PhD Thesis

“Ethiopian Royal Vassals: free black itinerancy in the Iberian Atlantic (1500-1640).” Date of Defense: Spring 2018


“Ethiopian Royal Vassals: free black itinerancy in the Iberian Atlantic (1500-1640),” explores the lives of hundreds of free black individuals who became colonial settlers in the early Hispanic Caribbean, and traces black intellectual histories across the Hispanic empire. Ethiopian Royal Vassals challenges the long-standing historiographical tradition that claims that Iberians considered black Africans as the ultimate outsiders in the Spanish monarchy. Such views supposedly rendered Africans as converts (New Christians) rather than Old Christians due to their irredeemably stained or impure blood, and precluded black individuals from becoming vecinos (subjects or citizens). Employing cross-disciplinary research methods, the project places plural sixteenth and early seventeenth-century Iberian discourses on blackness and religious lineage – across published texts, religious treatises, art, literary plays on stages, and cartographic representations of Africa – in conversation with a de-centered multi-sited archival social historical research method that uncovers the transoceanic lives of hundreds of free black individuals across the Hispanic Atlantic. Reading these diverse sources in conjunction demonstrates a deep contradiction in a historiographical consensus that views black African Diasporas as outsiders in the period under study. On the one hand, the rise of a discourse of an ancient and mythical African and, specifically, Ethiopian Christianity among certain religious missionaries, playwrights, literati, artists, and cartographers, highlights a plural and flourishing landscape of discourses regarding the relationship of black skin color to purity of blood and religious lineage. On the other hand, the untold history of hundreds of free black Castilian Old Christian vecinos who settled as colonists in the Indies and whose wealth funded specific narratives of ancient African Christianity that sought to present black vecinos as equal to white Castilians, highlights the varied experiences and meanings of blackness in the Castilian empire. This project recovers the voices of early African Diasporas, placing them at the center of the early Iberian Atlantic intellectual world.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1, “They Are Blacks of the Caste of Black Christians”: Old Christian Black Blood in the Sixteenth- and Early Seventeenth-Century Iberian Atlantic.

Chapter 2 Imagining Ethiopia in the Early Hispanic Atlantic; revisiting blackness and purity of blood


Chapter 3 Black Catholicism in Seville; a city of petitions for justice

Chapter 4, Black intellectuals in New Spain; Catholicism, Subjecthood, and interconnected histories

Chapter 5, “They have always been loyal vassals of mine;” The Crown and Black Pobladores in late sixteenth-century Tierra Firme

Chapter 6, “Slave to Ethiopians Forever;” Jesuits’ visions of blackness in slave trading port of Cartagena de Indias