The voice of an enslaved black man as a testimony in a judicial inquiry (1556)

The voice of an enslaved black man as a testimony in a judicial inquiry (1556)
An enslaved Black man was called to testify in La Española in 1556 and his depositions were incorporated into the inquiry’s proceedings
ESPAÑA. MINISTERIO DE CULTURA, Archivo General de Indias,


puso e va testado ansi mis /
mo o diZ este testigo entrego al /
dicho alonso hernandez melgare /
jo e va entre Renglones o diz /
estava a su cargo e o diz heran /
nicolao alvarez /
r El dicho antonio negro ladino /
crioyo de santo tome esclavo /
de françisco carnero portugues /
testigo suso dicho aviendo jurado /
dixo lo siguiente /
r A la primer pregunta /
dixo que conoçe a alonso hernan /
dez melgarejo e lope [amando?] /
r preguntado por las pre /
guntas generales dixo que es /
de hedad de veynte e tres años /
poco mas o menos e que no le /
tocan las generales /
r A la quinta pregunta dixo /
que e este testigo por man /
dado del dicho nicolao alvarez /
luego desde a pocos dias que /
llego el navio a este puerto llevo /
al dicho lope amado vn negrillo /
que se llamava antono [sic] e que es /
te testigo sin le dezir otra cosa /
se le llevo e se le entrego e despues /
en los dias siguientes vio este /
testigo como el dicho lope amado /
se servia del dicho negrillo e que /


put and it goes crossed out as well where it says this witness gave to the aforementioned Alonso Hernandez Melgarejo and goes between lines where it says it was under his care and where it says they were Nicolao Alvarez

[On the left margin: witness] r The said Antonio, ladino Black Criollo from Saint Tomé, slave of Francisco Carnero, Portuguese aforementioned witness after taking oath said the following

[On the left margin: 1] r To the first question he responded that he knows Alonso Hernandez Melgarejo and Lope


r Asked about the general questions he said that he is more or less twenty three years old and that the general questions do not apply to him

[On the left margin:5] r To the fifth question, he said that this witness, ordered by the said Nicolao Alvarez a few days after the ship arrived at this port, took to the said Lope Amado a black boy called Antono [sic] and that this witness without saying anything else took [the boy] to him [Amado] and handed him [the boy], and afterwards in the subsequent days this witness saw how the said Lope Amado was being served by the said black boy and that 21

Inner yard of the type of colonial house where domestic slaves used to work

Inner yard of the type of colonial house where domestic slaves used to work


In addition to being part of the forced labor business burgeoning in the Americas, enslaved blacks were also used to provide another kind of social output: testifying as witnesses in judicial inquiries, including in cases involving free and non-Black defendants.

Such is the case of Antonio, a ladino from the island of São Tome who said his age was 23 and who was called to testify after Santo Domingo’s officials investigated about a Portuguese ship that had arrived with a slave cargo without a required license. Antonio described how, a few days after the ship arrived, he was ordered to deliver an enslaved Black boy who was part of the cargo, and also named Antonio, to a local resident, and how a few days later he saw this resident using the boy as his servant in Santo Domingo. In the proceedings, the adult Antonio is referred to explicitly as a testigo, the Spanish word for “witness.”