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Explaining Abolition: Contradiction, Adaptation, and Challenge in Cuban Slave Society, 1860–1886

  • Rebecca J. Scott (a1)

In the middle decades of the nineteenth century, as slavery was disappearing elsewhere in the New World, slave-based plantation production of sugar in Cuba reached remarkable heights of technological sophistication and output. In 1868 Cuba produced 720,250 metric tons of sugar, more than 40 percent of the cane sugar reaching the world market in that year. Yet just as production reached these levels, the abolition of slavery in Cuba was initiated, beginning a process of slave emancipation that was to last nearly twenty years. Yet just as production reached these levels, the abolition of slavery in Cuba was initiated, beginning a process of slave emancipation that was to last nearly twenty years. This concurrence of events raises the question, What was the relationship between slavery and the development of sugar production, and why did emancipation in Cuba take place when and as it did?

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An earlier version of this essay was presented to the International Conference on the Transition from Slavery to Free Labor in the Hispanic Caribbean, held in Santo Domingo in June of 1981, and sponsored by the Social Science Research Council and the Fondo para el Avance de las Ciencias Sociales. Research for the author's larger project, of which this essay is a part, was funded by the Social Science Research Council, the Fulbright-Hays Program, and the Latin American Program of Princeton University. The author would like to thank David Davis, Seymour Drescher, Stanley Engerman, Albert Hirschman, Thomas Holt, Franklin Knight, Sidney Mintz, Magnus Mörner, David Murray, Stuart Schwartz, and Gavin Wright for their comments, and Manuel Moreno Fraginals for numerous discussions of the issue of slavery and abolition.

1 Moreno Fraginals Manuel, El ingenio: complejo económico social cubano del azúcar, 3 vols. (Havana, 1978), III, 37.

2 The thesis of the incompatibility of slave labor and technology is argued by Moreno in El ingenio, and he expresses it succinctly in several articles, including “El esclavo y la mecanizacion de los ingenios” Bohemia (13 June 1969), and Desgarramiento azucarero e integration nacionalCasa de las Americas, 11 (0910 1970), 622.

3 Genovese Eugene D., The World the Slaveholders Made: Two Essays in Interpretation (New York: Random House, Vintage Books edition, 1971), 6970.

4 Corwin Arthur F., Spain and the Abolition of Slavery in Cuba, 1817–1886 (Austin, Texas, 1967).

5 Moreno , “El esclavo y la mecanización de los ingenios” 9899.

6 Rebello Carlos, Estados relativos a la productión azucarera de la isla de Cuba (Havana, 1860).

7 Cuba , Centra de Estadística, Noticias estadísticas de la isla de Cuba, en 1862 (Havana, 1864).

8 Moreno , El ingenio. III, 3637.

9 Murray David R., Odious Commerce: Britain, Spain and the Abolition of the Cuban Slave Trade (Cambridge, 1980).

10 Moreno , El ingenio, III, 3637.

11 The best analyses of the Ten Years' War are to be found in Bonilla Raúl Cepero, Azúcar y abolitión (Havana, 1948); Guerra Ramiro y Sánchez, Guerra de los Diez Años (Havana, 19501952); and Knight Franklin, Slave Society in Cuba during the Nineteenth Century (Madison, Wisconsin, 1970).

12 For a fuller analysis of the effects of the war on slavery, see Scott Rebecca J., Slave Emancipation in Cuba: The Transition to Free Labor (Princeton, forthcoming), ch. 2.

13 For evidence on the events of 1879, see the opinion of José Bueno y Blanco in Archivo Histórico National, Madrid, Sección de Ultramar (hereinafter AHN, Ultramar), leg. 4882, tomo 5, “Documentos de la Comisión … 1879”and AHN, Ultramar, leg. 4882, tomo 3, exp. 76, Telegram from the Governor General to the Minister of Ultramar, 11 September 1879. José Martí vividly described the pressure on Spain from rebellious slaves in the east of Cuba, and the doubleedged response of abolition and increased military presence. See Marti's José speech given in Steck Hall, New York, 24 January 1880, printed in Documentos para la historia de Cuba, Pichardo Hortensia, ed., 2 vols. (Havana, 1976, 1977), I, 424–49.

