On April 10th, Rosa O’Connor Acevedo, Philosophy Ph.D. Candidate, delivered a captivating research presentation in Knight Library 101, sharing her remarkable findings from archival research conducted in Spain and Puerto Rico. Her presentation shed light on the representation and documentation of enslaved women in colonial records, and how her research challenges conventional perspectives on marronage, offering a fresh and nuanced understanding of this complex topic.

Please enjoy the article below about Rosa’s research experience, and be sure to check out the PowerPoint slides from her recent presentation!

Decoding Colonial Documents: The Hidden Histories of Women in Slavery in Puerto Rico

by Rosa O’Connor Acevedo, Philosophy Ph.D. Candidate

I would first like to say thank you to CLLAS and CSWS for their support. I was able to do archival research this summer to investigate how enslaved women were spoken about, represented, and written on colonial documents from Puerto Rico. In total, I was able to visit three archival centers: the National Historic Archive of Madrid, the General Archive of the Indies in Sevilla, and the General Archive of Puerto Rico.

My experience was both stimulating and challenging for various reasons. The first difficulty I encountered while in Spain was the age of some of the documents. Some were old and dry. Additionally, the Spanish archival system was very robust and bureaucratic. When researching documents related to gender discourses, I found that many of these documents talked about Puerto Rico’s enslaved population through the use of statistics, numbers, or part of royal decrees and legal cases. This was still revelatory since many of the articles consulted in Madrid and Sevilla reflected the anxieties of the Spanish crown to control their enslaved population and prevent slave revolts.

Documents consulted in the General Archive of Puerto Rico reflected a strong preoccupation about enslaved people who ran away and the enslaved populations desire for rebellion. While most of the documents from Madrid and Sevilla were under different royal administrative units, and tended to be more technical, in Puerto Rico, I was able to read more personal testimonies and narratives from the perspective of those that ruled at the time.

One of the most revealing documents was letters written by various mayors to the governor of Puerto Rico, Miguel de la Torre, where they discussed fugitive slaves or described instances of runaway slaves. With letters, I was able to identify how some enslaved people escaped with their family, including enslaved women, or cases where enslaved women escaped by themselves. This challenges some views that one might have regarding those who resisted slavery, especially those associated with the term “maroon”. Maroon comes from the Spanish “cimarrón” which was a term initially used by the Spanish colonist to refer to escaped pigs in Hispaniola, and eventually was applied to runaway slaves. Most of the literature about marronage speaks of a generic “maroon” subject, which in Spanish is render as a masculine “cimarron”, however, part of the documents I consulted in tandem with a book a recently discovered during my stay in Puerto Rico, revealed the participation of enslaved women in anti-slavery resistance.1 This archival research allowed me to center the female “cimarrona” as part of the resistance and rejection of slavery in the Caribbean.

From this research, I became acquainted with the different types of documents found in each archive and realized the need to expand my research to other archives, such as those of municipal Catholic Churches. I will use this research to support my analysis on gender and slavery for the fourth chapter of my dissertation and continue working on this topic for future projects. Thank you CLLAS.