WMQ-EMSI Workshop

William and Mary Quarterly
3d ser. 69, no. 2 April 2012

Seeing Indios in Sixteenth-Century Castile

By Nancy E. van Deusen

This article considers the construction of indigenous (indio) slave identity within the contexts of the sixteenth-century Atlantic and Mediterranean worlds. Of the more than two thousand indio slaves from Latin America who were forced to migrate to Castile during the sixteenth century, nearly two hundred questioned the legality of their enslaved condition based upon the tenets of the New Laws (1542), which declared indios to be free vassals of the Spanish Crown. This resulted in the initiation of 123 before the tribunals of the House of Trade and the Council of the Indies. Because of the need to identify the imperial (Spanish versus Portuguese) origins of indio litigants, witnesses navigated physiognomic identity markers and other criteria. But identification was a subjective art that depended on the legal culture of the courtroom, the experiences and incentives of deponents, and the presence of other slaves in Castile from Brazil, West and North Africa, South and East Asia, or Granada. Analyzing the complex process of labeling indios in such a globalized context shows not only how notions of indigenous enslaveability evolved over the course of the sixteenth century but how Castilian interpretations of phenotype and identity were varied and complex.

Witchcraft, Poison, Law, and Atlantic Slavery

By Diana Paton

In response to Tacky’s Rebellion in 1760 in Jamaica, the colony’s House of Assembly passed a law naming a new crime, “obeah.” This important statute led the way in establishing obeah as a phenomenon understood by colonial authorities as a singular and dangerous problem. Investigating the Jamaica assembly’s decision within a wider Caribbean and Atlantic context and alongside the near-contemporaneous “Makandal conspiracy” in Saint Domingue, which was interpreted by French planters as a mass outbreak of poisoning, shows how similar practices came to be interpreted and constructed in different ways in different colonial cultures. The practices used by Tacky’s “obeah man” and Makandal’s followers were conceptually and practically similar, deriving from African understandings of medicine in which substances could be imbued with spiritual power. Why, then, did the French colonists emphasize poison while the British emphasized obeah (which they glossed with the term “witchcraft”)? In addition to the differences between developments in the colonies, an important context for understanding this distinction was the European experience of the decriminalization of witchcraft. In France decriminalization led to heightened anxiety about poison, while in England witchcraft decriminalization was not connected to poison but made the term and legal category of witchcraft a difficult one for planters to invoke.

Fashioning Moccasins:
Detroit, the Manufacturing Frontier, and the Empire of Consumption, 1701–1835

By Catherine Cangany

Moccasins were worn by Euroamericans on many frontiers, but colonial Detroiters, unlike other frontier residents, did not just wear moccasins; they also manufactured them. By the 1770s Detroit was home to at least three tanneries that produced native-style shoes. Due to Detroit’s situation in the heart of the Great Lakes, merchants then shipped moccasins to the eastern seaboard. By the early nineteenth century, this frontier footwear had transitioned into imperial culture. The fashioning of moccasins—tracing the appropriation, fabrication, distribution, marketing, and consumption of a native cultural item by nonnatives—challenges our understanding of the frontier in three ways. It establishes the existence and scope of a hybridized culture that borrowed and blended the most useful components of several cultural traditions. It demonstrates that Detroit capitalized on components of both west and east to capture some degree of commercial autonomy. And it identifies an instance in which the interior influenced and shaped the Atlantic. The local production of moccasins for an eastern clientele reversed production, distribution, consumption, and fashionability to flow from west to east. Such a reordering enabled Detroit to exert both its importance within and its distinctness from empire.

The Handsome Tokens of a Funeral:
Glove-Giving and the Large Funeral in Eighteenth-Century New England

By Steven C. Bullock and Sheila McIntyre

Eighteenth-century New Englanders considered the gift of gloves an essential part of their funerals. Common people gave a few. Well-to-do families offered them to everyone who attended, in quantities that could reach into the hundreds. The development, dominance, and decline of large-scale funeral glove-giving in New England reveals important developments in the society in which the practice took shape. As long-standing signs of honor that became easily available and inexpensive consumer goods around 1700, gloves evolved from a minor (and irregular) part of burial ceremonies into an essential element in the expanding elite ceremonies that contemporaries called “large funerals.” This open-handed distribution became a powerful sign of mutual connection that allowed wealthy families to affirm their commitment to their local communities. Although the expense of large funerals spurred criticism and even (in Massachusetts) a ban on large-scale glove-giving, the practice continued until the revolutionary era. Only a prerevolutionary reform movement that attempted to change public opinion followed by the disruption of war allowed the triumph of the so-called new mode funeral without gifts. In this shift elites established less inclusive funerary practices that reshaped their relationship with their localities.