Commentary No. 054
Date: 1519, September 15. [Santo Domingo,] La Española
Theme: A “white slave” was reportedly brought to La Española by a ship captain and bought by Audiencia judge or oidor Alonso Zuazo, according to a complaint presented during the juicio de residencia or administrative audit trial of Zuazo and other Santo Domingo’s colonial officials
Source: Archivo General de Indias, Justicia 43, Número 1, fos. lxxi (71r.) – lxxiiiio (74r.). CUNY DSI Dominican Colonial Documents Collection
Every now and then in the archival records about the initial years of construction of La Española as a colonial society in the early sixteenth century, mentions are found of “white slaves”. We do not know exactly where these enslaved “white” individuals came from, but their mention in judicial documents seems to be an indication that, by the late first quarter of the sixteenth century in Iberian colonies like La Española, the enslavement of at least certain type of white persons was a fact still acceptable to the established social order and the dominant social mentality in the colonial world, though they were, as per all indications, sociological exceptions.
At the time, enslaved black individuals appear frequently in the documents referred to just as “negros de” (blacks of), followed by the name of their owner, thus expressing their legalized belonging to a master or owner, but without necessarily mentioning the word “esclavo” (slave). It may be valid to say that, though the racialization of the verbal expression of the status of enslavement had become quite widespread in La Española already, it still coexisted with isolated concrete cases of white individuals who were enslaved.
In the case of the document at hand (fo. 71v.), a page of a much longer record of the audit-trial or juicio de residencia done of La Española’s Audiencia judge or oidor Alonso Zuazo, an accusation was presented against Zuazo regarding his reported acceptance, for a below-market price, of “un esclavo blanco con unas letras en la cara” (“a white slave with certain letters on his face”) that had been brought to the “island of Santo Domingo” by a maestre named Juan Medina around 1518. The slave reportedly was acquired by Zuazo from a merchant named Diego Fernández, who sold the slave to Zuazo at a reduced price after buying him from the sea captain at a higher cost, besides giving Zuazo a number of other things, including a parrot, in exchange for Zuazo favoring him in a court dispute against an Antonio de Herrera over the property of certain houses in the colony.