First Blacks in The Americas

The African Presence in The Dominican Republic

Ladinos and bozales

The Christianized blacks mentioned in the sixteenth-century documents issued in Spain, La Española and the rest of the Spanish empire were known as ladinos, and the term referred in general to the blacks who were familiar in general with the religion, cultures, and languages of Castile or Portugal (either because of having been born and raised in those territories or due to long contact with or exposure to these cultures). Conversely those blacks with no familiarity with the Iberian cultures and languages, typically those brought straight from Africa, were called bozales. As indicated here, during these first years of the colonization, the Spanish Crown tried to limit the arrival of blacks into the Americas to ladinos, but the restriction lasted only a short time.

From January 1502 there is evidence of at least one enslaved black man being sent from Seville to La Española together with two other men, presumably free, to work in the extraction of gold under the orders of a fourth individual who was himself under a contract as a worker for a merchant of Seville.[1] Moreover on September 12th 1502, the Spanish monarchs authorized at least two royal court’s employees to organize a fleet to take provisions to the settlers established in La Española, explicitly allowing the organizers of the expedition to include ‘as many blacks as they wanted,’ in what seems a clear reference to slaves.[2] According to Carlos Esteban Deive it is not known whether there was actually any shipment of enslaved blacks made under the permit, but this stands as the first recorded royal license issued to import slaves into La Española.[3]


By late 1502 or early 1503 there was in La Española a large enough number of enslaved blacks to begin worrying Governor Ovando about the incapacity of the colonists to prevent at least some slaves from escaping captivity. In response, Ovando requested to the Crown that no more blacks be brought to La Española “because those that existed there had escaped.” (see Manuscript No. 007). The monarchs seem to have heeded the request immediately, since there is a response from them, in the form of a royal order of March 29, 1503 in which they promised to stop the sending of enslaved Blacks (“on this we will order to proceed as you say”)[4] and for a while after the 1503 royal promise to stop the importing of black slaves into La Española there seems to have been no more sending of blacks for over a year and a half. In February of 1504 the Crown reiterated the prohibition.[5] And still by October 1504 there were no new authorizations given for the transferring of black slaves (“esclavos”) to La Española that we know of, though there was at least one case authorizing the sending of enslaved whites (“esclavos blancos”) on an expedition lead by Alonso de Ojeda.[6] (see Manuscript No. 008).

Yet by the end of 1504 and in the following year, things changed. Not only had enslaved blacks begun to be shipped to La Española again, but some of them were bozales.[7] In January of 1505 a carabela reportedly left from to Hispaniola carrying 16 Black slaves assigned to work in the colony’s mines.[8] Also governor Ovando seems to have changed his mind about importing blacks. In September he was referred to in a Crown document as having requested the sending of “more black slaves” to work the local gold mines of La Española.[9] (see Manuscript No. 009). He is said to have actually requested to the King that he send 20 more slaves.[10] The Crown responded positively to the request on September 15th, deciding to send a total of one hundred enslaved blacks. Also in their response they explicitly confirmed that at the time there were already a number of black slaves in the colony, by referring to them as “those that are there.” [11] In what seems an evident eagerness for obtaining more gold from the island, the Crown flatly ordered the governor to put those enslaved blacks to work in the mines, and even offering them freedom as their reward if they worked to the Crown’s satisfaction for an undetermined number of years, a way, according to Deive, to try to prevent them from fleeing.[12] (see Manuscript No. 009).

It is not clear whether the hundred slaves ever arrived in La Española, but it seems that at least between January and September of 1505 the 20 slaves requested by Ovando may have been received in the colony. In a communications of September 15 and 16, 1505 the King, in addressing the Casa de la Contratación indicated that Ovando had reported receiving 17 ‘Black slaves’ from the Casa (possibly the same group of slaves shipped in January of that year and referred to in the paragraph above) and was already requesting more.[13] In the letter the king reiterated his desire to have 100 slaves sent to the colony so that “all these gather gold for me.” [14] (see Manuscript No. 009). These slaves are supposed to have been from the Guinee region and to have been bought in Lisbon. [15] If that was the case, as Deive says, then it is likely that those slaves could have been bozales. Three more slaves had been supposedly sent to Ovando, shipped on July 16, 1505. And these would have completed the 20 requested. [16] 



[1] The exact date was January 4th, 1502. CFAAPS, Escribanía de Francisco Segura, 4 de enero de 1502, Oficio IV, Libro1, fo. 21 vto.

[2] CODOIN, XXXI, p. 132-36, cited in Carlos Esteban Deive. La esclavitud del negro en Santo Domingo (1492-1844). Vol. 1. Santo Domingo: Museo del Hombre Dominicano, 1980. p. 22.

