Commentary No. 009
Date: 1505, September 15. Segovia, Spain
Theme: Order from the Spanish Crown to La Española’s Governor Nicolás de Ovando, agreeing to send more Black slaves and mandating the enslaved Blacks available in the colony to be put to work in the gold mines
Source: PARES, Portal de Archivos Españoles, Archivo General de Indias, INDIFERENTE, 418,L.1, F.180V-181V—1—Imagen Núm: 1/3
This document shows a number of situations that by September 1505 pertained to the population of Black African descent in La Española: 1) There were an undetermined number of Black slaves already working in the new colony. 2) Colonial governor of La Española Nicolás de Ovando, in a prior communication and for undetermined reasons, had abandoned his apprehensions about the presence or numbers of enslaved Blacks in the colony, having requested the Crown that more Black slaves be allowed into La Española. 3) The king of Spain wanted whatever slaves there were in the colony to be allocated to the local gold mining efforts. 4) The king had decided to send to La Española an additional one hundred Black slaves with the specific purpose of collecting gold for the Crown in the island’s mines. 5) The king ordered that a guard be assigned to accompany every ten slaves working in the mines and that his salary be withdrawn from the gold found. 6) The king wanted these mine slaves to be offered future manumission in exchange for an undetermined number or years of work, as a mechanism to encourage their productivity in the mining labor.
Altogether, this source shows that clearly by 1505 the Spanish Crown had decided to employ forced Black African labor to fulfill its paramount economic need for gold, and to implement the submission of Black laborers to colonial slavery through a combination of tight enforcement, in the form of overseers, and psychological manipulation, in the form of an explicit though vague promise of future manumission. Both strategies ultimately show how keenly aware those at the top o the Spanish empire were about how highly valued freedom was for the Black African population subjected to enslavement in La Española, both as an immediate status sought for in daily life, as well as a long-term cherished existential goal.