Preface: Fusing the Races
I began my studies of slave societies and free people of color in the Caribbean in an effort to better understand my own family history. My paternal ancestors were, variously, Europeans, Africans, and Native Americans, all of whom converged on Virginia shores in the late 1600s. My maternal ancestors, again a mixture of European, African and Native American peoples, forged a life of free status for themselves in the slave states of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas. Both families share a history of mixed marriages, indentured servitude, migration, and generally working against the space that people of color were supposed to occupy, both during slavery and in its aftermath. I was looking for links to my seemingly unusual heritage of free people of color struggling against the historical tide. Was there a place where a free person of color could own property, land, and/or slaves, and not be an anomaly? Was there somewhere free people of color could live in an integrated community as social equals?
I never found a utopia. In fact, I found places where my relatives, had they ended up there, might actually have found a crueler trajectory in the social and cultural sphere. However, one location I found ← vii | viii → piqued my interest. Puerto Rico glimmered in the Caribbean Sea with an unusual history surrounding its free people of color. In fact, there was a point in the nineteenth century when the island’s population of free people of color actually outnumbered both the...
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