By Herman L. Bennett
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Extra resources for Africans in Colonial Mexico: Absolutism, Christianity, and Afro-Creole Consciousness, 1570-1640
As a ¤eld, scholars understood that laws could not reveal the meaning of the slave experience. Inquiries about the law, therefore, quickly fell from grace as scholars shifted toward producing histories of speci¤c slave societies. For Spanish America, this trend in scholarship— which features a con®ation of civil law with all laws—has been especially problematic, since canon law played a very important role in shaping slavery. The pioneering studies of colonial Spanish American slavery acknowledged the Siete Partidas and its importance as a mediating factor in the master-slave relationship, but these studies isolated that legal code from canon law.
By August 1524, Juan had returned to the Mexicas’ former capital, which the Spaniards had renamed Tenochtitlán–Mexico City, and settled on the outskirts of the traza (the Spanish urban center). 25 He subsequently departed for the Zacatula province, which he had explored during the Caravajal entrada. 26 Years later, a fortune in gold remained an elusive quest and Juan returned to Mexico City. In the 1530s, Juan reunited with Cortés as the famed conqueror led an expedition into lower California. 29 After major battles, Spaniards rewarded individual Africans who had served as retainers, soldiers, and auxiliaries with booty, freedom, and occasionally even an encomienda.
Their variously de¤ned descendants—both slave and free—would inherit these roles, but with the decline of slavery, they increasingly contributed to the growth of the rural peasantry. In New Spain, however, the African presence was not strictly rural. 91 While African labor was essential for the workings of the Spanish domestic economies, blacks also doubled as symbolic capital for a Spanish community perpetually anxious about status. In urban New Spain, Spaniards valued persons of African descent both as laborers and for the cultural capital that they conferred.