Commentary No. 028
Date: 1545, April 24. Valladolid, Spain.
Theme: The king orders that both existing non-Christian slaves as well as free non-Christian individuals with trades and already residing in La Española be allowed to stay in the colony, provided that an inventory is made of all of them, while no new people of this type should be permitted in the future.
Source: PARES, Portal de Archivos Españoles, Archivo General de Indias, SANTO_DOMINGO,868, L.2-238,Recto, 241,Recto, 241,Verso,243 Recto – Imagen Núm:475/766, 481/766, 482/766, 85/766
In a letter from the Spanish king (Charles V) in 1545 to two recently appointed judges-members of the Audiencia of Santo Domingo, oidores Cerrato and Grajeda, the king acknowledged having instructed them to publicize, as soon as they were to arrive in La Española, the royal order issued earlier by the Crown “so that Berber slaves and free persons descendants of newly converted Moors were sent to these kingdoms” (meaning the kingdom of Castille). The two judges had reported that they had issued a public call for all people of La Española fitting that profile to present themselves before the judges and in the process the judges “have found up to one hundred male and female slaves, aside from those existing further inside [the island].”
As per the same letter by the king, oidores Cerrato and Grajeda had also reported to him that the Council of the City of Santo Domingo (“la ciudad”) had expressed that the Crown’s order was more appropriate for other regions of the empire rather than La Española because in the said colony “there was little more than one hundred native Indians” only, and that “until now it has not been seen that any damage has resulted from its status.” The city council reportedly had also expressed that “those who were in that condition had arrived with explicit licenses of His Majesty and that they are married and with children and that those who are free persons affected by this are senior masons and carpenters and other trades and very beneficial for the peopling of the land, so that one thing and the other would be great damage.”
It seems obvious, then, from these comments in reaction to the royal order to expel the non-Christian population from La Española, that those in control of the city council did not have any major worries about the presence of individuals of Arab-Muslim origin in their local society, and that they understood they were socially integrated through their living in families and did an important contribution to the colony’s economy. In the face of this, the royal idea of removing them from La Española probably sounded like a senseless one. It could also be inferred that they probably felt concerned about the initiative to count the existing slaves proposed by Cerrato and Grajeda, for what it implied as interference upon, and potential control over, the access to such a basic economic resource of the most privileged sectors, which in part was replenished through its introduction via smuggling.
In any event, the king ordered the judges to allow the permanence in the colony of the slaves found there at the time the judges arrived, but also to make an inventory with the name of each slave and that of their respective owner so that they would be accountable for their slaves at any time, and making sure that no slave was taken out of the island to another place. As to “the free ones that you say there are, since they are married and have trades that are convenient for the population, you should let them reside in that island,” understanding that the ones that arrive secretly from then on will be subject to the prohibition and the prescribed penalties.