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Calidad, Genealogy, and Disputed Free-colored Tributary Status in New Spain

  • Norah Andrews (a1)


In 1787, a group of Indians from the town of Almoloya, part of Apan in the Intendancy of Mexico, aired their grievances against several prominent local leaders. The petitioners claimed that their predominantly Indian community was plagued by a group of free-colored people who were masquerading as Indian nobles, or caciques, and enjoying privileges to which only those with noble lineage were entitled. One of these was exemption from the economically onerous and socially stigmatized royal tribute that had symbolized the relationship between the Spanish monarch and free-colored subjects since the sixteenth century.



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1. Miranda, José, El tributo indígena en la Nueva España durante el siglo XVI, 2nd ed. (Mexico: Colegio de México, 2005), p. 161.

2. Archivo General de la Nación de México [hereafter AGN], Indios, vol. 69, exp. 189, fol. 68.

3. McEnroe, Sean F., From Colony to Nationhood in Mexico (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), p. 8. For the establishment of these privileges among Tlaxcalans as a group, see Gibson, Charles, Tlaxcala in the Sixteenth Century (Stanford: Stanford University Press: 1967), pp. 160161. In the context of tribute exemption, claims of Tlaxcalan ancestry can be found in northern New Spain throughout the eighteenth century. A few of these cases included mulatos in discussions of privileges granted to settlers on lands previously occupied by Chichimec peoples. For examples from the towns and mines near San Luis Potosí, see the second cuaderno of Archivo General de Indias [hereafter AGI], Audiencia de México, leg. 1043, especially fols. 73v to 94v.

4. Matthew, Laura E., Memories of Conquest: Becoming Mexicano in Colonial Guatemala (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012), p. 116.

5. AGN, Indios, vol. 69, exp. 189, fol. 68v.

6. Villella, Peter B., “‘Pure and Noble Indians, Untainted by Inferior Idolatrous Races’: Native Elites and the Discourse of Blood Purity in Late Colonial Mexico,” Hispanic American Historical Review [hereafter HAHR] 91:4 (November 2011), p. 642.

7. González-Soriano, Fabricio, “Herencia patológica en la medicina mexicana de la segunda mitad del siglo XIX,” El Boletín Mexicano de Historia y Filosofía de la Medicina 11:1 (March 2008), pp. 1015.

8. AGN, Indios, vol. 69, exp. 189, fol. 68.

9. Nirenberg, David, “Mass Conversion and Genealogical Mentalities: Jews and Christians in Fifteenth-Century Spain,” Past & Present 174:1 (February 2002), pp. 341.

10. Martínez, María Elena, Genealogical Fictions: Limpieza de Sangre, Religion, and Gender in Colonial Mexico, (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008), p. 201.

11. Summaries grouping together Apan with Tepeapulco and destined for Spain recorded 942.5 Indian tributaries and 62.5 negro and mulato tributaries in 1781, though by 1788 there were 849.5 Indian tributaries and 123 free-colored tributaries. See AGI, Audiencia de México, legs. 2104 and 2105. Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrán finds 1,059 pardos in Apan alone by 1793, though this figure is based on total population rather than tributary units. See La población negra de México, 1519–1810. Estudio etno-histórico, 2nd ed. (Mexico: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1972), p. 226.

12. AGN, Tributos, vol. 43, exp. 9, fol. 277.

13. AGN, Indios, vol. 69, exp. 226, fol. 105.

14. McEnroe, From Colony to Nationhood, p. 210.

15. Yannakakis, Yanna, The Art of Being In-between: Native Intermediaries, Indian Identity, and Local Rule in Colonial Oaxaca (Durham: Duke University Press: 2008), p. 194.

16. AGN, Indios, vol. 69, exp. 226, fols. 105v-106.

17. Ibid., fol. 105v.

18. Twinam, Ann, Purchasing Whiteness: Pardos, Mulattos, and the Quest for Social Mobility in the Spanish Indies (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2015), p. 48.

19. Martínez, María Elena, “The Language, Genealogy, and Classification of ‘Race’ in Colonial Mexico,” in Race and Classification: The Case of Mexican America, Katzew, Ilona and Deans-Smith, Susan, eds. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009), p. 42.

