? Slavery in the Americas was quite diverse. Mining operations in the tropics experienced
different needs and suffered different challenges than did plantations in more temperate areas of
Northern Brazil or costal city’s serving as ports for the exporting of commodities produced on the
backs of the enslaved peoples from the African continent. This essay will look at these different
situations and explore the factors that determined the treatment of slaves, the consequences of
that treatment, and the conditions that lead to resistance by the slaves working in their various
After the initial conquest of Mexico and South America it was time to develop the
economy and export the resources that would benefit the monarchy back home in Spain and
Portugal. Silver and Gold were two such commodities. Silver mines in Northern Mexico were
supervised by blacks who directed the Indians in the arduous task of extracting the precious
metal. Gold in Central Mexico was also mined by blacks. The Gold mining regions were hot,
tropical, isolated areas of the jungle. The regions were sparsely populated and it was difficult to
keep the locals as a work force. The introduction of disease in the tropics made these areas
death zones to the indigenous people as they had no resistance to the virulent plagues. There was
a need to get cheap or free labor that would be capable of resisting the disease and who would be
easier to dominate than the locals who could run off and establish themselves elsewhere
relatively easily. The natural answer was to obtain slaves from the African continent. The slave
trade was already in operation on the African continent. Coastal cities there often enslaved
inland peoples so it was not difficult to obtain the stock and export them to the Americas.
Slaves in the mining regions were subject to harsh, isolated conditions. There were few
females and little or no community amongst the slaves. Some of the workers did have access to
money and as a result could negotiate there freedom for a price. In 1732 1/3 of the African
population of Choco was free as a result. Less fortunate slaves who found the conditions
unbearable fled to even more isolated areas of the back country to survive on their own or in
The Sugar plantations of Northern Brazil were a major client of the slave trade. The
more temperate climate made of better environmental conditions for the blacks but the work was
hard and after working for the plantation the slaves had to work a spot of land for their own
sustenance as well. They could sell what they produced and this gave them money with which to
effect manumissions. The plantation life had a hierarchy that separated the slaves into three
levels with value attached to each one. The lowest level of the hierarchy was the “Bozal.”
These were slave born on the African continent with little or no acculturation with the Spaniards
and Portugese who enslaved them. They were of the least value as the least skilled and plenty
there were plenty more where they came from. Though they were not completely disposable
they were of the least consequence should they die or run off.
Next up the pecking order were the “Ladino.” These slaves had more time in country
and had developed skills useful to the plantation owner. They were often in working positions
of a bit higher value as well.
The top of the chain were the “Criollo.” These were slaves that were born in Latin
America. They were often times offspring of Spaniards or Portugese and as such had more ties
to the community. Mulatto’s were not looked down upon as they were in the American south.
The Criollo held trusted positions in transportation, and were most often manumitted. Also
enjoying frequent manumission was the criollo involved in the processing of the crops.
Field hands made up the bulk of the population of any given plantation. They were most
often women and very nearly always Bozal. They were rarely able to achieve manumission and
the conditions in which they worked were the worst of the plantation economy. Thought they
were able to have a social life as the whites really did not care what they did with their own
time, they were the most likely to resist their conditions. This is done in a variety of ways which
will be discussed later.
There was a fairly healthy community life amongst plantation slaves. They spent time
together, had cultural activities and because of the near equal ratio of men to women were able
to marry and raise families. The slave population was fully 80-90% of the overall population in
these regions as they did all the work and there were no towns in the area where whites and
Indians went for jobs.
Cities were a third environment that utilized slaves. These slaves, however, tended to be
made from the Criollo group. An exception was the slaves taken right off the ships by white
artisans who taught them to be smiths and coopers and the like. These trades were then passed
down to the slave children and to their children after them. Europeans immigrated to Latin
America in far fewer numbers than in the U.S. and as a result otherwise menial jobs held by
white lower classes there were held by free blacks and slaves working toward manumission.
Where you might find an Irish maid on the Main Line in Philadelphia, you would find a black, or
mulatto in Latin America. This helped in keeping the racial prejudice at bay in Latin America as
it served no purpose to create the perception that blacks were an inferior race.
City slaves enjoyed a good amount of freedom to associate and they took advantage of it
to form societies and groups that worked to systematically manumit slaves.
Resistance to enslavement came in a variety of forms and much went into whether a
slave would resist or not. It was clear that all out revolt would not have any lasting affect.
Therefore resistance came in a more passive form. Slaves would pretend not to understand the
direction of their masters or they would sabotage equipment and crops. Suicide was another way
to freedom. When this method was employed the slave often killed their master and then turned
themselves in to suffer their fate. This gave value to their own death as they knew their master
was now unable to replace him with another slave.
Flight was the most plausible form of resistance. Often plantation slaves would take off
and go to another plantation to visit for a number of days. The slave knew what the punishment
would be upon his return and was willing to endure it for the needed break. Sometimes they
would even get a white person to negotiate their return or outright trade to the plantation they
had been visiting. More permanent forms of flight were undertaken by groups of slaves who
would organize and flee to the edges of the plantation and beyond to form renegade settlements.
The larger the group and the further from the plantation they fled, the more chance they had to
succeed. Criollo’s often fled alone to cities where they attempted to pass themselves off as free
men living by their wits in order to outsmart any who would suspect them as runaway’s.
In short, slaves who were the most recent arrivals to the new land endured the worst
conditions and were the least likely candidates for manumission and therefore most likely to
resist. The field workers and the gold miners were high risks for resistance. Ladino’s were less
likely to resist though conditions in the mines only slightly tempered there likelihood of flight.
Mulatto’s had it relatively easy in comparison to the Bozal’s and were less likely to resist as
there was a great probability that they would achieve manumission and life was not all that bad
in the mean time. Especially in the cities where they had family and social community. There
were jobs for free slaves in the cities and little competition from immigrants from Europe
making them necessary as freemen even outside of slavery.
Climate, disease, economic conditions and geographic location were critical to slave
reproduction, mortality, productivity and resistance. For instance, a highly capitalized, fairly
new plantation would equate to harsher conditions for a slave as the owner tried to eak. out as
much profit from the plantation as possible. If economic times were bad then slaves were
pushed less as the profit increase was not available in depressed economies. At the same time it
might benefit an owner to divest of weaker workers and so manumission possibilities increased.
Slaves isolated from family life and culture working in miserable conditions were often flight
risks as they had no real options and the terrain lent to good hiding. There were also no whites
around to hire as cheap labor to search them out and return them. Mulatto and Criollo slaves
were higher on the socioeconomic ladder than the Bozal and were therefore less likely to resist
as they were a step away from freedom which meant they would not consider fleeing as good an
option as remaining in the social circle and family they had established.
Slavery under any conditions is not the optimum existence for human beings. It is a fact
that human nature seeks to dominate. Greed and money are often at the root of such efforts. The
Israelites, the Irish, the Africans, and enumerable other groups have heritage that includes a
period of slavery or of enslaving or both. African Cimarron communities even enslaved other
African fleeing the plantations. It is not rooted in race as much as it is rooted in human nature.
The preceding essay is just a synopsis of how it functioned for African’s in certain regions
during a space in history.