Historians have long commented on the conflict in Spanish law in the Indies engendered by considerations of financial gain, political expediency, and the belief in a humanistic mission. Nowhere are the problems and conflicts clearer than in labor law. In the 1530s the crown declared the Indians to be free and prohibited their enslavement; yet, at the same time, the monarchy insisted that the Indians be required to work for the benefit of the colonists and the crown. During the sixteenth century, it declared such forced labor part of the civilizing mission. The viceroy, Don Luis de Velasco, put it succinctly in 1550 when he justified the creation of the repartimiento for agriculture in part because it would cultivate the Indians’ interest in working regularly for economic gain.1 The monarchs and their bureaucrats did not see the use of force to achieve this end as slavery but, rather, as the action of a father teaching his son the responsibilities and life role of an adult. They also considered the need for coercion temporary.

Thus, in one sense, the elimination of the repartimiento in New Spain in the 1630s can be interpreted as a recognition by the crown that the process of education was completed and formal coercion no longer necessary. While few would argue that this philosophical view provides a totally satisfying explanation for the law, accepting rather the more persuasive argument of Charles Gibson that it resulted from social and economic changes in New Spain, nevertheless, from the 1630s onward, the law did maintain the principle that the Indians were totally free agents in selecting when, and to whom, they would offer service.2 In 1653, the change was given concrete form in an ordenanza governing hacienda labor, issued by the Duke of Alburquerque, emphasizing that all labor was to be voluntary and paid, and that Indians were to live in liberty.3 The law condoned debt service only if the debts were voluntarily contracted, but this was not viewed as coercive per se, and historians have rightly considered the mid-seventeenth century an institutional watershed that saw the government wishing to step out of the business of providing agricultural labor and to leave it to the field of private negotiations and agreements.4 Except in emergency situations, debts, custom, and economic benefit were to be the controlling elements in labor attraction and retention.

This view of labor relations, however, reflects the ideals of the king and the intent of the Recopilación. As is so often the case, principle and practice diverged. The aim of the monarchs was at odds with the belief of officials and creoles in New Spain that the Indians were lazy by nature and needed to be coerced. If they were not forced, market agriculture—indeed, the entire cash economy—would be doomed. Nowhere is this conflict better illustrated than in the advice that the viceroy, Bishop Juan de Ortega Montañés, gave to his successor in 1696. On the one hand, Ortega blamed the Indians’ reluctance to work on hacendados who treated them badly and neglected to pay them, insisting that they would work willingly “if the owners of the haciendas [paid] them punctually.” Scarcely a paragraph later, however, he declared that Indians had to be pressured to work and not allowed to give in to their “natural laziness,” for which reason coercion was necessary.5

When this opposition to principle was combined in the late 1680s with concerns about the health of agriculture and the paternalistic belief that the Indians were better off in fixed communities where they could be helped and protected, the crown consented to the legal binding of the class of agricultural workers called gañanes to the haciendas on which they resided, thus creating in New Spain a system of involuntary labor somewhat similar to yanaconaje in Peru. The remainder of this article will discuss the characteristics of gañanía; the way in which royal officials handled the paradox of trying to enforce the restrictions while attempting to maintain that the Indian laborers were free and not quasi-slaves; and, finally, the evolution of conditions that resulted in the issuance in 1785 of the Bando de Gañanes, which abolished coercion, and the impact that measure had on labor relations.

The System of Gañanía

While a great deal of information has been published about labor on grazing haciendas—particularly Jesuit estates—in central Mexico in the eighteenth century, less attention has been paid to field labor in cropraising enterprises.6 The characteristics of the labor force on the two types of operations could not have been more different. Grazing estates employed laborers described as sirvientes who were hispanicized and predominantly from mixed-blood groups. Paid monthly, they were rarely deeply in debt and, judging from the rate of turnover discovered by some researchers, had little attachment to the estates on which they labored.

Agricultural operations, on the other hand, employed a few sirvientes as mayordomos or field bosses, but the remainder of the labor was provided in the central valleys by tributary Indians who, during the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, fell into one of three categories: the gañanes, who generally resided on the hacienda, but more important, were included on its tribute rolls; occasional laborers, called tlaquehuales or peons, who resided and paid tribute in corporate villages; and contract workers, called indios de cuadrilla, who lived in villages and were hired in teams (usually of forty men) at times of peak need, like the sowing and harvest seasons. If the legal records cited in this article are an accurate indication, outside the Valley of Mexico itself, few of these workers could speak much Spanish during the eighteenth century. Interpreters were essential in all the litigation.

