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The Conceptualization of Race in Colonial Puerto Rico, 1800–1850

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Kathryn R. Dungy

With the growing interest in the history of peoples of African descent in the Americas, narratives addressing regions outside of the United States are becoming increasingly popular. The Conceptualization of Race in Colonial Puerto Rico, 1800–1850 illuminates the role people of African descent played in the building of a Spanish Caribbean society during the social upheaval of the early nineteenth century. This examination of cultural tensions created by changing regional and national definitions and the fluidity of identity within these structures will appeal to those interested in colonial race issues, Africans in the Americas, and gender and race stratification. Kathryn R. Dungy uses gender, color, and class differences as lenses to understand a colonial society that was regulated by social relationships within Puerto Rico, the Caribbean, and the Americas. By examining slave and free status, color, gender, work, and immigration, she endeavors to stimulate current debate on issues of gender, color, nation, and empire, utilizing a unique population and culture in the Black Atlantic.
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Chapter Three: Living in Color: Native and Immigrant Free People of Color in Their Communities

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Chapter Three

Living in Color: Native and Immigrant Free People of Color in Their Communities

Throughout most of the island’s history, the majority of Puerto Rico’s inhabitants were rural free colored and poor whites, engaged in subsistence agriculture and seeking out a paltry existence in the colonial backwater. In the eighteenth century, Spain refused to see Puerto Rico as anything other than a military outpost, and the island’s economy remained underdeveloped. It was not until 1815 that the economic development of Puerto Rico received official support. In that year, King Ferdinand VII issued the Real Cédula de Gracias al Sacar, which liberalized trade, offered incentives for immigrants, and opened Puerto Rican ports to legal commerce.1 The Cédula de Gracias al Sacar of 1815 was an open invitation to people from both Europe and the Americas to settle in Puerto Rico.

Immigrants had been drawn to the island even before the 1815 document was published. The turbulent years at the turn of the nineteenth century set whites, free people of color, and slaves adrift in the Atlantic World. During the Spanish domination of Puerto Rico, a foreigner was simply defined as a person who originated from a country or territory other than Puerto Rico. Peninsulares (those who originated ← 35 | 36 → from the Iberian Peninsula), Spanish subjects from other territories in the Americas, and émigrés from non-Spanish dominions were all groups included in the expansion of Puerto Rico. To relocate into the Puerto...

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