Indigenous slavery in Spanish America

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In general slavery was illegal in Spain or Spanish territories, the main exception being Muslims taken during the Reconquista. The enthusiasm of Columbus for the slave trade was rejected by Isabella and Ferdinand, the Spanish monarchs;[1] a degree issued in 1500 by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella specifically forbade enslavement of natives; however, there were three exceptions which were freely used by colonial Spanish authorities to evade the prohibition: Cannibals (Caribs, one target population, practiced ceremonial cannibalism); those taken in "just wars"; and slaves purchased from other indigenous people.[2] The need for slave labor first arose in the placer gold deposits of Cibao on Hispaniola. After the natives of Hispaniola were worked to death using the encomienda system the other islands of the Caribbean were scoured for slaves. A shortage of labor resulting from a Smallpox epidemic in 1518 resulted in an intensified search.[3] By 1521 the islands of the northern Caribbean, such as the Bahamas inhabited by the peaceful Taíno people, were for the most part depopulated.[4] The pearl fisheries on the coast of Venezuela was another activity which had a high attrition rate.[5]

In 1542, urged on by Friar Bartolomé de Las Casas, author of A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies[6] Charles I of Spain enacted the New Laws. By its terms it declared Indians free vassals, but, in practical terms, only made it more difficult to own and exploit slaves. Despite being technically illegal, slavery continued in Spanish America for centuries.[7] On one hand the courts were instructed to "put special care in the good treatment and conservation of the Indians", to remain informed of any abuses committed against Indians, and "to act quickly and without delaying maliciously as has happened in the past";[8] on the other hand, "... Spanish masters resorted to slight changes in terminology, gray areas, and subtle reinterpretations to continue to hold Indians in bondage."[9]

Gregorio López, one of the supporters of the New Laws, was appointed to the Council of the Indies in 1543 and undertook attempts to free the Indian slaves of Seville.[10] Over 100 cases of Indians seeking freedom, not all successfully,[11] are in the legal archives of Seville.[12] Masters often contested attempts by slaves to obtain freedom; the cases could drag on for years, meanwhile, the slaves had nowhere to go and often remained in the service of their master and sometimes faced mistreatment.[11] The use of Indian slaves in Spain itself died out by the early 17th Century.[13]

In Mexico, Peru, and other parts of Spanish America indigenous slaves were much more important economically and beneficiaries of the system were much more resilient and resourceful; indigenous slavery continued for centuries.[14][15] In Peru the Spanish emissary sent to enforce the New Laws was murdered and beheaded.[16] In Mexico the Spanish emissary, Francisco Tello de Sandoval, a member of the Spanish Inquisition and the Council of the Indies, agreed to suspend the laws and appeal to the King. Some concessions were made, the encomiendas were expanded, but the basic law was not modified.[17]

Spanish movement north after discovery of vast deposits of silver[18] in the desert regions north of the conquered Aztec Empire resulted in wars with the unconquered tribes of that region. The first, the Mixtón War, was a serious struggle, but the Spanish prevailed with the help of 10s of thousands of Aztec allies. The second, the Chichimeca War, did not go well. Spanish troops were over-matched by vast numbers of naked native warriors using obsidian tipped arrows, and the treasury was exhausted by the struggle, and in the end troops were withdrawn and a peace program was employed. In both instances the exception of "just war" was employed to take thousands of slaves.[19] Luis de Carvajal y de la Cueva, first governor of the New Kingdom of León, played a prominent role in the slave trade.[20] The silver deposits of Mexico were massive and were exploited for centuries by underground mining of hundreds of rich veins.

