Sugar, Slavery, and Freedom in Nineteenth-Century Puerto Rico

Sugar, Slavery, and Freedom in Nineteenth-Century Puerto Rico

by Luis A. Figueroa


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The contributions of the black population to the history and economic development of Puerto Rico have long been distorted and underplayed, Luis A. Figueroa contends. Focusing on the southeastern coastal region of Guayama, one of Puerto Rico's three leading centers of sugarcane agriculture, Figueroa examines the transition from slavery and slave labor to freedom and free labor after the 1873 abolition of slavery in colonial Puerto Rico. He corrects misconceptions about how ex-slaves went about building their lives and livelihoods after emancipation and debunks standing myths about race relations in Puerto Rico.

Historians have assumed that after emancipation in Puerto Rico, as in other parts of the Caribbean and the U.S. South, former slaves acquired some land of their own and became subsistence farmers. Figueroa finds that in Puerto Rico, however, this was not an option because both capital and land available for sale to the Afro-Puerto Rican population were scarce. Paying particular attention to class, gender, and race, his account of how these libertos joined the labor market profoundly revises our understanding of the emancipation process and the evolution of the working class in Puerto Rico.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780807856109
Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date: 11/21/2005
Edition description: 1
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Luis A. Figueroa is associate professor of history at Trinity College.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

An illuminating microinvestigation of the much wider and diverse phenomenon in the Americas of the transition from slavery and slave labor to freedom and free labor. This thoughtful analysis arrives at finely nuanced, textured, and empirically grounded conclusions by exploring the roles of such societal forces as class, gender, and race in shaping new contexts and environments after emancipation.—David Barry Gaspar, Duke University

This well written story of Guayama's slavery and post-emancipation experience fulfills expectations. It not only enhances our understanding of the regional map of sugar and slavery in nineteenth-century Puerto Rico, but is a welcome invitation to overcome the vague depiction of slavery and its aftermath that still prevails in the memory of the people of this island.—New West Indian Guide

The reconstruction of the process of emancipation and its aftermath presented in this book simply has no parallel with anything ever published about Puerto Rico in either English or Spanish. It is a landmark work in the scholarship of the Caribbean. The questions Figueroa asks violate a number of taboos existing in Puerto Rican culture about a supposed heritage of racial democracy. The answers provided debunk—permanently, I believe—standing myths about race relations in Puerto Rico.—Cesar J. Ayala, University of California, Los Angeles

Provides a richer and more complex portrait of the rural and urban coastal proletariat in Puerto Rico. . . . Should be compulsory reading for anyone interested in the study of slavery, emancipation, race relations, and the relationship between race and national formation in the Americas.—Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History

An incredibly well-researched study. . . . Students and scholars of the Atlantic World . . . will benefit.—The Latin Americanist

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