On January 13, 1803, the French notary Derieux visited the first of several estates owned by Domingo Rodríguez, recently deceased. Rodríguez's property lay in the environs of Santiago de los Caballeros, a town in the north-central valley of Santo Domingo on eastern Hispaniola (today, the Dominican Republic). Over a three-week period, Derieux traveled with a team of witnesses and assessors to properties as far away as coastal Puerto Plata in order to assess the value of Rodríguez's cloth store, home, cabins, pasture land, livestock, cane and foodstuff fields, and sugar-processing equipment. Two of the three plantations also included a different kind of asset. At the sugar estate Gourave, Derieux wrote down the names of the 35 cultivateurs, cultivatrices, and enfants, that is, male and female agricultural workers and their children.1
At that moment, in Santiago, two “nègresses qui dépendent également de l'habitation” (black women who were also dependents of the estate) were serving Rodríguez's widow, Juana de Roxas. At the cattle and pig ranch Yacica, Derieux noted the names of three more “cultivateurs attachés au service de la hatte” (cultivators attached to the service of the ranch): the mayoral (foreman) Gregoire, Batiste, and Fernand. Although Derieux assigned every other line item on the inventory an assessed value, he gave none of these cultivators a price.2
The notary, the cultivators, and the towns and plantations where they lived had recently been caught up in an Atlantic storm over territory and the future of slavery. Just a few years earlier, Derieux was living and working in Fort Dauphin, in the French colony of Saint Domingue on western Hispaniola (contemporary Haiti).3 Following the transfer of the Spanish colony of Santo Domingo to the emancipationist French Republic (1795), its annexation by Toussaint Louverture, revolutionary leader and governor of Saint Domingue (1801), and an occupation led by first consul of the French Republic Napoleon Bonaparte (1802), Derieux traveled across the border to work in Santo Domingo. His clients were Spanish-speaking inhabitants from Santo Domingo and French-speaking refugees from Saint Domingue. These refugees carried rumors and news of the movement of troops, the destruction of plantations and crops, and the freedom of slaves in what had been the sugar-producing center of the French Caribbean.4 Freedom's shadow fell over Santo Domingo's slave owners, too; once the French Republic confirmed universal emancipation in its empire and Louverture crossed Hispaniola's border to claim Santo Domingo, the French Republic's emancipation and Louverture's emancipation legally extended to the Spanish colony. Even as Napoleon's forces tried to wrest control of the island from Louverture, they promised to respect emancipation.5
Santo Domingo residents under French rule turned to French notaries like Derieux to organize their local economic transactions, but also to protect their claims to human property and impede the potential emancipation of their unfree labor. Within six months of his visit to Rodríguez's properties, the notary Derieux conducted and transcribed inventories for four more Santiago residents; these included laboring individuals described as cultivateurs and domestiques (domestic servants). Derieux's inventories never stated the precise status of these laboring men, women, and children. He described them variously as persons attached to, or dependent on the land and in the land's service, or listed them after the matter-of-fact statement, “suivant les cultivateurs” (here follow the cultivators), or before the conclusion: “qui sont tous les biens composant la dite habitation/ hatte/ guildive” (which are all the goods that make up the said plantation/ranch/rum house). These laborers were never themselves assigned a monetary value, but they always appeared alongside evaluated property. In fact, in most of Derieux's inventories, they appeared in the place traditionally filled by a list of slaves—immediately following a list of livestock. In a few instances, Derieux linked the cultivateurs and domestiques to color, race, or nation, like the two unnamed “nègresses” in Juana de Roxas's service, a cultivateur named Pierre Congo also in Rodríguez's inventory, and “deux nègres nommés Benita et Marie, une nègritte nommé Petronille, et un nègrillon nommé Antoine” (two blacks named Benita and Marie, a young black girl named Petronille, and a young black boy named Antoine) on a ranch in the wooded outskirts of Puerto Plata. In the five inventories that included cultivateurs and domestiques, the notarial document itself facilitated the transfer of landed property from one owner to another.6
The laboring men, women, and children appeared in Derieux's ledger as though they were in bondage. They enjoyed no volition over their labor or landowner and their homes belonged to the estates where they worked.7 However, Derieux never mentioned the word “slave” in his 1803 notarial ledger, never notarized a slave sale or manumission, and never recorded the presence of enslaved human property, in those words, in the region.8 According to his bookkeeping, there were no slaves in the Santiago region in 1803.
