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date: 26 June 2022

Black Tribute in the Spanish Americaslocked

Black Tribute in the Spanish Americaslocked

  • Norah GharalaNorah GharalaUniversity of Houston

Summary

From the late 16th to the early 19th centuries, free individuals, families, and corporate groups whose reputations or self-descriptions defined them as Black in the Spanish Americas were subject to a specific tax. The royal tribute tax established the relationship between loyal vassals and a responsive Crown. Under Habsburg rule, tribute circumscribed the freedom of Black subjects but offered a path to privileges for those who provided services to the Crown. Attempts to levy the tax in the 16th and 17th centuries were wide-ranging but yielded comparatively small amounts of revenue. Tribute, nevertheless, affected many regions of the Spanish Americas, either by its collection or via the strategies Black people took to avoid it or contest its imposition. The responses of Black people and local officials to the tax determined how regularly it was enforced and how much revenue it would generate. Even where it failed, debates over tribute and attempts to collect it can reveal what it meant to be Black for colonial officials and ordinary people. Bourbon reforms led to an increasing emphasis on the fiscal potential of Black tribute, much of which became concentrated in the heart of New Spain. Hundreds of thousands of people not only paid tribute but were registered using new methods. The information produced within the tribute regime approximated the density, distribution, and interconnectedness of Black and Indian populations. In addition to the revenue and data its collection yielded, the imposition of Black tribute remains fundamental to understanding the colonial status, sense of identity, and experiences of Black people in the Spanish Empire.

Subjects

  • 1492–1824
  • Afro-Latin History
  • Colonialism and Imperialism

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