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“LIKE HEROD'S MASSACRE”: Quarantines, Bourbon Reform, and Popular Protest in Oaxaca's Smallpox Epidemic, 1796-1797

  • Paul Ramírez (a1)


At the end of August 1796, Balthasar Ruiz, a weaver from Teotitlán del Valle, departed with his son to sell woven goods in the mountainous region to the south. Over 23 days, he traveled a distance of 45 miles as the crow flies and upon his return was jailed when the boy fell ill with smallpox. The two had made a typical journey in an atypical time: administrators throughout the intendancy of Oaxaca were actively pursuing a program of contagion avoidance as smallpox spread there from Guatemala and Chiapas. What Oaxaca's intendant, Antonio de Mora y Peysal, called the “new project” consisted of regulating travel and commerce and isolating infected residents in casas de curación. In Teotitlan, textile producers found themselves at the outskirts of their village laboring to build a makeshift infirmary for their children and a camposanto, a consecrated field, for burial of smallpox victims. Months later, some from the village would call the regime a violation “like Herod's massacre.” At the time, quarantined in their village without access to markets or crops, there was little else for the men to do.



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The author wishes to thank Margaret Chowning, Bea Gurwitz, Matthew O’Hara, and the other participants in the Townsend Center’s Latin American History Working Group at the University of California at Berkeley for their remarks on the material in this article, as well as Adam Warren, Sylvia Sellers-Garcia, William Taylor, and the two anonymous reviewers of The Americas for their advice on earlier drafts.

1. AGN Epidemias (hereafter AGN-E) 15 exp. 9, 240r-v.

2. Mercurio Volante, no. 2 (October 28,1772) and no. 5 (November 18,1772), reprinted in José Igna¬cio Bartolache: Mercurio Volante, ed. Moreno, Roberto (1772–1773) (Mexico: Universidad Nacional Autònoma de México, 1979), pp. 1314, 45–54. All translations into English are the author’s.

3. Herr, Richard The Eighteenth-Century Revolution in Spain (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1958), pp. 4157; Paquette, Gabriel Enlightenment, Governance, and Reform in Spain and its Empire, 1759–1808 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), pp. 2915, 57–67; Vos, Paula deResearch, Development, and Empire: State Support of Science in the Later Spanish Empire,” Colonial Latin American Review 15:1 (2006), pp. 5579; Cañizares-Esguerra, Jorge Nature, Empire, and Nation (Palo Alto: Stanford Uni¬versity Press, 2006), pp. 5660; and for Peru, Warren, Adam Medicine and Politics in Colonial Peru: Popula¬tion Growth and the Bourbon Reforms (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2010), pp. 49, 75–77.

4. Gil, Francisco Extracto de la obra publicada en Madrid el año pasado de 1784 con el título de Dis¬ertación Físico-Médica …, México, May 28, 1788, in AGN-E 7 exp. 1, 914. After an original printing of 4,000 copies, the extract was revised and reprinted in New Spain in 1786. For quarantine measures, see AGN Indiferente Virreinal 2796, exp. 5 and AGN-E 7 exp. 1, México, June 11, 1788, 15–16. Quarantine meas¬ures appearing in England and Italy in the fifteenth century were aimed at leprosy, plague, and other infec-tious diseases. Slack, Paul The Impact of Plague in Tudor and Stuart England (Boston: Routledge, 1985), pp. 4450, 199–226; Cipolla, Carlo Public Health and the Medical Profession in the Renaissance (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1976).

5. Patients were to be isolated from the community; their clothing and bedding washed, bleached, and fumigated; and the home scoured with quicklime, plaster, and vinegar. Once the scabs separated they were to be returned to families. If the patient succumbed, he or she would be interred in a chapel or an uninhabited field. When a physician visited a patient at home, he would wear a full-body linen gown covered in a layer of wax, Ȍhands washed with watered vinegar, which should always be done with everything that touches the patient.” The admonition that only the physician interact with infected persons was routinely ignored in New Spain and contested by communities there, as discussed below. Gil, Extracto, articles VII, Vili, XII, XIII, XIV, XV, XVII, XVIII, XX.

6. In Oaxaca the goal of increasing state revenue targeted this practice because it channeled profits to local officials and merchants through informal economic arrangements and at the expense of the royal treasury. Historians long viewed the system as harmful to indigenous producers, but see Baskes, Jeremy Indians, Merchants, and Markets: A Reinterpretation of the Repartimiento and Spanish-Indian Economic Relations in Colonial Oaxaca (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2000). For an overview of Mora y Peysal’s struggles in reforming the practice, see Guardino, Peter The Time of Liberty: Popular Political Culture in Oaxaca, 1750–1850 (Durham: Duke University Press, 2005), chapt. 3.