What happened in the colony of Santo Domingo before 1803? Did either Louverture or Napoleon emancipate the colony? How did the presence of Louverture and Napoleon in Spanish Santo Domingo transform slavery? Before they can be considered directly in regard to the moment of Louverturean and Napoleonic influence in Santo Domingo, these questions pass through decades of Dominican historiography that have distorted Haitian influence abroad. Their answers also reverberate beyond the colony of Santo Domingo, dwelling on the ways that slaveholders fortified the institution of slavery against the threat of revolutionary emancipationism and on the spectrum of bondage ranging between slavery and freedom in the Atlantic world. Scholarship on these themes has redefined freedom as an extended process that was slowed by the colonial institutions that survived the end of slavery.9
In the century that followed Louverture's unification, the historical question of whether he had emancipated Santo Domingo's slaves and whether that emancipation mattered at all became a way to express anti-Haitian ideology in the Dominican Republic. An article published in the Dominican Republic in 1874 on Louverture's “invasion” spoke dismissively of his emancipation of the colony's “few existing slaves.”10 The author wrote during the War of Restoration, as proponents of Dominican annexation with Spain tried desperately to quash rebellions led by the joined forces of Dominican and Haitian nationals.11 This article and other accounts of the “tragedy” of Louverturean unification appeared in a compilation published in 1955 as historical propaganda supporting the anti-Haitian antagonism of the twentieth-century Trujillo regime.12 Trujillo's intelligentsia built on and reproduced a historiography that included José Gabriel García's 1867 Compendio of Dominican history, in which Louverture issued his emancipation “without generating any enthusiasm, not even among those [slaves] being favored, with very few exceptions.”13
Following Trujillo's assassination, a new wave of Dominican scholars read this scholarship and offered revised and nuanced accounts of the parallel histories of Santo Domingo and Haiti. The new wave presented the contradictions of Haiti's revolutionary ideology in Santo Domingo, extending the analysis of classic works such as Antonio del Monte y Tejada's 1892 Historia. The Historia presents Louverture as “the most distinguished negro of all those who have held command of this island” while unflinchingly describing forced labor in the Santiago region under Louverture's General Dessalines, who received unlimited power to “force the negros to work under fear of penalty.”14 In the new historiographical wave, too, Louverture became the one who emancipated Santo Domingo's masses and integrated the races, even as he initiated a new system of dependency.15 This attention to the longed-for but unfulfilled promise of Haiti across the border continues to inform Dominican scholarship today. See, among others, Quisqueya Lora's work on forced labor during the unification of the island under Haitian President Jean-Pierre Boyer and Anne Eller's study of Dominican-Haitian anticolonial collaborations during the late nineteenth century War of Restoration.16
But did Louverture free Santo Domingo's slaves? Until very recently, historians were reading nineteenth-century Dominican historiography and the emancipation clause in the 1801 constitution as straightforward evidence for an island-wide emancipation under Louverture.17 Historians of Haiti and Santo Domingo now believe that Louverture did not emancipate Santo Domingo, referring to administrative correspondence, memoirs, Louverture's labor and agrarian policies, and the indirect evidence offered by the fact that plantation owners appeared content under his rule.18 However, these kinds of sources cannot describe either on-the-ground conditions of enslavement or the process through which the institution of slavery changed as the colony passed out of Louverture's control.
This study brings together ecclesiastical and notarial material produced locally in the colony between 1801 and 1803 in order to chart how slaveholding and slave trading transformed under the influence of Louverture and Napoleon. Derieux's notarial ledger, spanning the years 1803–04, is the only extant colonial-era notarial record from the north of the colony. The north coastal region includes the towns of Puerto Plata, Montechristi, and Samaná; the north central region, known as the Cibao, includes the towns of Santiago, Cotui, and La Vega.19 Derieux's ledger is housed today in the Archives Nationales d'Outre-Mer in southern France, having left the island following the end of French political control in Hispaniola. The Dominican Republic's Archivo General de la Nación contains notarial and town council records for three rural towns in Santo Domingo (El Seibo, Higüey, and Bayaguana) under early French rule.20 Local ecclesiastical archives contain contemporary sacramental records from the parishes of the same three towns, from the capital city of Santo Domingo and its outskirts, and from one town in the central valley. These sources show that under the pressure of competing political ideologies, slave owners created hidden slave markets, new forms of bondage, and new guises for old forms of bondage.
Freedom by manumission or emancipation in the Atlantic world was uncertain, reversible, fragile, and “paper thin.”21 Freed people in late colonial Latin America and the wider Caribbean drew on a corpus of slave rights that grew out of the practice of law and helped to secure and protect freedom. However, in the case of revolutionary emancipation, political instability and a weak state posed challenges to freed people. Slaves might be freed by law, but interpretation, jurisdiction, and even the law itself could change.22
Santo Domingo became French territory in 1795. Under the Treaty of Basel, the Spanish crown awarded the colony to France in exchange for new frontier lines along the Pyrenees and a withdrawal of Spanish forces from the Haitian Revolution. At that point, the French agreed to give their new colonists a grace year to emigrate to Spain's other American colonies with their property, including their enslaved human property.23 In the Spanish Americas, slavery was legal; Spain would not issue a general emancipation until the late nineteenth century. France, on the other hand, had abolished slavery on the continent and in its colonies the previous year (1794).24 Despite a 1798 decree that incorporated colonies as departments of France and guaranteed that they would share the same laws, the French Republic's emancipationism did not disband the institution of slavery in Santo Domingo. In fact, some of Santo Domingo's slaves fell deeper into slavery following the decree, when the colony's wealthiest inhabitants fled with their slaves into Cuba and other slave-holding territories.25 However, many slave owners stayed, and they continued to hold slaves and claim the children of their slaves as human property. Meanwhile, for the first five years of French control, the colony's Spanish colonial structure—its administrators, court, councils, and laws—remained in place under the watch of a single French representative who could do little to bring the colony under French law by himself.26
On the western side of the island, France had been trying since 1791 to quell an antislavery rebellion that had exploded into an anticolonial revolution. The French Revolution brewing across the Atlantic only exacerbated Saint Domingue's instability; following the execution of the French monarch in 1793, both Great Britain and Spain sent military forces to fight republican France on both sides of Hispaniola. Scrambling under this military pressure, Saint Domingue's civil leaders issued the colony's first, limited emancipation decree, with many to follow. By the time the French general Napoleon Bonaparte toppled the Directory in November 1799, slavery had been formally abolished in all French territories and the black insurgent leader Toussaint Louverture was the de facto governor in chief of Saint Domingue.27
As first consul of France, Napoleon quickly rescinded the 1798 decree that integrated all colonies into France's legal and governing structure. The colonies could now be governed by particular laws, which meant that slavery in the colonies could again be legal. Even before knowledge of the provision's repeal had crossed to the Americas, Toussaint Louverture began to fortify his own position as governor of Saint Domingue. He marched into neighboring Santo Domingo and took possession of the capital city in January 1801, claiming that his annexation justly responded to the “abomination” of open slave-trading in Santo Domingo and that it carried out the unity outlined in the Treaty of Basel.28 Within five months, Louverture convened a constitutional assembly with representatives from both sides of the island. Hispaniola's new constitution pronounced all inhabitants “free and French.”29 Emancipation had come, yet again, to Santo Domingo.
