Commentary No. 069
Date: 1580, July 2. Seville, Spain.
Theme: Some time after been freed by her former owners, María de Cota, an until then enslaved black woman from Santo Domingo residing in Seville, requested a royal license to travel from Seville to La Española with her three-year old daughter
Source: PARES, Portal de Archivos Españoles--Archivo General de Indias, INDIFERENTE, 2060,N. 10.
The historical records show a number of cases of enslaved and freed blacks of sixteenth-century La Española that engaged in actions that clearly indicate an exercise of an assertive, proactive selection of choices and preferences both within the narrow and oppressive options offered by life in enslavement as well as those relatively more flexible offered by life after manumission.
In the early summer of 1580 in Seville, a procurador or lawyer named Baltazar de Alcocer went before local authorities to request a license for a client, María de Cota, “of black color, and a free woman” and her three year old daughter Magdalena to travel to the Indies. María was a native of the city of Santo Domingo of La Española. According to Alcocer’s statement, in Santo Domingo María “has property and more comfort for living in the said province than in Spain, since she is not a native of it [of Spain].” In the application documents María reiterated that she and her daughter were both natives of La Española and had “come from it to these lands” (meaning, to Spain). María had also requested a license to the Americas in 1575 (see Manuscript 038).
On Saturday, July 2nd of 1580, María went before the authorities and presented a written statement in which she declared that she had arrived in Seville from her native Santo Domingo accompanying her mistress Doña Bárbara Solana. Subsequently she had been freed by Barbara and had her freedom reconfirmed by Bárbara’s widower Don Alonso de Abellaneda. She also declared she was not married. Her daughter was three years of age at the time.
That same day María presented as witness a Hernando Lopez, trade broker and a Francisco Lopez Camargo, as well as Don Alonso de Avellaneda himself, all denizens of Seville. López indicated he knew María since about twenty years before and had seen her arrive from “the said Indies” as a girl, and that he learned María was from Santo Domingo directly from her first mistress Doña María de Arana. He went on to declare that Doña Maria’s daughter, Doña Bárbara, in her testament, left María free, and her freedom was subsequently confirmed by don Alonso de Avellaneda. He had heard that Maria’s daughter, of three years of age, was born in Santo Domingo.
Francisco López Camargo stated he knew María also from twenty years before, when she arrived from the Indies a young girl (“muy niña”) with Doña María and her daughter Doña Bábara. For the rest, he reiterated the same as López. He added that Maria’s daughter’s name was Magdalena, and that she was known to have been born in Santo Domingo. Finally, Alonso de Avellaneda declared that he knew María de Cota from the time she arrived in Seville with Doña Bárbara de Arana, with whom Avellaneda married afterwards.
From the documents we also learn that, at the time she was hiring a procurador to request a license to travel to the Indies, María did not know how to write. The authorities of Seville seem to have issued the license for María and her daughter to travel to Santo Domingo on February 24th, 1581. As in the case of another source about María’s efforts to return to Santo Domingo (see Manuscript 065), this document seems to show a longing or a preference for residing at the social-cultural environment where she lived the earliest years of her life, even when she must have grown up and been socialized in Seville.
On the other hand, though no additional details are offered on the matter in this manuscript, the fact that María’s daughter Magdalena is said to have been born in Santo Domingo three years before, seems an indication that María herself must have traveled to La Española at least slightly before that amount of time was over, and that she subsequently traveled back to Spain with the girl before deciding in the summer of 1580 to cross the Atlantic again to return to Santo Domingo.