7. In Oaxaca, schoolteachers continued to be supported financially by the parents of the school’s pupils. Dissatisfied villagers dragged their feet or refused outright to make payments, which could compel the priest to support a maestro, as before, and schools were abandoned if populations could not afford them. Taylor, William B. Magistrates of the Sacreá (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1999), pp. 334342; de Estrada, Dorothy Tanck Pueblos de indios y educación en el México colonial, 1750–1821 (Mexico: El Colegio de México, 1999), pp. 168214, 334–394, and 426–447.

8. As a whole, the dossier is both revealing and misleading. The dozens of villagers who were deposed often aimed to absolve their own actions. They testified in Zapotee—their words were rendered and recorded in Spanish with the help of two village translators—and most were illiterate judging by their inability to sign their testimonies. There is a risk in drawing assumptions about what actors knew about the logic driving the quarantine on the basis of such markers of acculturation, however. Pedro Alavés, a married Indian of 25 years humbly employed as a mariterò (weaver of mantles) and labrador (field worker), gave testimony with the help of interpreters. At the end the written formula “does not sign because he does not know how” was crossed out—below which Pedro signed and made his rubric. In reading testimonies, I am attentive to situation and cultural logic bridging people and texts, and to the fact that the original language and intention remain lost in many cases.

9. On ethnic fragmentation see also Terraciano, KevinCrime and Culture in Colonial Mexico: The Case of the Mixtee Murder Note,” Ethnohistory 45:4 (Autumn 1998), pp. 709745; on the wide dispersal of a community’s plots of land in Oaxaca, see Spores, RonaldThe Zapotee and Mixtee at Spanish Conquest,” in Handbook of Middle American Indians, vol. 3, ed. Willey, Gordon (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1965), p. 968; and on the resulting necessity of aggressive defense through litigation and force, see Taylor, William B. Landlord and Peasant in Colonial Oaxaca (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1972), pp. 195197. Through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries territorial disputes between villages were “like smoldering embers that flared up from time to time but were never completely extinguished.” Chassen-López, Francie From Liberal to Revolutionary Oaxaca: The View from the South (University Park: Pennsylvania State Univer¬sity Press, 2004), p. 442.

10. For inoculation, exceptions are Cooper, Donald B. Epidemic Disease in Mexico City, 1761–1813 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1965), which focuses mainly on Mexico City; McCaa, RobertInoculation: An Easy Means of Protecting People or Propagating Smallpox?” in Boletín Mexicano de Historia y Filosofía de la Medicina 1:2 (1998); and Aceves, Liliana Schifter Medicina, minería e inquisición en la Nueva España: Esteban Morel, 1744–1795 (Mexico: Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana-Xochimilco, 2002). The literature on the 1804 royal vaccinating campaign is vast and includes del Castillo, Francisco Fernández Los viajes de don Francisco Xavier de Balmis [1960] (Mexico: Sociedad Médica Hispano Mexicana, 1985); Cook, Sherburne F.Francisco Xavier Balmis and the Introduction of Vaccination in Latin America,” Bul¬letin of the History of Medicine 12:5 (1942), pp. 543560, and 12:6 (1942), pp. 70–101; Ramírez Martín, Susana María La mayor hazaña médica de la colonia: la Real Expedición Filantrópica de la Vacuna en la Real Audiencia de Quito (Quito: Abya-Yala Publicaciones, 1999); ibid., La salud del Imperio: la Real Expe¬dición Filantrópica de la Vacuna (Madrid: Ediciones Doce Calles, 2001); and Smith, Michael The “Real Expedición Marítima de la Vacuna” in New Spain and Guatemala (Philadelphia: The American Philosophical Society, 1974).

11. The near-contemporary turn from vida común to vida particular in convents aimed to reduce wastefulness and increase the productivity of these places of deposit and appears to have been influenced by an ideology of free individual commerce and market discipline; new institutions for the poor in Mexico City were intended to discipline beggars and more efficiently channel charitable donations; reformed funeral and burial practices showcased the virtuous habits of individuals who embraced austerity and shunned excessive expenditures on baroque religion. Chowning, MargaretConvent Reform, Catholic Reform, and Bourbon Reform in Eighteenth-Century New Spain: The View from the Nunnery,” Hispanic American Historical Review 85:1 (February 2005): pp. 138; Arrom, Silvia Containing the Poor: The Mexico City Poor House, 1774–1871 (Durham: Duke University Press, 2001); Larkin, Brian The Very Nature of God: Baroque Catholicism and Religious Reform in Bourbon Mexico City (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2010), pp. 188215; and Voekel, Pamela Alone before God: The Religious Origins of Modernity in Mexico (Durham: Duke University Press, 2002).

12. Cañizares-Esguerra, Jorge How to Write the History of the New World (Palo Alto: Stanford Univer¬sity Press, 2001); Achim, Miruna Lagartijas medicinales: remedios americanos y debates científicos en la ilustración (Mexico: CONACULTA/Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana-Cuajimalpa, 2008); and Voekel, Alone before God.

