieros' lack of concern for their herds and the fact that "there are many free
mulattos and blacks who move about the countryside with a pair of nags or mares [and]
have slaughtered all the cattle they can ... ." See Ungria Giron a la Corona, 20 March
1605, AGI, Guatemala, 12, R.2, N. 12.

There is little evidence that this decree was ever successfully enforced, which

says a good deal about the degree of control Spanish authorities were able to exercise

over these rural workers, and the value of the latter to their bosses. Indeed, yet another

mulatto majordomo was soon at the center of accusations involving dejarretar: Melchor

Velasquez, manager of an estancia named Mopicalco, which was located near

Guazacapin and owned by Luis Aceituno de Guzmni. In 1607, Guzman's neighbor,

dofia Beatriz de las Barillas, launched a lawsuit against both men, charging that they had

been systematically butchering her herds and selling the product in Sonsonate.

According to testimony turned up in the course of the civil action, the activities of

GuzmAn and Velasquez were notorious in the area. One witness charged that in the

winter of 1605 the two had culled 30 head of cattle a week from just one of the several

estancias that they preyed upon. During an especially prolific fifteen-day period, said the

witness, Guzmin, Velisquez and a band of hired hands had slaughtered 800 head of

cattle, which "wasn't much" to them.93

This particular case of cattle rustling and rural tension in Guatemala is

dominated, if anything, even more by blacks and mulattos than the ones previously cited.

The band of cattle thieves headed by Velisquez and his employer included at least five

other people denoted by African origin, including a black slave of Guzmin's named

93AGCA, Al.15. 4092. 32462 (1607). Velisquez, ironically, was at about the
same time accusing a mestizo named Diego Recinos of having entered his own land
under the pretext of fishing, then slaughtering some of Velisquez' cattle and selling the
tallow to two residents of Guazacapin. Recinos was one of those arrested by Leiba in
1605. See AGCA, Al.15. 4092. 32461. ff.1-2.

Domingo.94 The main witness in the case, meanwhile, was identified as a mulato libre

from the coast named Gaspar de la Cruz. He, in turn, testified that the accused

ringleaders told him they were selling large quantities of their ill-gotten booty to the

mulato Pedro L6pez, a vecino of Sonsonate."

The notoriety which surrounded the province's black and mulatto ranch hands

during the first years of the seventeenth century only grew with each succeeding decade.

Drawing on his residence in Guatemala during the 1630s, Thomas Gage reported to the

English that the region's greatest potential military asset lay with "a desperate sort of

Blackamoors" employed on estancias and indigo obrajes. Possessing only machetes or

lances "to run at the wild cattle," Gage went on, these people of African origin were "so

desperate that the city of Guatemala hath often been afraid of them, and the masters of

their own slaves and servants." In the 1640s, threats along the coasts from foreign

privateers would finally push the audiencia to utilize the reserve of military force to

94 The others were Francisco Dongolin, moreno libre of Sonsonate; Matheo,
mulato of Sonsonate; Francisco Gil, mulato; and Miguel Ger6nimo, mulato. The band
also included one Xim6nez, whose lack of designation may have indicated espahol
status, and Fernando Lopez, an employee of the estancia Mopicalco said to be
Velisquez' compadre and described as "mestizo o criollo." The ambiguity inherent in
L6pez' "racial" designation hints at the degree of access to the "Spaniard" category that
individuals labeled as mestizo might have had, at least in rural areas. His evidently close
friendship with Velasquez indicates that the barriers theoretically constructed between
individuals of differing origins were in many cases relatively easy to cross.

95AGCA, Al. 15. 4092. 32462. It is interesting that L6pez was referred to as a
vecino, a term originally reserved for propertied Spanish heads of households.

96Gage, Travels, 192-193.


which Gage alluded. But such a development was not foreseen as late as 1638, when the

President of the audiencia requested funds to purchase more arms for Spanish residents,

portrayed as largely defenseless in the face not only of a massive Indian population, but

also of a "great number of skilled blacks and mulattos, discontented with their


The relationship between the two "dangerous" sectors named by the President,

and especially the allegedly deleterious impact of African-descended people on

indigenous groups, was a second, longstanding source of Spanish discomfort with the

black and mulatto population. In rural areas, especially to the south and east of the

capital, mulatosy negros worked and lived alongside not only poor Spaniards and

mestizos, but Indians as well. The last group was assumed by the Crown to be under

both physical and moral threat from all the others, and a litany of royal complaints and

orders from the late sixteenth century on stressed the need to keep indigenous

communities segregated from all such contact. Beginning in the 1570s, order after order

forbade the residence of espaholes, mestizos, blacks, and mulattos in Indian villages. In

1578, a landmark royal decree declared that Indians and castas must be kept separate

because mulattos, blacks, and mestizos, "being universally so evilly inclined," were a

threat to Indians' souls.98 Subsequent decrees demanding that this order be heeded

97Don Alvaro Quifiones y Osorio a la Corona, 26 May 1638, AGI, Guatemala 15,
R.17, N.99.

98Real cdula, 25 November 1578, AGCA, A1.22. 1513. f. 557. On evolving
royal attitudes during the sixteenth century, see Magnus M6rner, La corona espaholay


oscillated between expressing the Crown's concern over the danger to Indians of the bad

moral example set by individuals whose obedience to civil as well as religious authority

was less than exemplary, and anger at the threat posed to royal revenues by petty traders

and con men operating in and around indigenous communities." The very frequency of

these orders indicated a failure of enforcement.

While decrees emanating from both Madrid and Santiago often characterized the

entire non-Indian rural population as vagabonds and thieves," they sometimes singled

out groups identified specifically by African descent. In 1580, the Crown warned its

officials in Guatemala that "the blacks brought to that Province" were not to live among

Indians, or trade with them, because of the great physical and spiritual harm that would

result from such contact.'' Five years later, an oidor of the audiencia complained that

losforaneos en los pueblos de indios de Am&ica (Stockholm: Alnqvist & Wiksell,
1970), esp. 94-99.

"Subsequent decrees include those of 3 February 1587, AGCA, A1.23. 4575.
39528. f 433v.; 22 December 1605, AGCA, A1.23. 1514. ff.77-77v.; 27 July 1634,
AGCA A1.24. 2245. 16190. ff4-5. See also "Ordenanzas para el buen gobierno de los
indios en las provincias de Soconusco y Verapaz," 20 September 1628, in Konetzke,
ed., Colecci6n de documentos, 2, bk. 1:319-322, esp. 321. Officials in both Peru and
New Spain expressed similar concerns in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth
centuries over the allegedly deleterious social effects produced by interaction between
Indians and people of African origins. See Bowser, African Slave, 22-24, 147; Stem,
"Gente de Color Quebrado," 190-191.

"See, for example, La Corona a la Audiencia, 24 November, 1601, AGCA,
A1.23. 4576. 39529. ff 45v.-50, which orders that "espailoles de condicion serbil y
ociosos que ubiere y los mesti~os negros mulatos y gambahigos libres" be made to work.

'01La Corona a la Audiencia de Guatemala, 23 September 1580, AGCA, A1.22.
1513. f579.


negros y mulatos were like "wolves in sheep's clothing" among the Indians.'02 By 1603,

the Crown was expressing alarm at reports that black servants of prominent Guatemalan

officials were accosting and robbing Indians transporting goods to market, a practice

that, like others mentioned above, was quite likely to have been approved by the masters

of the alleged assailants.3 This situation was particularly ironic in light of the fact that

the Crown was at the same time demanding that the "vagabond" rural population of free

status be reduced to serving and residing with specific Spanish masters, in order to

eradicate the sort of illicit activity which supposedly resulted from a lack of supervision

by responsible Spaniards.

