Commentary No. 025
Date: 1528, March 30. Santo Domingo, La Española.
Theme: Authorities of La Española stressed the importance of enslaved Black labor and well-to-do colonists requested tax-free importing of slaves to avoid depopulation of the colony
Source: PARES, Portal de Archivos Españoles--Archivo General de Indias, PATRONATO,172,R.35.
By the Spring of 1528 La Española’s colonial authorities like the two judges that wrote this report were expressing acute concern for the shrinking numbers of Spanishcolonists that were staying permanently in the colony, which they attributed to a conquering and predatory mentality that led too many of the colonists to go only to places where there was an indigenous population that they could subject to forced labor for as long as it lasted. Since La Española’s Native American population was vanishing quickly, many Spanish colonists were leaving the island for other territories where there were still relatively large numbers of Amerindians.
The two officials found out that a number of the more well-to-do colonists were reportedly willing to invest their own resources in an initiative to repopulate La Española with new groups of fifty settlers, half Spaniards and half “blacks” and all of them “married with their wives” to form new villages, proposing to finance their trip from Spain as well as to provide them an allocation of provisions and animals to set up farms once arrived, with the only conditions that the Crown assigned them lands and allowed for the importing of equal numbers of “blacks” free-of-taxes that would be put to work for the newly arrived settlers. These socially powerful colonists also offered to a build a house for each settler and a stone-made church and a “fort-house” at each of the new settlements, all within five years.
More specifically, the proponents requested that the Crown allowed each settler a bring with them any equipment necessary for home or work and a license to import “one hundred blacks with their women” everything exempted from any tax.
Given that it was unlikely at the time that the kind of Spaniards likely to delve into the colonizing enterprise would have the resources to buy one-hundred slaves each, the proposal sounds, at least in part, as a possible way for the old settlers and would-be financiers of the operation to acquire more black slaves at a cheaper cost. But in either case, this shows how much economic importance the early colonial elite of La Española attributed to the labor of enslaved blacks.