Sophia Florida: Book IV, Chapter IV (On the Negroes’ Rebellion and the Punishment Meted out to Them)

Book IV, Chapter IV

Which deals with the Negroes’[1] rebellion and with the punishment that the admiral, Don Diego Colón, meted out to them, etc.

Translated by Sophia Florida ’22

The rebellion of the Negroes was an event of much interest on this island and potentially the source of much evil (had God not intervened); and there would be no reason, therefore, to leave something so significant out of my accounts, because if I were to remain silent about what happened I would also be silencing the service done by certain honorable men of this city. And to avoid such a charge against myself, and to make sure no one believes that my inquiries into the truth of the matter fell short, I will tell all I have been able to learn about this case from those who had a hand in it, and the reader should bear in mind that if something is left unsaid it will be the fault of those who informed me and not of the one telling the tale. So, I will tell the essentials about the Negro uprising and revolt started by the slaves of Admiral Don Diego Colón’s plantation (but not by all of those he owned), and I will share what I learned from the admiral himself and from other knights and leading men of this matter, and it is this.

Up to twenty of the admiral’s Negroes, most of them of the jolophe tongue, resolved to leave the plantation on the second day of the Nativity of Christ, at the beginning of the year 1522, and join a similar number with whom they had formed an alliance elsewhere. After up to forty of the Negroes had come together, they killed some Christians caught off guard in the fields and then continued to the village of Azúa. Next, the news reached the city by way of a warning sent by Dr. Cristóbal Lebrón, who was on his own plantation at the time. Having learned of the evil intent and deeds of the Negroes, the admiral soon rode in pursuit, accompanied by only a few men on horse and foot. But given the admiral’s fast reaction and this Audiencia Real’s ready provision, all the knights and hidalgos went after him, along with riders from this city and the surrounding regions. On the second day after the news reached the city, the admiral wound up on the banks of the Nizao river, when he got word that the Negroes had reached the cattle ranch of Melchior de Castro, senior notary of mines and a neighbor of this city, nine leagues from here. There they killed a Christian, a bricklayer working at the ranch, and robbed the house, taking a Negro and twelve other enslaved Indians with them. Having inflicted all the damage they could, they moved on, gathering strength and numbers and what had not been offered to them freely, intent on doing worse.

After they had killed nine Christians in the course of their travels, they set camp about a league from Ocoa, near an impressive plantation belonging to Dr. Zuazo, a former judge in this Audiencia Real, determining to reach the plantation on the next day at dawn and kill another eight or nine Christians who were there, adding more Negroes to their numbers. And their plan would have succeeded since they would have found more than a hundred and twenty slaves on that plantation; had they joined them, their plan had been to attack the village of Azúa, putting it to the knife, seizing the land and adding many more Negroes from plantations in that village to their numbers. And, undoubtedly, these would have joined their evil cause if Divine Providence had not thwarted it as it did.