The most enduring action taken by the audiencia to eliminate the "plague" of

blacks and mulattos in Indian communities was the establishment of the town of San

Diego de la Gomera near the coast of Escuintepeque, some time after the Conde de la

Gomera took up the post of President of the audiencia in 1611. Informed of the

inconveniences presented by negros y mulatos libres living illegally in and around

indigenous villages south of the capital, the new President swiftly ordered their

"reduction," or settlement." A decade later, Visquez de Espinosa described the villa of

'02Magnus MOrner, "La politica de segregaci6n y el mestizaje en la Audiencia de
Guatemala," Revista de Indias 24, nos. 95-96 (1964): 139.

'03La Corona a la Audiencia de Guatemala, 26 March 1603, AGCA, A1.23.
1514. f".37.

"Conde de la Gomera a la Corona, 14 November 1611, AGI, Guatemala 13,
R.3, N.33; Jos6 Milla, Historia de laAmerica Central, 2 vols., 5"' ed., Colecci6n "Juan
Chapin," Obras completas de Salome Jil (Jos6 Milla) 11-12 (Guatemala: Tipografia

San Diego as a "village of free blacks and mulattos, with their own cabildo, alcaldes,

and regidores," unique in the province of Guatemala.05 The town's residents, who

would emerge from the historical shadows at key points over the following century, were

granted certain privileges, including control over saltpans at Sipacate on the coast.'6 In

return, they were to fulfill specific duties, including tracking down and capturing escaped

slaves. 107

Cimarrones, to be sure, were quite naturally seen as an even graver danger to

social peace than those slaves who, though under the direct control of masters, already

provided headaches for the authorities. Maroons constituted the third major source of

problems which Spaniards saw as resulting from the African presence in rural Guatemala

Nacional, 1976), 2:318-319.

'0Vfisquez de Espinosa, Compendio, 208-209.

1"In 1683 the corregidor of Escuintepeque said of the saltpans at Sipacate that
"se les consedieron a los de la villa quando fue fundada." The town's residents
reasserted this claim to the saltpans in 1700 when they appealed to a royal visitador
about attempts by prominent officials to usurp them. See "Raz6n de las ciudades, villas
y lugares, vecindarios y tributarios de que se componen las Provincias del Distrito de
este Audiencia (1682)," AGI, Contaduria 815, f.6v.; "Testimonio de los Autos
Proveydos Por El Sefior Licenciado Don Francisco G6mez de la Madriz en favor de los
Mulatos de la Villa de San Diego de la Gomera, 1700," AGI, Guatemala 285.

"iVasquez de Espinosa, Compendio, 208-209. Although it is not clear if the
original settlers of San Diego included maroons among their number, catching escaped
slaves was often a part of the bargains maroon communities made to "legalize" their
status vis-a-vis colonial regimes in the Americas. On the maroon community of
Yanga/San Lorenzo de los Negros in early colonial Veracruz, see Patrick J. Carroll,
Blacks in Colonial Veracruz: Race, Ethnicity, and Regional Development (Austin:
University of Texas Press, 1991), 91-92. For an example from Surinam, see Robin
Blackburn, The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery, 1776-1848 (London: Verso, 1988), 56.


during the early seventeenth century. Individual examples of escaped slaves abound,'

while nearly half of the black and mulatto prisoners listed in the visitas of the Santiago

jail conducted between October 1624 and June 1625 were incarcerated as cimarrones9

Most worrisome to the audiencia, though, was the founding near both coasts of outlaw

maroon communities which demonstrated an impressive ability not only to survive off

the surrounding society via both peaceable commerce and extortion, but also to resist

repeated efforts made to eradicate them.

The demand that the new residents of San Diego de la Gomera hunt down

cimarrones may have been spurred most directly by the audiencia's experience during

the early 1600s with a small but notorious band of maroons ensconced in a remote

settlement near the Pacific coast south of San Antonio Suchitep6quez." The Conde de

la Gomera, in fact, averred that on his first visit to Santiago's churches after arriving in

'O8One of the more striking cases is that of Isabel, an Arara woman about 36
years old in 1622. Isabel went through no fewer than four owners within the space of a
couple of years. One, a priest named NicolAs Sanchez, sought to have his 1621 purchase
of Isabel annulled on grounds that her "defects" had been obscured at the time of the
sale. Sanchez made this claim despite the fact that Isabel's seller had explicitly called her
a "thieving, wild, and mad runaway." Sanchez himself unloaded his troublesome
"property" during the course of his suit. See AGCA, Al. 15. 4105. 32534 and 32535.
(1622). Other cases mentioning instances of cimarronaje include AGCA, A1.56. 5920.
51250 (1603); Al.15. 4090. 32446 (1605); Al.15. 4103. 32524 (1607); Al.15. 4109.
32563 (1612); A1.56. 5355. 45247 (1615); A1.43. 4876. 41796 (1620); A1.43. 4876.
41801 (1623); A1.29.2. 2327. 17286. f15 (1623); A1.43. 4914. 41973 (1624).

'The visitas, discussed earlier, are in AGCA, A1.43. 4876. 41801.

"'The history of this community is detailed in "Autos del servicio que hizo el
capitin Juan ruiz dAvil6s. .. de la conquista y pacificaci6n de los negros algados que
estaban en la barra i montafias de tulat" (1626), AGI, Guatemala 67.

the fall of 1611 he heard a number of sermons urging him to subdue the "negros y

mulatos cimarrones del Guayaval de la costa de Yzquintepeque," both because of the

great harm the maroons had visited on Indians and others along the region's roads, and

to stop them from taking more slaves out of the capital. "No master had a secure slave"

as long as the outlaw band remained at large, the dean of the Cathedral was said to have

assured the new President."' Indeed, the maroons had only recently "stolen" a mulata

from the house of Ger6nimo de Aldana. As a result, they were said to be on the alert for

the possibility of retaliation, having activated Indian spies who operated on their behalf

between the coast and the capital.'

Witnesses said that a negro from Sonsonate had established the community of

maroons about nine years previously, in a remote region inland from the bar along the

coast at Tulate. The closest indigenous community was Xicalapa,"3 but the maroons

traded fish and iguanas caught in the estuary at Tulate to Indians from Mazatenango, and

even as far away as Quezaltenango, in return for clothing, axes, machetes, arrows, and

""'Conquista y pacificaci6n de los negros," AGI, Guatemala 67, ff.25-26v.

""Conquista y pacificaci6n de los negros," AGI, Guatemala 67, ff.6v.-7.

"'A now-defunct village located in a remote coastal area between the Nahualate
and Tulate rivers. Xicalapa may have held two hundred or so indigenous inhabitants in
the late sixteenth century, but had disappeared by the eighteenth. See Orellana,
Ethnohistory, 121-122; reproduction of 1579 map of Zapotitlhn in Adriaan C. Van Oss,
Catholic Colonialism: A Parish History of Guatemala, 1524-1821 (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1986), 63.


tobacco.4 One slave each from the households of Francisco de Mesa and Luis Aceituno

de Guzman, mentioned above, were present in the settlement, with Guzmin's mulato

slave, Juan G6mez, reputed to be the most ruthless of the lot, terrorizing the owners of

nearby estancias and obrajes with threats to burn down their properties if they gave the

maroons any trouble.

There had been previous efforts to dislodge the outlaws. A mestizo named

Gaspar de la Cruz who participated in the militia force which eventually defeated and

captured the members of the community said he had previously taken part in forays

which had resulted in the recapture of a total of eight maroons, two of them women.

