First Blacks in The Americas

The African Presence in The Dominican Republic

Official slave trade diminished in La Española after the 1560s

We know of no published information about the arrival of blacks in La Española during the fifteen years that followed after 1560. By 1583 a gathering of members of the City Council of Santo Domingo and a Crown’s envoy, when assessing the exports and imports of the colony to determine how much of a new tax the colonists could pay, following the king’s orders, to fund the costs of a naval squadron sent to defend the island, estimated that approximately 300 blacks were being taken to La Española each year through its ports. The assessment seems to refer to enslaved blacks imported legally or under the authorities’ official control. If the trend was sustained, say, for the entire decade, it would imply an arrival of about 3,000 slaves via legal trade alone during the 1580s, plus the undetermined numbers that were probably arriving through the growing contraband trade. [1]

The Famouse West Indian voyadge made by the Englishe fleete of 23 shippes and Barkes wherein weare gotten the Townes of St. Iago: Sto. Domingo, Cartagena and St. Augustines ... Newlie come forth by Baptista B.

By 1585 an argument was being made again by some colonial voices of La Española in favor of the need to expand the exploitation of allegedly newly discovered and promising “silver mines” and the need to import enslaved black laborers to work them. Governor C. Ovalle proposed the establishment of a “ware-house of blacks” (“aduana de negros”) in Santo Domingo to the Crown, but to no avail. [2] Then in January of the following year, 1586, the expedition of British pirate Francis Drake took away what Ovalle described as “many” black slaves from Santo Domingo’s residents. [3]

Roughly a decade later, in 1595 we find another governor, Lope de Vega Portocarrero, informing the Crown that during the prior three years there had been no arrival of slave ships into the island because they preferred going to Cartagena de Indias and Tierra Firme, attracted by the better quality of the currency there and the higher value they would obtain when selling the slaves in that market. As the local authorities of La Española had requested for decades, he asked the Crown for a subsidized provisioning of 1,000 enslaved blacks for the colony’s denizens, with a four-year pay-back term, so they could use those slaves in the mines and sugar estates. [4] Apparently in response to the requests from La Española’s authorities, on April 1st, 1597 Spain’s Prince Phillip (later king Phillip III) issued an order for 1,000 Blacks and 100 settlers to be sent to La Española, but all the available evidence indicates that the order was never put into effect and the new century would begin with no changes in this matter. [5] According to Deive, this moved the Audiencia of La Española to disregard the vigilence and prosecution against the smuggling of enslaved blacks to which many colonists had been resorting as an alternate source of enslaved labor force. [6] Still in November of 1601 Archbishop Dávila y Padilla was reiterating the request for 1,000 black slaves, so that “the land with its riches will call people who will defend it and inhabit,” arguing that the lack of blacks (“falta de negros”) meant settlers-residents could not take advantage of the land’s mineral wealth. [7]



[1] Lugo 1952: 56-58. Cited in Carlos Esteban Deive, La esclavitud del negro en Santo Domingo, Vol. I, 1980, p. 97.

[2]  Carlos Esteban Deive, La esclavitud del negro en Santo Domingo, Vol. I, p. 40.

[3]  Demorizi, 1945, II, p. 24. Cited in Deive, La esclavitud del negro en Santo Domingo, Vol. I, p. 98.

[4]  The exact date of Ovalle’s communication was May 20, 1595. Incháustegui: III, 748. Cited in Deive, La esclavitud del negro en Santo Domingo, Vol. I, p. 40.

[5]  Utrera: 1978, I, 113. Cited in Deive, La esclavitud del negro en Santo Domingo, Vol. I, p. 41.

[6]  Lugo: 1952, 100. Cited in Deive, La esclavitud del negro en Santo Domingo, Vol. I, p. 41: “Ante tal situación, la Audiencia volvió las espaldas a las entradas clandestinas de negros, suspendiendo además los pleitos por ellas.” ("In view of such a situation, the Audiencia ignored the clandestine entries of blacks, also ceasing trials against them.")

[7]  Rodríguez Demorizi 1945, II: 194. Cited in Deive, La esclavitud del negro en Santo Domingo, Vol. I, p. 41.