Sugar, Slavery, and Freedom in Nineteenth-Century Puerto Rico

By Luis A. Figueroa

304 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 15 tables, notes, bibl., index

Not for Sale in the Caribbean or Puerto Rico

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-5610-9
    Published: November 2005
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-7683-1
    Published: May 2006
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-7156-5
    Published: May 2006

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The contributions of the black population to the history and economic development of Puerto Rico have long been distorted and underplayed, Luis A. Figueroa contends. Focusing on the southeastern coastal region of Guayama, one of Puerto Rico's three leading centers of sugarcane agriculture, Figueroa examines the transition from slavery and slave labor to freedom and free labor after the 1873 abolition of slavery in colonial Puerto Rico. He corrects misconceptions about how ex-slaves went about building their lives and livelihoods after emancipation and debunks standing myths about race relations in Puerto Rico.

Historians have assumed that after emancipation in Puerto Rico, as in other parts of the Caribbean and the U.S. South, former slaves acquired some land of their own and became subsistence farmers. Figueroa finds that in Puerto Rico, however, this was not an option because both capital and land available for sale to the Afro-Puerto Rican population were scarce. Paying particular attention to class, gender, and race, his account of how these libertos joined the labor market profoundly revises our understanding of the emancipation process and the evolution of the working class in Puerto Rico.

About the Author

Luis A. Figueroa is associate professor of history at Trinity College.
For more information about Luis A. Figueroa, visit the Author Page.


"Compelling. . . . Clearly provides important evidence to the hypothesis on racial/class exclusion of black Puerto Ricans."--CENTRO Journal

"The reconstruction of the process of emancipation and its aftermath presented in this book simply has no parallel with anything ever published about Puerto Rico in either English or Spanish. It is a landmark work in the scholarship of the Caribbean. The questions Figueroa asks violate a number of taboos existing in Puerto Rican culture about a supposed heritage of racial democracy. The answers provided debunk--permanently, I believe--standing myths about race relations in Puerto Rico."--César J. Ayala, University of California, Los Angeles

"An incredibly well-researched study. . . . Students and scholars of the Atlantic World . . . will benefit."--The Latin Americanist

"This study enriches our understanding of topics long overlooked within both the island and the region's historiography."--The Americas

"Provides a richer and more complex portrait of the rural and urban coastal proletariat in Puerto Rico. . . . Should be compulsory reading for anyone interested in the study of slavery, emancipation, race relations, and the relationship between race and national formation in the Americas."--Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History

“This well written story of Guayama's slavery and post-emancipation experience fulfills expectations. It not only enhances our understanding of the regional map of sugar and slavery in nineteenth-century Puerto Rico, but is a welcome invitation to overcome the vague depiction of slavery and its aftermath that still prevails in the memory of the people of this island.”--New West Indian Guide