Commentary No. 034
Date: 1545, April 24. Valladolid, Spain.
Theme: In a letter-instruction from Prince Phillip of Spain to a Crown’s envoy-auditor (and designated oidor) sent to Santo Domingo, the prince approved the selling to the City of eighteen (black) slaves owned by the Crown and the sending of a military squad to fight two groups of maroons roaming in La Española, both occurred the year before; recommended the issuing of ordinances regulating the treatment of slaves by masters; and okayed a local discussion about freeing or deporting ladino or creole enslaved blacks due to their fixation with obtaining liberty and their inclination to incite non-ladino slaves to rebel for it
Source: PARES, Archivo General de Indias, SANTO_DOMINGO,868,L.2-245 Recto–Imagen Núm:489/766
According to Spanish Prince Phillip in a letter written on April 24, 1545, royal envoy-auditor Alonso Cerrato sent to La Española had reported in a letter of September 1544 doing progress in fighting black maroons or rebel slaves in the colony. Two squads ‘captainships” (“capitanias”) or gangs of maroons were active at the time. The colonial government reportedly sent against them “a captain with fifteen men” that confronted and dissolved one of the maroon groups, with part of the rebels killed and part captured and returned “to their owners.” The military squad also engaged the other maroon group, reportedly formed by thirty seven individuals, twenty two of which were either killed or captured, the latter being “brought to justice,” probably executed. The remaining fifteen rebels were still being chased by the colonial squad at the time Cerrato wrote to the Crown.
In response to Cerrato’s report, Phillip instructed him to put in place “some good ordinances in the manner you deem [appropriate] about the treatment the blacks should be given by their masters,” “so that from here onward they do not rebel so much.” This observation by the king seems to express a relatively clear notion, on the part of the monarch, about certain limits the slave owners should not surpass in the relations of power and exploitation vis a vis the enslaved population.
On the other hand, this order seems to be the explanation for an incomplete set of ordinances with no exact date nor place of issuance, but evidently pertaining to sixteenth-century La Española, also held at Archivo General de Indias and published in the 19th century in one of the classic collections of early Spanish colonial sources. This document has been somewhat neglected by historians. These ordinances are most likely the result of Cerrato and the members of the Audiencia of Santo Domingo complying with Prince Phillip’s order as spelled out in this letter, possibly drafted or issued later in 1545 or sometime in 1546.
Prince Phillip, using again the generalized term “the blacks” (“los negros”) to refer to the slaves, indicates that Cerrato had reported having discussed and agreed “with some denizens and men of experience of that island” to “not allow there to be many ladino slaves born in the land because this is an evil nation of people and very daring and badly inclined.” Cerrato is also said to have stated that “per experience it has been seen that all who mutiny those black and become their captains have been and are ladinos, because the bozales do not have that ability, and that this was seen as well in Enriquillo’s matter.” Furthermore, in the judge’s view these ladinos “it would be convenient either to manumit them, since they do not want but liberty, or to expel them from that island.”
Such a characterization, more than four decades after the recorded arrival of black African population at La Española, shows two circumstances. It is a testimony about the existence of a creole-native black population in the colony. It also contradicts some generalizing scholarly notions that have defined ladinos as a socially integrated population, identified with the slave-owning colonizers, and obedient. This, in contrast to a native black African population brought in by force through the transatlantic slave trade, alien to European enculturation and with stronger sentiments of independence, and thus more prone to a confrontational rebelliousness. Equally interesting in this document is the comparison with the rebellion led by indigenous leader Enriquillo, seen here as aladino, in this case of native ethnicity, instigator of rebellions among other ethnicity members less socialized into the colonizer’s culture.
The prince ordered Cerrato to further discuss these ideas “with the [Santo Domingo] city council members and principals of that land” and “with their advice” to decide in it “what you may think is convenient.”