Perhaps as a result of this pressure, those members of the community who remained free

had moved inland from an original settlement. Nine "large houses" still stood at the first

site, however, as well as plentiful evidence of the cimarrones' capacity to produce corn,

cotton, squash, chiles, and even sugar cane."5

The militia force, about forty men sent out by the President in October of 1611

under the command of an experienced soldier named Juan Ruiz de Avil6s, managed, after

an arduous nighttime trek along the coast from the bar at Nahualate, to ambush the men

of the community as the latter descended one morning to Tulate in their canoes. Avil~s'

'According to Fuentes y GuzmAn, the area around San Antonio Suchitep~quez
had no iguanas. They thus had to be imported, at least in the 1680s. Supplying them to
the district from remote Tulate may have been one key to the maroon economy's success
earlier in the century. See Fuentes y Guzmin, Recordaci6nflorida, 2:161-162.

n""Conquista y pacificaci6n de los negros," AGI, Guatemala 67, f.45, 46v.


men accomplished this feat with the assistance of a petty Spanish trader who--no doubt

to save his own skin--betrayed the maroons, with whom he had been carrying on a

thriving commerce for about a year. In a brief battle, the captain of the cimarrones, a

certain Diego, was shot and killed while trying to escape by swimming across the

estuary, and another maroon also died. Avil~s subsequently led a small group several

leagues inland under the guidance of one of those captured, where the rest of the

community, mostly women, was also rounded up. Aside from the two men killed, a total

of seventeen people were found in the settlement: eight black and mulatto men--all

maroons--and one male infant; and six cimarronas, one free mulatta, and one india. In

accordance with the harsh punishment requested by many Spaniards in order to set an

example, all except the two free women were jailed in the capital following their

capture. "'6

Ruiz de Aviles afterwards spent years attempting to collect the reward he claimed

the Conde de la Gomera had promised to him: an encomienda worth 2,000 pesos

annually. He was eventually successful, at least in part, and in the 1690s his descendant

Sebastiin Ruiz de Alvarado was appealing to hold onto the encomienda Ruiz de Avil~s

finally managed to obtain under the Conde de la Gomera's successor. Interestingly, the

grandson included letters from 1630 and 1631 in which Ruiz de Avil6s claimed he had

l"Conquista y pacificaci6n de los negros," AGI, Guatemala 67; Conde de la
Gomera a la Corona, 14 November 1611, AGI, Guatemala 13, R.3, N.33. A mulatto
named Antonio de Ledesma from San Antonio Suchitep6quez was also jailed, for trading
with the community. There is no record of punishment for either the Indians or the
Spaniards who were involved in commerce with the settlement.

not only subjugated a small band of maroons at Tulate in 1611, but had returned

subsequently to capture the leaders of five hundred to six hundred blacks who had later

repopulated the region."7 Evidence for such a large community of cimarrones does not

appear elsewhere, although the temporary re-establishment of some sort of maroon

outpost on the Pacific coast may well have occurred, given the resilience of maroon

bands along the audiencia's other flank.

Unfortunately, no account similar to the one left by Ruiz de Avil6s has surfaced

which details entradas made in search of maroon redoubts near the Caribbean. Enough

evidence exists, nevertheless, to piece together a portrait which suggests that cimarrones

in the region of the Golfo Dulce were a thorn in the side of Spanish colonists for several

decades. In fact, don Diego de Avendafho, President of the audiencia in 1642, claimed

that the period of torment had lasted seventy years, and was still not ended. Avendaio

in that year had another, pressing concern: a wave of destruction wreaked by foreign

privateers along the Caribbean coast of Guatemala and Honduras. It was this danger

which prompted him to take a step that would signal a major turning point for the

population identified by African descent, namely the general enlistment of mestizos and

free blacks and mulattos in Chiquimula and Acasaguastlin. But in order to reduce the

pressure around the Golfo Dulce he also wanted to eliminate the maroon presence there

once and for all. He hoped to do so by abandoning a never fully successful policy of

armed pursuit, and instead despatching a friar not only to pacify the rebels, but also to

1"7Autos que sigue Sebastiin Ruiz de Alvarado," AGGA, Al. 2. 25 (1698).


persuade them to turn their knowledge of the area in favor of the society they had fled by

acting as scouts against the foreign enemy."8

Whenever it was that escaped slaves first established themselves in outlaw

communities around the Golfo Dulce, the cabildo of Santiago was complaining to the

Conde de la Gomera in 1617 that many maroons lived along the trade road between the

capital and the gulf, threatening commerce."9 In 1627, 4,030 tostones were reported to

have been spent on an expedition sent out "against the black maroons along the Gulf

road."'20 That expedition apparently led to the capture of at least some of the outlaw

slaves,'2' but a prolonged battle over who should pay the costs of securing the roads--the

King or local merchants--also ensued.22

One reason the problem of funding for security persisted was that the maroons

did not disappear. Thomas Gage, who participated in a missionizing expedition among

"'Don Diego de Avendaiio a la Corona, 7 July 1642, AGI, Guatemala 16, R.3,

"..Francisco de Paula Garcia Peliez, Memorias para la historia del antiguo reino
de Guatemala, 3 vols., Yd ed., Biblioteca "Goathemala" 21-23 (Guatemala: Sociedad de
Geografia e Historia de Guatemala, 1968-1973), 2:28.

"2Garcia PelAez, Memorias, 2:28.
12'In a 1633 request for favor from the Crown, Juan de Sevilla Guerrero indicated
that he had been captain of an infantry company which had taken part in the "reduction
and imprisonment of the black maroons of the Golfo Dulce," although it is not clear if he
was referring to the 1627 expedition or a later one. See Alvarez-Lobos Villatoro and
Toledo Palomo, eds., Libro de los Pareceres, 236-237.

'22"Liquidaci6n hecha de la cantidad que se gast6 en la rreducci6n de los negros
cimarrones del golfo dulce," AGCA, Al.12. 4060. 31537 (1646).


the Chol north of Coban during 1629 and 1630, reported that a community of some 200

to 300 escaped slaves still lived in the mountains near the Golfo Dulce at this time.

Armed only with bows and arrows, they regularly held up mule trains traveling between

the capital and the Gulf, supplying themselves with "wine, iron, clothing and weapons"

and encouraging slaves accompanying the caravans to join them. That efforts to

dislodge them had met with no enduring success is revealed in Gage's comment that the

band was much feared by Spanish residents, especially those from nearby Acasaguastlin,

who had been unable to eliminate it despite "having often attempted it.""

Gage indicated that the maroons were widely believed to be ready to "join with

the English or Hollanders, if ever they land in that gulf"124 This assertion, however,

must be seen in light of the former Dominican friar's concerted propaganda campaign to

spur an English invasion of Guatemala. But the President of the audiencia in 1632, don

Diego de Acufia, did appeal to the Crown in that year for weapons to be used in an

expedition against "black maroons who are in rebellion in the mountains next to the

Golfo Dulce," and explicitly expressed the concern that they might ally with the Dutch.125

The fact that outlaw bands of slaves had yet to be fully eradicated along the Caribbean

ten years later suggests that these were even more troublesome over the long term to the

'23Gage, Travels, 195-196.
124Gage, Travels, 195-196.

125La Corona a don Diego de Acufla, 8 December 1632, AGCA, Al.23. 1516.
10071. f 57.

authorities, and to Spanish colonists in general, than was the better documented Pacific

settlement at Tulate.'26

Cimarronaje, thus, added more fuel to the uneasiness aroused among Spaniards

in the early seventeenth century by insolent and violent urban slaves, expert and

independent black and mulatto ranch hands, and rural "vagabonds" of color. There

were, of course, individual Spaniards who maintained mutually beneficial relationships

with both slaves and free people of color. Spanish estancieros were often fully complicit

in the depredations carried out against neighbors' livestock by their workers, while the

black slaves who accosted and robbed Indian traders along the colony's roads probably

could not have done so for long without the backing of powerful Spanish patrons. It

would also be inaccurate to suggest that either free or enslaved blacks and mulattos were

uniformly rebellious and insubordinate. Many people of color already operated on behalf

of "law and order" in Guatemala, including a number of mulattos who accompanied Juan

Ruiz de Avil6s on his expedition of repression against the cimarrones of Tulate.127 But

126The eventual fate of the maroons of the Golfo Dulce remains unclear. It is
interesting to note in this regard, however, that the Dominican friar Francisco Gallegos'
account of a missionizing effort into Chol territory in 1674-1676 included reference to
the village "of the Mulattos," whose "Indians" were said to be "amulatados y distintos de
los otros que son mAs blancos." See Francisco Xim(nez, Historia de la Provincia de
San Vicente de Chiapa y Guatemala de la Orden de Predicadores, Libro 5, Biblioteca
"Goathemala" 29 (Guatemala: Sociedad de Geografia e Historia, 1973), 212.