Louverture's annexation and constitution prompted immediate French intervention on Hispaniola. Bonaparte declared Louverture's annexation of the eastern part of the island null and made explicit plans to disarm the entire island. His brother-in-law General Charles Victor Emmanuel Leclerc arrived in Santo Domingo in January 1802 with informal instructions to re-enslave “the Spanish part.”30 Over the next month, Leclerc won all of the island's major cities.31 Many of these cities surrendered under the condition or promise that Napoleon's military generals would not restore slavery.32 But within several months, Napoleon's legislature reversed emancipation in several of its other colonies.33 Saint Domingue and the former Spanish colony could be next.34 Leclerc's forces advanced against Saint Domingue's colonial forces and might have won Hispaniola but for the devastation caused by yellow fever during the rainy season in the late summer. By the end of 1803, the French had abandoned Saint Domingue in the west, defeated.35 Santo Domingo in the east had remained a French possession ever since Leclerc's arrival on the island, and its rule passed now to Napoleon's General Jean-Louis Ferrand. Ferrand led an colony-wide campaign to re-enslave Haitian blacks and fortify the institution of slavery in Santo Domingo.
Extant historiography on Leclerc and his generals suggest that he was an emancipator, or that he was anxious to maintain emancipation, or the aura of emancipation, under his rule. Graham Nessler has shown that in 1802, Leclerc's general Kerverseau anxiously defended himself against rumors that he had authorized slave sales, and his correspondence scrupulously avoided using the word “slave” to describe bound laborers. Kerverseau wanted to make it appear that slavery, or at least the slave trade, did not operate in Santo Domingo under Napoleon.36 Derieux's 1803 notarial ledger, empty of all “slaves,” also gives the impression of legal compliance with emancipation. The examples in the following section suggest that compliance with Napoleonic emancipation meant different things depending on the region, but never emancipation.
Freed by Law, Bound in Practice
At the beginning of 1801 the interim vicar of Santo Domingo city's cathedral, Agustín Madrigal, interrupted a list of baptisms in the cathedral's sacramental register with a note on the arrival of Louverture. “Santo Domingo, twenty-sixth of January of 1801, handing over of the capital to the new Republic after midday.”37 The capital city sat on the southern coast of Santo Domingo, and probably had news of Louverture's movements several days before his forces arrived.38 Apart from the flight of residents upon his arrival, Louverture's year-long annexation of Santo Domingo passed quietly in the city.39 The Napoleonic regime that ousted Louverture from the city was much more disorienting for city residents, at least for members of its religious orders.
Following their ousting of the Louverturean regime from the capital city, Leclerc's General Kerverseau's forces also nationalized all buildings and all movable property of religious corporations.40 The city's Predicadores (preaching order, or Dominicans) wrote to the Spanish crown in 1802 and again in 1803 complaining of their poor treatment under the French. They had remained in Santo Domingo city following the Treaty of Basel, delaying their plan to emigrate to Cuba as they tried to find a buyer for their sugar estate, which included extensive land, 64 slaves, and sugar-refining tools. Leclerc's government sequestered all these belongings and more, leaving the community with only the clothes on their backs.41 Although the Predicadores’ slaves disappeared from the capital city's records after Leclerc claimed them for the French state, they did not gain their freedom.
Throughout Louverture's reign over the colony, Santo Domingo city residents openly held slaves, a population that included the Predicadores’ enslaved men and women and many more. The city cathedral's baptismal records preserve evidence of continued enslavement within the population. Parish priests across colonial Latin America typically recorded the enslaved or free status of the individuals who received Christian burial or the sacraments of baptism and marriage. Depending on the kind of record, a priest might also set down an individual's color, occupation, parentage, place of origin, or in the case of an enslaved subject, legal owner. The appearance of enslaved people in a sacramental register was unremarkable, as sacraments were available to all enslaved people in the Catholic world of colonial Latin America. In the baptism of an enslaved child, a priest did not even have to mention the child's status, given that in Spanish America and elsewhere, a child's status followed that of his or her mother.
In the city cathedral in 1801 and 1802, the interim vicar Agustín Madrigal buried two individuals described as enslaved: Francisco, slave of don Josef Sánchez and Juan, slave of the priest Nicolás Valenzuela.42 In 1801 the same priest baptized 30 enslaved infants and two adult slaves. This was approximately one-third the number of slaves he had baptized in each of the three previous years (see Table 1) The drop in slave baptisms at the Santo Domingo city cathedral could be evidence of a poorly executed emancipation that prompted some, but not all, slave owners to free their enslaved property. It is more likely, however, that baptism numbers fell because of the number of slave owners who emigrated upon Louverture's entrance into Santo Domingo.
