Sunday, July 18, 2021

Erin Woodruff Stone's "Captives of Conquest"

Erin Woodruff Stone is Associate Professor of History at the University of West Florida.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Captives of Conquest: Slavery in the Early Modern Spanish Caribbean, and reported the following:
If a reader opened directly to page 99, they would find themselves at the end of Chapter 4, which focuses on the roles that indigenous slaves played in Spanish expeditions of exploration and conquest. More specifically the page concludes a segment discussing the power of indigenous allies, in particular the story of one Indian intermediary, Luis, who orchestrated the destruction of a Spanish settlement in the Chesapeake Bay area, the furthest north the Spanish ever ventured. The page then goes on to review the different roles that indigenous slaves took on, willingly or unwillingly, during missions of exploration from translators and guides to porters or “consolation prizes” sold at the end of unsuccessful ventures. The page then highlights the occasional opportunities available to indigenous allies during Spanish expeditions, which at times provided them with agency and power, revealing a different and neglected aspect of indigenous enslavement.

The Page 99 Test works quite well for my book. While the page is one of transition coming at the end of Chapter 4, it features several of the most important arguments and themes of the book. First, it highlights the importance of Indian slavery in the creation of the Spanish Caribbean/Empire by explaining the multitude of roles played by indigenous slaves during every part of journeys of exploration and colonization. Second, it shows the complexity of the indigenous slave trade, where some Indians were displaced multiple times, travelling across the Caribbean and even the Atlantic. This was not a simple enterprise, but one that involved many players and ports of call. Third, it underscores indigenous voice and agency.

While the indigenous perspective is difficult to find within Spanish sources, at times one can see glimpses of the indigenous viewpoint, for example in the case of “ally” Luis. Luis was captured from present day Virginia in the 1550s after which he was taken to Mexico and later Spain. During this time Luis became a central player in the attempted conquest of “La Florida” first under Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, and later with a group of Jesuits. They believed that the key to successfully converting the indigenous peoples of the new world was the creation of a purely religious settlement free from Spanish military or other secular colonists and their bad influence. Thus, when the small number of Jesuits departed for the Chesapeake, they only took with them Luis and another indigenous slave. Luis was to serve as their guide and translator. Though we never hear directly from Luis, his actions speak louder than words. Only days after the mission’s arrival in Virginia, Luis ran away. He then began to organize attacks on the Jesuit settlement. Within a few months the Indians had destroyed the nascent colony in dramatic fashion; “On the morning of February 4, 1571, Luis and a large group of Indians assaulted the camp. They clubbed the Jesuits to death and beheaded others.”

In sum, the page 99 test reflects the larger themes of the book quite well, and hopefully would inspire a reader to delve deeper into the text where they would examine many more facets of the earliest indigenous slave trade and how it contributed to the formation of the Spanish Empire.
Learn more about Captives of Conquest at the University of Pennsylvania Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue