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  • Print publication year: 2020
  • Online publication date: September 2020

1 - Margarita de Sossa, Sixteenth-Century Puebla de los Ángeles, New Spain (Mexico)

from Part I - Claiming Emancipation during the Rise of New World Slavery


Margarita de Sossa’s freedom journey was defiant and entrepreneurial. In her early twenties, still enslaved in Portugal, she took possession of her body; after refusing to endure her owner’s sexual demands, he sold her, and she was transported to Mexico. There, she purchased her freedom with money earned as a healer and then conducted an enviable business as an innkeeper. Sossa’s biography provides striking insights into how she conceptualized freedom in terms that included – but was not limited to – legal manumission. Her transatlantic biography offers a rare insight into the life of a free black woman (and former slave) in late sixteenth-century Puebla, who sought to establish various degrees of freedom for herself. Whether she was refusing to acquiesce to an abusive owner, embracing entrepreneurship, marrying, purchasing her own slave property, or later using the courts to petition for divorce. Sossa continued to advocate on her own behalf. Her biography shows that obtaining legal manumission was not always equivalent to independence and autonomy, particularly if married to an abusive husband, or if financial successes inspired the envy of neighbors.