Africans in Colonial Mexico
Now in paperback!

Africans in Colonial Mexico

Absolutism, Christianity, and Afro-Creole Consciousness, 1570-1640
Herman L. Bennett
Distribution: World
Publication date: 3/16/2009
Format: paper 288 pages, 1 bibliog., 1 index
6.125 x 9.25
ISBN: 978-0-253-21775-2
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“This book charts new directions in thinking about the construction of new world identities. . . . Bennett does a masterful job.” —Judith A. Byfield, Dartmouth

In this study of the largest population of free and slave Africans in the New World, Herman L. Bennett has uncovered much new information about the lives of slave and free blacks, the ways that their lives were regulated by the government and the Church, the impact upon them of the Inquisition, their legal status in marriage, and their rights and obligations as Christian subjects.

Author Bio

Herman L. Bennett is Associate Professor of History at The Graduate Center, CUNY.


"Bennett (Rutgers Univ.) relies on church records, especially marriage licenses and Inquisition prosecutions, to reveal aspects of the social and legal lives of Africans and their descendants, slave and free, in colonial Mexico. He begins by establishing the scale of the African presence, saying that Africans outnumbered Spaniards and that early New Spain's black population was larger than Brazil's. He notes, as others have, that Africans participated in the conquest and often served in an intermediary role, supervising indigenous labor and Hispanicizing the Indians. Bennett focuses not on work or living conditions, but on Africans' ability to manipulate power through their understanding of the law. Blacks, being Christians and thus considered persons with souls, enjoyed certain rights. For example, the church granted them the right of conjugality, which superceded their masters' property rights. Africans, Bennett argues, took advantage of these limited rights to make lives for themselves. By manipulating the interstices between canon and property law, Africans carved out niches for themselves and made their lives better. This thorough study informs on a number of historical fields, including the history of slavery, diaspora studies, identity, Spanish imperial history, church history, creolization, and the Hispanicization of Indians. Summing Up: Recommended. Graduate students and faculty." —S. A. Harmon, Pittsburg State University, Choice , February 2004

". . . a remarkable feat in reconstituting the lives of New Spain’s early African population . . . and in offering a new vantage point from which to study this important component of the African Diaspora." —

"..Bennett’s book represents a significant contribution to the scholarship on the African experience in colonial Mexico and to our understanding of the interface between the public domain of church and state and the private one of personal lives." —net

"Africans in Colonial Mexico by Herman Bennett marks a major advance in the still underdeveloped field of Afro-Mexican history by using Inquisition records to investigate Afro-Creole consciousness in the mature colonial period." —Latin American Research Review

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Africans, Absolutism, and Archives
1. Soiled Gods and the Formation of a Slave Society
2. "The Grand Remedy": Africans and Christian Conjugality
3. Policing Christians: Persons of African Descent before the Inquisition and Ecclesiastical Courts
4. Christian Matrimony and the Boundaries of African Self-Fashioning
5. Between Property and Person: Jurisdictional Conflicts over Marriage
6. Creoles and Christian Narratives
Selected Bibliography