In Peru thousands of indigent workers were drafted to work in the silver mines of Potosí, Huancavelica, and Cailloma, a system that continued for 250 years.[21] In Chile Spanish occupation of the lands of the Mapuche was vigorously contested for 3 centuries in the Arauco War. The prescription against enslaving Indians was lifted by Philip III of Spain but resulted only in intensification of the conflict.[22] His son Philip IV of Spain changed course in the latter part of his reign and began restricting Mapuche slavery.[23] Philip IV died without freeing the indigenous slaves of Chile but his wife Mariana of Austria, serving as regent, and his son Charles II of Spain engaged in a broad anti-slavery campaign throughout the Spanish Empire.[24][25]

The anti-slavery campaign began with an order by Mariana of Austria in 1667 freeing all the Indian slaves in Peru that had been captured in Chile.[26] Her order was met with disbelief and dismay in Peru.[27] Without exception she freed the Indian slaves of Mexico in 1672.[28] After receiving a plea from the Pope she freed the slaves of the southern Andes.[29] On June 12, 1679 Charles II issued a general declaration freeing all indigenous slaves in Spanish America. In 1680 this was included in the Recopilación de las leyes de Indias, a codification of the laws of Spanish America.[30] The Caribes, "cannibals," were the only exception.[31] Governor Juan Enríquez of Chile resisted strongly, writing protests to the king and not publishing the decrees freeing indian slaves.[32] The royal anti-slavery crusade did not end indigenous slavery in Spain's American possessions, but, in addition to resulting in the freeing of thousands of slaves, it ended the involvement and facilitation by government officials of slaving by the Spanish; purchase of slaves remained possible but only from indigenous slaver such as the Caribs of Venezuela or the Comanches.[33]

