Articulating Space: The Free-Colored Military Establishment in Colonial Mexico from the Conquest to Independence

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Introduction: Questioning the Question of Non-White Military Service in Colonial Mexico At the close of the seventeenth century, even with Spain feeling the heat of war and with streams of pirate raids still punishing the coastlines of the crown’s New World holdings, Spanish bureaucrats cringed when considering the prospect of using black troops to defend their possessions. Francisco de Seijas y Lobera, the former alcalde mayor (district governor) of Tacuba, a distinguished member of the Spanish gentry, a scientist, merchant, and a traveler, seemed to capture the spirit of the times in his fourteen-volume history of the Spanish kingdom. Written between 1702–1704 as a counseling guide for the new monarch, Philip V, Seijas dedicated an entire tome exclusively to Mexican affairs. Within, he described in detail the existing military landscape, the scope of enemy threats, the parameters of existing defenses, and most importantly, he offered a series of recommendations for improving the mechanisms for protecting the crown’s borders. During times of emergency, Seijas suggested that Mexico could probably count upon the military services of 200,000 coastal and frontier defenders. His estimates tallied that a full 175,000 of these would be drawn from the negro, mulatto, pardo, Indian, and mestizo racial classes. But in his enthusiasm for advocating the expansion of the military to include nonwhites, Seijas also revealed certain prejudices that seemed characteristic of his times. Sure, negros and mulattos (i.e. free-coloreds) could be called upon to serve; however, the terms of their service had to be constricted: With respect to the formation of the two companies, considering (as one should) that the said negros and mulatos cannot be allowed to use swords and daggers, sharp weapons, or firearms of any type . . . it is not convenient or safe for the service of the king that the tremendous number of negro and mulatto rabble that exist (sic) in the Indies use such weapons. This is because they could use these arms to revolt. Moreover, there is no just or political reason why these people, who are of the same species as slaves (being their offspring), should enjoy the same privileges (preeminencias) as Spaniards. For these reasons, and because [negros and mulattos] have already been involved in many uprisings and tumults in the Indies, it is best for the crown that free negros and mulattos not be permitted to use offensive or defensive weapons.1
This paper is part of Project MUSE-Scholarly journals online,The Johns Hopkins University Press in collaboration with The Milton S. Eisenhower Library.
Colonial Mexico, Mexico, Free-Colored Military Establishment, Military, Independence
Colonial Mexico, Free-Colored, Colonial Mexico,