13. Until recently these sectors appeared only rarely in the literature. Studies of Bourbon medical reforms are changing this picture: see Warren, Medicine and Politics in Colonial Peru; Few, MarthaCirculating Smallpox Knowledge: Guatemalan Doctors, Maya Indians, and Designing Spain’s Royal Vaccination Expedition, 1780–1806,” British Journal for the History of Science (Fall 2010), pp. 519537; and for the role of laypeople in public health campaigns in Mexico’s national period, McCrea, Heather Diseased Relations: Epidemics, Public Health, and State-Building in Yucatán, Mexico, 1847–1924 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2010).

14. The public spheres that emerged in medical campaigns also look rather different than those that accompanied imperial crisis and independence movements, which have been rigorously studied. Scholars of Mexico and the Spanish Empire tend to focus on the imperial crises of 1789 and especially on the Napoleonic invasion of the Iberian Peninsula in 1808. For Mexico, as for much of the Hispanic world, clerics played an important role in interpreting and explaining political events for parishioners. See Connaughton, Brian Clerical Ideology in a Revolutionary Age, 1788–1853, trans. Healey, Mark (Alberta: University of Calgary Press, 2003); Eastman, Scott Preaching Spanish Nationalism across the Hispanic Atlantic, 1759–1823 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2012); Alonso, Paula ed., Construcciones impresas: panfletos, diarios y revistas en la formación de los estados nacionales en América Latina, 1820–1920 (Buenos Aires: Fondo de Cultura Económica de Argentina, 2003); and François-Xavier Guerra’s body of work. See also Forment, Carlos Democracy in Latin America, 1760–1900 (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003), which focuses on associative life beyond the purview of the Church and concludes that critical spheres emerged only as a result of the anticolonial movements of the 1810s.

15. The study examined 142 revolts over the long eighteenth century: 91 from central Mexico, 19 from the Mixteca Alta, and 32 from the Valley of Oaxaca. Taylor, William B. Drinking, Homicide, and Rebellion in Colonial Mexican Villages (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1979), p. 116. The Teotitlán incident revisited here is treated on pp. 137–138.

16. See Scott, JoanGender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis,” American Historical Review 91:5 (December 1986), pp. 10531075. For relevant treatments of gender relations in the colonial Mexican context, see Taylor, Drinking, Homicide, and Rebellion; Stern, Steve The Secret History of Gender: Women, Men, and Power in Late Colonial Mexico (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995); Franco, Jean Plotting Women: Gender and Representation in Mexico (New York: Columbia University Press, 1989); Lavrin, AsunciónLo femenino: Women in Colonial Historical Sources,” in Coded Encounters: Writing, Gender, and Ethnicity in Colonial Latin America, eds. Cevallos-Candau, Francisco Javier et al. (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1994), pp. 153176; and Sousa, LisaWomen and Crime in Colonial Oaxaca: Evidence of Complementary Gender Roles in Mixtee and Zapotee Societies,” in Indian Women of Early Mexico, eds. Schroeder, Susan et al. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997), pp. 199214.

17. Chance, John Race and Class in Colonial Oaxaca (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1978), pp. 144151; Spores, The Zapotee and Mixtee at Spanish Conquest,” pp. 962986.

18. Mora y Peysal, 40r, AGN-E 10 exp. 1, Oaxaca, February 7, 1797; Mora y Peysal to Subdelegate of Huamelula, 112r-v, AGN-E 10 exp. 3, Oaxaca, May 28,1796. Similar precautions were taken with mail leav¬ing Antequera for Mexico City, involving fumigations with sulfur before bagging.

19. AGN-E 12 exps. 2 and 3.

20. One subdelegate later denounced this as an unbearable and impractical tequio (imposed communal task), noting that guards detained muleteers only along highly traveled roads while allowing residents to walk freely along numerous others. José González to Manuel de Flon, 198–200, AGN-E 10 exp. 4, Tehuacán de las Granadas, June 11, 1797.

21. Melgar to Intendant, 195r-v, AGN-E 12 exp. 5, Teotitlán, September 28, 1796.

22. These would be given to an intermediary, fumigated in quarantine, and sold in Antequera. Expenses for Teotitlán’s epidemic amounted to 1,203 pesos for the hospitals, beds, and medication for the sick, 659.5 pesos to pay troops to guard the cordon, and roughly 2,900 pesos for the purchase of textiles from weavers; the amount was returned to coffers once the goods were sold (with excess quantities given to villagers). Bernardo José de Rioja to Real Tribunal y Audiencia de Cuentas del Reino, 74-75, AGN-E 15 exp. 2, Oaxaca, July 24, 1801; Melgar to Intendant, 337–338, AGN-E 12 exp. 7, Teotitlán, October 3, 1796. This system functioned for several months, but with the new year Melgar reported that proceeds from sales were inade¬quate. Two weeks later, a villager trying to reenter after leaving to sell mantles in Antequera’s tianguis was apprehended by guards and jailed. Melgar to Intendant, 231, AGN-E 10 exp. 6, Teotitlán, January 9, 1796 [1797]; ibid., January 12, 1797, 232–233r; and ibid., January 22, 1797, 236r-v.

