Urban Slavery in New Spain: A Study on Oaxaca City, 1680–1710

Saturday, January 3, 2015: 11:10 AM
Beekman Parlor (New York Hilton)
Sabrina Smith, University of California, Los Angeles
This paper examines the slave trade to Oaxaca City in the seventeenth century. I argue that the city’s slave population was primarily comprised of slaves born in the Americas, which suggests that these individuals were more acculturated to Spanish colonialism. Moreover, I argue that the influx of Africans and their descendants came from a variety of cities in Mesoamerica. In addition to Veracruz, merchants in Oaxaca imported slaves from Mexico City, Puebla and even Santiago de Guatemala. Thus, although Oaxaca was often considered as distant and isolated, the peripheral city of Oaxaca was indeed an important administrative and commercial center that was a part of the African Diaspora to Spanish America and imported slaves in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

            By the late seventeenth century, the African slave trade to New Spain had significantly declined and regions such as Oaxaca primarily imported creole slaves. In contrast to other large urban centers in New Spain, very few slaves in Oaxaca were labeled as “Angolan” or from the “Congo”. Rather, many slaves in southern New Spain were born in cities along interregional trade networks in New Spain. This paper emphasizes the extent of interregional trade networks that facilitated the slave trade. By analyzing notarial and judicial sources, this paper suggests that slave labor was not only used in large urban centers and silver mining areas, but in small urban centers as well. The paper advances our understanding of slavery in New Spain beyond the scope of large urban centers like Mexico City, Puebla, and Veracruz. Thus, this data shows that despite the prevalence of indigenous labor, Spanish merchants in small urban centers relied on African slaves as well.

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