Commentary No. 052
Date: 1514, October 18. Valbuena, Spain
Theme: License for bishop Pedro Suárez de Deza to ship from Seville to La Española ten slaves to work in the construction of the church at the village of La Concepción or at others in its diocese
Source: PARES, Portal de Archivos Españoles--Archivo General de Indias, INDIFERENTE, 419, L.5, F. 275V
The Catholic church as it was developing in La Española in 1514 used enslaved laborers (“esclavos”), presumably black Africans since white slaves were rare, in the construction of its church buildings. The particular batch of ten slaves being allowed here to be taken to La Española, understanding this was done “under the conditions and in the form and manner that we have mandated,” were initially destined to the erection of a church in La Concepción (also known today as La Vega), one of the early towns of the colony located on the Eastern slopes of the Central Mountains of the island, but it was contemplated that they could be deployed to alternate locations where other churches were being built.
As it may be seen at the time in other situations, the Christianity of the colonizers, in these case the Church’s officials themselves, did not prevent them from using human beings as slaves. In fact, as other colonists, the church officials were taking these blacks to La Española with the exclusive immediate purpose of having them work as forced laborers.