Jeanne Guyon

Today I tip my hat to Jeanne Guyon, a 17th-century Catholic woman mystic, whose religious practices—especially her mode of intensive, interior, constant prayer intended to maintain oneself in the presence of God—and writings lead to her persecution by officials in both the French government and the Catholic Church in France.

Like many early modern women authors, Jeanne was born (1648) to a wealthy family, and her parents had her educated. She was thus privileged with the ability to commit her beliefs to text. Although she became a mystic and author later in life, Jeanne was not an apt pupil, but nevertheless continued to be educated by nuns in various convents as her family moved repeatedly. Though she apparently lacked the makings of a scholar, Jeanne was devoted to her religious life from early on. She desired, at one time, to become a nun, but agreed instead to marry at 15.

After 12 years of marriage, Jeanne was widowed and left with 3 surviving children. As a widow, Jeanne began to teach her beliefs about and methods of prayer, causing controversies in France (and beyond). She was accused of heresy and imprisoned several times (including a 7-year-stint the Bastille). However, she also enjoyed considerable support from many elites. In St. Cyr, Madame de Maintenon, who ran a girls school, invited her to lecture to her pupils.

Jeanne’s adulthood was rife with gains and losses of friends and support (she was asked several times by local authorities to leave towns in which she settled). Indeed, de Maintenon eventually became one of many who cut ties with Jeanne once her controversies caught up with her as she moved from place to place. Even the support of pious courtiers, however, did not prevent her imprisonment after the publication of her book, A Short and Easy Method of Prayer. During her imprisonment Jeanne was forced to renounce her book in exchange for her release. In 1693, with the aim of clearing herself of the socio-religious taint of heterodoxy (Jeanne always considered herself a Catholic), Jeanne requested that Bishop Bossuet (a foremost Catholic cleric who enjoyed the favour of Louis XIV) review her work. He found much of it unorthodox and Jeanne subsequently promised to cease teaching. After a year off the radar, Jeanne tried her luck again. She went to Meaux, home of Bossuet’s cathedral, straddling the line between prisoner and penitent. After 6 months there she escaped with a “certificate of orthodoxy” bearing Bossuet’s signature.

Jeanne’s escape led to her imprisonment in the Bastille. She was released in 1703 on the condition that she live with her adult son in Blois and remain under the supervision of the local bishop. Although she had renounced her writings years before, Jeanne remained devout until her death in 1717, and Blois became pilgrimage site even during her lifetime.

There are a couple of reasons that I wanted to write about Jeanne today (beyond my interest in women mystics). First and foremost, much of the readily available/public sources that discuss Jeanne centre the men in her life. During her earlier years as a spiritual writer and teacher, much is made of one man’s influence over her mind. After her ideas began gathering momentum, another man’s importance to the rise in their popularity is emphasised. Given the patriarchal nature of early modern (and modern) society, I’m sure these men were influential and important, but ultimately Jeanne was the mystic. It was Jeanne who wrote about prayer, her ecstasies, and her experiences of God’s own presence, and it was she who wanted to teach her method of prayer to others. Secondly, Jeanne reminds me to be compassionate when studying history. She didn’t heroically stand by her teachings in the face of indefinite imprisonment; she renounced her greatest work and went on living piously. These actions might not have been as noble as some of those we’ve written about on this blog, but they can remind us that historical hotties respond to hostility in many different ways because at the end of the day they’re “just” people.



Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). “Guyon, Jeanne Marie Bouvier de la Mothe“. Encyclopædia Britannica. 12 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.

Degert, Antoine (1913). “Jeanne-Marie Bouvier de la Motte-Guyon“. In Herbermann, Charles. Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

Jeanne Guyon

Sarah Paine, Dorothy Palmer and the Child

This week I am featuring three young women/girls who all lived at the end of the 17th century, but who probably never knew each other, Sarah Paine, Dorothy Palmer and “the Child.” Sarah, Dorothy and the Child all charged men with rape, and all three of their accused assailants were found not guilty of the charge.