'27See also Thomas Gage's recollections about his bodyguard, a "Blackamoor"
named Miguel Dalva, particularly the description of the protection Gage received from
Dalva and other blacks and mulattos in 1635 while investigating indigenous idolatry as
parish priest of Mixco and Pinula, in Gage, Travels, 269-272, 279-292, esp. 283.

two things seem clear. First, there was little general approval among the Spanish

population as a whole for the license accorded to blacks and mulattos in the employ of

certain Spanish individuals. Second, the striking social mobility evidenced by some

members of the African-descended population was largely unwelcome even to those

Spaniards who helped enable it.

That social mobility, however, sometimes arose out of a circumstance which has

received little attention thus far, although it threatened not only Spanish property, or

Spanish control of labor and tribute, but "Spanishness" itself. Spanish inability to control

the process by which the colonial population was reproduced meant that many

Spaniards, rather than being simply the bosses or owners of people defined by African

descent, were related to them as well. Those Spaniards who acknowledged these

relations often assisted their non-Spanish relatives, whatever they may have thought

about mulattos and mestizos in general. Thus, when the Crown expressed its concern in

a 1622 letter to the audiencia that "algunas Personas de poca satisfaci6n como son

mulatos y mestizos" might be obtaining posts as notaries or escribanos by obscuring

their origins, the individuals in question were almost certain to have had family

connections among the powerful. The Crown's decree that applications from such

people must be rejected without exception--retroactively if necessary--undoubtedly

struck Spaniards in Guatemala as eminently fair and just, except, of course, in the case of

a particular mulatto son, or similar relation, whom they personally favored.128

128AGCA, A1.23. 4578. 39531. ff.26v.-27 (1622).

There is no better illustration of this type of relationship than the situation of

Antonio Melendez y Valdes. A mulatto resident of the valley of Petapa, Mel6ndez y

Valdes made application in 1623, the year following the one in which the decree referred

to above was emitted, to be granted the rights and privileges due to illegitimate children

of prominent espaholes. He claimed to be the son of Capitin Gonzalo Melendez y

Vald~s, a native of Asturias and former governor of Soconusco, and Juana de Aguilar,

the Spaniard's morena slave. The witnesses who spoke in favor of the petition, all high-

ranking local officials, testified that Gonzalo had called Antonio "son" on many

occasions, and had also given him land in Jalpatagua. One witness, an officer of the law

in Santiago named Gaspar Peres de Figueroa, said Gonzalo had once prevented him from

seizing Antonio in execution of an order obtained against Gonzalo's property by a

creditor, saying "What, you want to arrest my son, who is freer than I am?"'" As it

turned out, according to Gonzalo's 1614 will, Antonio had received a carta de libertad

at birth. The father had also mandated that his son be treated as an hidalgo "although he

is a mulatto."30

The contradictions inherent in the Spanish effort to arrange society hierarchically

according to origin would, in combination with demographic developments and a

heightened military threat from foreigners, expand the social space in which blacks and,

"29AGCA, A1.29.2. 2327. 17286 (1623).

'None of the ten other slaves mentioned in Gonzalo's will benefitted from
similar favor, least of all Antonio's mother, Juana, long since sold by her erstwhile sexual
companion to a woman from Ayutla. See AGCA, Al.29.2. 2327. 17286. ff. 18, 20.


especially, mulattos operated as the seventeenth century progressed. Spanish uneasiness

over the potential danger presented by the African-descended population by no means

faded away, but came to be balanced to a significant extent by the usefulness of blacks

and castas as auxiliaries in the governance of the indigenous majority. Because Indians,

rather than blacks and mulattos, constituted the primary target of discriminatory

treatment in Guatemala, the sharp lines delineating a clearly identifiable African-

descended population would begin to blur as members of that population escaped the

confines of supposedly rigid occupational and social boundaries. But the sistema de

castas was far from dead--legal distinctions intended to divide mulattos from mestizos,

for example, would remain in force into the eighteenth century. In the meantime, the

conditions under which an increasingly amorphous sector of people standing between

colonial Guatemala's Spanish elite and indigenous masses would begin to take on a new

identity--that of the ladino--slowly emerged.


The Emergence of Militias of Color

In October 1643 the President of the audiencia of Guatemala, don Diego de

Avendafio, informed the Spanish Crown that he had ordered the enlistment for possible

military service of all Spaniards, mestizos, blacks, and mulattos in the districts under his

jurisdiction. Avendafilo said he had advised the corregidores of Chiquimula de la Sierra

and Acasaguastl*i, and the alcalde mayor of Verapaz, to have troops on the ready for

deployment to the Golfo Dulce and Trujillo on the Province of Guatemala's Caribbean

flank. He had also advised the district administrator of San Salvador and San Miguel to

prepare for possible action along the Pacific coast. The mulatto privateer Dieguillo, the

President wrote, had been pillaging along the coast of Honduras, and had sacked Trujillo

itself To add to Avendafio's troubles, the garrison at Santo Tomas de Castilla had been

forced to repel a landing by English invaders in August.'

'Don Diego de Avendafio a la Corona, 1 October 1643, AGI, Guatemala, 16,
R.4, N.27. Dieguillo was apparently Diego, an infamous escaped slave from Havana
who had made cause with Dutch privateers and terrorized, among others, Thomas Gage.
See Gage, Travels, 315-317. The chronicle of VAzquez contains a detailed description
of the 1643 sack of Trujillo, and that of Xim6nez discusses an incursion by Dieguillo into
the Golfo Dulce. See Vizquez, Cr6nica, 4:275-279; Xim6nez, Historia, 5:57.


This was by no means the province's first experience with incursions by

foreigners. As early as the 1580s, militia forces were dispatched from Santiago de

Guatemala to the Pacific port of Acajutla, in Sonsonate, to ward off attacks by the

English marauder Francis Drake.' In 1615, Capitan Lucas Garcia Serrano of San Miguel

led a force of as many as five hundred men to the defense of another Pacific port,

Amapala, in the Gulf of Fonseca, after enemy lights were sighted offshore.' Meanwhile,

French privateers burned the Caribbean port at Puerto Caballos in 1595, and Dutch ships

were threatening the Golfo Dulce by 1606.' This foreign presence typically invited at

least a cursory military response, despite a growing Spanish colonial appetite for the

smuggled goods that Dutch merchants in particular were able to provide. In April 1618,

for example, ill-provisioned militia forces that had been hastily organized in Chiquimula

and Acasaguastlin spent a brief but miserable time reinforcing the Caribbean garrison

after three alien ships were sighted in the Golfo Dulce.5

2Pardo, Efemerides, 29-30; Fuentes y Guzmin, Recordaci6nflorida, 3:419-420.
The danger Drake posed was even greater toward the southern reaches of the audiencia
of Guatemala, closer to Panamanian transshipment points for Peruvian silver. In 1579,
he seized a ship bound from Costa Rica to Panama bearing sarsaparilla and other Central
American products. See MacLeod, Spanish CentralAmerica, 407, note 11.

3Alvarez-Lobos Villatoro and Toledo Palomo, Libro de los Pareceres, 99-100.

'See letter of 29 August 1595 from Comendador Carranza to cabildo of Santiago
de Guatemala, and letters of 18 May 1606 from cabildo of Santiago to Crown, in
"Colecci6n de documentos antiguos," 434-436, 372-381, esp. 374, 376. See also
Colecci6n de documentos in~ditos de ultramar, 2-d series, 17 (Madrid: Tipografia de la
"Rev. de Archivos, Bibliotecas y Museos," 1925), 235-238; Fuentes y Guzman,
Recordaci6nflorida, 3:419-420.

