On July 13, 1571, King Philip II of Spain, via a real cédula, authorized the Audiencia of Santo Domingo to enact plans to “conquer” a community of African cimarrones (maroons, runaway slaves) located about 36 miles from the city of Santo Domingo. The king offered to those who ventured forth compensation in the form of the cimarrones they captured as slaves. At face value, the substance of this order was not particularly unique. Since the 1520s, runaway African slaves had formed maroon communities in remote regions bordering Spanish conquests. By the 1570s, African maroons could be found in practically every part of Spanish America. The uniqueness of Philip's order comes from the choice of language, in particular the decision to label the expedition a conquest. In most cases, the monarch or his officials used words like ‘reduce’ (reducir/reducciones), ‘pacify’ (pacificar/pacificación), ‘castigate’ (castigar), or ‘dislodge’ (desechar) to describe the goal of such campaigns. By describing an anti-maroon campaign as a conquest, this cédula went against the dominant Spanish narrative of the sixteenth century, in which resistance, especially by Africans or native groups, signified a punctuated disturbance of an ostensibly stable and coherent postconquest colonial order. The wording of the cédula, and the maroon movements to which it responded, explicitly link anti-maroon campaigns to the process of Spanish conquest. This article suggests that Spanish-maroon contestation on Hispaniola should be construed as an integral piece of a prolonged and often incomplete Spanish conquest. More importantly, this reevaluation of the conflict reveals maroons to be conquerors in their own right.
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