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American Beginnings: 1492-1690
Topic: ContactTopic: ExplorationTopic: SettlementTopic: PermanenceTopic: Power
Topic: Power
Toolbox Overview: American Beginnings: 1492-1690
Resource Menu: Power
Text 1. Imperial Rivalry I: Spain and England in the Caribbean
Text 2. Imperial Rivalry II: Spain and France in Tejas (Texas)
Text 3. Imperial Rivalry III: England and France in the Northeast
Text 4. Colonial Rule
Text 5. Colonial Rebellion (English Colonies)
Text 6. Indian Relations
Text 7. Indian Wars
Text 8. Africans I: English Colonies
Text 9. Africans II: Spanish/French Colonies

Reading Guide
Africans II: Spanish & French Colonies
- Spanish: Maroons and free blacks, 1600s, three documents (excerpts) (PDF)
- Spanish: Black Code in Cuba, 1574 (PDF)
- French: Black Code in the Caribbean islands, 1685
- Images: Labor of enslaved Africans (three illustrations), 1500s-1600s (PDF)

In Spanish America arose the first extensive dependence on Africans for slave labor, and thus the first master-slave power struggles in the hemisphere. On the masters' side, this struggle manifested itself in slave codes that upheld the legality of slavery and controlled the actions of slaves, freed slaves, and masters, often with the stated or implied goal of protecting the white people from the potential power of the black people. On the Africans' side, the struggle manifested itself in numerous forms, the most disturbing to the Spanish being the communities of runaway slaves (maroons) in the often mountainous interiors of their colonies. Maroon communities also thrived in the French and English West Indies into the 1700s and 1800s. We will look at several documents that reveal the white-black power struggles in the Spanish and French colonies. How successful is each side in perceiving its own power realistically and in generating an effective response?
  • MAROONS AND FREE BLACKS. Although a tiny minority of the African population in North America, maroons and free blacks in Central America and the Caribbean became a political force to be reckoned with. The well known maroon revolts and leaders, such as Cudjoe in Jamaica and Toussaint L'Ouverture in Haiti, came later in the 1700s, but examples abound of maroon power in the 1600s. Here we read of two maroon communities in Guatemala and Hispaniola and a free black community in Costa Rica.
    [Thomas Gage, The English-American his Travel by Sea and Land . . . , 1648; Francisco, Archbishop-elect of Santo Domingo, Letter to King Philip IV of Spain, 15 Sept. 1662; Governor and Town Council of Cartago, Costa Rica, Decision concerning petition of inhabitants of La Puebla, 1676]

  • BLACK CODE in CUBA. By the mid 1500s the Cuban Indians had been virtually wiped out, and the Spanish began to import Africans to work in the port city of Havana and in the scattered rural plantations and ranches. Soon they realized the need for laws to control not only the slaves and free blacks, but also the owners whose excessive punishments and fraudulent schemes to gain others' slaves multiplied the problems wrought in a slave economy. In these regulations of 1574 you will also see the relative autonomy of Africans at this stage and the unease it caused the Spanish.
    [Municipal ordinances for the city of Havana and other villages of this island, 14 January 1574]

  • BLACK CODE in the FRENCH WEST INDIES. France faced similar problems as its Caribbean possessions increased in the mid 1600s and the plantations owners became dependent on the labor of imported Africans. In 1685 King Louis XIV issued a code noir (black code) to "settle issues dealing with the condition and quality of the slaves" in the islands. Like the Spanish code of 1574 and the Virginia code of 1705, the code set strict limits on the actions and status of slaves and freed slaves as well as regulating the masters' treatment of their "charges," i.e., property.
    [King Louis XIV, Edict on the subject of the Policy regarding the Islands of French America, March 1685]
Slave codes were also devised in the English Caribbean islands, e.g., the Barbadian slave code of 1661 served as a model for the South Carolina code of 1696 (worth comparing with the 1705 Virginia code; see Supplemental Links). Runaway slave communities, however, did not develop to the same extent in the mainland English colonies as they did in the Caribbean. Why might this be so? Before you read, study the drawings of slave labor in the West Indies (there are few extant first-hand illustrations of slavery in mainland North America before the mid 1700s). What European attitudes toward slavery and forced labor are implied in the drawings? (13 pages, including the images.)

Discussion questions
  1. What white-black relationships had evolved in the Spanish and French (West Indies) colonies by 1700?
  2. What factors limited the whites' ability to control the black Africans?
  3. To what extent did they perceive and respond to these factors?
  4. What factors (besides the obvious limitation of enslavement) limited the blacks' ability to affect their power imbalance with the whites?
  5. To what extent did they perceive these factors, and to what extent could they adjust their actions as a result?
  6. Based on these readings, compose a "white code" that reflects the Africans' mode of exerting power in their enslaved condition.
  7. How did religion—of the master and of the slave—factor into the power relationships?
  8. What is the correlation of these factors to the power that Africans could wield: (a) their numbers, (b) the type of labor required, (c) the urban-rural nature of the labor, (d) the whites' fear of their potential power?
  9. Compare the slave codes of Cuba, the French West Indies, and Virginia (#8: Africans in the English colonies). Are their differences or similarities more significant for understanding the evolution of power in these colonies?
  10. What European attitudes toward their power over Africans are implied in the drawings of plantation labor in the West Indies?
  11. Based on these readings, what changes in the master-slave power relationships would you expect in the 1700s as the institution of slavery became more controlled and problematic in Central America and the Caribbean?

Topic Framing Questions
  •  What power relationships had been forged among the peoples of North America by 1690?
  •  How did the European rivalries of the 1690s in North America set the stage for the later imperial conflicts of the 1700s?
  •  What did "North America" signify to Europe in 1690? to the inhabitants of North America?

Spanish—Maroons and free blacks:  4
Spanish—Black code in Cuba:  3
French—Black code in the Caribbean:  3
Images of enslaved Africans:  3
13 pages, including the images
Supplemental Sites
Creativity and Resistance: Maroon Cultures in the Americas, from the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

The Maroons of Jamaica (English colony) in the 18th century, from Edward Baptist, University of Miami

South Carolina slave laws, late 1600s-early 1700s (scroll down to chart), from PBS/WNET & New York Life Insurance Co.

Slave Code of Barbados (English colony) in the 1600s, from

*PDF file - You will need software on your computer that allows you to read and print Portable Document Format (PDF) files, such as Adobe Acrobat Reader. If you do not have this software, you may download it FREE from Adobe's Web site.

Code Noir: George Mason University and the City University of New York (CUNY), in online exhibition Liberty, Equality, Fraternity: Exploring the French Revolution
Others: National Humanities Center

-Maroon leader. A Coromantyn free negro, or Ranger, armed, in John Gabriel Stedman, Narrative, of a five years' expedition, against the revolted Negroes of Surinam, in Guiana, on the wild coast of South America; from the year 1772, to 1777, 1806. Reproduced by permission of the New York Public Library, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Digital Image ID 1252627.
-Field slave. Illustration captioned "Field Negro. Sugar Cane in the Background," in Richard Bridgens, West India Scenery . . . from sketches taken during a voyage to, and residence of seven years in . . . Trinidad, London, 1836. Courtesy of the University of Virginia Library, in online collection The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record, #BRIDG-2_IMG.

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