The question of the relative importance of the gañán in the total labor force at the end of the seventeenth century presents a problem. The work of Gibson and Chevalier emphasizes the movement of Indians to the haciendas during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries and, hence, the importance of the gañán at that time. On the other hand, Gibson’s own research and that of subsequent scholars have minimized gañanes’ role in the same regions during the late eighteenth century.7 Obviously, assuming the validity of the interpretation of the two sets of data, a second major shift of the residence of the rural work force took place during the intervening period and haciendas came to rely more on towndwellers for manpower; but when and where did this occur? Because of the lack of research, only the most tentative answers can be put forward; nevertheless, the work that has been done suggests three different situations. In some regions, such as Oaxaca, the Bajío, and Guadalajara, the Indians never migrated in large numbers to haciendas.8 In other areas, such as the Valley of Mexico and the plains to the north and west of it, gañanía had been important during the seventeenth century but declined dramatically as a component of the labor force during the early eighteenth century.9 Finally, in the Tlaxcala region, in the area later to be-come the Intendancy of Puebla, and on the plains of Apam northeast of Mexico City, the gañán continued to be a key figure until far into the eighteenth century.10

This same lack of data has obscured the existence of legal coercion in the treatment of the gañán. The documentation available to Zavala, Gibson, and others who studied labor practices, also came mainly from the early seventeenth and the late eighteenth centuries.11 Since this material showed a considerable similarity in conditions, the assumption was made that the status of gañanes had not changed dramatically during the intervening period. In fact, their legal status had changed enormously.

Between 1630 and 1687, the courts did treat the Indian residents of haciendas as free agents. In the wake of Alburquerque’s law of 1653, the Juzgado de Indios made numerous judgments sustaining the right of Indians to live and work where they wished. For the Province of Tlaxcala alone, the Audiencia of New Spain granted writs in 33 cases involving involuntary labor between 1654 and 1664. Indians in other provinces were no less eager to complain, if the volume of petitions coming to the juzgado is any indication.12

An example of the type of complaint the court received was one from Indians residing on an estate in Tlaxcala, who asserted in 1654 that the renter of the estate had worked them for three years without pay and then had tried to force them to work for his successor “as if they were his [the renter’s] slaves.” The Indians requested that the court compel the renter to allow them to leave and to punish him for mistreating them. The court granted both requests.13

These same Indians returned to the audiencia in December of that year to complain that the Justicia of Tlaxcala was not carrying out the court’s ruling, and the court reissued its decree with the threat that unless it received notice of compliance in eight days, a receptor would be sent to carry out the judgment at the expense of the justicia.14

Into the 1680s, the audiencia maintained that only debts provided legal authority for hacendados to retain workers on their estates.15 By the beginning of the eighteenth century, however, the practice had changed, and courts accepted the principle that any Indians who were born on an estate or carried on its tribute rolls were legally bound to it whether they owed any money, for tribute or otherwise, to the hacendado. Gañanes were legally considered the same as yanaconas in Peru.

Why did a change occur at this time? If it was a consequence of some major shift in the balance of social or economic forces, the minimal research to date on the period has not brought it to light. Rather, all indications suggest that the change emanated from Spain. As the legal basis for this system, all lawsuits of the eighteenth century concerning gañanía pointed to a royal cédula of June 4, 1687.16 The text of the cédula itself has not been found, merely summaries of it presented in some of the legal suits. In these references, there are no justifications for the law given; indeed, there is no clear statement that gañanes could not leave their estates. The cédula is presented merely as a modification of Alburquerque’s ordinance. It declared that Indian workers were to be paid and their labor voluntary, “even though they are gañanes”; that they were to be given a ration of corn in addition to their cash wage; that accounts were to be settled regularly; that they could contract debts of no more than five pesos; that the amount of their wages was subject to negotiation; and that all Indians were to be usefully employed and not allowed to live in “idleness.” The only substantive modification lay in the section on wages, which Alburquerque had set at six pesos per month, a condition the cédula modified to an amount agreed upon by employer and worker; nevertheless, lawyers and the courts accepted the law as the basis for allowing a hacendado to force gañanes to work only for him and to remain for their lifetime on the hacienda. It would seem, then, that a subtle change of wording must have had great significance. Alburquerque’s ordinance stated that no Indian who did not wish to work on a hacienda could be compelled to it; the cédula declared, in the words indicated above, that Indian workers were to labor voluntarily “even though they are gañanes.” Obviously, the 1687 law was recognizing (or creating?) a distinction in the treatment of Indian labor that had not existed in 1653.

The rationale for the bond between worker and estate must also be inferred. Numerous references in the eighteenth century justify the link on the basis of the need to guarantee tribute collections. As a lawyer for a hacendado explained in 1716, “the gañanes of a hacienda cannot be sheltered or received in another because these are held by assignment [como adscripticios] for which cause the owners of the haciendas are obligated . . . to pay the royal tribute.”17 The edict issued in 1770 on tribute collection made much the same point, declaring that hacendados guaranteed the tribute whether or not the gañanes were working, for which reason the Indians “must have for their residence the hacienda to which they are attached.” As justification, the edict cited law 12, title 3, book 6 of the Recopilación, which refers to yanaconas and their permanent tie to their residences.18

This equivalence of tribute status with yanaconaje was definitely of late-seventeenth-century origin. Gañanes had been placed on hacienda tribute rolls in the late 1620s, but as late as 1653 they were free to leave as long as the tribute debt was paid.19 It seems possible, based on the appeal to the cédula of 1687, that a missing portion of that document, or another of approximately the same date, changed the practice with reference to tributes.