In 17th- and 18th-century English society, one’s credibility was determined by one’s reputation—or character—and this was especially true in the courtroom. In the case of women, character was inextricably linked to their sexual reputation.[1] Rape trials from this era (during which it was a capital offence, and therefore one that courts were hesitant to convict) demonstrate the importance of chastity in the courtroom, as the female victims/prosecutors in such cases found themselves in a double bind, wherein they had to convince the court with their testimonies that ejaculation had occurred during penetration, but speaking about sex, even in euphemistic language, caused the jury to believe that they were sexually knowledgeable, unchaste, and therefore not credible.[2] Heartbreakingly, in describing the act, female defendants implicitly displayed sexual knowledge, which had the undesirable effect of making them appear unchaste.[3] Since their chastity, and thus their credibility, was tarnished in the eyes of jurors, and since juries were hesitant to convict in cases of apparently questionable evidence, the vast majority of rape cases ended in acquittal.[4] Rape had one of the highest acquittal rates in this period.[5]

Sarah Paine’s attacker, William Woodbridge, was found not guilty on the grounds that the witnesses he produced convinced the jury that Sarah’s charge was “a Design to get Mony.”[6] Dorothea Palmer’s attacker, Samuel Smith, actually confessed, but the court found him not guilty anyway because they apparently remained uncertain about “whether the Girl did consent or not.”[7] The Child, whose name was kept out of the record, had an aunt to testify as a witness to the aftermath of the attack. Despite her aunt’s evidence, Edward Coker was acquitted on the grounds that the “Circumstances thereto [were] not being so direct as to prove a Rape, according as the law directs on those case.”[8] Coker was subsequently charged with and found guilty of assault and “fined 25 Markes” because the court believed the crime had taken place but had not adequately been proven. [9]

I don’t know anything about Sarah, Dorothy or the Child outside of the records of these rape trials, which, it should be noted, are very brief summaries rather than detailed transcripts. What I do know is that they (almost certainly with the aid of their families) prosecuted their attackers even though the odds of securing a conviction were low and the very pursuit of legal action would damage their reputation in the eyes of their contemporaries. This definitely qualifies as the action of a historical hottie.


[1] Laura Gowing, Domestic Dangers: Women, Words, and Sex in Early Modern London (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), 2.

[2] Anna Clark, Women’s Silence, Men’s Violence: Sexual Assault in England, 1770-1845 (London: Pandora, 1987), 55-58; Garthine Walker, “Rape, Acquittal and Culpability in Popular Crime Reports in England, c. 1670-c. 1750,” Past and Present 220 (August 2013): 115-116.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (OBO) (, version 7.2, 13 May 2016), December 1681, trial of William Woodbridge (t16811207-1).

[7] OBO (, version 7.2, 13 May 2016), February 1681, trial of Samuel Smith (t16810228-10).

[8] OBO (, version 7.2, 13 May 2016), January 1675, trial of Edward Coker (t16750115-3).

[9] Ibid.

Sarah Paine, Dorothy Palmer and the Child

Edward Kynaston


[By R.B. Parkes (Engraver), R. Cooper (Artist) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.]

We’re all about showcasing what really makes a person hot here, but this week I’m actually featuring a figure who was well known by contemporaries for, among other things, being drop-dead gorgeous.

Historical fiction fans may already be familiar with Edward Kynaston, a 17th century actor who is most famous today for his stunning beauty when he played women on the English stage. What’s most interesting to me about Kynaston is that, popularly speaking, his broader acting career has been eclipsed by his beauty in drag. Kynaston’s famous beauty as and aptitude for playing women, along with corresponding assumptions about his sexuality, have generally concealed a superb actor—he was well received in dramatic and comedic roles—who wasn’t afraid to ruffle feathers. In addition to a few homoerotic rumours that circulated during his lifetime, Kynaston was involved in a couple of scandals surrounding the staging of plays that satirised contemporaries. One such role resulted in Kynaston being badly assaulted.