20. Aguirre Beltrán, La población negra de México, pp. 163–179.

21. O'Toole, Rachel Sarah, Bound Lives: Africans, Indians, and the Making of Race in Colonial Peru (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012), p. 165.

22. Lewis, Laura A., Hall of Mirrors: Power, Witchcraft, and Caste in Colonial Mexico (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003), p. 4.

23. Vinson, Ben III, “Facetas del concepto de castas: observaciones sobre la interpretación y el significado de ‘casta’ en la Nueva España,” in Vicisitudes negro africanas en Iberoamérica: experiencias de investigación, Juan Manuel de la Serna Herrera, coord. (Mexico: Universidad Autónoma de México, 2012), pp. 360361.

24. Tavárez, David, “Legally Indian: Inquisitorial Readings of Indigenous Identity in New Spain,” in Imperial Subjects: Race and Identity in Colonial Spanish America, Fisher, Andrew B. and O'Hara, Matthew D., eds. (Durham: Duke University Press, 2009), p. 82.

25. Milton, Cynthia and Vinson, Ben III, “Counting Heads: Race and Non-Native Tribute Policy in Colonial Spanish America,” Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History 3:3 (Winter 2002), p. 2.

26. McCaa, Robert, “Calidad, Clase, and Marriage in Colonial Mexico: The Case of Parral, 1788–90,” HAHR 64:3 (August, 1984), pp. 477478.

27. Vinson, Ben III, Bearing Arms for His Majesty: The Free-Colored Militia in Colonial Mexico (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001), p. 4.

28. Carrera, Magali, Imagining Identity in New Spain: Race, Lineage, and the Colonial Body in Portraiture and Casta Paintings (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2003), p. 5.

29. These works have benefited the study of calidad by giving attention to religion, devotion, and institutional history. See Bristol, Joan, Christians, Blasphemers, and Witches: Afro-Mexican Ritual Practice in the Seventeenth Century (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2007), p. 26; O'Hara, Matthew D., A Flock Divided: Race, Religion, and Politics in Mexico, 1750–1857 (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010), p. 54; and Martínez, Genealogical Fictions, pp. 247–248.

30. Recent research has shown that the relationship between gender and calidad was not constant and could be “disentangled, manipulated, and linked in tactical ways by people at different levels of the colonial power structure.” See Bristol, Joan, “Patriarchs, Petitions, and Prayers: Intersections of Gender and Calidad in Colonial Mexico,” in Women, Religion & the Atlantic World, 1600–1800, Kostroun, Daniella and Vollendorf, Lisa, eds. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009), pp. 198199.

31. Hering Torres, Max S., “Purity of Blood: Problems of Interpretation,” in Race and Blood in the Iberian World, Martínez, María Elena, Nirenberg, David, and Hering Torres, Max-Sebastián, eds. (Zürich: LIT Verlag, 2012), p. 27.

32. See Vinson, Ben III, “From Dawn ’til Dusk: Black Labor in Late Colonial Mexico,” in Black Mexico: Race and Society from Colonial to Modern Times, Vinson, Ben III and Restall, Matthew, eds. (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2009), p. 117; and Deans-Smith, SusanBureaucrats, Planters, and Workers. The Making of the Tobacco Monopoly in Bourbon Mexico (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1992), pp. 192195.

33. Zavala, Silvio, El servicio personal de los indios en la Nueva España, vol. 7 (Mexico: Colegio de México, 1984), p. 266.

34. Examples of Indian towns requesting relief from tribute due to famine, drought, and disease can be found in Acosta, Virginia García, Zevallos, Juan Manuel Pérez, and del Villar, América Molina, Desastres agrícolas en México: Catálogo histórico, tomo I: épocas prehispánica y colonial (958–1822) (Mexico: Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social, 2003). Although less common, it was not impossible for free-colored families to get these temporary exemptions on the grounds of poverty. Free mulato Balthazar Senteno of Celaya made such a petition in 1714. See AGN, Indiferente Virreinal, c. 6627, exp. 37.