Table 1 Baptisms at Santa María de la Encarnación, 1799–1801
Residents of the capital area also openly held slaves under the subsequent Napoleonic military occupation. In 1802, General Kerverseau put to death the enslaved leader of a slave rebellion on the plantations Camba Abajo and Camba Arriba, located on the western outskirts of the city of Santo Domingo, near present-day San Cristóbal.43 Baptism records from Santa Ana, the plantation chapel belonging to Lower Camba, provide evidence of slave ownership by Santo Domingo city residents in 1803. In May and June, the itinerant priest of that chapel (Bernardo Correa y Cidrón) baptized five enslaved infants; these were the children of enslaved adults held by three prominent residents of Santo Domingo city.44 That same year in Baní, a day's ride to the west of the capital, a parish priest baptized the infant Bernardo, natural (illegitimate) son of Josefa “esc[lav]a de Ynes Guerrero y de Damian esc[lavo] de Santiago Castillo.”45
In the eastern plains, inhabitants of the towns of Bayaguana and El Seibo left records that also show continuity of slaveholding during both the Louverturean and Napoleonic periods. Bayaguana lay a day's ride north of Santo Domingo city and directly on the overland trade route between Santo Domingo and Santiago. El Seibo was connected to Santo Domingo city by way of Bayaguana and its own trade route, and lay approximately 80 miles northeast of the capital city.46 These were small, towns, self-sufficient but connected; people from the capital city and from the north valley and north coastal regions settled in Bayaguana. Twenty years before the arrival of Louverture, Bayaguana had a population of a thousand residents, and El Seibo four thousand.47 Both towns were known for their cattle ranching, although residents also grew foodstuffs for local consumption and harvested mahogany for export. Because most ranching took place on communally used lands, residents of the plains prized their movable property.48
Slave owners of this region continued to hold their human property during and after Louverture's rule. In February 1801, the parish priest of Bayaguana's San Juan Bautista church recorded a marriage between Antonio Guerrero, esclavo, and María de Vivas, “liberta negra de Guinea” (freed woman born in Africa).49 In October of 1801, now several months since Louverture's constitutional convention, the parish priest of El Seibo's Santa Cruz church baptized two infants, the children of enslaved mothers.50 The priest, Ygnacio Morillas, made it abundantly clear that these children inherited their mothers’ enslavement, describing one of the baptized children as “Siprian … hijo natural de Maria del Carmen de Castro[,] esclavos” (meaning that both were slaves).51 The following year, 1802, the same priest baptized another child of enslaved parents, “Lianara, hija lexitima de Felipe Romero y Dionisia Sorrillas[,] esclavos de Juan Sorrillas.”52 Enslaved people continued to appear in Ygnacio Morillas's registry in the ensuing years.53
Notarial acts from the eastern plains also testify that people still held slaves in this period. In March 1801, a Bayaguana resident sold her slave Julián to Julián's father, Nicolás Ortiz,in an act of manumission by purchase.54 In 1802, three El Seibo residents used testaments to claim African-descent people as property or to give them away as gifts. The municipal officer George Herrera stated in his 1802 will that he had commissioned a Santiago resident to sell a 15-year-old mulatto boy “de mi pertenencia” (belonging to me). The boy had run away, perhaps trying to reach a region where slaveholding and slave trading were not openly practiced. Herrera also gave “la negrita Dominga” to his daughter and claimed that a fellow El Seibo citizen still owed him 283 pesos for the past sale of “un negro de mi pertenencia llamado Fernando.” 55 Another testator, María García, recorded a gift to “mi domestica María” of approximately one-quarter of Maria's value.56 In a third will, deposited in October 1802 at the municipality, several familiar people surface. Juan Portalatín Sorrillas recorded a gift to his son-in-law of the “negro Felipe y su muger (his wife) Dionisia.” Felipe and Dionisia were the same couple who baptized the child Lianara seven months earlier, when they were recorded as “esclavos.”57 Throughout the years that followed, enslaved people continued to appear as property in the legal records of the eastern plains, in letters of manumission, slave sales, inventories, and other notarial acts.58
In the capital city and the eastern plains, slaveholding and slave rights had features consonant with slavery elsewhere in colonial Latin America. The baptismal register of Santo Domingo city's cathedral includes an entry in 1801 for Pedro, “nacido liberto según me informe su respetivo amo (born free, as his master tells me).59 It follows that except in extraordinary circumstances like Pedro's, Santo Domingo city's slave owners continued to claim the progeny of their enslaved women.60 When the Bayaguana slave Julián received his manumission by purchase and the El Seibo domestica María received a gift of one-quarter of her value, they exercised the slave rights of self-purchase and coartación (the right to fix one's sale price), respectively.61 In colonial Latin America, coartación often led to self-purchase, although an enslaved person might equally be purchased and freed by a parent, spouse, sibling, fictive kin, or business partner. These slave rights were not unilaterally honored by slave owners or judicial figures, and were often tied to local custom; coartación, for example, was an extremely rare practice in the French legal system.62 Thus slavery in this region of Santo Domingo preserved its Spanish character even under French influence.”
