Imposed Immobilities, Seeds of Subversion: Curtailing Black Autonomy in Late Eighteenth-Century Santo Domingo

Sunday, January 5, 2014: 9:10 AM
Columbia Hall 11 (Washington Hilton)
Charlton Yingling, University of South Carolina Columbia
This paper, built upon Spanish and Dominican sources, investigates local and imperial racial policies under late Spanish colonialism in 1780s Santo Domingo.  Immediately prior to Hispaniola's inundation by the Haitian Revolution, and with an envious eye on their lucrative neighbor Saint-Domingue, Spanish authorities sought social stability and political security toward economic resurgence.  This campaign required fortified racial hierarchies.  To meet this goal Spanish administrators targeted three particular social and geographical sites of black autonomy, mobility, and defiance that perplexed white arbiters of state and economic power.  Free blacks, particularly those with economic means, were impugned for perceived inattentions to racial hierarchies and for influencing the aspirations of less-advantaged people of color.  Slaveholders in the colony bitterly criticized putative raging parties, feigned sickness, disrespect, and random disappearances and enacted by their slaves, citing free blacks as disruptive symbols of independence.  Separately, slave unrest was also stoked by maroon communities along the western border with Saint-Domingue.  These largely African and creolized Dominguan runaways attracted slaves from the Spanish side and precipitated disagreements with French colonists over ownership and their raids on farms and travelers. 

While confining black actions, late colonialism nevertheless envisioned conciliation and assimilation through self-regulation, not outright coercion.  For example, the most recalcitrant maroons signed a treaty honoring their free status with officials, and were resettled under Catholic supervision to “españolizar” them into royal subjects.  Free “black earners”around the capital had their economic activity heavily restricted, but instead of punishment received religious monitoring and instruction.  Slaves were beholden to two new imperial slaves codes designed to increase output by treating slaves with humanity and spiritual counsel.  From a mix of dislocations caused by these policies and unfulfilled promises of amelioration black Dominicans were primed to utilize ideas and openings of the revolutionary era, both within and against Spanish colonialism.