35. Martínez, Genealogical Fictions, p. 87.

36. Marichal, Carlos, Bankruptcy of Empire: Mexican Silver and the Wars between Spain, Britain, and France, 1760–1810 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), p. 58.

37. In addition to royal tributes (the tributo real and the servicio real), Indians paid a host of other taxes described in Farriss, Nancy, Maya Society under Colonial Rule: The Collective Enterprise of Survival (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), pp. 4041; and Gibson, Charles, The Aztecs under Spanish Rule (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1964), p. 205.

38. See Campbell, Leon G., “Black Power in Colonial Peru: The 1779 Tax Rebellion of Lambayeque,” Phylon 33:2 (2nd Quarter, 1972), pp. 140152; and Mansilla, Ronald Escobedo, “El tributo de los zambaigos, negros y mulatos en el virreinato peruano,” Revista de Indias 41:163–164 (January-June 1981), pp. 4354.

39. Andrew B. Fisher and Matthew D. O'Hara, “Introduction: Racial Identities and Their Interpreters in Colonial Latin America,” in Fisher and O'Hara, Imperial Subjects, p. 2.

40. Zavala, Silvio Arturo, Las instituciones jurídicas en la conquista de América, 2nd. ed. (Mexico: Editorial Porrúa, 1971), p. 70.

41. VI, Libro, V, tít., I, ley in Recopilación de leyes de los reynos de las Indias. 4 vols. (Madrid: Ediciones Cultura Hispánica, facsimile reprint, 1973).

42. Tribute registers in New Spain contain what María Elena Martínez has contended were the most common caste names (indio, español, negro, mestizo, mulato, castizo, morisco, and zambaigo). See Martínez, Genealogical Fictions, p. 166. These documents also include people designated with the caste of pardo, moreno, lobo, coyote, and chino in the eighteenth century.

43. Cook, Sherburne Friend and Borah, Woodrow Wilson, Essays in Population History, Vol. I: Mexico and the Caribbean (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971), pp. 2122.

44. Libro VII, tít. V, ley II, Recopilación.

45. Libro VI, tít. III, ley VII, Recopilación.

46. Schwaller, Robert C., “‘Mulata, Hija de Negro y India’: Afro-Indigenous Mulatos in Early Colonial Mexico,” Journal of Social History 44:3 (Summer 2011), p. 889.

47. García, Rafael Castañeda, “Hacia una sociología fiscal. El tributo de la población de color libre de la Nueva España, 1770–1810,” Fronteras de la Historia 19:1 (December 2014), p. 158.

48. Brading, David’s Miners and Merchants in Bourbon Mexico, 1763–1810 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1971) privileged the far-reaching effects of fiscal and military expansion; more recently, Bourbon attempts to change “the basic relationship between the governors and the governed” have been the subject of regional studies. See Guardino, Peter F., The Time of Liberty: Popular Political Culture in Oaxaca, 1750–1850 (Durham: Duke University Press, 2005), p. 92.

49. Marino, Daniela, “El afán de recaudar y la dificultad de reformar: el tributo indígena en la Nueva España tardocolonial,” in De colonia a nación: impuestos y política en México, 1750–1860, Marichal, Carlos and Marino, Daniela, eds. (Mexico: El Colegio de México, 2001), p. 62.

50. Klein, Herbert S. and TePaske, John J., Las cartas cuentas de la Real Hacienda de la América española, siglo XVI a principios del siglo XIX, CD-ROM (Mexico: Colegio de México, 2004).

51. See Schwaller, Robert C., “‘For Honor and Defence’: Race and the Right to Bear Arms in Early Colonial Mexico,” Colonial Latin American Review 21:2 (August 2012), p. 247.

52. Vinson, Bearing Arms for His Majesty, pp. 146–147.

53. Graubart, Karen B., “The Creolization of the New World: Local Forms of Identification in Urban Colonial Peru, 1560–1640,” HAHR 89:3 (August 2009), p. 474.

