Explores the legal relationships of enslaved people and their descendants during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in Spanish America
Atlantic slavery can be overwhelming in its immensity and brutality, as it involved more than 15 million souls forcibly displaced by European imperialism and consumed in building the global economy. Mastering the Law: Slavery and Freedom in the Legal Ecology of the Spanish Empire lays out the deep history of Iberian slavery, explores its role in the Spanish Indies, and shows how Africans and their descendants used and shaped the legal system as they established their place in Iberoamerican society during the seventeenth century.
Ricardo Raúl Salazar Rey places the institution of slavery and the people involved with it at the center of the creation story of Latin America. Iberoamerican customs and laws and the institutions that enforced them provided a common language and a forum to resolve disputes for Spanish subjects, including enslaved and freedpeople. The rules through which Iberian conquerors, settlers, and administrators incorporated Africans into the expanding Empire were developed out of the need of a distant crown to find an enforceable consensus. Africans and their mestizo descendants, in turn, used and therefore molded Spanish institutions to serve their interests.Salazar Rey mined extensively the archives of secular and religious courts, which are full of complex disputes, unexpected subversions, and tactical alliances among enslaved people, freedpeople, and the crown.
The narrative unfolds around vignettes that show Afroiberians building their lives while facing exploitation and inequality enforced through violence. Salazar Rey deals mostly with cases originating from Cartagena de Indias, a major Atlantic port city that supported the conquest and rule of the Indies. His work recovers the voices and indomitable ingenuity that enslaved people and their descendants displayed when engaging with the Spanish legal ecology. The social relationships animating the case studies represent the broader African experience in the Americas during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.