Slave Women’s Strategies for Freedom and the Late Spanish Colonial State

TitleSlave Women’s Strategies for Freedom and the Late Spanish Colonial State
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2000
AuthorsChaves, María Eugenia
EditorDore, Elizabeth, and Maxine Molyneux
Book TitleHidden Histories of Gender and the State in Latin America
PublisherDuke University Press

The nature of colonial government in Spanish America has been the subject of much debate. It is well known that slave women actively participated in efforts to achieve social ascent for themselves and their children, employing two mutually dependent strategies in their attempts to secure their freedom: they sought to take advantage of the relationship with their masters or mistresses by engaging in illegitimate sexual relations and by forming ties of affection and gratitude; or they relied on the masters’ willingness to agree to their buying their own freedom or that of a family member. However, a third avenue, their use of the colonial courts has, so far, received less attention. In this chapter, the author discusses the case of a slave woman in Guayaquil who went against the dominant discourse that excluded her from the practice of honor, deploying her ‘‘stained’’ honor as the basis for a lawsuit in an effort to gain her freedom from slavery. Taking this case as a point of departure, the author explores how the social context and the discursive relations interacted to open up conditions that enabled slave women to change their social status and identity in the colonial order.

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