Why the crown chose to make the change at this time is not apparent. Perhaps it was because of difficulties in tribute collection; or perhaps the crown perceived the change as a means of balancing the interests of hacendados against those of Indian villages, which were served in the same year by a cédula (the so-called 600-vara law) that guaranteed them a minimum amount of land. Earlier and later cases suggest that hacendados feared that villages with sufficient lands could lure their workers away and that the estates would be left without a labor force.20 There is, in fact, evidence that gañanes were returning to Indian villages in Tlaxcala during the period in which the change occurred.21

A broader explanation is also possible. The 1680s were a time of deep financial and economic crisis in Castile. One of the perceived causes of this crisis was the destruction of agriculture, which was linked to the devastated condition of the peasantry and a consequent migration of peasants into the cities. Since peasants were viewed as the most important agricultural producers, in the early 1680s Charles II’s chief minister, the Duke of Medinaceli (1680-85), proposed measures designed to protect peasant communities in Castile and to restore peasant agriculture.22 At precisely the same time, a series of orders was sent to the viceroy of Peru to begin investigating the condition of Indian villages and Indian laborers with exactly the same arguments being put forward. As a consequence, in 1686 and 1687 in Peru, among other actions, a new tribute padrón was completed, new regulations for the collection of tribute were issued, and a schedule (arancel) of wages for Indian workers was published.23

Two key problems that these measures addressed were the depopulation of Indian villages and the presence of large numbers of forasteros who were uncertain payers of tribute and, in the crown’s eyes, an uncontrolled element in the population. In New Spain, the depopulation of Indian villages and the movement of Indians to haciendas could have been of equal concern, and the laws concerning both gañanía and land guaranteed to Indian villages can be seen as efforts to reduce the migration by fixing the Indians’ place of residence. Together, they could have been judged as measures to improve agricultural production, the collection of tribute, and the condition of the Indian population. The argument behind this can be seen by paraphrasing Viceroy Ortega Montañés’s comments to his successor. Indians, he argued, were vital to the economic well-being of New Spain, but were by nature lazy and subject to vice. To be productive and happy, they had to be guided paternalistically, as well as protected from those who would abuse them. Overseen by the government and the clergy, the Indian village and the hacienda provided the secure homes necessary to the task.24

The fact that gañanes were attached to estates by law clearly provides a new key to interpreting their status. Two important commentators, Silvio Zavala and Charles Gibson, emphasize debts and custom as the means of understanding the hold hacendados possessed over this resident labor force.25 Debts played no role in retaining labor since suits of the eighteenth century show that even when a gañán owed no money to a hacendado and had the cash to pay his tribute, the courts could still prevent him from leaving an estate. In 1721, for example, the courts returned a gañán to the hacienda of Acatlán, even though the hacendado owed the worker a great deal of money, simply because the owner proved that the worker had been born on the property.26 The critical evidence in all suits was not the account book but the baptismal record or the tribute roll.

Yet debts cannot be entirely discounted as a means of coercing other types of labor. The precision that courts used in defining a gañán provided an important check on the growth of the system. While there seems to have been pressure by hacendados to convert all residents of a hacienda into gañanes, the viceroy and the audiencia consistently protected the category of workers called meseros, who lived on haciendas but had not been born there, from the assertion that long service alone made an individual a gañán.27 The result of this attitude was that for an increasing—but indeterminate—number of hacienda residents, the only coercion available to hacendados was debt, and they employed it.

The role that custom played in the system is more complex. When considered carefully, it is clear that what the crown had done, in a legal sense, in consenting to the coercion of the gañanes, was to raise the customary responsibilities of a hacendado and the generations-long residence of the gañanes on a particular estate to the level of a legally binding contractual arrangement in which both parties received benefits and had rights and obligations. Nevertheless, although the relationship between hacendados and gañanes was governed by custom, when it was subject to adjudication, hacendados (and to a lesser extent the Indians) did not appeal to custom but to a positive law, the cédula of 1687.