23. Melgar to Intendant, 204–205, AGN-E 12 exp. 5, Teotitlán, October 1, 1796.

24. Intendant to Melgar, 206–227, AGN-E 12 exp. 5, Oaxaca, October 4, 1796.

25. Melgar to Intendant, 23r-v, AGN-E 15 exp. 2, Teotitlán, October 7, 1796. Melgar continued to enforce his superior's order, but personally went on horseback to survey the village’s plots and confirm that they were indeed bounded by the pueblos of Santa Ana del Valle and “Maculsuchil” (Macuilxóchitl). He sta¬tioned guards along the boundaries to discourage residents from congregating there.

26. Certification of Esteban Melgar, 244r-v, AGN-E 15 exp. 9, Teotidan, December 30, 1796.

27. Melgar to Intendant, 204–205, AGN-E 12 exp. 5, Teoüdán, October 1, 1796.

28. Certification of Esteban Melgar, 245v-246r, AGN-E 15 exp. 9, Teotitlán, December 30, 1796.

29. Melgar to Intendant, 204–205, AGN-E 12 exp. 5, Teotitlán, October 1, 1796, and also the certi¬fication of the priest, Manuel Antonio Martínez, Ministro de la Doctrina, 381r-v, AGN-E 12 exp. 7, Casa Par¬roquial de Teotidán, November 16, 1796.

30. José Flores, “Instrucción sobre el modo de practicar la inoculación de las viruelas y método para curar esta enfermedad acomodado a la naturaleza y modo de vivir de los Indios, y demás castas de Gente rús¬tica de los Pueblos de el Reino de Guatemala,” Archivo Histórico Judicial de Oaxaca (hereafter AHJO), Villa Alta Civil (hereafter VAC) 31 exp. 14, Nueva Guatemala, October 25, 1794. Except for the fact that Flores incorporated inoculation, his and Gil’s instructions were similar in their obsession with contagion and with controlling diseased space and bodies: the priority, in dealing with Indians and other poor people, was to pre¬vent infection by patrolling movement, cleaning streets and homes, and fumigating with sulfur.

Oaxaca’s physicians approved Flores’s instruction for use except for sections prescribing chocolate, cacao, annatto, and contmyerba (Flavcria trinervia), the last a potentially harmful stimulant, the others “oleosos y aumentativos de la putrefacción.” Mora y Peysal to Melgar, 200r, AGN-E 12 exp. 5, Oaxaca, September 30, 1796. Copies arrived in several other jurisdictions, including Villa Alta’s parishes in July 1797 (see AHJO-VAC 31 exp. 14, 26r-28r).

31. Melgar to Intendant, 204–205, AGN-E 12 exp. 5, Teotitlán, October 1, 1796.

32. He had solicited a curandera from the neighboring village of Santa Cruz Papalutla to help run the infirmary and “administer enemas.” From Antequera he now requested medicines and another healer, perhaps to relieve the schoolteacher. Melgar to Intendant, 24–25, AGN-E 15 exp. 2, Teotitlán, October 8, 1796.

33. Licenciado Don Joaquín de Villasante to Thomas Antonio Paradela, 166–167, AGN-E 15 exp. 8, Oaxaca, October 7, 1796. In his brief, Villasante likened the village to a prison to which residents had been consigned in violation of tradition and religion.

34. Declaration of Josefa Ximénes, 208r-v, AGN-E 15 exp. 9, Teotitlán, October 17, 1796.

35. Certification of Esteban Melgar, 247r, ibid., December 30, 1796.

36. Declaration of Petrona Chávez, 207v-208r, ibid., October 17, 1796. Petrona implicated several women, calling Jacinta Zarate, Josefa Ruiz, Juana Lorenzo, and Gutiérrez, Domingaprincipal organizers of all that happened in this pueblo” (principales cabecillas de todo lo acaecido en este Pueblo), and described a failed attempts by these women to gather men and women to impede the blessing of the camposanto. It is difficult to discern relationships in the documentation, but possible that Dominga, Magdalena, and Geronima, who reportedly assaulted the Spanish nurse, were close relatives and that these bonds of kinship explain their involvement.

37. Declaration of Antonio López, 199–201, ibid., October 12, 1796.

38. Declaration of José Bernardo Aragón, 212r-v, ibid., October 21, 1796.

39. The foregoing account is from Melgar’s official statement, 246r–247v, ibid., December 30, 1796; Félix Confite to Melgar, 26r, ibid., exp. 2, Teotitlán, October 8, 1796; and Melgar to Intendant, 26r, ibid., Teotitlán, October 8, 1796.

