“A Class of People Neither Freemen nor Slaves”: From Spanish to American Race Relations in Florida, 1821-1861

“A Class of People Neither Freemen nor Slaves”: From Spanish to American Race Relations in Florida, 1821-1861

Journal of Social History
Volume 26, Number 3 (Spring, 1993)
pages 587-609

Daniel L. Schafer, Professor of History emeritus
University of North Florida

This essay examines the status of free blacks in Florida, focusing on the transition from mild and flexible three-caste race policies under the Spanish prior to their departure in 1821 to the harsh and rigid two-caste policies brought by the Americans. Comparison of Cuba and East Florida shows that Spain followed parallel policies in these two colonies, yet the status of free blacks in Cuba plummeted after 1800 while their counterparts in East Florida retained their places in a seignorial caste system. Local conditions rather than metropolitan laws, institutions, and religions explain these divergences. Free blacks who remained in Florida after 1821 saw their rights decline sharply. By 1829 a rigidly discriminatory two-caste policy was in place that severely restricted future manumissions. Implementation of the new laws was effectively circumvented until the 1850s, however, as the local plantation elites, mostly holdovers from the Spanish era and fathers of free mulatto children, monopolized political offices and ignored two-caste race policies in favor of their older traditions. Case studies drawn from local records explore the fate of free blacks caught in this transition. In the 1850s cotton and lumber prices escalated along with political controversies; white supremacist attitudes and policies became the general will. Were elderly women in the past by definition dependent on their family and on charity, or was it possible for these women to build up an independent living to some extent? Research into the place of women within the household is one of the methods to gain insight into the degree of independence of elderly women. Research has shown that the elderly (women and men) did not necessarily have a dependent position within the household. A large proportion of the elderly headed their own households. This article deals with the composition of households of elderly women in the Dutch capital Amsterdam in the second half of the nineteenth century. It analyses whether elderly women could retain their independence within the household to some extent. The degree of independence is related to the position within the household, i.e. whether these women were members or heads of a household. The main source used to reconstitute the households of elderly women is the population register of Amsterdam of the period 1851-1892.

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