Commentary No. 027
Date: 1536, November 20. Valladolid.
Theme: The Spanish Crown authorized the two black slave servants of Santo Domingo’s fortress commander Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo to carry offensive and defensive weapons while walking next to him and not otherwise
Source: PARES, Portal de Archivos Españoles--Archivo General de Indias, SANTO_DOMINGO,868, L.1,F.14V-15R
There were growing worries harbored by many Iberian settlers in La Española during the sixteenth century regarding the disparity or imbalance between a black majority of the colony’s population (especially an enslaved blacks’ majority) and the predominantly Spanish white minority, and more concretely about the risks of black slaves’ rebellions. In spite of this, fortress’ commander and chronicler Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo seem to have developed some trust towards two of the black people that served him most directly.
According to this royal decree of November 1536, Fernández de Oviedo had petitioned the Crown to grant him an exception to the local ordinance that the authorities of La Española had issued prohibiting the carrying of offensive and defensive weapons by blacks in the colony. Fernández reportedly had argued that it was already a tradition in La Española for the commanders of Santo Domingo City’s fortress to have black body-guards that carried weapons.
The Spanish Crown responded positively to alcaide Fernández de Oviedo’s request, ordering the authorities of Santo Domingo to grant him a special permit that would allow his two guardian slaves to carry their weapons while on foot or while riding, provided they did so only while accompanying Fernández “and not otherwise.” The order also provided that Fernández payed a security deposit under the promise that the two black body guards “will not offend any person and that they will only carry them for the guarding and defending of his person [Fernández’s].”