Although the English theatre in the early modern period is often imagined as being free from actresses, audiences increasingly favoured women playing women during Kynaston’s career. Kynaston, however, remained popular in women’s roles. But he wasn’t a one-trick pony; he continued to act beyond the point when he actually wished to retire because he was such a profitable draw. Moreover, Kynaston’s biographer, J. Milling, shows how frequently and well Kynaston played men, even implying that he usually played men’s roles, at least later in his career. He was more than a pretty face or a shtick. He played men and women alike, though he stuck to men’s roles after the Crown cracked down on men playing women in the 1660s amidst fears that it would lead to sodomy.

To me, Kynaston’s unusual relationship with beauty serves as a reminder that looks are far from everything, even when people make them so. By most accounts Kynaston was an actor with range and gravitas, yet his appearance has outshined his achievements and even his character—we know little about the kind of person he was offstage. History is often about highlighting change, but Kynaston raises all kinds of questions for me about the historical value of beauty.



“Kynaston, Edward (bap. 1643, d. 1712?),” J. Milling in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, eee ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison (Oxford: OUP, 2004); online ed., ed. Lawrence Goldman, September 2013, (accessed April 30, 2016).

Charles Spencer, Prince Rupert: The Last Cavalier (London: Phoenix, 2007), 314-315.

Edward Kynaston


Histories of settler colonialism and enslavement are inseparable in the Americas. These twin genocides, at once separate and yet indispensable to one another, have forged to create the bedrock of the United States and many other modern-day countries in the Americas such as México and Brasil. Although we know relatively little about today’s historical figure, her life is demonstrative of how histories of settler colonialism and enslavement were intertwined in the Americas in the seventeenth century.

Tituba was an enslaved woman who was the first woman accused of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials. Her personal history, as with that of millions of enslaved people in the Americas, is murky as to her ethnic background and her exact biographical details. Born in the seventeenth century, there are two main theories as to where Tituba hailed from. The first, as put forward most prominently by the scholar Elaine Breslaw, was that Tituba was an Indigenous woman of Arawak descent, from the present-day region known as Guyana and Venezuela. The second theory was put forth by Peter Hoffer in 1997, and claims that Tituba was a Yoruba woman – as her name is a Yoruba word. Either of these theories could be true, or neither. She could have been an Arawak woman, a Yoruba woman, an Afro-Indigenous woman, or a woman from various other ethnic groups. Regardless, she was enslaved by Samuel Parris in Barbados and forcibly brought to Massachusetts.

In 1692, several young girls and women from Parris’s household – including his daughter Betty and niece Abigail – began to exhibit symptoms that were classified as bewitchment, and Tituba (along with two other women) was accused of witchcraft. Tituba was put on trial, and provided testimony saying that it was “the devil, for all I know” that had bewitched the four young girls/women. Tituba provided one of the longest testimonies in the Salem Witch Trials, one that went on to influence how the rest of the trials were conducted.

Tituba’s life has been subject to the whims of historians, authors, artists, and the general public since the seventeenth century. Her origins, her testimony, her involvement in witchcraft have all been historicized according to the sociocultural and racial context of those writing her story. At times depicted as Indigenous, at other times African, and at other times of mixed background, Tituba’s story has been twisted to suite the modes of the moment in which any given historian, author, or artist has depicted her. Tituba, as with the broader history of witchcraft in the Americas, is a complicated figure. What constituted as witchcraft? What type of person was accused of being a witch during the Salem Witch Trials? How does the perception of Tituba’s “racial” origin matter to accusations of witchcraft? How should we understand her testimony – that of an enslaved woman of colour/Indigenous woman accused of a spiritual, gendered crime? In what ways do particular gender identities become intertwined in histories of colonial witchcraft? Where do Euro-centric understandings and histories of witchcraft fit (or collide) with other ways of knowing and communing with spiritual worlds that originate in Indigenous traditions or West African traditions?

These are questions that continue to perplex historians of witchcraft and practitioners of various traditions referred to as “witchcraft” alike.

