Those who peruse the latest additions to the photographs in the “Gallery” section of this website will notice that, this past September, I presented at the 2022 Slave Dwelling Project conference at the College of Charleston in South Carolina. Created by Joseph McGill, the Slave Dwelling Project seeks to encourage candid and civil discussions about the effects of African enslavement and Colonialism in the United States and abroad through detailed research and travels to areas where such practices were enforced. While the topic that year focused specifically on the Stono Rebellion in September 1739, one of the most important enslavement insurrections to have occurred in early colonial American history, the conference also allowed for discussions concerning enslavement revolts that occurred beyond the Thirteen Colonies. My involvement in that conference provided a comparative historiographical analysis of enslavement and revolts in Puerto Rico during Spanish colonization.
Research on Puerto Rico has revealed the importance behind comprehending and preserving African enslavement history on the island. That often involves modifying that narrative with concrete data and, in certain instances, artifacts from the nineteenth century or earlier to avoid sugarcoating or romanticizing what occurred on the island. Sources from Guillermo Baralt, Luis A. Figueroa, and others not only clearly illustrate the Spanish involvement in enslaving African people in that area of the Caribbean. They also indicate instances where the enslaved populations either fought back against oppression or had conspired to do so. Sometimes, they implemented musical means via group participation in the bomba singing, drumming, and dancing by transmitting coded messages about liberation and escape from Puerto Rico.
My goal lies in demonstrating to the public the gaps and challenges behind uncovering information about that part of the African diaspora resisting cultural erasure. In preparation for the one-hundred and fifty years of the official “abolition” of enslavement in Puerto Rico in 1873 on March 22, 2023, my next few posts will focus on issues related to locating and understanding documents about enslavement in Puerto Rico.