40. Auto of Antonio de Mora y Peysal, 26–27, AGN-E 15 exp. 2, Oaxaca, October 9, 1796.

41. News of 200 soldiers on the march reached villagers from a resident of neighboring Santa Ana. Shortly before eight o’clock Sunday night, whistling and shouts pierced the air to assemble villagers along the road from the capital. Melgar, who had not yet learned of the orders and feared residents were preparing to burn down the hospital, retreated to the administrative building. By the time troops arrived early in the morn¬ing, residents had dispersed. Melgar to Intendant, 31–32, AGN-E 15 exp. 2, Teotitlán, October 10, 1796; Declaration of Lucas Sosa, 229v–230r, ibid., exp. 9, Teotitlán, November 24, 1796.

42. Intendant to Viceroy, 33–34, AGN-E 15 exp. 2, Oaxaca, October 28,1796. On abuses, deserrions, and general incompetence in militia companies, see Pastor, Rodolfo Campesinos y reformas. La mixteca, 1700–1865 (Mexico: Colegio de Mexico, Centro de Estudios Históricos, 1985), p. 198. During the epidemic, guards reportedly charged passengers for permission to move through the cordons they were supposed to be patrolling. Intendant to Tomas Martinez Carrillo, 340r, AGN-E 12 exp. 7, Oaxaca, October 5, 1796.

43. Melgar remained an enthusiastic sanitizer, ordering such measures in the jail and elsewhere in the village. Melgar to Intendant, 44r-v, AGN-E 15 exp. 2, Teotitlán, November 17, 1796.

44. Melgar to Intendant, 367r-v, AGN-E 12 exp. 7, Teotitlán, October 20, 1796.

45. Melgar to Intendant, 44r-v, AGN-E 15 exp. 2, Teotidán, November 17, 1796.

46. Joseph Antonio Rincón, Vicario, 42r-v, AGN Indiferente Virreinal 5724 exp. 12, San Martin Tileagete, February 29, 1780.

47. Pedro Matheo, Antonio Lorenzo, Antonio Mathias, etc., AGN-E 15 exp. 8, 168r (n.d.). Violation carried a punishment of two months in jail or 25 lashes.

48. Declaration of Josefa Ruiz, 214–215r, AGN-E 15 exp. 9, Teotitlán, October 25, 1796; Declaration of Juana Lorenzo, 215v–216r, ibid, October 27, 1796. Both received permission from the subdelegate to work in the hospital kitchen and were jailed as ringleaders after removing their daughters from the infirmary.

49. Declaration of Pedro Alavés, 194–195, ibid., October 11,1796. He claimed to have responded that such things, having been ordered “by the King and the Bishop,” could not be resisted, but his participation over several days belies his self-exculpation.

50. Declaration of Pascuala de la Cruz, 210r-v, ibid., October 19, 1796.

51. One of the go-betweens testified that Villasante had told them they could petition the viceroy because the intendant’s orders were unauthorized. Declaration of Gaspar García, 197–199, ibid., October 12, 1796. According to Marcos’s original testimony, when Pascual doubted that he could gather the required 60 pesos, Sebastiana had suggested that her father, the current Indian governor, could assist, presumably to supply the remainder. Declaration of Marcos de los Angeles, 174–176, AGN-E 15 exp. 8, Antequera, Octo¬ber 13, 1796.

52. Villasante never sent his brief. Friday’s mail was delayed, and by Sunday morning news of Teotitlán’s uprising had dissuaded him from further involvement. Declaration of Marcos de los Angeles, 174–176, ibid., October 13, 1796; Declaration of Licenciado Villasante, 168v–171r, ibid.; and Declaration of Pascual Hipól¬ito, 223r-v, ibid., exp. 9, Teotitlán, November 3, 1796.

53. Jacinta refused to allow residents to draw up a statement in her home, fearing reprisals, according to one witness. After additional men declined, it was finally written in the home of Gerónimo López. Decla¬ration of Manuel Bazan, 195v-197, ibid., October 11, 1796; Declaration of Antonio López, 199-201, ibid., October 12, 1796.

54. Declaration of Pedro Gonzalez, 203–204v, ibid., October 13, 1796.

55. Certification of Esteban Melgar, 225r-v, ibid., December 30, 1796. In one instance, an ecclesiastical official arrived to restrain musicians in the church and was mocked by the women. The second was the con¬troversial secularization of the doctrina.

56. “A nosotros la República y Comunes Naturales y principales del pueblo y cabecera de Teotitlán del Valle ante vuestra señoría nos presentamos rendidamente … ,” 193r-v, ibid.October 11, 1796 (signed on behalf of the república by scribes and interpreters Pedro Mateo, Gabriel Martines, Pedro Vicente, and Pedro Sosa).