A Depressed Market in Slaves
Although Louverture's emancipation did not free the enslaved populations of Santo Domingo city, El Seibo, or Bayaguana, the political event of annexation may have depressed the intercolonial slave market. Adult slave baptisms provide a way to gauge rates of importation of enslaved adults into the city. Slaves in the Spanish Americas usually received baptism as adults if they were newcomers to the empire. However, at the turn of the century, Santo Domingo did not have strong connections to the transatlantic slave trade, and consequently, an adult baptism meant that a slave had arrived via the intercolonial (usually intra-Caribbean) slave trade or the intercolonial travel of the slave's owners. The absence of adult slaves in Santo Domingo baptismal registers would suggest the opposite, that intercolonial trade had trickled or stopped.
In the three years prior to 1801, between 11 and 25 adult slaves per year received baptism in the Santo Domingo city cathedral, as shown in Table 1. Many baptisms were officiated for slaves owned by established plantation owners of Santo Domingo city. Their baptisms often occurred in series, over a day or two, suggesting that these baptized individuals were purchases from a recently arrived group of slaves. These patterns support an analysis that uses adult baptisms as an approximation for the vitality of the city's slave market rather than some other measure, for example, the rate of immigration of slave owners into the city. In 1801, Agustín Madrigal baptized only two enslaved adults, Francisco and Maria Nicolasa, in the city cathedral.63 That only two enslaved adults received baptism at the cathedral in 1801 perhaps indicates that both transatlantic and intra-Caribbean slave trading stalled in Santo Domingo city that year.64 At minimum, it suggests that Santo Domingo had a small slave market prior to 1801 and a nonexistent or nearly nonexistent market in 1801. Even if slaveholding in Santo Domingo was acceptable under Louverture, the intercolonial market in adult human property fell dramatically during his regime.
In the eastern plains too, for all of the apparent continuity in slaveholding, the slave trade may also have decreased or changed in other ways between 1801 and 1802. El Seibo's interim notary Santiago Sogreras left evidence of recent or ongoing slave sales in last wills and testaments in the year 1802, but recorded no distinct notarized slave sales in 1801 or 1802.65 Bayaguana's archive shows a similar gap in slave sales: following the March 1801 manumission of Julián, the town's interim notary recorded no other manumissions or slave sales until 1804, when residents again sold slaves openly.66 Slave owners of the eastern plains were still willing to sell, bequeath, or inherit slaves, or as was the case with María García, to allow her enslaved domestic servant María to purchase herself. However, they were not openly buying slaves—the only notarized slave purchases in El Seibo and Bayaguana were auto-manumissions.
Although there is one time that slave owners did enter the slave market in Bayaguana, there is almost no legal trace of their transactions. The will of George Herrera, mentioned above, includes two slave sales, one past and one in progress, but neither sale had its own notarial record. Did Herrera intentionally avoid documentation because slave purchases were taboo or even illegal between 1801 and 1802? Or was the gap in slave sales just that, caused unintentionally by the disorganization of a notary or the legal mess left after a political transition. Perhaps the slave market stalled for lack of specie on the part of potential slave buyers.
But barring these possibilities, slave traders would have hesitated to skip the notary's office. Notarized slave sales protected a substantial monetary investment on the part of both buyer and seller. But if slaveholding or slave trading were illegal, slave owners like Herrera would have chosen to sell their enslaved human property without a notary or to notarize the sale under very vague terms. The evidence is too scant to know for sure. Certainly, the political events of 1801 and 1802 prompted potential slave buyers to distrust the value of enslaved property and avoid the documented, intra-colonial slave trade.
Slavery under New Terms
The proximity in time of the military entrances of Louverture and then Napoleon probably slowed the slave market. Their regimes may also have triggered a transformation in the status of bound laborers. Across the colony, the term used to describe bound people, esclavo, gained new modifiers or disappeared altogether. This linguistic transformation sprang up in the northern coast and north-central valley, as we have seen in Derieux's notarial register, and in the capital region and the eastern plains.
Between 1801 and 1802, the El Seibo public notary Santiago Sogreras used only the words negra/o (and its diminutive forms), doméstica, and cultivador, to refer to bound laborers. In the local records left by the town during these years, only the local parish registry continued to used the word esclavo. Doméstico/a and cultivador/a were novel terms in Santo Domingo's legal system, although they often appeared in descriptions as laborers belonging to a particular person or persons—as a slave might be described. In Bayaguana too, these terms surfaced in the records left by parish priest Josef Moreno Herrera. In May 1801, he witnessed and recorded the marriage of Andrés Rosario to Dominga Mexia, “domestica” of Juan Marcos Peguero and Josefa Mexia, and the marriage of Juan Peguero to Ysidora Geraldo, “ambos domesticos” of the same Peguero and Mexia.67 In 1803, the same priest buried Gregorio Paredes, “domestico del Presbítero D Geronimo de Paredes y perteneciente a la Republica.” By 1803 the term esclavo had reappeared in El Seibo's notarial records and Bayaguana's sacramental records.68 Recordkeepers sometimes combined esclavo with these novel terms.69 That year near San Cristóbal to the west of the capital, the priest Bernardo Correa y Cidrón described an infant's mother as a cultivadora esclava (cultivating slave).70
In Higüey, in the far eastern region of the plains, the French presence also introduced new vocabulary for slavery. A town of just 500 inhabitants, Higüey lay approximately 100 miles from Santo Domingo city. It was accessible to the rest of the colony only by way of El Seibo or via the Yuna river, which opened out to the sea. Despite its relative distance from the colony's more populated northern and southern coasts, a chapel dedicated to the Virgin near Higüey drew pilgrims, and the capital city often called on the city to deliver cattle products, especially meat.71 Here, as in Bayaguana and El Seibo, access to labor mattered much more than access to land.
