the AHA and “racial silence” in the criminal archive

This is, more or less, the text for my panel presentation on Saturday at the AHA. I’ve changed it a bit from the description that I submitted. But, what are you going to do? These things happen in an intervening year! It’s a busy conference for me this year. Tomorrow, an hour after I’m scheduled to land, THATCamp AHA kicks off. That should be tons of fun. Then, on Friday I’m chairing a panel on legislating the subaltern in the modern Andes. Tons of friends on the panel, and the papers look to be fantastic. Plus, I’m presenting Friday evening as the CLAH Teaching Committee roundtable on using Omeka and Zotero for student projects in undergrad classes on Latin American History. There are massive technical hurdles for that one, and I have no idea if I’ll be able to make it a worthwhile 90min. It might be very short! Then, Saturday morning I’m giving this paper. I can’t wait to get a chance on the plane tomorrow morning, flying to Chicago, to take a look at the program and see what else I want to attend. It’ll be hard choosing between Latin American history panels, and digital history panels I’m sure.

So, here’s the paper:

Racial Silences in the Criminal Archive: Jail Censuses in Quito, 1750-1850
Chad Thomas Black, University of Tennessee


In 1978, the city of Quito was named in UNESCO’s first class of World Heritage Sites. Those first twelve sites were nominated by their home governments, who established the claims upon which they were accepted. For the advocates of Quito’s case, those claims were built on the idea that, “the city has the best-preserved, least altered historic centre in Latin America.”1 As Susan Webster has recently noted, the literature on Quito’s architecture (the basis of its World Heritage status) has long held that the city is unique in the Americas, and particularly for the Andes, as “the most European of any produced in Spanish America”2 The perception of the European-ness of Quito’s architecture has served to reinforce a long-held sense that the city was a Spanish space, founded on the ruins of an indigenous city that was relegated to the hinterland, with a buffer population of mestizos in between.3

Webster goes on to unpack the European-ness of Quito’s architecture as a matter of vantage point, as the documentary record demonstrates that the construction of the city’s monumental buildings was led in design and execution by indigenous master builders and their own crews. In a (indigenous) world where authority was more potently expressed through the “control of the people and processes of architectural production,” the perception of European-ness is undermined.4 Hidden in plain site, in the walls of stone and adobe is an enduring indigenous presence. The metaphor is a fitting one for understanding the relationship between authority and race in the broader history of colonial, and early-republican Quito.5 Indeed, neighborhood census data from the late eighteenth century reveals many “Indians” hiding in plain site. Just take, for example, the house of Dr. Dn. Pedro Jijón, whose twelve family members shared the block-sized residence he owned in Santa Bárbara with a long list of individual and family tenants:

  • María Nieto, single. Family 3
  • Manuel Valeriano Escobar, married, with one son, laborer 3
  • María José Villavicencio, widow. Family 3
  • Martina de andújar, single 1
  • Miguel sánchez, Indian, married, tailor. Family 3
  • José Tituaña, Indian, carpenter, married. Family 4
  • José Pillajo, Indian, weaver, married. Family 4
  • Nicolás Pazmiño, married, tailor. Family 3
  • Francisca Gualanlima, Indian, single. Family 3
  • Catalina Carrera, widow 1
  • José Issa, Indian, cobbler, married. Family 3
  • María Manosalvas, widow. Family 2
  • Total: 456

So many “Indians” living in a nominally-Spanish space (a recurring equation in colonial and modern historiography: urbanity == Spanishness/whiteness; rurality == indigeneity). Quito was, and is, a space inhabited by and even defined by a mix of ethnic/racial identities, defined in many different ways during different points in time but pointing to a related set of issues as often as notable by their absence from the archival record as from their presence.