5Audiencia (?) a la Corona, 1619 (?), AGI, Guatemala, 14, R.3, N.47, ff.8-20v.


The actions taken to enlist blacks and mulattos during the 1640s, though, marked

a significant shift in the audiencia's defense policy. Avendahio's decision to form

military units from among the African-descended population indicated the gravity with

which the renewed foreign threat was taken in the wake of recent Spanish reverses on

the global front.6 Previously, militia duty had been the province of local encomenderos--

whose obligations included the maintenance of martial skills and equipment--and

eventually of espaholes in general.' While blacks and mulattos, both slave and free, had

participated in earlier efforts to defend the colony,' they had never before been explicitly

organized to do so by the Crown's representatives.

Significantly, Avendaiio was endeavoring to pacify once and for all a last maroon

redoubt near the Golfo Dulce at the same time as many of the rest of Guatemala's free

6Sixty years of Spanish rule in Portugal concluded in 1640, for example, while
Spanish sovereignty over the rebellious (and rich) Netherlands--long ended in all but the
most formal sense--would cease officially in 1648. See J.H. Elliott, Spain and its World,
1500-1700: Selected Essays (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), 126-133.

7The Spanish Crown relied almost entirely on local militias to defend its
American possessions until the implementation of the Bourbon reforms in the latter half
of the eighteenth century. See Lyle N. McAllister, The 'Fuero Militar' in New Spain,
1764-1800 (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1957), 1-3.

'Blacks and mulattos, both slave and free, were rewarded for their participation
in a battle with the French privateers who burned Puerto Caballos in 1595. In 1615,
Garcia Serrano claimed to have commanded and provisioned a force of 30 espaholes,
300 Indian bowmen, and 150 "negros mulatos y mestizos." The expeditionary force
gathered for duty in the Golfo Dulce in 1618 included at least five armed slaves. See
Colecci6n de documentos injditos, 17:237; Alvarez-Lobos Villatoro and Toledo
Palomo, Libro de los Pareceres, 99-100; Audiencia (?) a la Corona, 1619 (?), AGI,
Guatemala, 14, R.3, N.47, f. Ov.

blacks and mulattos were being enlisted for military duty.' This parallel development

serves nicely to represent the partial transition underway by the mid-seventeenth century

in the position of people of African descent within colonial Guatemalan society. There

would be few further efforts to establish communities entirely outside the confines of that

society, owing in part to a drastic reduction after the 1630s in the forced immigration of

African slaves--social outsiders par excellence. The opening of militia ranks to free

blacks and mulattos, meanwhile, signaled expanded social opportunity and increased

potential for the heightening of individual status,"0 even if military service was frequently

onerous and often resented.

But the colonial racial hierarchy would continue to constrain the mobility of

people defined by African descent, ordering in important ways their relations with

Spaniards, Indians, and mestizos. Since that hierarchy was built in Guatemala primarily

on the labor of the indigenous majority, however, the categories ranged around its

middle reaches would grow ever more permeable. Such classificatory fluidity would

arise in part from the increasingly mulato rather than negro status of the African-

descended population, a demographic development flowing in substantial measure out of

the near-absence of slave imports during much of the later seventeenth century.

9See Chapter 2.

'In the 1640s, companies ofgente parda--free blacks and mulattos--emerged in
the capital as well as in the districts mentioned above. See Lutz, Santiago, 43.


It would be inaccurate, nevertheless, to argue that the abstract distinctions made

under the Spanish colonial sistema de castas lost all social meaning during this period.

Guatemala was not, by 1700, a society divided between indos and ladinos, as is often

presumed. Instead, as succeeding chapters demonstrate, there was underway a process

tending slowly in the direction of the elimination of substantive distinctions based on

origin among those groups that were defined neither as indigenous tributaries nor as

espaoles. This process occurred in a social context in which the majority of the casta

population was defined categorically as mulato, not mestizo. African origin remained

both clearly evident and a phenomenon requiring explicit classification. Before

proceeding to an examination of the demographic and social contours of the African-

descended population within that context, though, a closer exploration of the colonial

racial hierarchy's classificatory terminology, and the effectiveness of measures taken by

the Spanish Crown and the audiencia of Guatemala to enforce distinctions based on

origin, is in order. I pay particular attention here to the social meanings of the terms

mestizo and mulato, and to seventeenth-century usages of the word ladino, a term of

extraordinary historical significance in Guatemala.

From Black to Mestizo?

In Lapatria del criollo, a provocative interpretation of Guatemala's colonial

history which remains widely influential three decades after it was first published,

""Este libro es fundamental para nosotros!" a bookstore owner in Guatemala
City informed me when I purchased my own copy of it a few years ago.

Severo Martinez PelAez argued that the Spanish colonial sistema de castas was little

more than a fig leaf obscuring an incipient, class-based social order. In particular,

Martinez Pelaez claimed that the distinctions based on origin which held sway in theory

under the sistema de castas did not, in reality, carry social meaning among the various

groups constituting what he termed the capas medics, or middle sectors, of colonial

Guatemalan society. Such divisions as existed among those people who fell into the

capas medias, he said, "had absolutely nothing to do with the formulation of their ethnic

mixture, but only with their economic situation." "It would be the same," he went on,

"to call them mestizos, mulatos, pardos, castas, or ladinos."'2

This argument was not without merit, and indeed has had many echoes elsewhere

in colonial historiography.3 It suffered in the context of colonial Guatemala from at

least two major flaws, however. First, Martinez Peliez relied on claims made in early

nineteenth-century documents for much of his discussion of early colonial population

history,'4 in fact consulting only one seventeenth-century source with any frequency:

12Martinez Peliez, La patria del criollo, 340-341.

"See, for example, the debate which raged over the importance of "estate"
versus "class" in late-colonial Oaxaca in the pages of Comparative Studies in Society
and History during the late 1970s and early 1980s, including John K. Chance and
William B. Taylor, "Estate and Class in a Colonial City: Oaxaca in 1792," CSSH 19, no.
4 (1977): 454-487; Robert McCaa, Stuart B. Schwartz and Arturo Grubessich, "Race
and Class in Colonial Latin America: A Critique," and Chance and Taylor's reply, CSSH
21, no. 3 (1979): 421442; and Patricia Seed and Philip F. Rust, "Estate and Class in
Colonial Oaxaca Revisited," with McCaa and Schwartz' response, and rejoinder by Seed
and Rust, in CSSH 25, no. 4 (1983): 703-724.
S4Martinez Peliez, La patria del criollo, 276, 316, 709 note 48.

Francisco Antonio de Fuentes y Guzmin's Recordaci6nflorida. Second, and more

telling, despite his avowed assertion that "ethnic" labels were meaningless, he sought

almost uniformly--except in the case of individuals defined explicitly as negro--to impose

the term mestizo on those sectors of the colonial population defined neither as Spanish

nor as indigenous. That he did so in the face of his own frank acknowledgment that

people of African origins had been important social players in colonial Guatemala during

the seventeenth century," and to the point of arguing with and even altering the use of

terms such as mulato and pardo in documents so as to accord more closely with his

desired understanding,6 undermined seriously his stance of indifference to classification

by origin.

Despite these flaws, Lapatria del criollo actually underscores the importance of

the African presence in early colonial Guatemala. Martinez Pelaez correctly noted, for

example, that it was not uncommon to encounter black slaves in positions of authority

over indigenous workers during the seventeenth century, a finding belying the received

notion that the former occupied the lowest rung on the social ladder.'7 Subsequently,

"See, for example, Martinez Peliez, Lapatria del criollo, 434.

6For example, when presenting excerpts from documents containing the terms
mulato orpardo, Martinez Peliez almost without fail suggested that mestizo or ladino
would have been more properly employed. See Martinez Peliez, Lapatria del criollo,
187-188, 194, 338, 698 note 43, 718 note 214, 770 note 32.

