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


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 Five: A Fusion of the Races: Free People of Color and the Growth of Puerto Rican Society


Chapter Five

A Fusion of the Races: Free People of Color and the Growth of Puerto Rican Society

At the end of December 1873, mere months after the abolition of slavery, the Spanish government inquired whether the Puerto Rican military had provided arms to the people of color on the island in an effort to protect public tranquility. Perhaps remembering the concerns of Governor Prim in 1848, Spain was keen to avoid possible uprisings by recently liberated slaves within Puerto Rico, as had happened throughout the Caribbean only a few decades prior. Puerto Rican government officials replied in early January 1874 that they had not given arms to people of color, nor to anyone else, in their effort to enforce the new laws. Puerto Rico was an island of “perfect tranquility.”1 According to the officials, people of color constituted half of the population and were “in reality, more Spanish than the whites.”2 Puerto Rico, unlike its sister island of Cuba, had no antagonism between social or racial classes because “all work together, without regard to color, only to education and social position, and it can well be said that in almost the entire land there exists a fusion of the races.”3

Even though this observation was made in 1874, it demonstrates an undercurrent of social thought that existed on the island throughout ← 85 | 86 → much of the nineteenth century. Puerto Ricans believed themselves to have a fair society based on social...

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