14 For these and other provincial totals, see Appendix.

15 The figure of 20 percent was derived by using the age distribution of slaves in Cuba in the 1862 census. Of those listed, around 22 percent were over age sixty or under age ten (Cuba, Noticias). I have assumed that the proportion would be somewhat smaller in a plantation area, which would have a higher concentration of imported Africans. This estimate also coincides with the age pyramids derived by Moreno from plantation accounts. Moreno , El ingenio, II, 90.

16 See Archivo Nacional de Cuba (hereinafter ANC), Misc. de Expedientes, leg. 3814, exp. A, Expediente promovido por este Gobo Gral para conocer las operaciones practicadas en todas las Sindicaturas de la Isla durante el quinquenio de 1873 a 1877. Of the 3,359 coartaciones in the island, 1, 413 were in the city of Havana.

17 For area planted in cane, see Rebello , Estados, and the Revista de Agrkultura (Havana), 3 (31 03 1879), 75. Population figures are from the 1862 census and from Fe Iglesias García, “El censo cubano de 1877 y sus diferentes versiones” Santiago (Santiago de Cuba), 34 (June 1979), 167–211. On the categories of workers in sugar, see the Revista de Agrkultura cited above.

18 Gallenga A., The Pearl of the Antilles (London, 1873), 96, 105.

19 This picture emerges from censuses, account books, and observers' reports. See the 1877 agricultural census, the plantation records cited in notes 33 ff. below, and de Zayas F., “Estudios de agriculture: II. El trabajador, el jomalRevista de Agricultura, 1 (30 04 1879), 83.

20 Moreno puts forward this argument in “Abolitión o disintegratión? Algunas preguntas en torno a un centenario” Granma (Havana) (23 01 1980), and in “Plantations in the Caribbean: The Case of Cuba—Puerto Rico—Santo Domingo” a paper presented to the International Conference on the Transition from Slavery to Free Labor in the Hispanic Caribbean, held in June of 1981 in Santo Domingo.

21 For an examination of the ways in which “contradictions” withixn slavery are resolved, and in some cases give rise to new contradictions, see Sidney Mintz, “Slavery and the Rise of Peasantries” in Roots and Branches: Current Directions in Slave Studies, Craton Michael, ed. (Toronto, New York, 1979), 213–42. The point is that such things as bonuses and provision grounds may or may not signal disintegration, depending on the surrounding circumstances. In some cases, they may even strengthen slavery.

22 Moreno , El ingenio, II, 8390. He states that the conscious policy of “good treatment” aimed at creating a self-reproducing slave force, was “the most visible symptom of the dissolution of slavery” (p. 90).

23 See the 1862 census and Edo Enrique y Llop, Memoria histórica de Cienfuegos y su jurisdictión (Cienfuegos, 1888), Appendix, 5–6. The manuscript slave list is in ANC, Misc. de Expedientes, leg. 3748, exp. B, Capitanía Pedánea de Santa Isabel de las Lajas, núm. 3, Padrón general de esclavos, 1875.

24 Stein Stanley J., Vassouras: A Brazilian Coffee County, 1850–1900 (New York: Atheneum, 1974), 78.

25 See Revista Económica (Havana), 2 (7 06 1878), 13. The Armantina and Manaca estates, excluded from the comparisons because their 1875 slave data are incomplete, had 122 slaves and 17 “alquilados y libres”.

26 Llop Edo y, Memoria histórica, 629. For evidence of planter hostility to abolition in the 1870s, see Corwin , Spain and Abolition of Slavery, ch. 14.

27 In Cuba, this argument dates back at least to Ramon de la Sagra in the mid-nineteenth century, and is repeated by Moreno. See El ingenio, II, 30.

28 AHN, Ultramar, leg. 4759, exp. 85, Expositión del Excmo. Senor Conde de Vega Mar … (Madrid, 1868).

29 Rosillo Fermín y Alquier, Noticias de dos ingenios y datos sobre la productión azucarera de la isla de Cuba (Havana, 1873), describes the work force on España. For Álava, see the 1877 agricultural census in Revista Económica, 2 (7 06 1877), 11.

30 The description of Las Cañas as Cuba's most modern mill” is from El ingenio, I, 250. The figures on the work force are from Rosillo, Noticias. Observations on the treatment of the Chinese are from de la Riva Juan Pérez, “Duverger de Hauranne: un joven francés visita el ingenio Las Cañas en 1865Revista de la Biblioteca José Martí, 56 (1012 1965), 85ñ114.