"7This observation also poses a problem--according to the logic of the racial
hierarchy--for Martinez Peliez' own claim that blacks were"ya muy pocos" in the
eighteenth century because they had been "absorbed" into the indigenous population.
See Martinez Peliez, Lapatria del criollo, 276-277. Succeeding chapters will show the

however, many scholars relying on this work's portrait of colonial Guatemala ignored

entirely the evidence it contains of a significant black sector worthy of further study,

while adopting wholeheartedly the book's general assignment of the colonial African

background to irrelevance."8 Prominent historians from both within and outside of

Guatemala have written confidently that mulato must have carried the meaning of

mestizo during the colonial period, because blacks were clearly few in number.9

The most significant exception to the above trend is contained in Christopher

Lutz's thorough demographic analysis of Central America's colonial capital. Based on

extensive archival investigation, Lutz's work reveals beyond any doubt the presence in

large numbers of negros and mulatos--both slave and free--in seventeenth-century

Santiago de Guatemala.2" Lutz also outlines clearly the existence during this period of

particular applicability to colonial Guatemala of James Lockhart's suggestion that
"[w]ithin Spanish American society overall, 'slave,' aside from some obvious
disadvantages, was a rather middling role." See James Lockhart, "Social Organization
and Social Change in Colonial Spanish America," in Leslie Bethell, ed., Cambridge
History of Latin America, vol.2 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 278.

8Thus replicating the traditional portrait of colonial society drawn, for example,
in a Guatemalan textbook which mentioned the African presence only to indicate that it
"was extremely slight." See J. Daniel Contreras R., Breve historia de Guatemala, 2' ed.
(Guatemala: Editorial "Jos6 de Pineda Ibarra," 1961), 56.

9Arturo Taracena Arriola, "El vocablo 'Ladino' en Guatemala (S.XVI-XIX)," in
Jorge Luj in Mufioz, Historiay antropologia de Guatemala: ensayos en honor de J.
Daniel Contreras R. (Guatemala: Universidad de San Carlos, 1982), 89-104, esp. 97-98;
David McCreery, Rural Guatemala 1760-1940 (Stanford: Stanford University Press,
1994), 7.

2Lutz, Santiago, esp. Chapter 4.

legal, hierarchical divisions between mestizos and mulatos, including the fact that only

the latter owed the alternative tribute known as the laborio.2" His work thus provides an

excellent starting point for refuting the notion that mestizo and mulato were much

confused during this period in terms of meaning. Categorization by the former carried

significant benefits with relation to the latter, and encouraged, if anything, division rather

than amalgamation.

Lutz appears, nonetheless, to support the notion that an inexorably biological

process of mestizaje rapidly undermined distinctions between mulatos libres and

mestizos. He claims the two groups were already lumped together as ladinos in the

capital by the 1670s.22 The dictates of biology thus apparently sufficed--in a city where

residents of differing origins formed unions with relative ease--to undermine rather

quickly the Spanish desire to maintain hierarchical distinctions among castas.

This view has much to recommend it. Given that imports of African slaves

dwindled after the 1630s, and that those imported, as elsewhere, were disproportionately

male,' the eventual dominance of the African-descended population by persons of plural

21Lutz, Santiago, 253-254. The laborio is explored in detail below.

22Lutz, Santiago, 95.

23Leslie B. Rout, Jr., The African Experience in Spanish America: 1502 to the
Present Day (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976), 71-72. A 1613 inspection
of the slaveship Nuestra Seflora de Nazar6n at Santo Tomis de Castilla, for example,
revealed a "cargo" from Angola of 97 men and boys and 39 women and girls. The
inventory of the GonzAlez Donis, or "Anis," ingenio done in 1630 reveals both that men
outnumbered women more than two to one, and that there were more criollas than
criollos. See AGCA, A3.5. 67. 1291. (1613); A1.20. 536. ff.296v.-302 (1630).

descent seemed assured. Increasingly of free status as a result of birth to non-slave

mothers, manumission, and other factors, the subsuming of mulattos within a larger

group of mixed ancestry as the black population declined was perhaps inevitable.

Working against this "natural" process, however, was the existence of the

Spanish racial hierarchy--a product of conscious policy, not biology. No one was born in

colonial Guatemala with the innate understanding that he or she was mulato/a, mestizo/a,

or any of the other "racial" categories employed by the Spaniards.24 Furthermore, the

use of categories other than "Spaniard" was intended clearly to exclude individuals from

social privilege.25 As long as legal disabilities were distributed and enforced differentially

among various categories of non-espaholes, the racial hierarchy retained a certain

capacity for organizing and reinforcing social divisions.26

There is little question, of course, that by the mid-seventeenth century the

ancestral origins of individuals whose great-grandparents may already have been of

24Theodore Allen argues in discussing seventeenth-century Virginia that identities
like "white" and "black" were learned, or more exactly, taught. See Allen, Invention, 19.

25For another argument along this line, see Jack D. Forbes, Black Africans and
Native Americans: Color, Race and Caste in the Evolution of Red-Black Peoples
(Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1988), 269.

26Significantly, Lutz himself provides evidence to contradict his suggestion that
an amorphous ladino population emerged rapidly in Santiago. He alludes, for example,
to "countless seventeenth- and eighteenth-century historical references to a sizable free
mulatto population." See Lutz, Santiago, 281 note 30. Douglas Cope suggests that the
sistema de castas was also rapidly decaying at this time in seventeenth-century Mexico
City--demographically similar in many ways to Santiago--owing to a certain "plebeian"
solidarity. His argument weighs heavily, though, on the proto-revolutionary nature of a
1692 riot, which remains, I think, to be proven. See Cope, Limits, esp. Chapter 7.

plural descent were no longer as clear as they might have been among members of the

first post-contact generations. Indeed, as seen below, the arbitrary and ambiguous

nature of efforts to classify humans on the basis of origin was on full display by this

point in Spanish colonial history. Classificatory confusion hardly negated the social

ramifications of the designations that were made, however. Definition as mulato or

mulata, for example, carried specific social consequences, even if those consequences

were sometimes successfully avoided.

The Byzantine nature of the Spanish colonial system of social classification is

infamous, so the first order of business here must be to indicate which of its categories

were actually used with any frequency in seventeenth-century Guatemala.27 There were

eight: espaiol/a,8 mestizo/a, mulato/a libre, negroia libre, mulato/a esclavo/a, negro/a

27The Church's Third Mexican Provincial Council, held in 1585, produced a
schema of human classification listing 22 different categories of"mixture." The official
published account of the Council's proceedings was made available in Guatemala in
1623. See Agustin Estrada Monroy, Datos para la historia de la iglesia en Guatemala,
vol. 1, Biblioteca "Goathemala" 26 (Guatemala: Sociedad de Geografia e Historia,
1972), 195, 264. For examples of the classificatory regimes which supposedly held sway
in New Spain and Peru during the eighteenth century--containing sixteen and fourteen
categories, respectively--see Mrmer, Race Mixture, 58-59.
28The distinction between criollo and peninsular--American-born espaholes
versus those from Iberia--was rarely made in seventeenth-century Guatemalan sources,
except in the context of disputes over leadership in religious orders. A claim by Amos
Megged that a distinct criollo identity was emerging by 1600 is seriously undermined by
Megged's reading of the criollo category into documents in which it does not appear, as
well as by his contradictory assertions to the effect that criollos both identified closely
with mestizos, blacks, and Indians, and shunned such identification in favor of definition
as Spaniards. The latter attitude, in fact, prevailed. Interestingly, the category espahol
europeo was used commonly in seventeenth-century Antequera, Oaxaca, in southern
New Spain. See Amos Megged, "The Rise of Creole Identity in Early Colonial

esclavo/a, indio/a laborio/a, and indio/a tributarioia.29 The word ladino was also

important in a social sense, but is left aside for the moment. A final term needing

attention from among the bewildering array of classifications employed in theory is

zambo.3 A designation of individuals of African and Indian descent, it was hardly used

in Guatemala. Mulato, instead, was applied to all persons assumed to be of partial

African descent, although the meaning of zambo given here was clearly understood, a

point demonstrated below."