54. Other scholarship has treated the meanings of tribute for free-colored militias and their families. See Lokken, Paul, “Useful Enemies: Seventeenth-Century Piracy and the Rise of Pardo Militias in Spanish Central America,” Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History 5:2 (Fall 2004); Vinson, Bearing Arms for His Majesty, pp. 145–172; and Vinson, Ben III and Restall, Matthew, “Black Soldiers, Native Soldiers: Meanings of Military Service in the Spanish American Colonies,” in Beyond Black and Red: African-Native Relations in Colonial Latin America, Restall, Matthew, ed. (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2005), pp. 1552.

55. Kagan, Richard L., Lawsuits and Litigants in Castile, 1500–1700 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1981), p. 11.

56. Jáuregui, Luis, La Real Hacienda de Nueva España: su administración en la época de los intendentes, 1786–1821 (Mexico: Universidad Autónoma de México, 1999), p. 95.

57. See Article 133 published in Trolle, Marina Mantilla, Sotelo, Rafael Diego-Fernández, and Moreno, Agustín, Real Ordenanza para el establecimiento e instrucción de intendentes de ejército y provincial en el reino de la Nueva España. Edición anotada de la Audiencia de la Nueva Galicia (Guadalajara: Universidad de Guadalajara, 2008), p. 288.

58. AGN, Tributos, vol. 60, exp. 9, fol. 236.

59. AGN, Tributos vol. 13, exp. 2, fol. 6.

60. Ibid., fol. 28.

61. Martínez, “The Language, Genealogy, and Classification of ‘Race’ in Colonial Mexico,” p. 41.

62. AGN, General de Parte, vol. 77, exp. 133, fol. 182v.

63. Ducey, Michael T., A Nation of Villages: Riot and Rebellion in the Mexican Huasteca, 1750–1850 (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2004), pp. 1518.

64. Osborn, Wayne S., “Indian Land Retention in Colonial Metztitlán,” HAHR 53:2 (May 1973), pp. 217238.

65. The precise figure is 14,329 pesos, 1 real, and 9 tomines. See AGI, Audiencia de Mexico, legs. 2104 and 2105.

66. Ducey, A Nation of Villages, p. 63.

67. AGN, Tributos, vol. 12, exp. 2, fol. 263v.

68. Sandoval, Juan Zapata y, De iustitia distributiua et acceptione personarum ei opposita disceptatio, Baciero, Carlos, trans. (Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, 2004), p. 109.

69. AGN, Tributos, vol. 12, exp. 2, fol. 329.

70. Ibid., fols. 87–89.

71. AGN, General de Parte, vol. 78, exp. 14, fol. 11v.

72. de Capdevielle, M. E. Galaviz, “Descripción y pacificación de la Sierra Gorda,” Estudios de historia novohispana 4 (1971), pp. 2831.

73. AGN, General de Parte, vol. 78, exp. 14, fol. 11v.

74. Ibid., fol. 13v.

75. Pérez, Rafael García, “El régimen tributario en las intendencias novohispanas: la Ordenanza para la formación de los autos de visitas, padrones y matrículas de Revillagigedo II,” Anuario Mexicano de Historia del Derecho 11–12 (2000), pp. 282283.

76. AGN, Tributos, vol. 60, exp. 9, fol. 247v.

77. Konetzke, Richard, Colección de documentos para la historia de la formación social de Hispanoamérica, vol. 3, part 2 (Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, 1953), p. 439.

78. Patricia Seed observes that complaints based on “racial heritage” alone were in the minority. More petitioners interpreted the Pragmatic in terms of a wide range of disparities, including honor and economic status. See Seed, , To Love, Honor, and Obey in Colonial Mexico: Conflicts over Marriage Choice, 1574–1821 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1988), p. 207.

79. Diligencias practicadas a pedimento de Agustín González Muñiz, Biblioteca Nacional de Antropología e Historia [hereafter BNAH], Archivo Judicial de Puebla, Puebla. Rollo 43, fol. 1v.

80. Gutiérrez, María Elisa Velázquez, Mujeres de origen africano en la capital novohispana, siglos XVII y XVIII (Mexico: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 2006), p. 233.

81. Milton, Cynthia, The Many Meanings of Poverty: Colonialism, Social Compacts, and Assistance in Eighteenth-Century Ecuador (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007), pp. 144145.