The bureaucracy and the Juzgado de Indios played an important role as the agencies that attempted to obtain satisfactory fulfillment of the contract by both parties. Thus, the court returned gañanes who fled the estates but also gave the Indians easy access to the legal process for redress of grievances and held out the possibility that the bond could be broken if the Indians proved they were not receiving the customary benefits the “contract” stipulated. It was the juzgado’s sensitivity to Indian complaints that prevented gañanía from degenerating into the serfdom that yanaconaje became in Peru.28

Throughout the period in which the law of 1687 was enforced, lawyers and officials justified the coercion resulting from it by referring to the pressing needs of agriculture, which suffered because of Indians’ laziness, and by rationalizing that the Indians were cared for and thus better off than they would be if living freely. Reflecting this position, one hacendado in Texcoco argued in 1719 that the gañanes received enormous benefits from him: he was responsible for their tribute whether or not they worked; he gave them a ration of corn even if they were sick and unable to work; and, in addition, he gave them land to work and the use of the tools of the hacienda. In return, he had a right to expect that they would stay and guarantee their labor.29 A lawyer in 1776 echoed this point, declaring that Indian labor was necessary to work the fields and if the crown considered it acceptable for the Indians to congregate on haciendas, then these Indians could not be allowed to leave their estate without workers “without more reason than caprice.”30

Hacendados derived numerous benefits from this paternalistic system. Most important, they had a secure supply of labor to meet their minimal needs. Also, by custom, gañanes received a wage of either one or one and one-half reales per day, rather than the two reales customary for temporary workers.31 It appears, as well, from numerous instances that hacendados who were short of cash could avoid paying the wages for long periods of time by merely providing help for their workers in a paternal fashion. Hacendados in Tlaxcala owed as much as 9,000 pesos to their workers in a few instances, and the Jesuit hacienda of San Pablo near Puebla reported owing its gañanes 3,400 pesos in 1767.32 It was not unusual for a hacienda to owe more to its residents than they owed to it. The records suggest that the Indians accepted this because they had not absorbed the ethic of a cash economy and were principally concerned that their specific needs should be met. Thus, a strict accounting of wages was not important, and when gañanes did demand it, it usually signaled that the paternalistic relationship had broken down in other ways.33

It must always be kept in mind, though, that while the care the Indians received was considered a sufficient trade-off for the constraint on their freedom of movement, the crown and its bureaucrats were always aware of this limitation on freedom. In his Política indiana, Juan de Solorzano y Pereira argued against yanaconaje, reasoning:

It is clear that this contradicts totally their liberty in which so many cédulas and ordenanzas cited in chapter 1 of this book order them to be placed and maintained. Liberty is nothing more than the faculty of a man to do what he wishes and to live where and with whom he wishes.34

As long as the gañanes in general were satisfied to live with their lack of freedom of movement, the system could function; but when other opportunities arose or their economic condition changed and they began to resist and complain, the government listened and the principle that Indians were free vassals was remembered.

The Counterpoint between Freedom and Constraint

Relative acceptance of constraint lasted for only about two generations, after which the system became modified in practice. The evidence suggests that the system was extremely fragile and was affected both by depression and by prosperity. Only while the hacendado received benefits sufficient to outweigh the costs of paternalism, and only as long as there was little competition for Indian labor, could the stability of gañanía be maintained.

In Tlaxcala, for example, depression seems to have been an important influence in its decline. The use of gañanía reached its peak in that region during the 1730s, thereafter declining, until by the 1770s only about 20 percent of the Indian families in its parishes resided on haciendas.35 They moved in part because the depletion of the land had made commercial agriculture marginally profitable and bankruptcies common. Government officials noted and worried over the crisis.36

Penury had an impact on gañanía in several ways. First, hacendados near bankruptcy were often unable to pay the tribute for their workers. In 1762, for example, twenty-three of approximately thirty-four haciendas in the partido of Huamantla in Tlaxcala were in arrears on tribute payments for 1761 and 1762.37 Since the duty of a hacendado to pay tribute for his workers was a very important function in the eyes of the crown, the government looked favorably, in these circumstances, on an Indian’s petition to move to another hacienda or village that would guarantee payment.38 A second, and equally important, consequence was the nonfulfillment of the customary obligations owed to the workers. If a hacendado did not give the gañanes the rations due them, or did not have enough money to pay for marriages, burials, or fiestas when the gañanes requested it, grievances and antagonism could result. Frequently, if an accommodation could not be reached, the Indians would leave. There was, therefore, a direct link between the prosperity of a hacienda, which allowed a hacendado to conduct himself as a paterfamilias, and his ability to retain his workers. If the one disappeared, in many cases so did the other.

When conditions reached this point, the law would no longer protect a hacendado. The governor of Tlaxcala showed his awareness of this fact in 1740 when he pointedly told one hacendado that he kept his gañanes only as long as he treated them well, no matter what his legal rights.39 The courts also showed an inclination to try to protect the general system rather than to apply the letter of the law when they perceived the workers to be inalterably bitter toward their master. So, for example, in 1725 the alcalde mayor of Toluca was directed to find other work for a group of gañanes who declared that they would go to jail rather than go back to their hacienda.40 Courts, however, turned to this expedient only in extraordinary circumstances before the 1730s. The principle that the gañán was bound to his estate for life was upheld.41

