Cuban tobacco slavery : life, labor and freedom in Pinar del Río, 1817-1886



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This dissertation examines the size and scope of tobacco cultivation in the far western Cuban province of Pinar del Río, from 1817 to 1886, in an effort to detail the impact of tobacco upon Cuban slavery and emancipation. This focus is intended to correct the existing historiography that has traditionally either marginalized or assigned false stereotypes to the role of tobacco slaves in Cuban society. Tobacco cultivation, by virtue of its fundamentally different economic structure and size, its regionally specific location and historical development, and the distinct demographic makeup of its work force, suggests different patterns of slavery that in turn precipitated different meanings of freedom than those recognized in other slave regimes. Of central importance is the recognition of the enhanced degrees of autonomy and spaces for independence that the exigencies of tobacco cultivation produced in slavery and in freedom and that were significantly less possible elsewhere. Emphasizing how different types of labor profoundly affected the different ways that Cuban slaves defined themselves and their environment, this dissertation privileges both the specificity and determinative aspects of crop cultivation, and how the structure of slave society is informed by a culture of labor. Some of the more critical aspects of slave life and culture – work patterns, living arrangements, family formation, mobility, and the existence of informal slave economies – were all uniquely impacted by the particular demands and demographics of tobacco-based labor. Despite the dominant role of sugar in the historiography of Cuban slavery, other slaves existed, other forms of labor were pertinent, and the differences and the varieties among these slave societies, were important. Consequently there remains a need for a method of analysis that distinguishes and differentiates among the multiplicity of experiences for Cuban slaves. By identifying a distinct slave population whose structure differs radically from the accepted norm and whose presence has been largely minimized, this dissertation is an attempt at rendering a more nuanced view of Cuban slavery. As a result, tobacco slavery is promoted as an alternative or competing narrative to the overall understanding of Cuban slaves and the processes they created for freedom.