Notes and references

  1. "Who is this Columbus who dares to give out my vassals as slaves?" Isabella and Ferdinand freed many Indians and, astonishingly, mandated that many of them be returned to the New World. Reséndez, Andrés. The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America (Kindle Locations 553–554). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
  2. Reséndez, Andrés. The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America (Kindle Locations 761–766).
  3. Reséndez, Andrés. The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America (Kindle Locations 804–812). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
  4. "The attackers literally carried off entire populations, leaving empty islands in their wake." Reséndez, Andrés. The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America (Kindle Locations 726–787).
  5. Reséndez, Andrés. The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America (Kindle Locations 595–597). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
  6. Reséndez, Andrés. The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America (Kindle Locations 836–838). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
  7. Reséndez, Andrés. The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America (Kindle Locations 849–856).
  8. Reséndez, Andrés. The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America (Kindle Locations 865–869). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
  9. "...Spanish masters resorted to slight changes in terminology, gray areas, and subtle reinterpretations to continue to hold Indians in bondage." Reséndez, Andrés. The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America (Kindle Locations 871–875). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
  10. Reséndez, Andrés. The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America (Kindle Locations 882-887). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Reséndez, Andrés. The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America (Kindle Locations 998–1006). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
  12. "The archives in Seville contain more than a hundred cases of Natives who had the courage to partner with Spanish attorneys and officials to sue their masters." Reséndez, Andrés. The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America (Kindle Locations 892-893). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
  13. Reséndez, Andrés. The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America (Kindle Locations 1089–1093). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
  14. "The Spanish crown also attempted to end Indian slavery in the New World, but the situation could not have been more different there. Indian slaves constituted a major pillar of the societies and economies of the Americas." Reséndez, Andrés. The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America (Kindle Locations 1094-1096). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
  15. "Thus a new regime emerged in the 1540s and 1550s, a regime in which Indians were legally free but remained enslaved through slight reinterpretations, changes in nomenclature, and practices meant to get around the New Laws." Reséndez, Andrés. The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America (Kindle Locations 1199-1200). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
  16. "In Peru a group of colonists murdered the official sent from Spain to enforce the laws and then decapitated him."Reséndez, Andrés. The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America (Kindle Locations 1187-1188). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
  17. "It was a major victory for slave owners. Encomiendas remained in existence for another century and a half, affecting tens of thousands of Indians. Other provisions of the New Laws were not suspended, however, and the crown continued to press for the abolition of Indian slavery in the New World." Reséndez, Andrés. The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America (Kindle Locations 1188-1198). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
  18. The development of silver mines in central and northern Mexico in the 1540s and 1550s had completely transformed the slave trade. Reséndez, Andrés. The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America (Kindle Locations 1387-1388). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
  19. Reséndez, Andrés. The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America (Kindle Locations 1507-1526). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
  20. "...because Indian slavery was illegal— made sure to exploit loopholes and elicit plenty of official protection. Frontier captains were ideally suited for this line of work, as the empire expanded prodigiously during the sixteenth century. For them, slavery was no sideline to warfare or marginal activity born out of the chaos of conquest. It was first and foremost a business involving investors, soldiers, agents, and powerful officials. Perhaps no one understood this better than Luis de Carvajal y de la Cueva,..." Reséndez, Andrés. The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America (Kindle Locations 1307-1617). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
  21. ...a gargantuan system of draft labor known as the mita, which required that more than two hundred Indian communities spanning a large area in modern-day Peru and Bolivia send one-seventh of their adult population to work in the mines of Potosí, Huancavelica, and Cailloma. In any given year, ten thousand Indians or more had to take their turns working in the mines. This state-directed system began in 1573 and remained in operation for 250 years. Reséndez, Andrés. The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America (p. 124). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
  22. "Philip III, had taken the drastic step of stripping the Mapuche Indians of the customary royal protection against enslavement in 1608, thus making Chile one of the few parts of the empire where slave taking was entirely legal." Reséndez, Andrés. The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America (pp. 127-128). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
  23. Philip requested a reassessment of the imperial policies in Chile and expressed his belief that slave taking had become the main obstacle to peace with the Mapuche Indians." Reséndez, Andrés. The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America (p. 128). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
  24. "...the king died before he could set the Indians of Chile free and discharge his royal conscience. But Philip was not alone in trying to make things right. His wife, Mariana, was thirty years younger than he, every bit as pious, and far more determined. The crusade to free the Indians of Chile, and those in the empire at large, gained momentum during Queen Mariana’s regency, from 1665 to 1675, and culminated in the reign of her son Charles II. Alarmed by reports of large slaving grounds on the periphery of the Spanish empire, they used the power of an absolute monarchy to bring about the immediate liberation of all indigenous slaves. Reséndez, Andrés. The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America (p. 128). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
  25. [They] took on deeply entrenched slaving interests, deprived the empire of much-needed revenue, and risked the very stability of distant provinces to advance their humanitarian agenda. They waged a war against Indian bondage that raged as far as the islands of the Philippines, the forests of Chile, the llanos (grasslands) of Colombia and Venezuela, and the deserts of Chihuahua and New Mexico. Reséndez, Andrés. The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America (pp. 128-129). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
  26. Queen Mariana brought renewed energy to the abolitionist crusade. If we had to choose an opening salvo, it would be the queen’s 1667 order freeing all Chilean Indians who had been taken to Peru. Her order was published in the plazas of Lima and required all Peruvian slave owners to “turn their Indian slaves loose at the first opportunity.” Reséndez, Andrés. The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America (p. 136). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
  27. When the viceroy of Peru learned of this order, he could not hide his disbelief. Reséndez, Andrés. The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America (p. 136). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
  28. In 1672 she freed the Indian slaves of Mexico, irrespective of their provenance or the circumstances of their enslavement. Reséndez, Andrés. The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America (p. 136). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
  29. [she} waited only a few weeks to respond, banning all forms of slavery in Chile. They extended the same prohibition to the Calchaquí Valleys on the other side of the Andes. The campaign to liberate the Indians had kicked into high gear. Reséndez, Andrés. The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America (pp. 136-137). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition
  30. Finally, on June 12, 1679, he issued a decree of continental scope: “No Indians of my Western Indies, Islands, and Mainland of the Ocean Sea, under any circumstance or pretext can be held as slaves; instead they will be treated as my vassals...." Reséndez, Andrés. The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America (p. 137). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
  31. As it turned out, they excluded two groups from their broad royal protection: the inhabitants of the island of Mindanao in the Philippines, “who have taken up the sect of Muhamad and are against our Church and empire,” and the Carib Indians, “who attack our settlements and eat human flesh.” Reséndez, Andrés. The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America (pp. 137-138). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
  32. Reséndez, Andrés. The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America (p. 142-144). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
  33. "The crusade also had a chilling effect on European slavers. For all of his reluctance to free the slaves, Governor Enríquez of Chile did issue orders prohibiting soldiers from launching slave raids and taking Indian captives after 1676." Reséndez, Andrés. The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America (pp. 146-147). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
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