[3] Pérez de Tudela, 1955, p. 396-397. Cited in Carlos Esteban Deive. La esclavitud del negro en Santo Domingo. Vol.1. p. 22.

[4] PARES, Archivo General de Indias, Indiferente General, 418, Libro 1, fo. 101r. CODOIN II, V, 43-52. Cited in Deive, p. 18. We know this because the monarchs referred to Ovando’s request in their response to it a few months later, on March 29, 1503 exactly. In their communication the monarchs wrote to Ovando: "As for the Black slaves you say they should not be sent there because those that existed there had escaped, on this we will order to proceed as you say" (Spanish original: “en quanto a lo de los negros esclavos que desis que no se enbien alla porque los que alla avian se han huydo en esto nos manadaremos se faga como lo desys”). Chacón y Calvo, 1929: I, 69-77. Cited in Deive, La esclavitud del negro en Santo Domingo, Vol. I, p. 21.

[5] On February 15, 1504, the King and the Queen issued an order clarifying which types the settlers of La Española could and could not take to the Indies, explicitly mentioning slaves among those who were prohibited from the trade: “que por virtud de esta dicha licencia ninguno pueda llevar nyn sacar de estos nuestros Reynos para la dicha ysla española esclavos nyn guanines nyn cavallos.” PARES, Archivo General de Indias, INDIFERENTE, 418, L.1, Imagen Núm. 249/378.

[6] Saco, 1948, I, 96. Cited in Deive, La esclavitud del negro en Santo Domingo, Vol. I, p. 22. A CUNY DSI search revealed that the manuscript is currently available in the PARES online database, under the entry PARES, Archivo General de Indias, INDIFERENTE, 418, L.1, Imagen Núm. 273/378.

[7] The information refers to “12 ’bozales’ black slaves of 16 to 25 years of age, bought at El Puerto de Santa María ‘from a from Portugal’, at 21 ducados ‘one with the other.’ The amount paid for them was 94.500 maravedis. These slaves were part of a batch of 17 sent in 1505 to La Española on captain Juan Bermúdez’s ship. The source are the early accounts of shipping and commercial transactions between Seville and La Española as reckoned and recorded by Sancho de Matienzo, first treasurer of the Casa de Contratación de Sevilla. Miguel Angel Ladero Quesada: Las Indias de Castilla en sus primeros años. Cuentas de la Casa de la Contratación (1503-1521), p. 270-271, Item No. 136. Carlos Esteban Deive, La esclavitud del negro en Santo Domingo, Vol. I, p. 30 seems to locate the first recorded arrival of bozales in 1511, citing the notification given by the monarch on a decree of June 15 addressed to La Española’s treasurer Miguel de Pasamonte.

[8] Pérez de Tudela, 1955, p. 386. Cited in Deive, La esclavitud del negro en Santo Domingo, Vol. I, p. 24. This group of 16 slaves may be the same that appears mentioned as 17 in the primary sources used by historian Ladero Quesada, Las Indias de Castilla en sus primeros años, p. 270-271.

[9] “E lo que dezis que se enbie mas esclavos negros paresceme que/ es bien y aun tengo determinado de enviar asta cient escla/vos negros para que estos cojan oro para mi”. PARES, Archivo General de Indias, INDIFERENTE, 418,L.1, F.180v-181v—1 Imagen: 1/3. (“As what you say that more black slaves be sent, it seem to me that it is fine, and I have even determined to send up to one hundred black slaves for them to collect gold for me” […]).

[10] Pérez de Tudela, 1955, p. 386. Cited in Deive, La esclavitud del negro en Santo Domingo, Vol. I, p. 23.

[11] PARES, Archivo General de Indias, INDIFERENTE, 418, L.1, f.180v.-181v.

[12] Franco, 1971: 35-36 (citing Archivo General de Indias, Indiferente, 418, L. 1, F. 180v.). Cited in Deive, La esclavitud del negro en Santo Domingo, Vol. I, p. 24.

[13] Pérez de Tudela, p. 387. Cited in Deive, La esclavitud del negro en Santo Domingo, Vol. I, p. 24. 

[14] PARES, Archivo General de Indias, INDIFERENTE, 418, L.1, Imagen No. 359.

[15] Utrera, 1951, I, 81-82. Cited in Deive, La esclavitud del negro en Santo Domingo, Vol. I, p. 25.

[16] According to an estimate by chronicler Bartolomé de Las Casas, by 1505 there were in the island ‘up to ten or twelve blacks who belonged to the King, who would have been brought to build the fortress that is above and by the river’s mouth.’ Las Casas, Lib. III, cap. CXXIX, III, 275. Cited in Deive, La esclavitud del negro en Santo Domingo, Vol. I, p. 25.