Slave Codes in Colonial Santo Domingo: Note 1

In 1522, the first slave uprising in the so-called New World broke out in Santo Domingo. More uprisings and escapes ensued ultimately culminating in the decision of the Spanish Crown to issue the Slave Codes (Ordenanzas para el Sosiego y Seguridad de los Esclavos Negros) in 1528. These ordinances are revealing for how well they capture slave and master dynamics on the island. But of all these ordinances, I found the one trying to rein in the widespread rape of black and indigenous women the most despicable and horrifying, not least because of the implications we can draw from the Spanish Crown having to put this into a colonial ruling.

“No one may take a female slave or an Indian woman out of her owner’s house for a day or a night. Do not force them to have sexual relations. Do not prevent them from performing household duties for their owners.

Anyone who has a female slave or an Indian woman out of her master’s house for a whole day or a night shall be given a hundred lashes if he is a person of low condition, and if he is a maestre, or someone of higher status, he shall pay twenty gold pesos, to be shared as in the previous Ordinance. And if he takes her by force, by day or night, in order to have his way with her, he will be punished with the lawful penalty for those who rape women. And if they detain them while they are performing household duties for their owners, they shall pay three gold pesos, to be split equally between the judge and the accuser.”

“By the end of the sixteenth century,” writes the Dominican Marxist historian Franklin J. Franco, “so many children had been born to Spanish fathers and black slave mothers that the Crown ordered, ‘because we are informed that some of the soldiers of this fortress [i.e. the fortress of Havana] have fathered children with some of our slaves, and they want to buy the children and set them free, if the children whom these soldiers have fathered with our slaves are to be sold, you shall give preference to their fathers who want to buy them for that purpose.”

Source: Blacks, Mulattos, and the Dominican Nation by Franklin J. Franco, pgs. 26, 30-5.

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