~ M


Barillari, Alyssa. “Tituba.” Salem Witch Trials: Documentary Archive and Transcription Project. Accessed April 22, 2016.

Breslaw, Elaine G. Tituba, Reluctant Witch of Salem: Devilish Indians and Puritan Fantasies. New York: NYU Press, 1997.

Hoffer, Peter Charles. The Salem Witchcraft Trials: A Legal History. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1997.



Dona Beatriz Kimpa Vita

It’s the third Friday of Black History Month, and in that spirit we’re highlighting another lesser-known black historical figure. This week, it’s Dona Beatriz Kimpa Vita, a Kongolese noblewoman, prophet and religious-political leader.

Beatriz was born to noble parents in the Kingdom of Kongo (present-day Angola) in 1684. Europeans had disseminated Catholicism throughout the kingdom about two centuries before, and Beatriz was raised Catholic, but she did not take a passive role in her religion. She did not accept Catholicism as Europeans presented it. Instead, she promoted a Kongolese brand of Catholicism.

During Beatriz’s lifetime, Kongo was in a state of civil war that dated back to Portuguese military upheaval of the region in the 1660s. In 1704, Beatriz underwent a powerful spiritual experience that led her to assume a prominent role in the conflict as a religious and political leader. While ailing in 1704, Beatriz reported having visions of St. Anthony. These culminated in what she called her death: St. Anthony now occupied the body that once belonged to Beatriz, who had been trained as an nganga marinda, a community member who interacts with the supernatural realm in the interest of the community at large. In the body of an African woman, St. Anthony claimed to have a special and interpersonal relationship with God, who commanded that Kongo must be a united kingdom with one ruler. “The Kongolese Saint Anthony” (as they are called by biographer, John Thrornton) appealed to two of Kongo’s kings, but neither heeded the message. Having failed on this score, the Kongolese St. Anthony amassed a peaceful following and occupied São Salvador, the former capital.

In addition to sending missionaries out with their message, the Kongolese St. Anthony created their own religious doctrine, which they asserted was Catholic, but of a specifically Kongolese kind. They rewrote both the Ave Maria and Salve Regina (Salve Antoniana) to reflect Kongolese spiritual needs and priorities. And, particularly noteworthy this month, the Kongolese St. Anthony not only refuted that there were no existing black saints and insisted that Jesus, the Virgin Mary and other major Christian figures were in fact Kongolese, but also admonished priests who argued otherwise.

Predictably, the Kongolese St. Anthony, having undermined the authority of various established powers in the region, was executed for heresy by those loyal to one of the Kongolese kings in 1706. Though their life was cut short, the Kongolese St. Anthony’s approach to religion is an important reminder that, though European colonisers brutally enforced their ways among colonised and/or converted peoples, this process was not just passively received. On the contrary, colonised and/or converted peoples not only reshaped religious movements and doctrine to suit their own ways of knowing, believing and being, but also influenced the ways of life of the very peoples that sought to repress them.




Alexander Ives Bortolot, Dona Beatriz: Kongo Prophet, In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2001-.) (October 2003; accessed 19 February 2016).

John Thornton, The Kongolese Saint Anthony: Dona Beatriz Kimpa Vita and the Antonian Movement, 1684-1706 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998).

Dona Beatriz Kimpa Vita

Samuel Pallache

Last week, Monique touched on the importance of acknowledging the existence of people who don’t fit neatly into specific social categories. In a similar vein, today I’m featuring a man who did not fit neatly into given social spaces. Meet Samuel Pallache, a Portuguese Jew who lived and worked in Muslim-ruled Morocco and both Catholic- and Protestant-ruled parts of Eurasia in the early 17th century. Despite belonging to a marginalised religious minority that existed in tension with all of the aforementioned, Pallache exemplifies the permeability of identities and borders in a period that is generally considered to have observed hard and fast religious divisions.

