Cuban History of Slavery

The Cuban population has an estimated 63 to 70 percent African heritage. When Christopher Columbus made his “discovery” Cuba was thought to be part of North America. In 1513, four Africans were brought to Cuba as slaves. From 1517 to 1726 kidnapped Africans were brought to Cuba in large numbers for the purpose of slavery.  Mainly, the enslaved Africans were free laborers in the gold mines.

In 1526, slaves were granted the right to purchase their freedom under the Cedula real (royal writ). The first slave uprising took place in 1533 at the Jobabo mines. Four slaves fought and killed Spanish soldiers at the mines. The slaves’ heads were removed and put on display to ease colonists’ fears and discourage more revolts.

It did not stop the rebellion. In 1538, slaves teamed with French pirates and burned the city of Havana. In 1682, Blacks were not allowed asylum in the Church, nor were they allowed to sing funeral masses. The struggle between the Spanish crown, Christian colonists, and the African slaves continued. In 1687, Cuban priest were ordered by the Papal (Pope), to covert African beliefs to the Catholic faith.

In support of the successful sugar production, in 1789, King Charles III issued a codex for slaves to “toil” in Cuban fields from the age of 17 to the age of 60. Slaves were to be fed, clothe, and instructed in Catholicism.

In 1806, Africans founded an organization to promote African identify and religion. Matanzas AfroCuban cabildo members bought the freedom of other slaves.

Slave revolts continued until 1832.  At that time there were over 287,000 slaves in Cuba.

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