There Are So Many Things That Beg You for Love (New Orleans Review 39.1)

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On the downside of the economic cycle conditions for slaves could even worsen, as slaveowners struggled to return to the days of prosperity and worked their slaves even harder. At the very top and bottom of the cycle, however, manumission opportunities for slaves improved. Riding comfortable and secure at the peak of their material good fortune, masters could afford to part with bondsmen, especially if the slave reimbursed the owner at inflated self-purchase prices. On the other hand, slaveowners strapped for cash during periods of extreme hardship also welcomed income from slave self- 39 purchases, as well as release from the burden of caring for elderly or unproductive charges.

All too frequently masters reduced their costs by manumitting old, crippled, ill, or retarded slaves. During the Spanish period of rule in New Orleans the number of slave manumissions recorded in court documents increased with each decade. In addition, the proportion of slaves obtaining liberty through their own or a third party's efforts, rather than those of a master, expanded from about one-fifth of total manumissions in the s to three-fifths in the early s see Table below. A combination of all the above factors — ideological, legal, demographic, and material — and special circumstances prevailing in a frontier, peripheral society contributed to this trend.

This chapter examines legitimate avenues to freedom available to and pursued by persons of African descent in the Spanish colonial city of New Orleans. Research in city records for the Spanish era confirms the "direct causal connection between the Spanish Luisiana judicial practice of coartacion and the emergence of a numerous and socially significant community of free gens de couleur " noted by one legal scholar. In addition, Spanish administrators faced French merchants and planters who professed questionable loyalty and at times outright hostility toward Spain's rule in the colony.

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In the words of one author, the slaves were the wedge between countervailing French planter power and official Spanish authority, and the governors seem at times to have sought the approval of slaves in order to make them a counterpoise to the planters, whose allegiance to Spain was far from certain.

Faced with a potentially restless multitude of African slaves and a small but vocal ensemble of resentful colonials, Spain courted the favor of any and all segments of Louisiana's society and encouraged the immigration of loyal subjects. Although census figures conflict and provide only approximate accuracy, they point to a growing population.

White males consistently outnumbered white females; the opposite held true for slaves and free blacks. As a result of restrictions on slave importations, 41 Table New Orleans Population, Year by Status by Gender, Whites Free Blacks Slaves Year M F Total M F Total M F Total l a — — — — 97 — — b c d e — — — — — — a Lawrence Kinnaird, Spain in the Mississippi Valiev, Washington, D.

The number of free blacks increased sixteenfold, and this group reportedly was under counted throughout the period! For example, a count of 97 free persons of color in was ridiculously low, given that militia rosters for list 61 free pardos and free morenos between the age of 15 and 45 living within four leagues twelve land miles of New Orleans. The percentage of free blacks expanded foremost among non-whites, followed by free persons and then all persons. Reproduction, immigration particularly from Saint-Domingue in the s and early s , and manumission contributed to this rise in number and proportion of free people of color.

In Louisiana, as in many areas of Spanish America, the crown fostered the growth of a free black population in order to fill middle sector roles in society, defend the colony from external and internal foes, and give African slaves an officially approved safety valve. Colonial policymakers envisioned a society in which Africans would seek their freedom through legal channels, complete with compensation for their masters, rather than by running away or rising in revolt.

In turn, slaves would look to the Spanish government to "rescatarnos de la esclavitud" rescue 43 us from slavery and subsequently protect their rights and privileges as freedmen. For the governing of slaves and free blacks, Spanish Louisiana codes primarily drew upon the provisions of Las siete partidas and the Recopilacion de leves de los reinos de las Indias.

Although the code noir imposed harsh penalties upon erring slaves and "proved to be one of the more oppressive slave codes in the Americas," it gave free blacks full legal rights to citizenship, ironically after providing unequal punishments and restricting their behavior in preceding articles of the code.

Spanish regulations, however, did not require official permission for a master to free his or her slave and even allowed slaves to initiate manumission proceedings on their own behalf. The slave, a friend, or a relative could request a carta de libertad certificate of manumission in front of the governor's tribunal. Two and sometimes three assessors declared the slave's monetary value, and upon receipt of that sum, the tribunal issued the slave his or her carta. Under Spanish law a slave did not have to depend upon the generosity of the master to attain freedom; rather, the slave relied on his or her own efforts and the aid of a favorable legal system.

Louisiana slaves and parties arguing on their behalf recognized support from Spanish officials for "a cause so recommended by the law as that of liberty. Avenues to Freedom: General Observations During the period when Spain ruled New Orleans, black slaves utilized both familiar and also new, more effective methods guaranteed by Spanish law and practice to attain the status of free person of color.

There were legal and 45 illegal paths to freedom; this discussion will focus primarily on the former. Such scholars as Gilbert C. Din, Jack D. Ricard, and Anne Baade have examined the incidence of slave rebels and runaways in their works. They describe how exploited and oppressed Africans in Louisiana endeavored to escape harsh plantation living and working conditions through illegal, antisocial acts.

