The Slave Trade to Colonial Mexico: Revising from Puebla de los Ángeles, 1595–1695

Saturday, January 3, 2015: 8:50 AM
Empire Ballroom West (Sheraton New York)
Pablo Sierra, University of Rochester
During the seventeenth century, Puebla de los Ángeles became New Spain's pre-eminent textile center and Mexico City's political foe, but much less understood is its emergence as a major slave market. This presentation offers new data, culled from Puebla's notarial archives, which revise the classic works of Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrán, Colin Palmer, and Enriqueta Vila Vilar. By means of a century-long analysis on slave purchases, I demonstrate that a minimum of 20,000 slaves, primarily Africans (but also South Asians) and their descendants, were sold in the city of Puebla during the seventeenth century. The transatlantic and regional demand for enslaved individuals coalesced in Puebla by 1610, as textile mills, sugar plantations, religious institutions and elite households demanded workers who could not be secured from an indigenous population in demographic collapse. Moreover, while many enslaved individuals remained in this urban area, a significant number were distributed throughout central and southern New Spain during the late seventeenth century. In this paper, I propose a new model, elaborated from the vantage point of the distributing market, to understand how and when a population of African descent involuntary arrived in rural settlements and towns throughout (the modern-day states of) Puebla, Veracruz, Tlaxcala, Morelos, Guerrero and Oaxaca. By extending the traditional scope on slaving past the Iberian Union (1580-1640) and the well-documented Angolan influx, I also find an unexpected surge in the number of slaves sold in Puebla at the very end of the seventeenth century. I contend that a new wave of Africans (labeled as Loango, Mina, Arara and Rayado) entered the viceroyalty precisely during this understudied period (1680-1695). These new findings contribute to the ongoing revision of the transatlantic and Spanish American slave trade, but also complicate our understanding of Afro-Mexican history as a linear progression from Portuguese-asiento slavery to creole freedom.