Published online by Cambridge University Press: 10 February 2022
By the middle of the nineteenth century, as the state turned more and more custom into positive law, perhaps with the understanding that such measures were a controlled transition to a post-emancipation society, enslaved people in Santiago, as elsewhere, appealed to the state more frequently too. The move away from custom and toward positive law was not always beneficial to the enslaved. The state was now moving to freeze custom’s plasticity, to reduce local autonomy, and to support new commercial endeavors that in certain areas could slow down the pace of emancipation from below. But the people of African descent in Santiago did not remain passive: they rose up in arms, joining anticolonial and antislavery insurgencies, the three wars of independence against Spain (1868–1878, 1879–1880, 1895–1898) – a pivotal moment in the annals of Black liberation in the Western Hemisphere. The traditional familial networks that had formed the foundation of colonial custom were now mobilized on the battlefield in a movement for a liberal republic free of slavery, likely conceived in the popular imagination through the lens of regional autonomy. So were local vernacular understandings of color status, which had reflected some social mobility and had been structured around notions of merit.