Commentary No. 046
Date: 1544, July 7, and 1545, April 24, July 7 and July 24.
Theme: Enslaved blacks registered or embarked by passengers on ships travelling from Seville to the Indies
Source: Archivo General de Indias, Contratación 1079. CUNY DSI Dominican Colonial Documents Collection
Individuals wishing to travel to the Spanish colonies in the Americas throughout the sixteenth century were required to solicit and obtain a licencia or official written permit from the Spanish Crown to be allowed to go on the trip. A separate licencia was required if they intended to take slaves, usually Black Africans or their descendants, with them. During the century, the Crown issued hundreds of these individual permits, as well as others called asientos that were issued to prominent merchants or members of the high social elites of the Spanish empire for the transporting and selling of much larger numbers of slaves to the Americas. This latter type of large shipments of slaves hurled like massive human cargoes are the ones usually referred to when the dreadful Transatlantic slave trade is mentioned in the historical scholarship.
Licencias and asientos were thus the official, legal ways for private individuals to introduce enslaved people into the colonies. Parallel to these there was an ample contraband mostly practiced by foreigners on non-Spanish ships that traveled carrying the enslaved from Africa to points of the Spanish empire like La Española where there were frequent opportunities, due to the lack of sufficient vigilance or actual complicity on the part of the local colonial authorities, for the ships to arrive and deliver their human cargo unpunished.
In the particular cases mentioned in these documents, different individuals appear obtaining licenses to take or send various amounts of slaves between 1544 and 1545. Traveler Andrés García was taking four enslaved Blacks with him and he had to pay two ducados to the Crown for each permit. His license was issued in Valladolid on July 7, 1544, and when he later boarded a vessel to the Americas, the government officials controlling the outgoing travelling certified that he had a license and had paid the taxes on the slaves. A year later, July 7th, 1545, Juan Valenciano obtained license to carry six “black slaves,” issued also in Valladolid. Of these, three were embarked or registered by Juan de Astorga, maestre of the ship, with a power of attorney from Valenciano. Andrés de Narváez embarked one slave, using a license he had for a total of forty, issued on April 24 of 1545 also in Valladolid. Andrés Delantadilla sent “a female black slave,” whose license was counted against a license for forty that a third individual, Luis de Ayora, had obtained on July 24, 1545 issued in El Abrojo. In all these license documents it was specified how, at arrival in the Indies, the traveler was supposed to hand the documents to the local colonial officials for good, so that the license could not be used more than once.
The Spanish Crown, therefore, not only tried to control the traffic, large and small, large traffics of enslaved Blacks to the Americas during the 1500s. It also derived a source of revenue from both.