Urban Slavery in Colonial Mexico: Built From The Beginning

This story of Mexico and its people go back to before the Spanish people came to colonize it. Before the Spaniards could call Mexico home the indigenous people of the Aztec lived there. For hundreds of years the land that the Aztec held became very valuable to them. Their land was fertile and was equipped with hunting grounds for everyone. In 1521 Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortez, after years of fighting a brutal war, Cortez was victorious in defeating the Aztec and claimed their land in the name of Spain. With other parts of the new world already being claimed, Spain now had her hand in the region and in a rather large area of the region. The extra land acquired in this conquest was a necessity for the people of Spain. Land in Europe was getting crowned and expensive. The acquisition of the new land gave a place for the less well-off  citizens of European states to migrate to. This allowed for population and resource control while giving the poor citizens a chance to climb the social ladder in the new world. Though out the blog you can read a brief history of how the space of what is Mexico today became Spanish territory. Following that is a brief history of Mexico City and then a more in depth look at the slave trade and how it built the economy of Puebla de Los Angeles. The city of Puebla de Los Angeles has a full history that can be attributed to the black body both good and evil. The city was quite literally built by slaves and it owes it beauty to them for that. Not to mention the sale and purchase of slaves allowed for an economy to thrive under free labor for not only the elite class but down to the middle class. The government officials and the church have their ugly side as well as they were working together to produce free labor. They thrived with so many undocumented workers and so did the economy.

From here it started to develop in similar ways that other places in the new world did. One of the most profitable ways that countries could get their economy going across the ocean from them was to becomes a part of the free labor trade. Free labor for this side of the world meant that means of production were low and the profits were high and this allowed for people to build tremendous wealth’s. With a population of roughly 20 to 25 million indigenous people the people of Spain were excited about a work force that would bring in profits. The plan to enslave the Native Americans started with vigor pulling in over a million slaves to run their mines, fields, and factories. The vast enslavement of the Indigenous people was short live by historical accounts. Both the Spanish and the Portuguese laid out legislation that made the enslavement of the Native American’s an act of the past. These ruling powers felt that they could exploit the Indigenous people more effectively thought Pre-conquest taxes and agreements that the government structure put into place. In addition to the number of indigenous people who were at the disposal of the new government the African slave trade was the most profitable trade of humans and after the Spanish stopped taking indigenous people into slavery it grew the African population in Mexico significantly.  Some 10 to 15 million Africans were forced to call the Americas their new home after being taken from their homes in Africa. Before there was modern day Mexico, there was Mexico City, and it was built up by the hard work of African slaves. Before California held its own Los Angeles African slaves built the city of Puebla de Los Angeles.  Puebla De Los Angeles is the second city that laid rest in Mexico and it flourished on the backs of slaves. The economies of the Spanish colonies were running by the labor of the African slave and it was so profitably because there was no labor cost. Sugar cane was a crop that was being planted everywhere and because of its field needs slaves were the labor need to make sure that the economy continued to grow under its biggest cash crop of the time. Slaves were sent to Mexico via the Atlantic slave trade and this allowed for so many different ethnicity of Africans to be forced together. With so many cultures and languages being brought from Africa the slaves needed to adjust to the Spanish culture and living ideas. This made them easy labors because they had no sense of home or direction as opposed to the native Americas. The Spanish found that the Native peoples were not ideal laborers because they were from the land and could not be forced to leave as easily. With Africans this was not an issue that was relevant seeing as how they needed to acclimate to their new climates in order to have any chance of survival.  With such a high number of the Africans being involved in the building of Mexico the black diaspora is better documented here than in most other Latin American countries. One of focuses of the research was finding the impact that the urban slave had in shaping the modern cities of Puebla De Los Angeles. With the population of Los Angeles at some point being 40%-50% African, the impact that the black body had on the culture and its economy was great. Early records of the founding of Los Angeles say that slaves were present there within 5 years of the city being founded so they have been there from the start. Los Angeles is located a little more than halfway between Mexico City and the gulf and its location allowed it to set up one of the largest slave trading post in the region. The growing need for labor allowed slaves to be sold on credit and this is another reason for the large slave trade hub that was Puebla De Los Angeles. The number of slaves coupled with the ability to buy them on credit led to the boom in slave ownership through out the middle class. Slaves took hold of all jobs and all walks of live quickly after that. In Puebla de Los Angeles the life of the African slave can be broken down in 4 aspects of life. The first being the Slave markets and the amount of attention and money that it commanded. The Economy was thriving and apart  of that was due to that labor that the slaves were able to produce however the other part to this was the slave markets. With over 5 million slaves coming thought just Mexico alone the markets of Los Angeles was the perfect place to sell. The more African slaves that one owned the more distinguished and prestigious they seemed to display to others. The second aspect of their life was the work in that they did, primarily in textile mills. Textile mills, since the early years of the industrial revolution, were very intensive jobs. The mills would spin and card fabric and some places would have hand weavers in the factory as well. For the African slaves textile mills were second homes. Often forced to work long shifts with no breaks the mill was taxing on the body and the mind. Factories would be stuffed to the brim trying to fit as many free working slaves in there as possible. Some of the slaves worked in these mills for their middle-class owners. They would make what little money they could and return it to their owners. The other slaves belonged to the church. The third aspect of slave life in urban Mexico was their relationship to the church.   The church plays a significant role in the numbers of slaves that were in the city. Within covets it was noticed that they were able to hold will over slaves head because a lot of the slaves simply didn’t belong to anyone. Government officials started arranging marriages within convents so that they could grow their labor pool. The average age of the girls in the convents was sitting at 14 and time and time again they were asked to be become pregnant with the baby of an African slave. In doing this the work force grew tremendously. This allowed for the church to hold power because they were seen as powerful due to the high number of slaves they controlled. From here they were sent to the markets for profit or to mills and fields to work. Money and greed is a big fuel for the treatment of the African slaves in Mexico. The last aspect of their life that we look at is the social networks that slaves had to build with each other. While it was noted they had an easier time compared to other slaves in the fields they still had their own set of horrible variables to deal with. Because of this there was a need to form a culture for the black body of Pueblo De Los Angeles. Africans developed a shared background after only a couple of generations.

