January 22, 2018

Slavery - Purchase of Freedom in the Caribbean

While going through slave records and researching information on slavery, one of the things that caught my attention was the ability of slaves purchasing their freedom. This of course only exists in certain islands controlled by specific European countries.

At one time individuals who escaped slavery from British colonized islands could attain their freedom in Puerto Rico. The requirements to gain their freedom were:
  • The individual must remain on the island for one year.
  • They must convert to Catholicism and be baptized and follow practices.
  • Have someone sponsor them on the island during that time.
Once these criteria were met, at the end of the one year, you were free to live on the island. This was the hardest path to freedom if you were enslaved by the British since they didn't view Africans or African descents as humans with intelligence. Escaping meant putting your life in danger as you had to face the sea in a small boat. Not knowing how to swim or knowing what the weather was like at sea was also a danger.

 However, the Spaniards did view those that were enslaved as humans. They were baptized in churches, were permitted to marry, and children were not sold off.  However, I suspect that if you were an unwed female slave, gave birth to a child, you could lose the child as seen in my prior post where the infant was gifted to the slaverowner's daughter to live in her home.

To learn more about how the dislike between the British and Spaniards and how it impacted slavery, I recommend the following documentary; Secrets of Spanish Florida.  I've provided the video link below.

It is approximately 2 hours long but something I truly think everyone should watch; whether you have African enslaved ancestors or not.  Part of history is learning to not repeat the ignorance of the past. You'll also learn how warped our education is the USA truly is. I highly recommend it for all and ensure you sit the younger generation to watch. This is definitely a family discussion we should all have with our children.


To continue what I want to share, I want to discuss what Africans and their descendants faced. So 165 years ago, close to today, on January 29th, 1853 in Toa Alta, Puerto Rico, we have an infant boy being baptized. He is named by his mother, Dominga, who is single. She gives him the name of Juan Jose Silvestre. She is single per the record as it states the child is born "natural", in other words, mother is unwed. The infant is almost a month old, being born on December 31st, 1852. Their last name is Prieto, which is assigned after their slave owner, Rafaela Prieto. Up until now, there is no big difference in seeing a child being baptized. Well, this is where things change.

Juan Jose Silvestre Prieto


Right in the church record, it states that Rafaela Prieto gave the child and his mother their freedom upon the purchase price of $25 (25 pesos). The purchase was done by Pablo Morales, a free black man, who obviously must be the father to the child. This is a lot of money as the inflation rate for 1853 to today is 2913.6%.  So basically Pablo paid approximately $728.40 in today's money, for his son's and the woman he obviously loved, their freedom.

Like many others, I also descend from an African Prieto line.  However, I have no relation to this woman or child.  I share this because I know many are asking for their African Prieto line and someone just may descend from Juan Jose Silvestre Prieto. Note that the other last name is Morales, so do not be surprised that the parents eventually marry.

Most important, you were permitted to marry someone who is enslaved but you are free. So if you have an ancestor from the 1800's, who is black with the name of Juan Jose Silvestre Morales Prieto, and he comes from the Toa Alta region, you just hit the jackpot in finding another generation and a clue where to look next. You can potentially descend from another child of this couple, do not give up on the search.

As I previously mentioned in many Facebook groups, I am also researching my African ancestors and I'm starting with my paternal line since I have enough to go with.  If you want to follow that research, check out my other website at http://caribbeangenealogy.wordpress.com. Best of luck in your research!


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