Economic prosperity placed just as much stress on the system of gañanía because it increased competition for Indian labor. In general, this was probably a more important factor than penury during the eighteenth century. The expansion of agricultural production resulting from the rise of population, the growth of cities and artisan activity, and the rebirth of mining were all important phenomena pressuring the system.42 There are numerous instances of hacendados accusing others of stealing their gañanes.43 Indian villages were also indicted for the same practice.44 A case in point which shows the degree of competition that villages posed is the suit of the barrio of Coateco in Izúcar in 1750 requesting an injunction against hacendados from Tepeaca looking for fugitives in their town. The village officials told the court that a large number of residents were of uncertain status and were fleeing the community to avoid such searches, severely disrupting town life by their actions.45

This illustrates a very important phenomenon of the eighteenth century that historians are only just beginning to investigate: the revitalization of the Indian towns in much of New Spain. Growth of population brought renewed confidence in their culture and a desire to lure back the residents lost to the haciendas during the seventeenth century. Because they could offer employment in artisan crafts and trade as well as in agriculture, the lure was attractive to hacienda residents.46

The government, then, found itself in the middle of a struggle created by changing social and economic conditions. Hacendados who possessed gañanes wanted protection of their right to prevent the workers from leaving; Indian towns and hacendados with insufficient labor sought the relaxation of the law and confirmation of the right of laborers to work for whom they pleased. The government’s response was to bring about a gradual modification of the system by interpretation in individual court cases, while not consenting to a general change in the law. A number of decisions illustrate this approach.

The first case of importance involved two gañanes of the hacienda of San Bernabé in Apam, who were found by their master to be living in Tlatelolco in 1738.47 Their older sister had brought them to live in the city when they were young children after their parents died, and they had since paid tribute, married, and lived quiet, respectable lives in Tlatelolco. The issue to be decided was whether individuals born on a hacienda could be compelled to return to it even if they had left as small children and the hacendado had spent nothing on them. The hacendado argued that the letter of the law must be observed, but the judges ruled against him on the grounds that the gañanes had left the estate as small children, owed no money, and were now quiet and productive citizens of the town. In its final decree, the court declared, “Even though the parents might have been gañanes of [the hacienda], it must not be understood for the reasons given that [the defendants] ought to be returned as such.” While limited in its applicability, the decision was important, because it was the first time the Juzgado de Indios had placed any limitations on the tie of a gañán to the estate where he was born.

As Indian resistance to coerced labor and flights from haciendas increased during the 1740s and 1750s, the court had ample opportunity to expand on this initial decision; but the judges, in fact, ruled in a very ambivalent manner. Decisions in 1743, 1746, and 1751 did nothing to modify the standing practices.48 On the other hand, decisions in 1750 and 1755 interpreted the law in a substantially different way.

The 1750 case concerned the barrio of Coateco in Izúcar.49 As a point of procedure, the court made it more difficult to pick up fugitives by reaffirming the principle that all cases had to be individually handled by the courts before the Indians could be returned to a hacienda. This practice made the hacendado weigh the costs of such suits against the benefits to be derived from recovering an unwilling worker.

In a preliminary decision in the case in June 1750, the court further modified the system. It declared that fugitive gañanes who were not in debt were to be returned to the hacienda of origin, although “in the case that the Indians do not wish to serve on it, but to move to another of the same province, do not prevent it. This order was reconfirmed in another case concerning the hacienda of Jalapasco in Tepeaca in 1760.50

With this decision, the juzgado increased the freedom of gañanes by reducing the tie to the hacienda to one of debt, but balanced competing interests by limiting the impact of the judgment to a single province. In 1755, it did something similar in another fundamental reversal of previous practice.

In the case in question, the town of Calpulalpa in Texcoco and the hacienda of Santa Ana in Tlaxcala contested the fate of two families belonging to a father and a son who were admitted gañanes of the hacienda.51 The father had worked for twenty years on the estate but had left, he alleged, because of ill-treatment, and had gone to live in Calpulalpa, where he had resided quietly for fifteen years. By chance, his former master found him, together with his son, who had come to the town six years before. The master forcibly returned the men and their families to the hacienda. The father escaped and, through the town governors, sought a restraining order and the return of the families.

The foundation of the town’s defense of its residents was a Real Provisión of September 1754 that granted any Indians who had lived in the village for more than a year immunity from removal from the community by hacendados. On the basis of this document, in November 1754 the juzgado ordered the return of the families. The hacendado complied but filed a counter brief in which he argued that his interests were being severely damaged by towns and other hacendados who sheltered gañanes deserting his estate. He later argued as well that the Indian Real Provisión was illegal because the court would never have issued it had the judges known that the Indians in question were gañanes.

The court vacillated when confronted with these arguments and on December 9 countermanded its order and returned the Indians to the hacienda. The suit was not finished, however; and on January 30, 1755, acting on an opinion by the fiscal, the court again reversed itself, declaring that the Indian Real Provision was valid and ordered the two families returned to the town and allowed to live in peace.52

This very important decision went much farther than the previously cited decision from 1739, because these Indians had benefited from the hacienda and the hacendado had paid their tribute faithfully. Nevertheless, the court continued to rule inconsistently. While it put an enormous hole in the system of gañanía by creating a sanctuary in Calpulalpa, in other cases from the same period it reaffirmed the restrictions on movement of gañanes. This makes it clear that the court was ruling according to circumstance and was not disposed to eliminate the system totally.