Archival silence does not itself equal absence. Today I’d like to talk a bit about one such silence–> in the weekly jail censuses of the late colonial and early republican periods for the city of Quito. I’ll provide a description of these censuses, the process of their making, the data within, and the context of that data. As I’ve worked with these sources over the last few years, I’ve become increasingly convinced of the importance of historicizing racial terms, as institutional records can very well be silent on race, even as we find in them categories that in the modern period come to inhabit racial meaning. That said, categories that were administrative, judicial, or fiscal were still sometimes doing racial work.

Defining some terms

But, before we can get into that, a word or two is needed on a few terms of bearing. Using jail records to look at the relationship between race and the state requires I be clear about what I mean about those terms, and about criminality or crime as well. And, when we put those terms in to the shifting context of the period under consideration, I need to be clear that the things those terms describe change in the course of that period.

Making sense of the jail censuses requires that we recognize the real difference of the “judicial state” of the Spanish Empire from the modern state that succeeds it. The term “state” has been seen as problematic for the historiography of the colonial period. Bureaucracy, yes. Institutional authority, sure. But, following Tamar Herzog’s definition of the state, as “entities that act in the name of public authority and political authority”, we have the problem of notions of public.8 Herzog argues that “public” nature of the state poses theoretical difficulties for a system in which there was no distinction between the public and the private, an argument that I share. I’ve argued before that the process of Independence was itself a process of constructing private and public spheres out of the conflated authority of the judicial state.9 This dynamic is key to understanding the racial silences of the criminal archive on both sides of the republican divide.

Notions of the state aren’t the only contested terrain in the colonial historiography that intersect for us today. The question of whether or not race, if not racism, existed during the colonial period have hinged on the definition of what race is. If looking for a scientific racism of biological inferiority, one will be disappointed. But, cultural prejudices abounded, including those tied directly to blood and lineage.10 One of the key problems in interpreting the distinctions between ethnic prejudices and race/racism for the colonial period has been the context in which terms we associate in the modern period with racial ascriptions were used. In the venue of the judicial state, ethnic or racial terms frequently carried with them very specific administrative and/or judicial meaning. In the context of actions by the judicial state, for example, a term/category like indio or negro would have very specific meanings. It’s my contention that is the case with these jail censuses.

The jail census represented one of these actions by the judicial state, and understanding the occurrences, or lack of occurrences of “racial” categories depends on understanding the administrative meaning of those terms in that context. The late-18th c. was a transitionary period on many fronts, including in the emergence of new forms of racial identification. It’s no accident that in Quito, as in New Spain at the same time, artists of a naturalist or taxonomic bent were making the now famous casta paintings. It’s also a transitionary period from the perspective of criminality, marking the initial emergence of more modernist forms of punishment in which crime, and criminal acts inhere in the individual. But, we weren’t there quit yet, and through the end of the colonial period (and even into the republican), individuals are not indictable as inherently criminal, regardless of the acts they committed. (Yes, individuals are indicted, but individuals are not seen as inherently criminal based on racial or ethnic categories.) Criminal acts represented a disruption in the flow of communal harmony that the judicial state existed to ensure, and flow was restored through punishment of acts.

Following Gotkowitz’s recent admonition, the best way to analyze the relationship between race (in its various, historically-specific forms), criminal acts, the state, and the Archive is to look at the work that race does in context. And, what work does race do in the jail census?

Padrones in Procedure and Description

As part of their jurisdictional responsibility, the oidores of the Audiencia of Quito were required to perform a weekly visita, or tour/account of the city’s jails (divided into three categories– the Royal Jail of the Audiencia Court, the city jail of the Municipal Council, and the women’s jail, the Recogimiento de Santa Marta), and keep an ongoing padrón, or census. In reality, the actual work was most likely done by a notary or one of his assistants7 — it’s not uncommon for hands to change a few times each year in the census book.

The weekly record can vary from year-to-year, but generally followed this pattern:

  1. In the City of San Francisco del Quito, on Friday such and such day of such and such month such and such year. The Señores President and Oidores of this this Royal Audiencia, (in latter years this was sometimes followed by the names of individuals, usually included three names- the president and two Oidores who at the moment were serving as Alcaldes de Corthe), made a Jail Inspection (Visita de Carcel) in the following manner.

