A Witches’ Sabbath, Gossip, and Transatlantic Communications in New Granada, c. 1715

Sunday, January 7, 2018: 12:00 PM
Madison Room B (Marriott Wardman Park)
Francisco A. Eissa-Barroso, University of Manchester
In September 1715, a clique of judges from the audiencia(high court) of New Granada removed their own president, Francisco de Meneses, from office and threw him in jail. Outraged by the coup against the highest representative of royal authority in the kingdom, the Crown launched a detailed investigation, but delays in communication meant that by the establishment of the Viceroyalty of New Granada in 1717, Meneses was still prisoner in a cell in Cartagena de Indias, and the case would not be officially resolved until 1723. Within this context, a letter supposedly written by a witch from the Caribbean coast of New Granada to a colleague in Cajamarca Peru began circulating. It condemned the coup and blamed the influential Flórez family for it.

Historians have analysed the document for what it tells us about the politics of early eighteenth-century New Granada, but rarely for the insight if offers into the circulation of news and information in northern South America and across the Spanish Atlantic. Yet, the letter describes a network of witches that spanned the Spanish world with branches in Madrid, the Spanish Caribbean, various parts of New Granada, Quito and Peru and retells how news of the events in Santa Fe reached different members of the group and what the Spanish authorities in their towns and provinces had learned. By reading the letter from this perspective, this paper explores how early eighteenth-century New Granadans conceptualized the geographical context within which ‘local’ news circulated, their assumptions about the timing and reliability of communications with Spain and the means through which information reached different parts of the Spanish world.

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