The tendency during the 1760s and 1770s continued to be against strict interpretations of the rights of hacendados. Arguments also began to appear opposing the system on the grounds of principle, not of individual injustices.53 In 1765, the town of Otumba argued a case against the Jesuit hacienda of La Concepción on the grounds that gañanía was slavery, and as such, contrary to basic laws guaranteeing Indian freedom.54

The outcome of this suit is not known; but such appeals to principle conformed to changes during the 1760s in the attitudes of the Bourbon monarchs. Magnus Mörner notes that the later Bourbons were committed to incorporating Indians into Spanish life and making them into a peasantry.55 Many Spanish observers decried the low level of acculturation and the standard of living of Indians living on haciendas.56 Archbishop Lorenzana disapprovingly noted in 1770 that most Indians could not speak Spanish two and a half centuries after the conquest. He asserted that they could not be civilized without knowing Spanish, and could not be happy unless civilized.57 From these observations, the conviction grew that Indian subservience to Spanish hacendados and their isolation on estates had to be ended. It meant considerable favor for the abolition of all forms of constraint and the encouragement of Indians living in villages.

Bureaucrats led by Viceroy Antonio de Bucareli y Ursúa (1771-79) were influenced by such attitudes. Bucareli took a number of steps to try to improve the condition of the Indians and to increase their freedom of movement.58 At the level of legal principle, the change in outlook among judges can be seen by comparing the position on the question of yanaconaje of the influential legal scholar of the early eighteenth century, Santiago Magro y Zurita, with that of Eusebio Buenaventura Beleña, commenting on Magro in the 1780s. Magro maintained that coloni (the Roman equivalent of yanaconas) were not enslaved, despite the fact that they could not move, and justified the system by citing numerous precedents in support of his view. Buenaventura Beleña, in his gloss, quoted at length from Solorzano y Pereira’s attack on the system, preferring Solorzanos stand on principle to Magros on custom.59

These changes in attitude had a practical impact on the treatment of labor. In 1777, when Indians on the rancho of Petiflor administered by Temporalidades of the Jesuit college of Espíritu Santo of Puebla argued that as gañanes they were subjected to slavery, the argument was accepted immediately and the administrator ordered to publish a letter declaring that the ties of gañanía were dissolved.60

In the 1770s, the courts debated even the legitimacy of debts as a constraint. In a decision in a suit over nonpayment of wages in Apam in 1777, the fiscal determined that certain debts owed were illegal because they exceeded the five-peso limit specified in the laws.61 This marked the first time in the records available since 1687 that the limitation was invoked in a specific case. Needless to say, the hacendado was shocked. Another case in 1783 from the jurisdiction of Tulancingo presented a similar finding, with the added dimension that the creditor could not require the Indians to return to work to pay off the reduced debts, but had to allow them to remain in the town where they lived and to pay off the debt in small amounts regularly deducted from their pay by their current employer.62

It is impossible to find any direct evolution of legal principle in all these cases, because Spanish courts were only loosely bound by precedent, being more concerned with equity as defined by circumstances. What does emerge is an attitude of trying to balance the interest of agriculture with protection of the Indian population. During the late seventeenth century, perhaps because of the poverty of the colony and the disarray and helplessness of the Indian villages, the system of gañanía satisfied both responsibilities. But economic and social conditions changed. The villagers of the eighteenth century no longer needed or wanted the havens Charles Gibson suggests they sought on the haciendas in the seventeenth century. Similarly, the reinvigoration of the economy made a freer labor market likely. The courts thus found themselves in the unenviable position of trying to reconcile irreconcilable interests and did the best they could to see that justice was served.

Evidence indicates that hacendados recognized the new situation and changed their treatment of gañanes de facto before it was compelled de jure. During the 1760s and 1770s, hacendados in many areas treated gañanes more like temporary laborers than permanent residents.

One case in Tlaxcala in 1756 indicates that gañanes expected substantial advances and were working more for economic considerations than because of custom.63 The same case showed that the paternalistic care expected of a hacendado had been reduced to the duty of paying clerical fees. By 1775 in Apam, the relationship was purely one of debt. Gañanes were given advances in customary amounts at customary times but were free to leave if they owed no money at the end of the year.64 In Cuautitlán at a slightly earlier date, the hold of law was so weak that hacendados required their gañanes to have bondsmen before any advances at all would be given.65

Obviously, a law that initially had affected large numbers of Indians had grown increasingly out of touch with social and economic realities, and gañanía was increasingly unimportant as a source of labor for hacendados of central Mexico. Yet the system had not lost all its vitality or fallen into total disuse. A hacendado in Ixtlahuaca in 1776 called the system the backbone of agriculture in the region.66 Another hacendado from the Intendancy of Puebla, speaking of the edict concerning gañanes issued in 1785, commented with dismay on the changes it wrought in the patterns of Indian residence and the consequent control that landlords possessed over their labor forces.67 As late as 1784, the Juzgado de Indios sustained the position that gañanes were required to remain on an estate by law.68

The Bando de Gañanes and its Impact

On March 23, 1785, Viceroy Gálvez issued the first comprehensive labor law since 1687. This document, the Bando de Gañanes, abolished the practice of tying workers to estates because of birth on the estate, modified the customs relating to the treatment of debts owed by workers to hacendados, and specified in some detail how hacendados were to conduct themselves in the treatment of their laborers.