Map of Mexico 1786 - 1821

Over the course of this class we have looked as slavery throughout all of Latin America. the slavery that was happening in Mexico was not much different than what happened anywhere else. When any nation came to the new world they all the same goals in mind, to add to their empires and to grow their economy. The New land offered the time, space, and resources to do this in large scale fusion. With their white skin came their ideas of a supreme race and this pushed the social status of anyone who was not white or as close to it as possible down. Roughly 15 million slaves made the journey across the ocean and nearly 10 million of them found themselves in the Latin Americas. The powers in Europe need a place for overflow population and more money. They Americas provided both labor and space. Indigenous people were the target of slavery at first. This proved to be complicated for a number of reasons. Native labor was just not cutting it for the Europeans. The slave trade picked up and the idea of using natives to do work became an idea of the past.

The hook of my story is the role of the Urban slave in shaping the formation of Puebla De Los Angeles. Within my blog I would like to lay out some timelines that show the growth of the Mexican city. Record show that slaves were used as early on as 5 years after the city was founded. There is a rich history that can be display on a timeline to show when and how the African body made significant changed for the city. In addition to this there a lot of years in which legislation picked up or power shifted somehow.  Pointing out some of the rebellions and protest is something that I would like to highlight was well. There were several that started after Haiti gained its freedom however many were able to be shut down or stopped in its juvenile stages of planning. Another thing I would like to include is a section that highlights the different aspects of the urban slave. Mills, social networks, convents, and slave markets ruled over the slaves life and forced them to get comfortable on its schedule.  Being able to dive into a little more depth about the life inside of the mills would allow for a decent insight in how their work varied from their field counter parts. Exploring the money that could be made in the slave markets is a portion of the blog as well. Church ownership of slaves allowed for population growth as well as money for them so it will also be its on post. Same for the social networks that slaves had to form.

Works Consulted

Gaitors, Beau DJ. 2020. “Urban Slavery in Colonial Mexico: Puebla de Los Angeles, 1531–1706 by Pablo Miguel Sierra Silva, and: Corruption and Justice in Colonial Mexico, 1650–1755 by Christoph Rosenmüller (Review).” Early American Literature 55 (3): 873–77. https://search-ebscohost-com.proxy.lib.miamioh.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=cookie,ip&db=edspmu&AN=edspmu.S1534147X20300162&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Moreno-Tabarez, Ulises. 2020. “Rural Pandemic: The Afterlives of Slavery and Colonialism in Costa Chica, Mexico.” DIALOGUES IN HUMAN GEOGRAPHY, June. doi:10.1177/2043820620935681.

Valdés, Dennis N. 2019. “The Decline of Slavery in Mexico.” The Americas 75 (1): 167–94. https://search-ebscohost-com.proxy.lib.miamioh.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=cookie,ip&db=edspmu&AN=edspmu.S1533624718100636&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Yaremko, Jason M. 2019. “Urban Slavery in Colonial Mexico: Puebla de Los Ángeles, 1531–1706 by Pablo Miguel Sierra Silva (Review).” The Americas 76 (2): 356–57. https://search-ebscohost-com.proxy.lib.miamioh.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=cookie,ip&db=edspmu&AN=edspmu.S1533624719200098&site=eds-live&scope=site.