Militarizing the Empire: The 18th-Century Spanish Convict Labor System in the Circum-Caribbean

Sunday, January 7, 2018: 11:20 AM
Madison Room B (Marriott Wardman Park)
Jesse Cromwell, University of Mississippi
In a time of increasingly costly global wars, Spanish colonial magistrates sought to bolster the empire’s defenses by condemning a host of its criminals to lengthy terms in garrisons, construction details, and maritime crews throughout the Americas. These convicts, most of non-Spanish extraction, built and manned the formidable eighteenth-century fortifications and fleets that would defend Spain’s besieged kingdoms in the Caribbean basin. This paper looks at court cases, diplomatic correspondence, and prisoner narratives from the eighteenth-century circum-Caribbean to investigate the sentencing, forced emigration, and captivity experiences of foreign convicts working in the Spanish Empire. It offers fresh insights into questions of early modern crime and punishment, the militarization of the Caribbean, diplomatic relations between empires, creolization, and the experiences of non-Spaniards in Spanish American colonies where metropolitan law largely forbid the presence of foreigners.