Liberta by Trade? Entanglements of Inheritance, Kinship, and Unfree Labor in Gradual Abolition Buenos Aires, 1820s–30s

Saturday, January 6, 2018: 10:50 AM
Thurgood Marshall South (Marriott Wardman Park)
Paulina Laura Alberto, University of Michigan
This paper uses the unusual case of María Cayetana Warnes y Braga to examine the meanings and boundaries of the legal category “liberto/a” in post-revolutionary Buenos Aires. “Libertos” were the children of slave mothers conditionally freed under the 1813 Law of the Free Womb, obligated to serve a term of service to their mother’s master until their adulthood. Cayetana, a “morena” and the granddaughter of a slave, was legally free-born, but she appears as a “liberta” in several legal documents. This paper reconstructs the possible processes by which she came to be associated with this category of semi-servility: a series of complex negotiations between Cayetana’s mother (an actual liberta) and her elderly white mistress involving a labor contract of sorts and promises of a future inheritance in property for the young Cayetana. In retracing the lives and transactions of these women, the paper sheds new light on the category and lived experience of “libertos” at a time when the term’s meanings and boundaries were particularly malleable across a range of laws and social practices.