Although O'Reilly and subseguent Spanish governors mitigated some of the blatantly abusive penalties inflicted on slaves and tried to reduce incidents of mistreatment, the phenomenon of runaway and rebellious slaves persisted. Most runaways escaped for only a few days in attempts to avoid a specific punishment, but enough accomplished permanent success to evoke fear among the white population for the safety of their lives and the security of their property.

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There Are So Many Things That Beg You for Love (New Orleans Review 39.1)

Desiring freedom and relief from their burdens, runaways escaped by fleeing from Louisiana to another province, stowing away in ocean-bound vessels, absconding to interior Amerindian villages, or establishing and joining runaway slave communities in the dense, jungle-like Louisiana wilderness. In addition, skilled creole slaves in all likelihood fled from the plantation to the city, where they could easily meld with the burgeoning 46 free black population.

Colonial paranoia intensified in the s in the face of a major slave conspiracy at Pointe Coupee and the flight of Saint-Domingue refugees to Louisiana. Unconditional manumissions granted inter vivos or by testament and manumissions conditioned upon additional service constitute further divisions within the first category; amicable purchase and forced issuance of a carta de libertad in front of the governor's tribunal instigated either by the slave, a relative, or a friend comprise finer distinctions within the second category.

Between and an increasing percentage of slaves attained freedom by way of their own or a third- party's initiative, while a declining proportion had to rely on their master's generosity see Table During this period when Spain controlled the judicial system, those types of proceedings instituted by persons other than the slaveowner gradually predominated, rising from one-fifth of all manumission cases in the early s to three-fifths in the early s.

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For the sample years as a whole, the number of Category One and Category Two manumissions was about even. Within Category One manumissions unconditional inter vivos donations of liberty predominated throughout the period under study, as did uncontested purchase of freedom within Category Two manumissions.

The proportion of slaves freed graciosamente gratis during their master' lifetime dropped in the s and s but recovered in the early s.

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Conversely, a rising percentage of masters liberated slaves in their wills until the last decade under study. Very few masters attached conditions, such as additional years of service, to their grants of liberty. Self and third-party purchases of cartas de libertad together comprised slightly more than four-fifths of Category Two manumissions. With each decade a smaller proportion of slaves purchased their freedom, whereas a larger proportion relied on an outside interest — a friend or relative — to request the slaveholder or provide funds for a carta.

About one-fifth of all purchases of freedom were not amicable, in that the slave or a third party brought the slave's master before a government tribunal and forced him 49 or her to part with the slave at the estimated value. The petitioner selected his or her appraiser, as did the slaveowner. If these two "intelligent persons" could not agree upon a fair price, the court appointed a third appraiser.

Upon payment of the estimated worth, the tribunal issued a carta de libertad, and the contested slave walked away a free person, often against the master's wishes. According to the code noir, as applied in Louisiana during the French regime, only a slaveowner age twenty-five and older possessed the power to manumit his or her slave; officials intended to curb the slaveholder's greed and the bondsman's acts of thievery.

Spanish administrators, however, protected the slave's right to acquire property and to purchase his or her freedom by congenial agreement or by forceful persuasion in front of a tribunal. With the exception of the last decade, the number of cases 50 brought before governors ' and alcaldes ' magistrate and member of the cabildo tribunals rose dramatically during the era under study.


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Like Africans in other colonial regions, slaves in New Orleans often had to struggle to secure their rights. Slave and master frequently haggled over the purchase price: in the absence of a written contract the slave encountered difficulties proving the existence of an agreement; many slaves sought protection through the legal system, sometimes without success; and if written in a will, provisions for self-purchase could be disputed by heirs. This ratio paralleled the sex ratio for New Orleans free blacks but was lower than that for the city's slaves, whose sex ratio hovered around eighty-two and rose to ninety-five in refer to Table Thus, compared to their proportion of the total New Orleans slave population, bondswomen secured freedom more freguently than did bondsmen.

Among manumissions conditioned by further service the gender ratio dropped to thirty-two, whereas the ratios for amicable and contested purchase by a third party approached a balance. After analyzing notarial records for New Orleans from to , McGowan noted that "three times as many women as men 41 between the ages of 20 and 49 purchased their freedom. In addition, less valuable females were able to collect their purchase price in a shorter time span and masters were more willing to part with them than male slaves.

More important, female slaves outnumbered male slaves in urban areas like New Orleans where self-purchase was more common. H 52 An examination of gender ratios by category and phenotype Table shows once again that about twice as many females as males obtained free status and that these ratios varied only slightly by skin coloring.

The sex ratio was most balanced for pardos sixty-seven , followed by cuarterones fifty-eight , grifos fifty-three , and morenos forty-nine. Tables and indicate that in New Orleans masters freed morenas often along with their pardo children in greater numbers than morenos, and morena slaves purchased their freedom more freguently than did their male counterparts. These data support scholarly contentions that self -purchase favored darker-skinned morenos and grifos but contradict the notion that it worked to the advantage of males, thus ameliorating the gender imbalance among f reedpersons.