Although we do not know for certain why the edict was issued at this time, we do know that it was the result of a long process of consultation. The audiencia had taken a consultative vote on the document in December 1783, and at least some alcaldes mayores were invited to present ideas on ways to stimulate the development of the Indian population in 1783 and 1784.69

In part, the law must be seen in light of the broad purpose of Bourbon policy: integrating the Indians into the Spanish nation and making them a free peasantry. The audiencia had, in 1779, altered the tribute laws and declared that Indians were totally free to change their residence as they wished, subject only to the proviso that they show evidence of accepting the new residence as permanent.70 Later, in 1796, the crown went so far as to eliminate debt labor completely by conceding to the Indians the freedom to work where they wished and to leave a hacienda even though they owed a debt.71 While this law was voided two years later by another from the viceroy declaring that hacendados could pursue fugitive debtors, the intent of crown policy was clear, and the earlier work on tribute and the Bando of 1785 had eliminated the bases for legal coercion of the Indian population.72

In addition to any general beliefs in freedom in principle, the viceroys and judges were convinced that the Indian’s failure to learn Spanish and to abandon the old ways, as well as the degraded conditions in which he lived, were due to the tyrannical control the hacendados possessed. In the preamble to the Bando, Gálvez declared: “se ven en distintas provincias de este virreynato sufriendo así. . . cuasi mísera esclavitud, crueles castigos, excesivas fatigas, y convenciones injustas con ofensa de sus derechos, transgresión de las leyes y usurpación de la pública potestad.”

To change this situation, a number of key points were revised in the law of 1687 and in the accretion of interpretations that surrounded it. Most important, gañanes could not be coerced to stay on a hacienda because they were born there. On the question of debt, the Bando specified the common limit of five pesos plus any tribute owed, but added two clarifying points: first, that clerical fees were subject to the five-peso limit, an important proviso since hacienda workers with access to credit routinely made large expenditures for baptisms, marriages, and burials; second, that while hacendados were to ascertain if Indians were debtors before receiving them from another hacienda, they could still be accepted if they agreed to pay off the old debt at the rate of one-quarter of their pay per week.73 Before this, the universal practice accepted by the courts was to require a hacendado to pay off the old debts entirely before he could accept workers from another estate. This declaration had profound implications for labor practices and the freedom of Indians to move, especially when it was combined with another clause which declared that all Indians, including gañanes, were free to choose where they would work, subject only to paying off the debts they owed to their master.74 The result was that legal authority for almost any type of coercion was removed and the Indian was left effectively a free agent, a condition the viceroyalty had never known.

The Indian population seems to have perceived its altered circumstances clearly and quickly. A very important landowner in Tlaxcala, don Anselmo Martínez de la Carrera, filed a suit in early 1786 complaining about the impact of the law on his haciendas.75 In August of the previous year, the entire gañanía of one of his haciendas had filed suit claiming that he was illegally holding them for debts and had refused to work, even though they continued to occupy their huts and fields. He had tried to compromise with them by promising to reduce their debts to the five-peso limit and to pay them as tlaquehuales, in effect raising their salaries, but to no avail. One month later, the entire work force on another estate did likewise, and by December all his estates were in chaos and he was unable to maintain operations. Commenting on the situation, he noted: “The purpose of the Indians’ petitions is simply that of securing their freedom and preserving it without paying what they justly owe and without working on the haciendas.”

After 1785, gañanes gradually disappear from the records in all areas, being replaced by categories referred to as operarios or indios de cuadrilla. While these workers continued to reside on estates, sometimes for long periods of time, they differed from the gañanes because the hacienda was not their home; most had land and roots in villages. Where gañanes remained, they did so not just because it was to their economic benefit, but also because the hacienda was their patria chica and they were loath to abandon it. Hacendados could occasionally use this sentiment to their advantage, as did the owner of the hacienda of Puchingo in San Juan de los Llanos in 1782. This hacendado resolved a labor dispute by burning the Indians’ huts and evicting them. When he did so, they immediately pleaded to be allowed back and promised no more trouble.76

A great deal of evidence suggests that whether because of changes in social conditions, the law, or more important, the attitudes of royal officials, labor relations were deeply unsettled during the last two decades of the colonial period. It was not the demise of gañanía that caused the crisis—few hacendados protested its loss—but, rather, the sections of the Bando of 1785 regarding the enforceability of debts. They affected a much larger segment of the agricultural work force and occasioned widespread complaints by hacendados.

