History and Latin America

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Damned Notions of Liberty: Slavery, Culture, and Power in Colonial Mexico, 1640-1769

Frank Proctor III

Prior to 1640, when the regular slave trade to New Spain ended, colonial Mexico was the second largest slaveholding society in the New World. Even so, slaves of African descent in Mexico were surrounded by a much larger indigenous majority, and by the second half of the seventeenth century there were more free Afromexicans than slaves in the colony. While it seems logical to assume that these unique demographic conditions may have created a situation ripe for slaves to challenge their oppression, Proctor's study reexamines those assumptions.

Damned Notions of Liberty explores the lived experience of slavery from the perspective of slaves themselves to reveal how the enslaved may have conceptualized and contested their subordinated social positions in New Spain's middle colonial period (roughly 1630–1760s). Relying heavily on trials from civil, ecclesiastical, and Inquisitorial courts, the study offers a detailed examination of some of the central issues to the culture of slavery-labor, family, cultural community, individual and collective agency, and access to liberation-to provide a more integrated picture of slavery in colonial Mexico.


Frank Proctor is Associate Professor of History at Denison University.


"This study is a fine example of why the publishers 'Diálogos' series sets the standard for scholarly monographs on Latin American history. . . .Highly recommended."



"Overall, Proctor has produced a fine study of the impact of the complex conditions, processes, ideologies, and practices on the lives of slaves in central New Spain. It is a welcome addition to the scholarship on slavery, race relations, and culture in colonial Mexico."


Hispanic American Historical Review

" Damned Notions of Liberty marks an exciting and important contribution to the literature on slavery in the Atlantic World."


The Americas

6 x 9 in. 296 pages 6 halftones, 3 maps, 9 tables