57. Declaration of Marcos de los Angeles, 174–176, AGN-E 15 exp. 8, Oaxaca, October 13, 1796; Declaration of Manuel Bazan, 195v-197, ibid., exp. 9, Teotidán, October 11, 1796.

58. Even the letter from the elders to Melgar absolving them of responsibility is ambivalent. It vehemently disclaims the issue that so concerned activists—the construction of the infirmary and the cemetery — by stressing complete obedience in those matters. But the issue of opening up roads is gently pushed forward: “grant us the opening up of the road so we can go see nuestras Milpa [sic],” in “A nosotros la República y Comunes Naturales y principales del pueblo y cabecera de Teotitlán del Valle ante vuestra señoría nos presen¬tamos rendidamente,” 193r-v, ibid., October 11, 1796.

59. Declaration of Santiago Vásquez, 221v-222v, ibid., October 31, 1796.

60. Declaration of Magdalena Hernández, 209r, ibid., October 17, 1796.

61. At least one official, regidor José Lorenzo, was cited as being among the first to enter the infirmary to remove his children, apparently no less susceptible to impulse in the heat of the moment than were the women. Though kinship ties are fuzzy here as elsewhere, Lorenzo’s motive for entering likely had to do with family: if Juana Lorenzo was his sister, his niece was inside. Declaration of Manuel Bazan, 195v-197, ibid., October 11, 1796.

62. Stern, The Secret History of Gender, pp. 98103. For similar remarks about the ways nuns employed strategies in their writing to render their mystical experiences authoritative in the eyes of archiépiscopal reviewers, see Franco, Plotting Women, pp. 922.

63. Bolder politicking beyond cabildos might have been one effect of earlier Bourbon reforms, to the extent these rendered local representative bodies somewhat redundant and less capable of carrying out responsibilities on behalf of their communities. Rodolfo Pastor has argued, however, that Bourbon policy followed a decline in the functioning of local governments, Campesinos y reformas, p. 199. On the “loss of vitality” of rulers, see also Taylor, Drinking, Homicide, and Rebellion, pp. 141142.

64. The idea of a Spaniard contravening orders and inciting a village of Indians to revolt by support¬ing their protest was abhorrent to administrators. Melgar cited the lawyer’s encouragement and suggestion that the provisions would be overturned, and noted the powerful influence of attorneys over Indians in general, claiming that there had been no sign of insubordination before his involvement. While the last was untrue, it made for a tidier explanation of the events that transpired under his watch. Melgar to Intendant, 162r-v, AGN-E 15 exp. 8, Teotitlán, October 12, 1796.

65. Francisco Ruiz, Santiago Vásquez, Baltasar Ruiz, Pascual Hipólito, Pedro González, Domingo Matheo, and Lucas Sosa, presos, 65v, AGN-E 15 exp. 2, Real Cárcel de Oaxaca, April 24, 1797. Though he had not signed his sworn statement, González signed here. The other six made crosses in a small cluster on the page.

66. Ibid., 66r-v.

67. Nahua bodily conceptions viewed the heart as an animistic and vital site, with meanings equating it to the soul (ánima), center of both thought and feeling. Austin, Alfredo López The Human Body and Ideology: Concepts of the Ancient Nahuas, vol. 1, trans. de Montellano, Thelma Ortiz et al. (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1988), pp. 174–75, 229–31.

68. Taylor, William B. “‘… de corazón pequeño y ánimo apocado’: conceptos de los curas párrocos sobre los indios en la Nueva España del siglo XVIII,” Relaciones 39 (Summer 1989), p. 28.

69. From a printed eighteenth-century hymn to the Virgin Mary as the Immaculate Conception: “Be blessed, white Dove, and blessed the fruit of your entrañas / When this valley was lost, there came the remedy of your entrañas.” A Spaniard brought before the Inquisition in 1793 for selling superstitious devotional booklets pleaded for mercy “by the corazón of Jesus and by the purest entrañas of María Santísima.” Petition of José Manjarres, Bancroft Library, BANC MSS 96/95, vol. 17 exp. 4.

70. For the Mixteca of western Oaxaca, Rodolfo Pastor calculates that 35 percent of deaths in the eigh¬teenth century occurred before the age of four years and speculates that this prevented parents from forming strong emotional bonds with offspring until survival was more certain. Campesinos y reformas, pp. 404—407.

71. It begins by introducing the men to the viceroy as prisoners, switches to first-person plural momen¬tarily (“hallándonos presos”), and reverts to third person; it remains there for the majority of the document as it refers to “supplicants” and other villagers and revisits the highlights of the tumulto and its aftermath. Toward the end the account shifts abrupdy—in mid-sentence—back to the first-person plural to register an appeal (“reclamamos y ocurrimos”) before the viceroy. The petition then ends in the first-person plural to recount the prisoners’ grievance—that they have been deprived of the means to support themselves and their families—and to appeal one final time to the piety that might move the viceroy to favor los pobres. Perhaps it was assembled by one of the prisoners, Pedro González (the only one who makes his rubric), an attorney patching the voices of his clients into the document, or most likely, a scribe, compiling it from the dictated complaints and arguments of prisoners and attorney.