    • the Inspection was required on a weekly basis, though most years there are generally about 48 entries in the Padrons
    • the three main jails of Quito were all supposed to be inspected, and their records were kept in two separate books –> 1 for the Carcel del Corte, and another for the Carcel Pública + Santa Marta. Or at least, that’s the best I can reconstruct. It’s not exactly clear on a year-to-year basis.
    • In the 19th c., after Independence, the practice of making Visitas del Carcel continued. Even the boilerplate remained relatively consistent: “In Quito on such and such a day of such and such month of such and such year. Your Excellency the Superior Court of this District made an Inspection of the Jail and Santa Marta in the following manner:” –> and this is at least as late as 1855 (the last year I’ve found.)
  2. Following this boilerplate preamble comes a list of all detainees present in any given week. (Note, this can also include individuals who are supposed to be there, but are absent because they escaped.) At a minimum, this census includes the following information: Name of the detainee and the ordering authority. For most of the 18th c., it also includes the specific reason they were detained, and occasional updates on the person’s status. And finally, on occasion entries will includes ethnic or occupational ascriptions.

    • Names also carry status information. Though the language of community citizenship (vecino/a) was never used, respected individuals were inscribed with the honorific Don or Doña.
    • In latter decades, the date a detainee entered the jail was included in each of their week entries as well, which does make it easier to track how long someone stayed in jail for different types of offenses.
    • After Independence it was increasingly likely that an individual would be in jail as a form of punishment for a criminal act, rather than awaiting the conclusion of one’s investigation/prosecution. Of course, during the colonial period people did spend time in jail for punishment– but almost always over debt. Other criminal acts were sentenced with different forms of service, humiliation, or detention (in, say, the Poor House or a Textile Factory).
  3. Following the list of detainees, more boilerplate in the form of something as simple as: “Thus ended the Inspection, and it is initialed by said Señores.” Followed in turn by rubrics from two judges and the presiding notary.

    • Twice a year, this boilerplate ending would be replaced by a statement granting debtors or others jailed due to Civil cases (with the exception of those who owed the Royal Treasury) freedom in honor of the Santa Pascuas de Navidad y la Resurrección.

What was the purpose of these Visitas? What kinds of information can we glean from them on race and the state?

It should be noted that the padrones are incomplete sources for reconstructing the jail populations of Quito, but by 18th c. standards they’re pretty damn good. The padrones were not part of a modern drive to statistically know population (following Foucault), but rather were a function of the judicial state’s commitment to, well, the production of paper. Formulaic constructions are a hallmark of the judicial state’s paper production, which in the 18th c. reached epic proportions. Of course, the judges were keeping track of their workload in part, but the padrones could also be used to track the effectiveness of the alguacil mayor.


Terms found in the padrones that could be interpreted as ethnic/racial tags:

Afro-descendent people:

  • esclavo/a
  • negro/a
  • mulato/a

The terms are used interchangeably, and almost always indicate an individual in jail for slave condition. The vast majority of said individuals were held under the reason, “busque amo” — awaiting the search for a new master, awaiting a pending sale, etc. Masters who used the jail for this purpose were required to provide food and clothing for the slave. Ecuador didn’t fully abolish slavery until 1852, and as you can see on your chart, in 1853 there are no afro-descendant entrants.

Indigenous people:

  • before Independence –> indio/a
  • after Independence –> indígena

Looking at the chart before you, it’s hard to imagine how I can claim there is a racial silence on indigenous people when indios/indígenas acocunt for a (sometimes extremely) significant portion of the individuals marked in the censuses. Except that, from 1789 onward in particular, super majorities of those entries were for unnamed indigenous tributaries delinquent in paying their head tax. (After Independence, tribute suffered a long drawn out death worthy of PeeWee at the end of Buffy the Vampire Slayer the movie. The tax went by various names, but was most often referred to as the contribución personal from the 1830s through its end in 1857.) Indigenous arrests were most likely NOT to be related to tribute in the period 1767-1769, which coincided with the period of the restoration of royal authority after the Rebellion of the Barrios.