Pallache came from a family that had relocated to Morocco after the mass expulsion of Jews from Portugal. In 1603, Morocco became a site of civil war between the Sultan’s competing sons. The Spanish crown opportunistically intervened in these conflicts, often employing Jewish intermediaries. Jews became targets for looting, and were subjected to specially-imposed taxes by rival claimants. Many converted to Islam as a survival tactic. Pallache chose instead to leave.

From 1603 to 1607, he worked in Spain and Portugal, currying favour with the Spanish monarchy (mostly by supplying intelligence about North Africa). Some of Pallache’s co-religionists converted to Catholicism in order to work for nobles in Spain and Portugal, where some also provided Jewish instruction to conversos* eager to reconnect with their roots. Pallache avoided converting, though biographers Mercedes García-Arenal and Gerard Wiegers suggest that tutoring conversos is probably what caused him to come under inquisitorial suspicion in 1607 (no known records indicate a fully-fledged trial).

Under suspicion, Pallache returned to Fez before moving to Amsterdam in 1609. In the same year, he gained a new royal benefactor, Sultan Muley Zaydan, for whom he worked as an agent, brokering commercial and military deals between Morocco and the Dutch Republic. Pallache lost favour with Zaydan in 1614 when (true) rumours spread that he had been informing the Spanish about Moroccan intelligence for years. His position lost, he hastily left Morocco and privateered his way to England, where he was arrested, tried and acquitted of piracy.

As his eclectic résumé suggests, Pallache undertook a lot of risks in his career, often crossing the already blurry lines “between legitimate commerce, smuggling, and privateering.”[1] Pallache returned to Amsterdam where complaints against his dodgy dealings had mounted in his absence. The Dutch and Moroccan governments were disenchanted with him, but he remained an informer for the Spanish crown. After a career of extreme peaks and valleys, Pallache died in poverty in 1619.

Pallache is not a paragon virtue; he’s more of an anti-hero (anti-hottie?) than anything. But he embodies the complexities of identities and spaces that can initially seem mutually exclusive. As a Jew, Pallache was marginalised in both Christian-ruled Eurasia and Muslim-ruled Morocco. However, his world was one in which (much like today) a variety of religious, socio-political and economic factors paradoxically mutually reinforced and undermined hostile social divisions. Though he died broke, during his career Pallache played different prejudicial regimes against one another in order overcome (to an impressive degree) the marginalisation that Jews faced in North Africa and Eurasia alike.


*converso is the term generally used to refer to Jewish converts to Christianity, forced or voluntary.

This post is indebted to García-Arenal and Wiegers’ revisionist biography of Pallache.

[1] Mercedes García-Arenal and Gerard Wiegers, A Man of Three Worlds: Samuel Pallache, a Moroccan Jew in Catholic and Protestant Europe, trans. Martin Beagles (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003), 75.



Samuel Pallache

Katherine Evans and Sarah Cheevers

Katherine Evans and Sarah Cheevers, English missionaries from the Society of Friends (colloquially called Quakers), were gaoled by the Roman Inquisition on Malta from 1558-1662/3. Like many of the early modern people I come across in my research, no images survive of these women, so I must look elsewhere for traces of their hotness. Let’s start with gender.

For those not familiar with the Society of Friends, one of its primary tenets is equality–between the sexes, between races–and this was the case even in the seventeenth century. While many Christians had long subscribed to the notion that all Christians were equal at a soul level, the Friends considered this true in the earthly realm as well. Although some English women in radical dissenting (non-Anglican) Protestant sects took to preaching in the seventeenth century, to leave England without the company of one’s father, husband or other male guardian was in itself a radical act. To do so with the express intention of missionising for one of the most radical sects of the day was nothing short of brazen. Evans and Cheevers, neither spinsters, nor widows (the two groups of non-elite women with the most social flexibility) left their husbands at home to care for their children while they went abroad to spread their message, thereby inverting the gender norms of the period that generally tasked women with domestic management. Moreover, contemporaries also considered religious direction of the family/household the purview of the husband and/or father, so these women (and their spouses) were really pushing the envelope on multiple levels and in various ways.