72. Mora y Peysal, 162–164, AGN-E 12 exp. 3, Oaxaca, September 26, 1796.

73. Mora y Peysal to Fiscal, 3r-v, AGN-E 10 exp. 1, Oaxaca, December 30, 1796.

74. AGN-E 10 exps. 2 and 3. While many more arrived, I have used here only those descriptions claim¬ing to be firsthand.

75. Francisco Bernardo Galindo to Promotor Fiscal, 168–169, AGN-E 10 exp. 3, Oaxaca, February 4, 1797.

76. Manuel Antonio Moreno, 170r-v, ibid., February 4, 1797.

77. Omaña to Viceroy, 163–165, ibid., February 3, 1797.

78. The same themes, phrasing, and orthographic peculiarities appear on both pages (contar = contra; eho = [h]echo; lell = ley; rell = rey). “Digo que dios es benigno y todo es echo por dios … ,” 183–184, AGN-E 10 exp. 3 (n.d.).

79. The invocation of Gálvez indicates that the most famous Bourbon reformer had entered the popu¬lar imaginary as a “heretic” and though long out of power had continued to receive credit for distasteful ini¬tiatives. The “relative” likely referred to the intendant of Oaxaca, but the viceroy of New Spain is another pos¬sibility. Neither was related by blood.

80. Nicolás Pelayo to Conejares, 6–8, AHJO-VAC 32 exp. 4, Zoochila, May 17, 1797, (with reference to subject pueblo Santiago Laxopa); Ignacio José Ximénez to Conejares, ibid., Tavaa, May 17, 1797; and La República y Principales del Pueblo de Tabaa, 38r, AHJO-VAC 31 exp. 15, Villa Alta, May 18, 1797. Residents of the last Zapotee community complained about conditions and requested permission for children to remain in their homes.

81. Mariano Marlanzón to Conejares, 49r, AHJO-VAC 31 exp. 15, Santa Cruz Yagavila, May 28,1797; Justicias to Conejares, 51r, ibid., Yaneri, May 28, 1797.

82. AHJO-VAC 32 exp. 4, Santa Maria Puxmetecan, May 28, 1797, 24-25.

83. José Antonio Menezes to Conejares, AHJO-VAC 31 exp. 15, Santiago Atitlán, May 27, 1797, 46r-v.

84. Proximity to urban centers and geography do not fully explain or predict village protest. The republic of Tlacolula, neighboring Teotidán in the same valley extending southeast from Antequera, was similarly sizeable and proximate to the Spanish hub. Nevertheless its leaders petitioned the viceroy shortly after learning of the policy being pursued in Teotidán that their children be allowed to remain in their homes. This way, they reasoned, the disease infestation would run its course more quickly, as opposed to what they viewed as unnecessarily delaying the inevitable by isolating the sick in an infirmary. The same interpretive problems arise here and, to an extent, in Villa Alta: without the kinds of documentation we have for Teotitlán, which reveal a more complicated intertwining of formal and informal political process, it is impossible to know whether those cabildo members whose names appear on the petition—the governor, two alcaldes, three regidores, and the escribano—were primarily responsible for voicing this opinion. “El común y naturales de Santa María Asunción de Tlacolula de la Jurisdicción de Teotitlán del Valle ante Vuestra Excelencia parecemos y decimos … ,” 373–374, AGN-E 12 exp. 7 (n.d.).

85. José González to Manuel de Flon, 198v-199r, AGN-E 10 exp. 4, Tehuacán del Valle, June 11,1797.

86. Intendant to Branciforte, 219–220, AGN-E 12 exp. 5, Oaxaca, November 11, 1796; Intendant to Branciforte, 215–216, ibid., Oaxaca, November 25 ,1796.

87. Bando, 66–67v, AGN-E 10 exp. 2, Oaxaca, February 8, 1797; for the deliberations of February 7, 1797, AGN-E 10 exp. 2, 42–47, 55–59, and 60v-62v.

88. Circular, 96–96v, AGN-E 10 exp. 2, Oaxaca, February 22, 1797. Both success with inoculation and the communal and commercial damage wrought by quarantine were factors. Only those who had been exposed to smallpox in the past (mainly adults over age 17) would be granted free passage.