Saint Dominguan and French contestations offered Higüey residents new options for recording and preserving legal information, even as these events disrupted local forms of rule.72 Prior to the arrival of Louverture, town dwellers baptized their children both for the spiritual membership that it provided and for the very practical purpose of setting down in the public record the children's parentage, free or enslaved status, legitimate or illegitimate status, and spiritual kin. Under Louverturean and French rule, residents could baptize their newborn infants at the church and also visit the town's secular notary to register these births. In most cases, a godparent, father, or head of household registered the new birth with the notary or municipal scribe, though some extended kin also performed the duty.73
From October 1801 through the end of Leclerc's military occupation in 1803, Higüey's French-language municipal notary registered 17 individuals, including 16 newborns described as cultivators: “Seven months and eleven days ago a cultivator (cultivatrice) was born, illegitimate daughter of the cultivator Maria Martina who belongs to Noel and Pere, inhabitants of Jouma … [the testator] states that she is named Marie Lucrece [and] her godparents are the free black Juan Soriano and the cultivator Petrona Guerrero.”74 Birth records for five of these 16 children also appeared in the San Dionisio de Higüey baptismal registry. There, the priest Antonio Tozo Ramírez described the children by name and recorded their status as son or daughter of a morena (black) domestica. A sixth boy of the same status, Segundo, also appeared in Tozo Ramírez's sacramental register, although he was not registered in the book of the secular notary, Fernando Oliver.75
These terms began to appear at the time of Louverture's entrance to the colony, coinciding with the end of the circulation of the word esclavo. Only a year earlier, in 1800, the priest Tozo Ramírez had baptized three children of esclavos, named thus. But beginning in 1801, no esclavos of any kind appear in the baptismal registry until baptisms re-commenced years later, in 1813. In the secular registry, which began in 1801 and continued through 1806, the words negro/ nègre and esclavo/esclave also did not surface until 1805 and 1806 respectively. The terms cultivateur/trice and doméstico/a arose in coordination across Higüey institutions and corresponded with linguistic shifts across Santo Domingo.
Higüey's cultivateurs and morenos domésticos were like most chattel slaves of the colonial Spanish Americas. Cultivators and domestics belonged to a particular person. The notary Fernando Oliver described the cultivatrice Patricia Columna as the “fille legitime du cultivateur José Columna et de la cultivatrice Petronila son espouse legitime, appartenants au citoyen Matheo Sánchez” (legitimate daughter of the cultivator José Columna and the cultivator Petronila his legitimate wife, belonging to the citizen Matheo Sánchez).76 If Petronila's parents belonged to someone, then Higüey's cultivators were private property, at least according to the notary. The parish priest Ramirez also linked the parents of baptized children to a person who received their labor, though his records were less clear on the nature of their relationship. The same infant in Tozo Ramírez's registry was the “hija legitima de Josef Columna y de Petronila, morenos domésticos d[e] Matheo Sánchez” (legitimate daughter of Josef Columna and of Petronila, black domestics of Matheo Sánchez).77 Wherever the same infant was recorded redundantly, the notary registered the child as an infant cultivateur, and the priest as the child of black domestics. Given that these terms were used interchangeably, they referred not to a person's occupation but to his or her status.78
Like slaves, Higüey's cultivateurs and morenos domésticos conferred their bound status on their progeny.79 The notary Oliver almost always identified the children of cultivateurs as cultivateurs themselves. These infant cultivators were presumed the property of their mother's owner unless otherwise noted. In some rare circumstances, infant “cultivators” gained freedom from this bound state. In 1802 and 1803, the respective owners of newborns Petrona Alcantaria Irisarri and Tomasina Sedano confirmed the free status of the infants, in both instances in recognition of the good services of their parents.80 Petrona Alcantaria Irisarri's younger sister, Paula Yrisarri, born one year later, was not so lucky, as her registration did not record her freedom.81 However, the sisters’ daily lives probably looked quite similar, given that most manumitted children lived with their enslaved parents.
Because Higüey's notarial records are otherwise missing during this period, it is difficult to describe the local cultivator system with greater detail. Questions remain concerning the market in cultivators, their opportunities for self-purchase as adults, their experience of freedom as freed infants, and their transition back to the classic institution of slavery. By 1804, General Jean-Louis Ferrand had not only established control of Santo Domingo city but also replaced local administrators with agents loyal to his regime and to the institution of slavery.82 Cultivators disappeared, and esclavos again populated the town's administrative documentation in birth registries, slave sales, manumissions, and testaments.
The appearance of the terms “cultivador/a” and “doméstica/o” in the south coast and plains regions of the colony corresponds exactly with the moment in which Santo Domingo received the revolutionary emancipationism of the Haitian Revolution under Louverture. With the entrance of foreign soldiers, seamen, and administrators, Spanish speakers heard and adopted new language to describe their enslaved property. Perhaps enslaved people themselves demanded the new language in Santo Domingo, hearing news of Louverture's emancipated cultivateurs in Saint Domingue or of Louverture's liberating constitution. The new language, though not representing actual freedom, may suggest that enslaved people issued their own limited emancipation-in-name in the face of ambivalent colonial enforcement.