Tributary status is a fiscal category, and not a racial one. Bourbon (and later Republican) attempts to capitalize on the head tax as a form of fiscal reform account for the dramatic increases of Indians in the city’s jails during periods of collection. They also spurred an explosion of late colonial petitions to be declared Mestizo. It’s here that fiscal categories intersect with something racial, as defined by lineage.

To be more specific, percentages of indigenous detainees held for tribute:

1789: 67%
1827: 3%
1829: 46%
1834: 68%
1845: 89%
1853: 95%

I don’t have any records after 1853, which is a shame because I think it would be interesting to see the decline in use of the term indígena after the final abolition of tribute. In fact, there is a lull in the mid-1820s, a time that coincided with uncertainty on the legal and fiscal status of indigenous people under the republic.

For indigenous people in jail by name, their most frequent offenses have a rural tinge– ie, they’re there for hurtos, abigeato, or occasionally for violence. This too belies the administrative prejudices of indio as a category. Most surviving Indian corporations were outside of the city, and the city became a penal destination for these communities. But again, the Indian community as category is a fiscal/administrative entity, and says little to the “identity” of residents (temporary and otherwise) of Quito.

The rest:

Beyond these markers, we find none of the terms associated with racial mixture from the late 18th century onward, those terms so exactly delineated by the casta paintings. The rest of the population is treated as an un-delineated mass, with the only distinctions manifesting in honorifics. We do find Dons and Doñas during the colonial period. Of course, those status markers are dispensed with immediately in the Gran Colombian period, and replaced by the terms Ciudadano/a. Other status markers occasionally creep in– casique, gobernador de indios, gendarme, alcalde, and other offices. But, other “racial” terms that do appear in litigation never do here– there are no mestizos or zambos, no europeos or blancos, españoles, etc. Dons and Doñas appear in the padrones invariably as debtors, and only occasionally for moral crimes such as adultery or concubinato. The rest are the great undifferentiated plebe, the mob. But, from a “racial” perspective, were these masses NOT indigenous or african?

What about people’s names? Can they give a clue as to ethnic or racial identities within the plebe? It’s difficult to say. There are certainly many indigenous surnames that occur in the mass of no-category people. Name like Toapanta, Quilago, Cañar, Tituaña, Tutungilla, Lema, Topan, Guamansara, and many others frequently appear without category. It’s just a guess though. In the 1740s, tributaries were still often listed by name, and most Indian tributaries by then already had fully hispanized names.

Speaking silences

What work, then, is race doing in the Padrones from Quito’s jails for the century 1750-1850? There is a silence here despite the prevalence of terms we associate with racial categories in the modern period, even well into LatAm’s modernity. From the perspective of the state, one’s presence in jail intersected with certain fiscal and administrative categories, but not as racial categories and not in the manner that race comes to indict individuals. These categories, even in the 1850s, are still corporate, and relate to legal rights and restrictions accorded to corporate membership. Interestingly, though, the administrative categories could reinforce stereotypes of indigeneity, such as its equation with rurality. There are other tantalizing clues as well, in that on occasion individual’s status will switch after weeks in jail. Evidence for litigation records would suggest that those individuals were declared Indian at the time they opted for representation by the Protector for the Indians.

In fact, if we compare the more ethnographic data of litigation records to the censuses themselves, we see the extent to which indio carried pejorative connotations in the form of a cultural and class-distinguishing insult. As Borchart-Moreno has found (and I have too), ethnic slurs were common insults on the streets of Quito. There was “culo verde”, cholo/a, zamba (which combined both African and Indigenous overtones), and runa.11 Of course, other insults included slurs against someone’s credit worthiness, their sexual reputation, the intelligence, and a whole host of other creative turns of phrase. And, there are a whole host of structural racisms in operation as well. These are glimpsed at in the republican-era records, as indigenous individuals being to show up as huasipongeros, even under the phrase “busque amo” and at the request of a master. Those terms in the colonial period were restricted to afro-descendent slaves. Their presence in the padrones, associated with Indígenas demonstrates that underneath the state’s ambivalence over racial categories in the padrones lies some real insidiousness.