89. A church edict in February outlined a plan for collecting and distributing alms. Some 5,000 pesos were placed in the hands of the priests of the sagrario and the priors of convents, who were to distribute alms to the poor and destitute in each district. In addition, 120-day indulgences were offered to residents who provided care, physicians who cured for free, nurses who assisted, and priests who confessed. “Nos el Doctor Don Gregorio José de Omaña … ,” 187–190, AGN-E 10 exp. 3, Palacio Episcopal de Antequera, February 11, 1797.

90. As a recent study argues, the predominant image of peasant villages as fragmented and isolated needs to be tempered by acknowledgment of the cultural commonalities, sustained regional alliances, and political solidarities that occasionally cut across deep ethnic divisions. Yannakakis, Yanna The Art of Being In-Between: Native Intermediaries, Indian Identity, and Local Rule in Colonial Oaxaca (Durham: Duke University Press, 2008), pp. 4560, 122–125. For a related approach, see Caplan, Karen Indigenous Citizens: Local Liberalism in Early National Oaxaca and Tucatán (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2010).

91. Works in this vein are Gabriel Paquette, Enlightenment, Governance, and Reform in Spain and its Empire; Cañizares-Esguerra, How to Write the History of the New World; and the contributors to Paquette, Gabriel ed., Enlightened Reform in Southern Europe and its Atlantic Colonies, c. 1750–1830 (Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate Publishing Co., 2009).

92. Asunción Lavrin has criticized scholarly neglect of the ways women exercised power over domestic spaces in favor of their action in the public sphere. The preceding analysis suggests one of the ways these spheres were related. Lavrin, “Lo femenino.” My thanks to Amanda Scott for suggesting the relevance of Lavrin’s article.

93. Treatment varied even among hospitals operated by the same religious order. The archbishop of Mexico’s 1775 review of the San Juan de Dios hospitals in Mexico City, Toluca, Texcoco, and Pachuca observed that the only patients were pobres infelices who had no other recourse. Quality of care varied by the prior in charge; Indians would fear them less if care were more consistent. As in Europe, some institutions in Mexico City were becoming places for instruction and testing, which did not necessarily translate into a higher quality of care. Ceballos, Rómulo Velasco ed., Visita y reforma de los Hospitales de San Juan de Dios de Nueva España, vol. 2 (Mexico: Archivo Histórico de la Secretaria de Salubridad y Asistencia, 1945), pp. 139146; Risse, GuenterMedicine in the Age of Enlightenment,” in Medicine in Society, ed. Wear, Andrew (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992), pp. 178186.

94. Gil, Extracto, article III.

95. Borbón to Viceroy, 15–26, AGN-E 10 exp. 1, Mexico City, February 12, 1797.

96. Ibid., 21v.

97. Between September 10 and October 21, 728 inoculations were performed in Mexico City, with five reported deaths. On October 16, with mortality rates still rising, the viceregal government established juntas de caridad modeled on those used in the smallpox epidemic of 1779, which Oaxaca had revived earlier that year. These committees coordinated the efforts and wealth of institutions and residents of means, splitting the capital into manzanas (sections) for more efficient collection and distribution of alms and food to the sick poor. Resemblances to Antequera’s solution were not accidental, as these approaches to emergency relief had been common throughout the viceroyalty. Viceroy to Archbishop, 357–359, AGN-E 1 exp. 2, Orizaba, October 23,1797; “Demostración que manifiesta, el número de virolentos naturales, los que de ellos han fallecido, el de inoculados, y muertos, de estos … ,” ibid., exp. 4, Mexico City, October 21, 1797, 376r.

98. The fiscal cited several Laws of the Indies in support of a lenient ruling for villagers, arguing that rebellious words without arms did not make criminals, that resisters were to be persuaded and made to understand by religious authorities and through gentle means, that even in riots the dispatch of armed men to pacify Indian pueblos was prohibited, and that viceroys were expressly empowered to forgive acts of rebellion. Fiscal de Real Hacienda Alva, 60-64, AGN-E 15 exp. 2, Mexico City, April 16, 1796.

99. On this trend, see Bárbaros, David Weber Spaniards and Their Savages in the Age of Enlightenment (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005), chapt. 1.

100. Taylor, Drinking, Homicide, and Rebellion, p. 120.

101. The admonition of Mora y Peysal that troops sent to Teotitlán to stem the uprising avoid harming indios may be understood as part of this paternal impulse. So can his orders that Antequera’s physicians take turns attending to the sick poor for one hour in each barrio daily; here he focused explicitly on the state’s obligations to impoverished communities—which desperately needed medical care but consistently lacked access to it. Intendant to Viceroy, 85r-v, AGN-E 10 exp. 2, Oaxaca, February 28, 1797.

102. Declaration of Jacinta Zarate, 232–235, AGN-E 15 exp. 9, Teotidán, November 24, 1796.

“LIKE HEROD'S MASSACRE”: Quarantines, Bourbon Reform, and Popular Protest in Oaxaca's Smallpox Epidemic, 1796-1797

  • Paul Ramírez (a1)


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