82. BNAH, “Diligencias,” fol. 5.

83. Ibid., fols. 1v-2. The document is damaged here, but it is clear that the petitioner attributes the confusion of calidad to the adoption.

84. Ibid., fol. 3.

85. Twinam, Ann, Public Lives, Private Secrets: Gender, Honor, Sexuality, and Illegitimacy in Colonial Spanish America (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999), p. 256.

86. Bennett, Herman L., Colonial Blackness: A History of Afro-Mexico (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009), p. 78.

87. BNAH, “Diligencias,” fol. 11.

88. Ibid., fol. 19.

89. Ibid., fol. 20.

90. Ibid., fol. 26.

91. Ibid., fol. 33v.

92. Rappaport, Joanne, “‘Asi Lo Paresçe Por Su Aspeto’: Physiognomy and the Construction of Difference in Colonial Bogotá,” HAHR 91:4 (November 2011), p. 612.

93. AGN, General de Parte, vol. 77, exp. 130, fols. 181v-182.

94. Graubart, Karen B., With Our Labor and Sweat: Indigenous Women and the Formation of Colonial Society in Peru, 1550–1700 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007), pp. 121155.

95. Castillo, Norma Angélica, “La pérdida de la población de origen africano en la región de Puebla,” in Poblaciones y culturas de origen africano en México, Velázquez, María Elisa and Correa, Ethel, eds. (Mexico: Instituto de Antropología e Historia, 2005), pp. 315316.

96. López-Beltrán, Carlos, “The Medical Origins of Heredity,” in Heredity Produced: At the Crossroads of Biology, Politics, and Culture, 1500–1870, Müller-Wille, Staffan and Rheinberger, Hans-Jörg, eds. (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2007), p. 106.

97. Chance, John K., Race and Class in Colonial Oaxaca (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1978), p. 181.

98. Cynthia Milton, The Many Meanings of Poverty, pp. 144–145.

99. Premo, Bianca, Children of the Father King: Youth, Authority, and Legal Minority in Colonial Lima (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005), pp. 163164.

100. Twinam, Ann, “The Church, the State, and the Abandoned: Expósitos in Late Eighteenth-Century Havana,” in Raising an Empire: Children in Early Modern Iberia and Colonial Latin America, González, Ondina E. and Premo, Bianca, eds. (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2007), p. 164.

101. AGN, Tributos, vol. 55, exp. 12, fols. 340v-341.

102. Ibid., fols. 344v-345.

103. AGN, Tributos, vol. 55, exp. 11, fol. 300v.

104. Ibid., fol. 302v.

105. AGN, Tributos, vol. 55, exp. 12, fol. 357v.

106. Noh, Lorgio Cobá, El “indio ciudadano”: La tributación y la contribución personal directa en Yucatán, 1786–1825 (Mérida: Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán, 2009), p. 78.

107. Konetzke, Colección de documentos, vol. 3, pt. 2, p. 791.

108. Earle, Rebecca, The Body of the Conquistador: Food, Race, and the Colonial Experience in Spanish America, 1492–1700 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), p. 6.

109. Martínez, Genealogical Fictions, p. 199.

110. This was not the case for all types of petitions disputing free-colored caste and calidad. In the context of the gracias al sacar, some free-coloreds in Venezuela used hierarchies of color and physical appearance to pursue individual advancement. See Ann Twinam, “Purchasing Whiteness: Conversations on the Essence of Pardo-ness and Mulatto-ness at the End of Empire,” in Imperial Subjects, p. 157.

Research for this article was made possible by support from a Mellon Fellowship for Dissertation Research in Original Sources from the Council on Library and Information Research as well as grants from the Program in Latin American Studies at The Johns Hopkins University. This study benefited from the help of staff at the Archivo General de la Nación in Mexico City and the Archivo General de Indias in Seville. The author wishes to thank members of the Latin American History Workshop at Johns Hopkins University, Ben Vinson III, Gabriel Paquette, David Sartorius, and two anonymous reviewers for The Americas for their suggestions and guidance. Translations are by the author.

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Calidad, Genealogy, and Disputed Free-colored Tributary Status in New Spain

  • Norah Andrews (a1)


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