On the other hand, perhaps notaries, priests, and slaveholders circulated these terms only to protect their only slightly modified system of slaveholding. In Saint Domingue, a cultivateur was a legally free person, but in Santo Domingo a cultivateur was privately claimed property with no control over his or her progeny or labor. Words borrowed from emancipationist rhetoric, even when intentionally emptied of their meaning, still gave the aura of compliance with emancipation and could help to secure claims to ownership against the real or perceived possibility of a general emancipation—so long as bound laborers were not slaves, they could not be freed by any standing or future act of emancipation. This strategy was not unique to Santo Domingo. Slave owners across the Atlantic world relied on linguistic ambiguity to prop up their personal claims to ownership.83
Emancipation was a formal legal event, a moment that historians can date precisely using political circulars, military correspondence, and plantation records. It was also an uncertain social event, as it required the circulation of information and the cooperation of slave owners. The emancipations promulgated by France and Saint Domingue in Santo Domingo extended to the colony only in a treaty or a constitution, and perhaps in written and spoken circulars. These legal and mostly written events were still potent, however, as they signaled to slave owners the unnerving possibility that slaveholding and slave trading might in fact be punishable in the future. Rather than loosen the bonds of slaves, however, emancipation in this form prepared Santo Domingo's slave owners to harden the lines that would protect the institution of slavery.
A New Kind of Slavery
If we link the appearance of novel terms for bondage to Louverture's entrance into Santo Domingo, how should we interpret their persistence throughout Napoleon's military occupation? Despite the Napoleonic vision for slavery's open practice on both sides of the island, slave owners in 1803 in the Cibao region felt compelled to hide or rename their slaves. The rum refiners, field laborers, ranchers, and domestics in Derieux's ledger appear to have been purposefully erased from a legal record that was supposed to leave no tracks of the operations of slaveholders or the slave market. Here we consider whether the slave owners of the northern region not only changed how they referred to their bound laborers, but also transformed the nature of their claims and hold on them.
Derieux's notarial records are not evidence of a post-emancipation apprenticeship. Elsewhere in the Caribbean, colonial officials issued emancipation alongside a system of apprenticeship designed on the model of gradual abolition. This model was intended to maintain agricultural production while granting nominal freedom. In post-emancipation Saint Domingue and Guadeloupe, colonial commissioners criminalized most forms of non-agricultural labor and promised former slaves either wages or a proportion of the agricultural goods they produced. In post-emancipation Jamaica, former slaves working in agricultural settings might receive meager wages, pay rent on the land they worked, or pay rent and receive wages simultaneously.84 These forms of emancipation created paper trails. Colonial officials distributed emancipation decrees in broadsides and discussed their implementation in correspondence. Formerly enslaved people used notarial offices to exercise their rights to property, and ex-slaves entered into labor contracts with landowners. The Cibao's archives do not contain any evidence of a citywide replacement of slavery with apprenticeships, and Derieux did notarize at least one labor contract between apparently free people in 1803, suggesting that city residents were accustomed to forming contracts for free labor.85 None of the cultivateurs and domestiques of Derieux's notarial register appear anywhere else in his register, and the only other contemporary reference suggests that these individuals were slaves under another name.
Santiago's system of labor looked very similar to a much earlier colonial solution to the weakening of slavery. In mid colonial Brazil, following a prohibition against indigenous slavery, the inhabitants of São Paulo developed a system of attaching indigenous people and their labor to private individuals, who held all the rights of slave owners except for the right to sell a bound person. In this system, called administração, Paulistas evaded formal prohibitions against indigenous slavery by holding indigenous people and transferring them through inventories, dowries, and bequests. Administração was formally protected by São Paulo local law even as it openly defied imperial mandates. Judicial records that accompany São Paulo notarial records demonstrate that recordkeepers were quite open about what they were doing, namely hiding the legal trace of illegal slavery.86 Court records and judicial orders have not survived in Santiago, but the similarity of notarial content between São Paulo and Santo Domingo's Cibao suggests that inhabitants of the Cibao also self-consciously shaped their local notarial documents to protect private claims to enslaved human property in an unpredictable legal environment.
The Cibao's slave owners changed the terms of their ownership of their slaves by linking them to their land. The bound laborers in Derieux's ledger were “attached” to estates. This language of attachment probably entered Santo Domingo in early 1801, when Toussaint Louverture mandated that the emancipated agricultural laborers of Hispaniola remain “attached” to their plantations.87 During the Leclerc invasion of Saint Domingue, agricultural law required that cultivateurs be attached to estates.88 The same term, attachment, also defined post-emancipation labor in late eighteenth-century Guadeloupe.89 In theory, attachment should have limited the movement of free persons. In 1803 Santiago and Puerto Plata, however, the state of attachment served as the substance of an enslaved laborers’ unfreedom. The cultivateurs and domestiques were no longer moveable property. They were instead assets of real estate, fixed to the land itself by the notarized activity of a new market in bound labor.90
Slave ownership in this context took on characteristics of slavery in its heyday in neighboring Saint Domingue. Plantation owners there considered slaves so necessary to the economy that when they sold their estates, the sale often included the enslaved people who had labored on that land.91 This practice departed from the Code Noir, which characterized enslaved persons as meubles (movable property) but had legal roots in much older systems of land tenure in France. By the early eighteenth century, an act from the metropole defined enslaved persons as “appendages and instruments of the land.”92 In the case of Santo Domingo, affixing slaves to land protected slave owners from both emancipation and potential volatility in the market in human property. If slave trading were or were about to become illegal, “attached” laborers increased the value of landed property, without the need to consider a stalled slave market.