Guatemala: Differential Patterns in Town and Countryside," in Social History 17, no. 3
(1992): 421-440; John K. Chance, Race and Class in Colonial Oaxaca (Stanford:
Stanford University Press, 1978), 126.

9The social ramifications of identification on the basis of the categories listed
also varied by gender, a phenomenon explored later in this and subsequent chapters.

3Sambo, zambahigo.

31The eight primary categories mentioned in this paragraph were used especially
insistently in informaciones matrimoniales dating from the latter half of the seventeenth
century, and held in the AHA. For further explanation of these sources, see Chapters 4
and 5. Other categories showing up from time to time between the late sixteenth and
early eighteenth centuries included moreno/a, loro/a, and pardo/a. The first two
generally appeared as synonyms for negro/a, and the third as an approximation of
mulato/a. See AGCA, A1.56. 5355. 45246 (1593); A1.43.6071. 54671 (1605); A1.15.
4092. 32461. ff.7, 19-20v. (1605); Al.29.2.2327. 17286 (1623); Al.29.2. 2610. 21509
(1676); Al.15. 5905. 50092 (1678); A1.56. 2453. 18943 (1693); A1.56. 5357. 45265
(1701);A3.16.2812. 40737(1702). See also AHA, A4.16, T4 1.11:233 (1671). On
similar usages ofpardo and moreno in Cuba and New Spain, see "Consulta del Consejo
de las Indias sobre que V.M. podria servirse de dispensar que en el presidio de La
Habana se sienten plazas de soldados a cuatro pardos mulatos" (1671), in Konetzke, ed.,
Colecci6n de documentos, 2, bk. 2:565-566; Naveda ChAvez-Hita, "Los estudios
afromexicanos," 134-135.

The categories mentioned above, not surprisingly, bled into each other, some

more than others. If the classic dichotomy of Spaniard and Indian reflected the most

abiding social chasm existing in colonial Guatemalan society, black and mulatto slaves

were far less distinguishable in terms of general social status. Indeed, all of the

categories other than Spaniard and tributary Indian--with the exception, perhaps, of the

aforementioned slaves--might easily be collapsed into a single broad one designated

imperfectly by the term casta.32 But such a move makes little sense for the seventeenth

century. As I have argued already, this period was marked by historical processes

tending, at best, in the direction of a tripartite social structure.

What factors, then, ensured the translation into colonial Guatemalan social reality

of theoretical divisions between mestizo and mulato, for example, and how effective

were these? One important source of division among castas was the alternative tribute

called the laborio.33 This tax was levied in theory on persons defined as negros libres,

mulatos libres, and indios laborios34 from the 1570s on, but never on mestizos. An

32The classic exposition of this move is McAllister, "Social Structure," passim.
Martinez Peliez' "capas medias" perform much the same function.

33On the origins of the laborio as levied against negros and mulatos libres, see
Libro VII, titulo quinto, ley primera, "Que los Negros, y Negras, Mulatos, y Mulatas
libres paguen tributo al Rey" (1574), and Libro VII, titulo quinto, ley tercera, "Que los
Mulatos,y negros libres vivan con amos conocidos, para que se puedan cobrar sus
tributos" (1577), in Recopilaci6n de leyes de los Reynos de las Indias, 4 vols. (Madrid:
Ediciones Cultura Hispinica, 1973), 2:285-285v.; AGCA, A1.24. 2245. 16190 (1585);
A1.22. 1513. f.719 (1591); Garcia Peliez, Memorias, 2:30; M6rner, La corona, 96.

'From the Caribbean naboria. In colonial Guatemala, the term was originally
applied to personal indigenous servants tied to Spanish households rather than Indian

important reservation concerning the laborio is that it is generally held to have been

collected sporadically, at best, and hence insignificant.3 Unquestionably, nothing

approaching consistent and full records of its payment seems to exist.' There are

scattered references to amounts collected in the nineteenth-century history of Garcia

Pelaez, which notes laborio payments totalling 2,568 tostones registered in a libro de

caja from 1679, and a record as late as 1729 of 500 tostones "procedentes de morenos

de la provincia de Suchitep6quez."37 But even if collected regularly, the laborio's

communities, and eventually to all individuals defined as Indian who were not on the
tribute rolls of an indigenous community. Laborio/a was used interchangeably with
naborio/a in seventeenth-century documents.

"See, for example, Michel Bertrand, "La tierra y los hombres: la sociedad rural
en Baja Verapaz durante los siglos XVI al XIY," in Stephen Webre, ed., La sociedad
colonial en Guatemala: estudios regionalesy locales (Antigua: Centro de
Investigaciones Regionales de Mesoamnrica, 1989), 163. Bertrand errs in claiming that
mestizos as well as mulattos owed tribute, but then royal authorities were not themselves
always clear on this point. See decree of 29 November 1674, "Para que el virrey y
audiencia de M6xico informen sobre las 6rdenes en cuya virtud ejecutan la tasaci6n de
tributarios solo en los indios y mulatos y no en los mestizos," in Konetzke, ed.,
Colecci6n de documentos, 2, bk. 2:610-611.

36On early efforts to collect the laborio in Guatemala, see the reference to a 1611
order (a reference conflating the laborio with the servicio del tost6n, a one tost6n levy
tacked onto tribute payments to cover the costs of collection), in Pardo, Efemirides, 84-
86; "Libro y cuademo de los yndios mulatos y negros fibres naborios que en
conformidad de lo dispuesto y mandado por su magestad se empadronan en el partido de
quealtenango" (1613), AGCA. Al.24. 2801. 40502, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-
Day Saints (hereafter LDS) microfilm 0747059. On similar collection efforts elsewhere
in Spanish America, see royal decree of 27 July, 1627, "Que los negros y mulatos fibres
paguen tributo," in Konetzke, ed., Colecci6n de documentos, 2, bk. 1:306; Escobedo
Mansilla, "El tributo," passim; Bowser, The African Slave, 121.
37Garcia Pelaez, Memorias, 2:30, 36. Citations from AGCA documents kindly
provided to me by Franz Binder suggest that a concerted study of laborio payment

proceeds would have been dwarfed by the revenues produced for the Crown by

indigenous communities. There is, nevertheless, a good deal of evidence other than

actual records of payment to suggest that this tribute mattered to those required by law

to pay it, to individuals claiming to be mestizos, and to royal officials charged with the

collection of Crown revenues.

When, for instance, a free mulatto named Francisco de Sosa was charged in 1631

with assaulting a royal official, his legal representative drew up a list of questions for

prospective witnesses to answer which included a statement alleging Sosa's good

character, propensity for hard work, and regular payment of the "tributo de naborio" he

owed.38 Eleven years later, Matheo Hernandez, mulato fibre of San Diego de la

Gomera, complained that the alcalde of his town was trying to extort a bribe from him in

return for relief from the laborio. Hernandez asserted that he had always paid the tribute

despite the fact that he no longer even owed it, being about 70 and thus some fifteen

years past the age of exemption.9 In fact, the laborio was perhaps nowhere more

relevant than in the town of San Diego, whose largely black and mulatto residents would

records might turn up more substantial sums than previously thought.
3AGCA, Al.15. 4109. 32564.

39AGCA, A1.24. 1559. 10203. ff458-458v. (1642).


argue in 1700 that disputed saltpans they had long worked had been granted to them on

the town's founding to facilitate its payment.'

The clearest evidence that the laborio was not entirely irrelevant in colonial

Guatemalan life is provided in petitions for relief from it made by militia units of color

during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. These petitions are examined

in detail toward the end of this dissertation, but it will suffice here to note that audiencia

officials concerned with falling revenues strenuously opposed them almost without fail.