31 On the Chinese in Cuba, see de la Riva Juan Pérez, “Demografía de los culíes chinos en Cuba (1853ñ1877)” and “La situatión legal del culí en Cuba” in his El barracón y otros ensayos (Havana, 1975), 469507, 209–45. See also Helly Denise, Idéologic et ethnicité: les chinois Macao à Cuba, 1847–1886 (Montreal, 1979). The question of whether the Chinese should, for the purposes of analysis, be considered wage workers is a difficult one. The extraeconomic coercion to which they were subjected was so great, and so similar to that inflicted on slaves, that I am inclined to doubt the substance of their “freeness.” If in Cuba they were seen as particularly suited for work with machinery, this may in part have reflected employers' high expectations of the Chinese relative to their low expectations of slaves. It may also have reflected actual differences in performance, but these differences could have had as much to do with the cultural background of the Chinese and their anticipation of a future freedom as they did with any alleged juridical freedom while under contract, a freedom often violated.

32 See Hirschman Albert O., The Strategy of Economic Development (New Haven, 1958), ch. 8.

33 See, for example, the records of slave rentals on the Ingenio Delicias in ANC, Misc. de Libros, núm. 10802, Libro Diario del Ingenio Delicias, 1872–1882.

34 Data on the work force at Angelita are from ANC, Misc. de Libros, núm. 11536, Libra Diario del Ingenio “Angelita” de la Propiedad de Sr. Argudin J. A.x, 18681871; and ANC, Misc. de Libros, núm. 10789, Libra Diario del Ingenio Angelita Argudín, 1977.

35 Other daybooks and slave lists for the 1870s include: Archivo Provincial de Sancti Spíritus, Fondo Valle-Iznaga (hereinafter APSS, Valle-Iznaga), leg. 27, Libra con la dotación de esclavos del ingenio La Crisis; ANC, Misc. de Libros, num. 10802, Libro Diario del Ingenio Delicias; ANC, Misc. de Libros, núm. 10806, Libro diario al parecer de un ingenio, 1879–1881; and ANC, Misc. de Libros, núm. 11245, Libro Mayor del Ingenio Nueva Teresa, 1872–1885.

36 For a further discussion of the politics of abolition, see Corwin , Spain and Abolition of Slavery; and Knight , Slave Society.

37 ANC, Misc. de Libras, núm. 10831, Libra Diario del Ingenio Nueva Teresa, 1880–1886.

39 ANC, Misc. de Libros, núm. 11245, Libro Mayor del Ingenio Nueva Teresa, 1872–1885.

40 APSS, Valle-Iznaga, leg. 24, Libro que contiene documentos del estado general de la finca Mapos.

41 For provincial figures on emancipation, see AHN, Ultramar, leg. 4814, exp. 273 and exp. 289; leg. 4926, exp. 144; and Villanova Manuel, Estadística de la abolición de la esclavitud (Havana, 1885).

42 For the debate, see AHN, Ultramar, leg. 4818, exp. 84, Sobre pago de contribuciones de las tiendas de los Ingenios.

43 For a more detailed discussion of the operation of the patronato, see Scott Rebecca J., “Gradual Abolition and the Dynamics of Slave Emancipation in Cuba, 1868–86Hispanic American Historical Review, 63 (08 1983), 449477.

44 AHN, Ultramar, leg. 4926, exp. 144, núm. 300, Informe del Consejo de Administratión, 8 August 1884.

45 Llop Edo y, Memoria histórica, 988–89.

46 ANC, Misc. de Libros, núm. 11245, Libro Mayor del Ingenio Nueva Teresa, 1872–1885.

47 ANC, Misc. de Libros, núm. 10831, Libro Diario del Ingenio Nueva Teresa, 1880–1886.

49 See AHN, Ultramar, leg. 4926, exp. 144, núm. 323, Telegram from the Governor General of Cuba to the Minister of Ultramar, Havana, 12 August 1886.

50 For the debates in the Spanish parliament, see Spain, Cortes, 1879–80, Discursos de la ley de abolición de la esclavitud en Cuba (Madrid, 18791880).

51 A good example of the latter would be Francisco Feliciano Ibáñez, who was a major planter, a conservative on abolition, and a proponent of the development of central mills. See Ibáñez Francisco Feliciano, Observaciones sobre la utilidad y conveniencia del establecimiento en esta isla de grandes ingenios centrales. … (Havana, 1880).

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