Between Freedom and Slavery: Articulating Kinships and Achieving Manumission in Colonial Peru

Thursday, January 3, 2013: 2:00 PM
Salon V (Roosevelt New Orleans)
Rachel Sarah O'Toole, University of California, Irvine
This paper examines how African and African-descent families in the northern valleys of Peru transitioned their members from enslaved to free status in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, a period of economic crisis for slaveholders. Building on the substantial scholarship on manumission (Hanger 1997, Higgins 1999, Hünefelt 1994), I argue that women’s attempts to achieve legal freedom for themselves and their children reveal inter-generational gender strategies involving grandparents, aunts and uncles as well as godparents and other non-biological kin. By exploring family relationships and kinship structures through a close examination of notary records and civil judicial cases as well as baptism and marriage records, the paper explores how and why some families were able to move from enslaved status to freed status. I suggest that families who were able to mobilize African-descent networks (enslaved and free) as well as call on Spanish and Spanish-descent kinships were the most successful. Kin members lent funds, a critical component to achieving legal freedom. African-descent women and men also reminded current or former slaveholders of their kinship connections and prompted direct assistance in negotiating with a hostile slaveholder to achieve manumission agreement. Thus, the paper’s contribution is to posit that manumission was embedded in what I call articulated kinships, or announced relations, as well as in silenced kinships (that often occurred as a result of adulterous relationships or illegitimate births), building on ideas that violence and power construct and constitute affinities (Delaney 2001). By exploring when enslaved men named kinships with slaveholders that normally went unspoken, and why enslaved women underscored the value of their intimate labor, such as elder care, in negotiations over their or their children's freedom, I posit that freedom, like kinship, was a social process that included a range of destructive and nurturing relations.
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