The Virgin, the King, and the Royal Slaves of El Cobre: Negotiating Freedom in Colonial Cuba, 1670-1780

By Martinez-Fernandez, Luis | The Catholic Historical Review, October 2002 | Go to article overview
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The Virgin, the King, and the Royal Slaves of El Cobre: Negotiating Freedom in Colonial Cuba, 1670-1780


Martinez-Fernandez, Luis, The Catholic Historical Review


Latin American

The Virgin, the King, and the Royal Slaves of El Cobre: Negotiating Freedom in Colonial Cuba, 1670-1780. By Maria Elena Diaz. (Stanford: Stanford University Press. 2000. Pp. xx, 440. $49.50.)

Historical writing on Cuba has been dominated by attention to the nineteenth century and the Havana-Matanzas sugar belt to the virtual exclusion of earlier and later centuries and other regions of the elongated island's east and west, Moreover, particularly in recent U.S. historiography, studies of Cuban history have disproportionately focused on slavery and Afro-Cubans. Maria Elena Diaz's The Virgin, the King, and the Royal Slaves of El Cobre breaks with the first two trends while adding to the third. It is a study of a Cuban slave community from the eastern town of El Cobre during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Resting on a wide array of archival documentation, Diaz traces the development of the slave community of El Cobre from 1670 (when the Crown confiscated the mine of El Cobre and its slaves) until the late 1700's. The study covers a variety of topics including the community's legal and political struggles to assert its privileges stemming from the fact that its members belonged to the monarch rather than private masters, the population's changing ethnic and demographic composition, and its evolving and complex economic activities. The scope of the book is ambitious, indeed, and offers important contributions to Cuba's religious, social, legal, cultural, gender, demographic, and economic history.

One of the book's central contributions is the reconstruction of the legal, religious, and economic mechanisms used by the cobreros to retain and expand upon their special status as royal slaves and to protect their community from the encroaching labor demands of agrarian capitalism and the island's military needs.

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