Crown officials, it seems, would not easily be persuaded to give up any potential sources

of revenue, however poor the record of collection. The case of Matheo Hernandez,

mentioned above, is instructive in this regard. He was forced to make the trip to the

capital and appear before the audiencia in person so that its members could determine

for themselves whether or not he was old enough to be exempted from tribute.4

Royal officials in Spain itself also turned their attention to the laborio from time

to time during the seventeenth century. A particularly striking example of this interest

arose out of a complaint sent to Spain in 1681 by Don Ger6nimo Chac6n Abarca, an

oidor in Santiago de Guatemala. Chac6n alleged that mulatto militia captains charged

with collecting the laborio from communities in and around the capital went armed door

to door, threatening residents, in an effort to extract the Crown's revenue. In an

"'Testimonio de los Autos Proveydos ... en favor de los Mulatos de la Villa de

San Diego de la Gomera, 1700," AGI, Guatemala, 285.

41AGCA, A1.24. 1559. 10203. ff.458-458v.


especially notorious incident, these officers had broken the arm of one hapless individual.

On complaining of mistreatment to the authorities, the victim had been thrown in jail.42

Responding to Chac6n's letter in 1682, the Crown made its primary concern

clear. It ordered that an officer of the peace and a treasury official be appointed to

collect the laborio directly, and in the most benign manner possible. This course of

action would ensure that those who owed the tribute paid it without rancor and, more

important, with "utmost punctuality." The Crown also mandated punishment for the

offending militia officers, who had apparently met until then with nothing but solid

approval for their abusive tactics. Other efforts to mend tattered relations with potential

taxpayers included a ban henceforth on the employment of mulattos in tribute collection.

This signaled apparent agreement with the assessment of the oidor--appropriately

justifying Spanish attempts to arrange society hierarchically according to ancestry--that

the mulato captains were "impudent and discourteous by nature."'

Of course, the existence of mulatto militia captains in late seventeenth century

Guatemala suggests that the incorporation of free people of African descent into militias

during the 1640s had indeed increased their opportunities for social mobility. Such

evidence of actual colonial practice indicates clearly that ongoing efforts by the Crown to

42AGCA, A1.23. 4587. 39540. ff. 106v-108v. (1682).

43AGCA, A1.23. 4587. 39540. ff 106v-108v. Emphasis added. Continued royal
concern over the collection of the laborio extended beyond Guatemala. See decree of
31 December 1674, "A la audiencia de Guadalajara que ponga todo cuidado en que se
continue la paga del empadronaniento de los mulatos y negros libres," in Konetzke, ed.,
Coleccirn de documents, 2, bk. 2:613-614.

restrict the activities of blacks and mulattos--by prohibiting them, for example, from

carrying weapons"--were increasingly meaningless in the face of contrary Spanish needs.

On the other hand, militia service, like the laborio, provided a specific area of practice in

which hierarchical distinctions were drawn between mulattos and mestizos. Mestizos

often served with companies of gente espai~ola. These units were segregated from ones

whose troops were identified with terms such as gente parda or gente de color. In the

early 1680s, for instance, the corregimiento of Guazacapan was able to muster three

militia companies: one whose 150 members were listed as espaboles and mestizos, and

two others totaling 250 men described as mulatos and gente parda.4" In 1700,

meanwhile, one Andr~s Graviel of Santiago de Guatemala complained that he was being

harassed to pay the laborio even though he was "known as a mestizo'" and had marched

"See Libro VII, titulo quinto, ley 15, "Que los Negros, y Loros, libres, 6
esclavos, no traigan armas"(155 1); Libro VII, titulo quinto, ley 14, "Que los Mulatos, y
Zambaigos no traigan armas, y los Mestizos las puedan traer con licencia" (1568), in
Recopilaci6n, 2:287; real cdula of 4 April, 1628, "Que los ministros de las Indias no
den licencia para traer negros con armas" in Konetzke, ed., Coleccidn de documentos, 2,
bk. 1:317; reference to ordinance of 8 April 1634 forbidding mulattos, free blacks, and
mestizos from carrying swords or knives in Santiago de Guatemala, in Pardo,
Efemirides, 51; and 1663 order reminding colonists of earlier prohibitions on the
possession of weapons by "slaves, mulattos, and mestizos," in AGCA, A1.23. 1519.
10074. ff. 108-108v. (1663).
45"Raz6n," AGI, Contaduria, 815, ff.32v. See also Stephen Webre, "Las
compaiiias de milicia y la defensa del istmo centroamericano en el siglo XVII: el
alistamiento general de 1673," Mesoamrica 14 (1987): 511-529, esp. 518. In at least
one district, Chiquimula de la Sierra, mulattos and mestizos apparently served together.
The significance of this circumstance emerges in Chapters 4 and 7.

as such for 16 years in the barrio of Santo Domingo's militia company of gente


Given the benefits of definition as mestizo over mulato, it is not surprising to

encounter examples of individuals claiming membership in the former category even as

other people, often representing the opposing side in criminal or civil disputes, suggested

that they fell into the latter. During an effort in the 1690s by one Juan de Cirdenas to

have his daughter Catalina absolved of any obligation to pay either regular tribute or the

laborio, Cirdenas insistently referred to both his wife and himself as mestizos. The

Indian alcaldes of the neighborhood of San Geronimo in Santiago, and the various

witnesses the alcaldes called, just as insistently called Cardenas a mulato libre and his

wife an india tributaria.47

CGraviel's argument evidently made sense to the audiencia. It supported his
petition. See AGCA, A2.5-1. 295. 6534 (1700).
47AGCA, A3.16. 2812. 40737 (1702). Similar cases of auto-identification as
mestizo/a contradicted by definition as mulato/a by others may be found in Martha Blair
Few, "Mujeres de Mal Vivir: Gender, Religion, and the Politics of Power in Colonial
Guatemala, 1650-1750" (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Arizona, 1997), 120 note 22.
Further illustrations of popular understanding of the racial hierarchy's logic include the
1660 case of Joseph de Meza, a muleteer charged with attempting to kill his wife while
inebriated. Meza called himself an espahol, and his wife a mulata libre, but Spanish
artisans witnessing against him labeled them both mestizo/a. In 1701, meanwhile, Bias
de Santiago stood accused of stealing from Santiago's Oratorio de Nuestra Sefiora del
Patrocinio while employed as sexton. The formal complaint identified him as a mulatto,
but a witness who claimed Santiago owed her money called him an Indian. See AGCA
A1.56. 2453. 18930 (1660); A2.2. 137. 2481 (1701).


That the relationship between the categories mestizo and mulatto was hierarchical

in nature is underscored by the absence of evidence indicating that persons defined as

mestizo ever sought identification as mulattos. That many mulattos may actively have

pursued classification as mestizos, however, does not entail the rapid "disappearance" of

populations identified by African descent either in colonial Guatemala or elsewhere in

Spanish America, as is often intimated.48 Indeed, the present dissertation demonstrates

that despite ongoing and undoubtedly significant movement out of the mulatto category,

individuals identified as mulatos actually far outnumbered those called mestizos in

Guatemala until at least 1701, nearly two hundred years after the Spanish first arrived.

Nor does an imprecise suggestion made by Christopher Lutz that parish priests

"increasingly omitted racial designations from parish registers altogether" during the late

seventeenth century give a proper sense of the timing or the magnitude of this

development.49 Lutz is absolutely right that the phenomenon occurred, but leaves the

impression, perhaps unwittingly, that it had undermined traditional efforts at

classification well before the eighteenth century. His own data from the capital

contradict that impression.5" And evidence that I have taken from 674 informaciones

8See, for example, Aguirre Beltrin, Lapoblaci6n negra, 278; Wendy Kramer,
W. George Lovell, and Christopher H. Lutz, "La conquista espafiola de Centroamerica,"
in Pinto Soria, ed., Historia General de Centroamirica, 2:87.

49Lutz, Santiago, 95.

5See columns for Other/Unidentified under the Marriage Tables in Appendix 1 in
Lutz, Santiago, 177-206.