Transforming Bondsmen into Vassals: Arming Slaves in Colonial Spanish America

TitleTransforming Bondsmen into Vassals: Arming Slaves in Colonial Spanish America
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2006
AuthorsLanders, Jane
EditorBrown, Christopher Leslie, and Philip D. Morgan
Book TitleArming Slaves: From Classical Times to the Modern Age
Pagination120 - 145
PublisherYale University Press
CityNew Haven, CT

Arming slaves as soldiers is a counterintuitive idea. Yet throughout history, in many varied societies, slaveholders have entrusted slaves with the use of deadly force. This book is the first to survey the practice broadly across space and time, encompassing the cultures of classical Greece, the early Islamic kingdoms of the Near East, West and East Africa, the British and French Caribbean, the United States, and Latin America.To facilitate cross-cultural comparisons, each chapter addresses four crucial issues: the social and cultural facts regarding the arming of slaves, the experience of slave soldiers, the ideological origins and consequences of equipping enslaved peoples for battle, and the impact of the practice on the status of slaves and slavery itself. What emerges from the book is a new historical understanding: the arming of slaves is neither uncommon nor paradoxical but is instead both predictable and explicable. In the chapter Transforming Bondsmen into Vassals: Arming Slaves in Colonial Spanish America, addresses this arena where slaves were armed. Of all the nations in Europe, it was Spain which was most dependent on the military employment of slaves throughout its history. Armed military service in defense of the Spanish Crown provided a way for slaves to gain freedom. As one of the best in the world, the early modern Spanish army was significantly heterogeneous, incorporating volunteers and mercenaries of different nationalities as well as free and enslaved Africans to accomplish its early conquests. Landers examines the arming of slaves, who were transformed from bondsmen into free vassals, to fortify colonial Spanish America's military campaigns against indigenous populations. It looks at the use of enslaved blacks to explore and expand Spanish frontiers throughout the Americas, to help Spain defend the Caribbean, and to fight against escaped slaves. It also discusses Cuba's creation of militias of free men of color, the rise to power of the French Bourbons, the use of slave soldiers in eighteenth-century Cuba, Spain's deployment of black militias to fight in various revolutions, and the black auxiliaries of Spanish King Carlos IV.

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