Once the transfer of human persons became fixed in property transfers and no longer depended on an exchange of currency, Santiago's slaves lost an important escape path out of slavery. Self-purchase was a right available to all slaves in colonial Latin America, even if it remained an extravagance out of reach for most slaves. However, it depended on an impartial monetary economy that assigned value to people. Enslaved people with access to cash or loans could enter into this economy and purchase themselves or others. They would then protect their newfound freedom by registering this act with a notary. Derieux notarized no manumissions or slave sales in 1803; both were the kind of legal transaction that typically filled notarial registers. Sacramental records, the other source that might have held acts of manumission, are lost or destroyed for Santiago at this date. It appears that typical manumission paths, such as self-purchase or an owners’ donation of freedom, were closed in this period though it is impossible to know that with certainty. Nonetheless, on their own, Derieux's notarial records suggest that Santiago's form of slaveholding suppressed the region's slave trade, taking enslaved people outside a monetary economy and thereby limiting their ability to break from their owners or landowners. The Cibao's system of “attached” laborers was a regional phenomenon, the result of close ties to neighboring Saint Domingue. The archives of the eastern plains and capital city contain nothing similar; residents of that region held slaves, cultivators, or domestics as personal property, and did not use land sales or inventories to facilitate the transfer of human property.
Saint Domingue's port city Cap Français was a boat-ride away from Santo Domingo's north coast and lay on an overland route connecting to Santo Domingo's northern interior that passed through Fort Dauphin. Across the eighteenth century, the Santo Domingo port towns of Montechristi and Puerto Plata enjoyed a great deal of French and Saint Dominguan sea traffic in goods and news, while Santiago and other Cibao towns provided Saint Domingue with cattle via overland routes that crossed the border. This trade continued across the north coast and north valley, even as rival troops and warships battled to gain control of the region.93 The region's traditional connections to Saint Domingue built local sympathy for Saint Domingue's revolution. As the revolution played out in the north, many Cibao residents made the pragmatic decision to remain connected to whatever leadership and economy was beneficial, nearby, and powerful. It is very likely that inhabitants along Santo Domingo's interior border fostered similar loyalties.
Saint Domingue certainly maintained strong connections to Santo Domingo's north coast, north interior, and border region throughout the Haitian Revolution. Napoleon's troops claimed to control the Cibao from early 1802 through 1803. When French General Ferrand lost command of Fort Dauphin in September 1803, he fled first to Santiago.94 However, throughout 1804 and possibly through 1803, residents of the Cibao paid taxes to Haitian revolutionary leader Jean-Jacques Dessalines, not to Ferrand.95 Pockets of the region remained loyal to Saint Domingue's revolutionary forces.96 Loyalty encouraged residents to comply with Saint Dominguan emancipation even when compliance did not extend so far as ideological support for the end of slavery. At the same time, fear of revolutionary punishment for slavery from across the permeable border prompted other slave-owning residents to reform their institution of slavery. Slave owners in the north central valley and north coast may have begun this transformation earlier, in 1803, when Derieux wrote his ledger. They may even have started the process much earlier, when Louverture entered Santo Domingo in 1801, or when Leclerc's troops arrived in 1802.
Even though Santo Domingo residents never had to go so far as to free their slaves under either Louverture or Napoleon, the fact of legal emancipation still shaped the institution of slavery in the colony. The fact that Santo Domingo fell under nominally emancipationist governments was enough to turn slave owners away from the colony's intercolonial and intra-colonial slave trade. In Santo Domingo city, intercolonial trade slowed to a trickle or stopped. In the plains during the Louverturean regime, only enslaved people themselves, and not slave owners, made notarized slave purchases, and these were purchases for manumission. In the north, where orders were disregarded and jurisdiction changed daily, slave owners made more drastic changes to the slave trade, moving their human property from the slave market to estate sales. Perhaps northern residents reacted more to the political ideology of the successful revolution, and less to the empty threat of Santo Domingo's emancipations.
Atlantic emancipation often preserved elements of enslavement in the freedom of the newly freed. The echoes of slavery continued to ring on Haiti's soil long after independence and the definitive emancipation of slaves. Haitian leaders Alexandre Pétion and Henri Christophe both criminalized non-agricultural and non-contractual work, drawing on Saint Domingue colonial laws that did the same.97 Following Santo Domingo's final emancipation in 1822 under Haitian President Jean-Pierre Boyer, an island-wide Rural Code required all persons not engaged as professionals, artisans, or domestics to work in agriculture as cultivateurs. Quisqueya Lora has shown that the cultivateurs of 1822 were free insofar as they could not be sold and could legally hold property, but they were nonetheless attached to plantations, faced anti-vagrancy persecution, and were not guaranteed wages.98 Perhaps Hispaniola's residents felt prepared for Boyer's limited emancipation and extractive labor system. The entrance of Louverture and Napoleon in Santo Domingo gave rise to new vocabularies and new legal avenues for protecting the institution of slavery, and the exigency to do just that. As emancipation edged into the colony, notaries and slave owners adapted legal customs and language to reflect the imprecise status of slaves freed only by distant law. Their activity kept Santo Domingo's bound men and women within the ever-flexible institution of slavery.