In comparing the decades and before Independence, we find an ambivalence over the fiscal and administrative category of Indian-cum-Indígena at a time when Ecuador struggled to abolish the tribute system, while also claiming the extinction of political identities outside of the “citizen.” This ambivalence was often expressed by individual litigants who found themselves involved in varying ways with the judicial state, an ambivalence that makes very hard the possibility of drawing conclusions on the experience or meaning of race at the individual level. For example, in June 1809, Ventura Guzman filed suit before one of the municipal council’s ordinary judges to compel Julian de Echeverria to resolve a disputed house sale worth 840 pesos.12 Guzman was buying a property in the neighborhood of the la merced Church, in the parish of santa Bárbara, in an area known as de los Barberos (Neighborhood of the Barbers). In the instrument, she is described as “doña Ventura Guzman, resident of this City, of celibate status.” Echeverria did not have the right to make the sale. That sparked litigation to recover Guzman’s 840 pesos. This time, the calculus of her legal identity changed a fraction. In petitioning the municipal court, Guzman dropped reference to both her title (doña) and her marital status, and instead filed under the rubric, “Ventura Guzman, Indian resident of the city, in conformance with the law, appear before Your honor and say…”” The doña purchasing an expensive house in the parish of santa Bárbara, not far from the center of royal power in El Sagrario, became an indigenous woman in need of the special protections offered by the crown’s protector of the Indians. What work does race do in this archival moment, on the actual brink of the Independence moment?

  1. (last visited 12/26/2011). 

  2. Susan Verdi Webster, “Vantage Points: Andeans and Europeans in the Construction of Colonial Quito,” CLAR 20.3 (2011): 303, quoting Alexandra Kennedy Troya and Alfonso Ortiz Crespo, “Reflexiones sobre el arte colonial,” in Nueva Historia del Ecuador, vol. 5 (Quito: Corporación Editora Nacional, 1989):165-185.  

  3. Minchom, People of Quito, 11. 

  4. Webster (2011): 309. 

  5. Race is obviously a problematic term. More on that in a minute. 

  6. Black (2011): 18, quoting “Padrón de Santa Bárbara,” 94–95, 97–98. 

  7. For more on notaries, their assistants, and division of notarial duties, see Kathryn Burns’ excellent Into the Archive  

  8. Tamar Herzog, Upholding Justice: Society, State, and the Penal System in Quito (1650-1750) (Ann Arbor, 2004): 1. 

  9. Black (2010). 

  10. For more, see Burns’ excellent essay, “Unfixing Race” in Laura Gotkowiz’s new edited collection, Histories of Race and Racism (Duke, 2011). 

  11. Borchart de Moreno, Christiana. 2004. “Words and wounds: gender relations, violence, and the state in late colonial and early Republican Ecuador.” Colonial Latin American Review 13 (1) (June): 136. doi:10.1080/1060916042000210855. 

  12. AN/Q 1NJ 254, 27-vi-1809, “Expediente executivo seguido por Ventura
    Guzman, Yndia, contra don Julian de Echeverria, por cantidad de


Associate Professor of Early Latin America Department of History University of Tennessee-Knoxville

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Posted in Latin American History
3 comments on “the AHA and “racial silence” in the criminal archive
  1. […] Black, “the AHA and “racial silence” in the criminal archive” January 4, […]

  2. […] record. In fact, we saw a number of examples of this work at the same AHA that Hartman attended. Chad Black, at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, identified the absence of indigenous people in the […]

  3. […] the AHA and “racial silence” in the criminal archive […]

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Chad Black

I, your humble contributor, am Chad Black. You can also find me on the web here.
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