Category Culture

Edición Instituto Cervantes at FAS - Harvard University

Estudios del Observatorio/Observatorio Studies. 074-12/2021EN  (Trans.)

Abstract: There is a historiographic gap on the topic of slavery in 16th‑century Spanish Florida, noted by several authors, which has recently become more conspicuous given its uncomfortable overlap with The 1619 Project, which has shifted the current conversation about slavery in the United States. Therefore, further research is needed on slavery in Spanish Florida during the period known as ‘The Forgotten Century,’ the nearly hundred-year span prior to the establishment of Jamestown in 1607, during which there was a Spanish presence in North America. This study’s goal is to fill in a portion of this historiographic gap. Drawing on documents from the General Archive of the Indies (Seville, Spain), it presents a previously unpublished overview of slavery in Spanish Florida, where two contingents of slaves to the Crown landed in the 16th century. It outlines the reasons behind their consignment, the authorities involved, the number of individuals enslaved, their place of origin and the date of their arrival in Florida, the organization of their labor, the income and expenditure this practice represented for the monarchy, aspects of their everyday lives —such as dress, diet, and healthcare—, an attempt at manumission, an instance of escape, and their relationship with the Catholic faith. Their presence in present-day South Carolina is documented in 1583, nearly forty years before the first Africans were brought to Virginia in 1619. Finally, to complete this overview of slavery in Florida, it reports on slaves owned by private individuals and on a few instances of white and Indigenous enslavement there in the late 16th century. This project describes the Spanish system of slavery in North America, which was markedly distinct from the Anglo-Saxon system that ultimately prevailed there; it presents a new vision of the beginnings of Black enslavement in the U.S., which predated and differed from the practice described in The 1619 Project..

Keywords: Black slavery, Spanish Florida, Governance of Florida, General Archive of the Indies, Gonzalo Méndez de Canzo, The 1619 Project

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