Several accounts that claim to document Cheevers and Evans’s time as prisoners of the Roman Inquisition survive today, and they make very interesting reading. While Cheevers, Evans and their Quaker supporters were by no means without their own prejudices (virulent anti-Catholicism pervades these relations), their unwavering commitment to their radical religious beliefs is powerful. Indeed, their interrogations by the inquisitors, who constantly try in vain to get them to recant their beliefs, read like an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object. For subverting, inverting and outright challenging contemporary social norms and religious authority, Cheevers and Evans are historical hotties.


For those unfamiliar with early modern print sources, enjoy these long and phonetically-spelled titles!

Evans, Katharine. A brief discovery of God’s eternal truth and a way opened to the simple hearted whereby they may come to know Christ and his ministers, from Antichrist and his ministers: with a warning from the Lord to all people that do name the name of Christ, to depart from iniquity / written in the Inquisition of Malta. London, 1663. Early English Books Online.

Evans, Katharine and Sarah Cheevers. This Is a Short Relation of Some of the Cruel Sufferings (for the Truths Sake) of Katharine Evans & Sarah Chevers in the Inquisition of the Isle of Malta Who Have Suffered There above Three Years by the Pope’s Authority, There to Be Deteined until They Dye: Which Relation of Their Sufferings Is Come Form Their Own Hands and Mouths as Doth Appear in the Following Treatise… Edited by D. B. London, 1662. Early English Books Online.

———. A True Account of the Great Tryals and Cruel Sufferings Undergone by Those Two Faithful Servants of God, Katherine Evans and Sarah Cheevers in the Time of Their above Three Years and a Halfs Confinement in the Island Malta. Also, How God at Last by His Almighty Power Effected Their Deliverance, and Brought Them Back into the Land of Their Nativity. To Which Is Added, a Short Relation from George Robinson, of the Sufferings That Befel Him in His Journey to Jerusalem; and How God Saved Him from the Hands of Cruelty When the Sentence of Death Was Passed against Him. Edited by D. B. London, 1663. Early English Books Online.

Katherine Evans and Sarah Cheevers

Ralph Josselin

A dead Puritan? Hear me out! Rev. Ralph Josselin (1617-1683) is featured here for a couple of reasons. Josselin, a rural vicar and farmer, is one of many historical figures whom we know about today because he was a prolific diarist. In his diaries, Josselin wrote of his daily life as a husband, father and vicar, and his observations of his experiences have helped to flesh out what life looked like for rural commoners in seventeenth-century England. In addition to enriching non-urban and non-elite English history, Josselin’s diaries haved helped overturn modern myths about medieval and early modern people and societies. Most importantly, Josselin’s writings about his family have contributed to undermining the formerly commonplace idea that parents before the Victorian era were unfeeling toward their children because the odds that they would die were so great.

If you can, read some excerpts from Josselin’s diaries. Oh, and have something cheerful standing by as a counter-measure. Josselin, who suffered the early deaths of several of his beloved children, documented his feelings of heartbreak as he watched them suffer through hideous illnesses and, in the worst cases, death. Contrary to old tropes about pre-Victorian parents, Josselin was not indifferent to the deaths of his children. Indeed, his diary entries that deal with death reveal his intense sense of conflict between his emotions and his devout Puritanism; despite his belief that his departed children had been embraced by God and relieved of the suffering of this mortal coil, Josselin could not overcome his grief. This seems to have been a source of shame for him–a kind of failure to overcome worldly attachments. This augustinian conflict made Josselin something of an unwitting transgressor of the gender prescriptions of his day, when men, as the supposedly rational masters of their emotions, were thought to bounce back from grief more quickly than emotionally-charged women (sound familiar?). Josselin actually writes of his wife’s comparative ability to cope with loss, and her admonishments for his inability to shake off his continuous grief. 


*No confirmed portrait of Josselin.