Thus, the admiral arrived at the banks of the Nizao, as I have said; having learned of the aforementioned damage done by the Negroes along their path, he agreed to stop there that night to rest his people and allow those who were behind to catch up. From there they would ride together just before dawn in pursuit of the evildoers. Among those who were there with the admiral was Melchior de Castro, a neighbor of this city, whose estate and farm had suffered the damage described above. Because his own misfortune so pained him (above and beyond the general grief of all those who rode together), he decided to advance with two other riders without saying anything to the admiral, believing that if he had asked him for permission he would not have given it, nor would he have allowed him to go ahead so alone while the admiral and others stayed behind where I have described. Secretly, Melchior de Castro left the search party and traveled to his estate and cattle farm, where he buried the bricklayer the Negroes had killed, and found his house robbed and deserted. There he was joined by another Christian rider and they resolved to ride ahead; he sent word of his plans to the admiral and requested some men to help him hold the Negroes at bay until the Christians and his lordship could arrive, given that he and those who went with him were so few in number. Learning this, the admiral sent him nine men on horseback and seven on foot. Having joined Melchior de Castro, they amounted to twelve horsemen and together they pursued the Negroes up to where they had set camp. Among those joining Melchior de Castro on horseback was the esteemed Francisco Dávila, neighbor of this city, who is now one of its aldermen, and pursuing their path found themselves alongside the Negroes just as the daystar rose above the horizon; the latter, perceiving them, began to yell loudly to gather into a squadron to await the attack from those on horseback. The horsemen, sensing a well-matched battle, chose not to wait for the admiral for the aforementioned reasons, and not wanting the Negroes to join forces with those of that plantation, determined to engage them in battle. Calling to God and the Apostle Santiago, all twelve of them, few in number but courageous in spirit, formed a squadron, clutched their light leather shields, called daragas, and set their lances for the encounter. Then, stirrup to stirrup and without holding back, they charged at full gallop against the Negroes, who resisted the onslaught of the Christians with great spirit, but still the horsemen broke through them and passed to the other side. During this first charge a few of the slaves fell, but that did not stop them from immediately regrouping and launching a torrent of stones, spears and darts, and with another greater scream they readied to meet the second charge of the Christian knights. The Negroes did not have to wait long, for despite their volley of fire-hardened spears, those on horseback again summoned the name of Santiago, which gave them great courage, and turned about to break straight through the rebels. The Negroes, finding themselves so suddenly separated from each other, under attack and in such disarray as a result of the determination and daring of so few valiant horsemen, did not dare await the third charge already being set in motion. They turned their backs, set on fleeing for the crags and chasms that were close to where their defeat had come to pass, and the field and the victory was left to the Christians, and there lying dead in it were six Negroes and many more who were wounded, among them the aforementioned Melchior de Castro, badly wounded with his left arm sliced by a spear. The victors remained there in the field until daybreak, and because it was night and very dark and the land rugged and heavily forested in parts, they were not able to see those who had fled, nor where they had gone. But without moving from the very place where this had all taken place, Melchior de Castro had one of his ranch hands call out to his Negro and to the Indians the Negroes had taken from his estate, and these, who had been hiding in the bushes nearby, reassured by a voice they recognized, gathered around him and returned to their lord with great pleasure.

Once it was light, Melchior de Castro, Francisco Dávila and the other knights who had fought this honorable battle all went to Dr. Alonso Çuaço’s plantation to rest. The admiral and his people arrived an hour before Vespers, and all the Christians gave many thanks to God, our Lord, for the victory given; for although the rebel Negroes had not been many in number, they had been possessed by such evil intentions that after fifteen or twenty days at large they would have been so many and so difficult to control that it would not have been possible to accomplish this without expending much time and many Christian lives. May God be praised for the success of this victory, which in its essence was great.

The admiral ordered Melchior de Castro to return to this city of Santo Domingo to heal, as he did. And from the field the admiral ordered such a thorough search for the escaped Negroes that in five or six days all those responsible were captured. He ordered justice be done to them, so his men erected a stretch of gallows along the road and hung the rebels. But as some of those who escaped the battle had fled into rugged terrain, it was necessary to follow them on foot, and it was Captain Pero Ortiz de Mantienço who pursued and fought with them and killed some and caught a few, who were subjected to the justice I have described. In truth this nobleman was very gallant in this, since the terrain where he reached and thwarted the fugitives was rugged and difficult. Thanks to Melchior de Castro’s diligence and efforts, as well as those of Francisco Dávila, who came to his aid as captain of those eight horsemen who then joined him to form a group of twelve riders, as has been told, they achieved a splendid victory, and the punishment was perfectly meted out by the courageous enforcer who followed the Negroes and killed some of them and captured the rest to place them in the gibbet and gallows. Once the punishment was executed, the admiral returned to this city, where he fulfilled his duty to God and to Your Majesties with all the honor of a man of his stature. And in this way the Negroes who had risen up were punished in a manner befitting their audacity and madness, and all the others were henceforth frightened and certain of what would happen to them if such a thing were to pass through their thoughts in the future—a swift punishment that matched the speed through which they had ventured to reveal their wickedness.

[1] The term, now outdated and contested, came into use in Spanish and Portuguese (where it literally meant “black”) around 1442, when Portuguese explorers reached southern Africa while searching for a sea route to India and came into contact with the people from the Bantu states flourishing south of the Central African rain forests.

Spanish original: I, IV, IV