Commentary No. 053 - Part 01
Date: 1575, December 16. Santo Domingo, La Española.
Theme: Public auction of enslaved Africans seized from a Portuguese slave ship after arriving in La Española from Africa without a valid Spanish trading license
Source: AGI, Escribanía de Cámara,1-A, fos. 574v.—627v. CUNY Dominican Studies Institute Dominican Colonial Documents Collection
When a non-Spanish or foreign ship was captured by the colonial authorities off the coasts of La Española without a Spanish trading license, the visit would be considered unauthorized or illegal (an arrivada), its cargo seized and sometimes auctioned.
In a colony and a century where the social elite seems to have been always hungry for more slaves, the practice of confiscation and auctioning probably had an added local incentive. This was the case of the human cargo of dozens of enslaved Africans brought into the port of Santo Domingo City on a ship by Francisco Revolo in 1575. The auction was held in front of the entrance of the Casas Reales (Royal Houses), and it was led by the President of the Audiencia or colonial tribunal, and two of the local colonial Treasury Office officials. The slaves were sold on credit with a year-and-a-half window of time for buyers to complete payments, to be made every six months. Two thirds of the price were to be paid in fine gold, the other third in currency of the time. The slaves seem to have been taken away immediately by their respective buyers.
The archival records of auctions like this provide a rare opportunity to look into the status of the enslaved Blacks at the time the slave ship that hurled them from Africa had just arrived in the Americas. The overall physical status of each slave being sold is described in each entry, including indicators of frequently ill health as well as the infamous branding-iron marks on body areas like the face, the chest or the arms, with indication of the buyer’s name, and the price that was paid for the slave.
A first slave entered in this list, at the very bottom of the page, happened to be “a very slim, extremely weak Black girl from the Angola territory, with the following “fR” mark on her right arm.” (The “fR” mark seems to represent the initials of the slave owner’s name: Francisco Revolo.)