Macfarlane, Alan ed. The Diary of Ralph Josselin, 1616-1683. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976.

Ralph Josselin

(Gaspar) Yanga

A statute of (Gaspar) Yanga, erected in the modern day town of Yanga, Veracruz, México [public domain].
A statute of (Gaspar) Yanga, erected in the modern day town of Yanga, Veracruz, México [public domain].
Although today known as El Primer Libertador de America (the first liberator of the Americas), (Gaspar) Yanga is an often-overlooked freedom fighter in the histories of enslavement* in the Americas. Captured and sold into enslavement in what at the time was referred to as New Spain, today known as México, Yanga became known to the Spanish settlers as Gaspar Yanga.

According to the folkloric history of Yanga’s life, he was born in West Africa to a royal family. He was captured, enslaved, forced to endure the Middle Passage journey across the Atlantic Ocean, and eventually made to work as an enslaved worker in the sugarcane labour camps* of Veracruz, New Spain (modern day Veracruz, México). In the year 1570, Yanga led a revolt with other enslaved African peoples, leading to his escape and the settling of a maroon mountain colony.

Yanga and his community lived free of European enslavement for near forty years, disrupting the trade routes established along el Camino Real between Veracruz and la Ciudad de México throughout this time. Eventually, the threat that a community of free Africans posed to not only the individual communities of Spanish settlers but the entire system of chattel slavery in the area became too strong, in the eyes of the Spanish-controlled government of New Spain. The Spanish, as an attempt to maintain “order” in the area, established the town of Córdoba near Yanga’s self-governing maroon colony.

In 1609, a Spanish militia was sent to destroy Yanga’s community. Instead, they were defeated. Following the defeat of the Spanish militia, yet another group of Spaniards was sent to defeat Yanga – who instead offered to make peace so long as the Spanish meet his eleven demands. The most important of these demands were that recognition of free status be granted to all of the residents in Yanga’s community prior to 1608; that Yanga’s community was a legal, self-governing settlement; and that no Spaniards were welcome in the community. Following years of negotiations, San Lorenzo de Los Negros was established as a town in 1618 that would pay tribute to the Spanish Crown. Eventually, San Lorenzo de Los Negros was renamed Yanga, after the African freedom fighter (Gaspar) Yanga. The town of Yanga still stands today, with a statute erected in his honour.

Yanga’s fate, along with the fates of his community members, following 1618 is unknown. But his importance as an African who was enslaved in New Spain (México) and fought for (and won!) his freedom is critical to the intertwined colonial histories of the Americas, Africa, and Europe. Yanga demonstrates the importance of the African diaspora in the shaping of modern day México. He shatters the mythology that it is only Indigenous and European influences that inform México’s rich cultural and revolutionary political traditions.

~ Monique

* Monique does not use the terms “slavery,” “slave,” or “plantation.” Instead, she uses the terms “enslavement,” “enslaved,” and “labour camp” in order to serve as a reminder of the continuous acts that constituted the centuries-long enslavement of African peoples in the Americas. By eschewing more passive words such as “slavery” for “enslavement,” the active, continual choice to enslave people is forcibly brought to the surface of historical discourse surrounding these attempts at dehumanization and injustice. For further reading on the importance of linguistic choices when writing history, see Michael Todd Landis’s freely accessible article “These Are Words Scholars Should No Longer Use to Describe Slavery and the Civil War,” found here:


Black Past. “Yanga, Gaspar (c. 1545- ?).”

Landers, Jane G. “Cimarrón and Citizen: African Ethnicity, Corporate Identity, and the Evolution of Free Black Towns in the Spanish Circum-Caribbean,” in Jane Lander and Barry Robinson, eds., Slaves, Subjects, and Subversives: Blacks in Colonial Latin America. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2006.

Rowell, Charles Henry. “‘El Primer Libertador de las Americas’/The First Liberator of the Americas: The Editor’s Notes.” Callaloo 31.1 (Winter 2008): 1-11, 181-  192.

(Gaspar) Yanga