It is the consensus of recent researchers that during the eighteenth century, advances of or access to credit were incentives given to good workers to retain them. The law of 1785, however, specified that any debt beyond five pesos was uncollectable, leaving estate owners with an obvious dilemma. The competitive situation and Indian expectations required them to give advances; but a worker could take any credit beyond the limit, decline to work, and leave the hacendado with no legal recourse. As a result, estate owners almost immediately began to protest that Indians would not work for only a five-peso advance, and they pressed the audiencia to amend the law.77

While the court never yielded to pressures directly, it did issue clarifications that gave hacendados some comfort. In March 1786, for example, the viceroy instructed justicias to be aware that the sections on debt limits only referred to advances for “frivolous” purposes. Advances for “grave domestic needs” were not limited by the Bando.78 As it was interpreted throughout the remainder of the colonial period, owners could not give their workers manufactured items or money for fiestas; but corn for consumption, advances for setting up households upon marriage, and numerous other items of the same nature were permissible.

The exclusion of corn from the five-peso limit was particularly important. Gañanes by custom and law received rations weekly whether or not they worked, giving them a considerable hedge against disaster. After 1785, fewer workers were classified as gañanes; most were temporary workers who were given corn only while they worked and perhaps a plot of land if their stay was presumed reasonably permanent. During times of stress, the hacendado had no responsibility toward these individuals. It was an act of benevolence if he allowed them to buy corn from him. Given the number of crop failures of the late colonial period, the need to do so occurred frequently, and the result was substantial debt.79

Pressure from the elites also led the audiencia to emphasize the limitations on the groups that the law covered. In a decision of 1792, the juzgado confirmed that the law did not apply to non-Indians by refusing to hear a complaint from a gañán in the Province of Temascal tepee on that ground.80 The court also limited the applicability of the law to Indian workers. Between 1790 and 1794, a series of decisions interpreted the law to declare that only gañanes (those on the padrón of an estate) benefited from the limit on debts. Debts contracted by non-gañanes were not subject to review.81 Ironically, in a dramatic switch from the situation of the early and middle eighteenth century, Indians now came to court protesting that they were gañanes, not casual laborers, “in order to enjoy the privileges that are conceded to that class of worker.”82

Despite these decisions, however, debts remained considerably less coercive than before 1785. In practice the court and officials protected all Indian laborers, not just gañanes, and looked very carefully at the nature of the debts contracted, reducing them if warranted.83 The court also accepted arrangements, provided for in the law, that allowed Indians to pay off debts slowly without having to return to work for a hacendado they disliked.84 It also protected laborers from hacendados who refused to allow them to pay off debts, trying to force them to work instead. In one case in 1800, the fiscal of the audiencia denounced a hacendado as “manifestly rash” when he tried to appeal to the court to prevent an Indian from leaving his estate.85

Hacendados railed vigorously against both the laws and the enforcement of them, which they believed left the Indians to work in a totally voluntary fashion. At the heart of their complaints were protests that the Indians had grown arrogant because of the crown’s protection and were refusing to work even when they owed debts. The sentiment is repeated often in the records after 1785. The alcalde mayor of Tulancingo protested in 1786 that prohibitions against punishment of workers were leading to the destruction of discipline in the province. The laborers refused to obey the mayordomos, believing that they could not be disciplined.86

One can almost sense the venom in the later statement of don Tomás Díaz Varela, a resident of Mexico City and labrador in Puebla, who wrote in 1794:

The bad service of the workers and the constant frauds which they regularly commit are motivated by some vicious influence that twists the truth and intelligence of the wise resolutions of this High Court, persuading them that they are free to be vagabonds without working and equally to reciprocate the benefit of an advance by withdrawing [from the hacienda] thus leaving their master unpaid and violating the contract that was made in good faith to secure their service.87

Hacendados also blamed the reluctance of officials to look for fugitives or to enforce contracts for the situation, as they perceived it. Very little concrete evidence has surfaced to indicate exactly what they were referring to, since in most cases noted, when the courts discovered legitimate debts were owed, the Indians were ordered either to pay or to work.88 Alcaldes mayores and subdelegates showed little reluctance to pursue debtors. The problems that hacendados had might have been with Indian officials. One suit from Tlaxcala in 1792 involved the complaint of a hacendado that he had hired a cuadrilla through an official of the city and when the workers disappeared with the advances, could not persuade the man to give him their names so that he might pursue them.89 There are a few other scattered examples of town officials protecting fugitives, but not enough to suggest a general pattern.

Another source of aggravation for hacendados was the willingness of the audiencia to hear appeals from Indians. These appeals cost the Indians little but the hacendados a great deal, and delayed the return of workers to estates even when they clearly owed money. In 1803, the subdelegate for the region of San Juan de los Llanos grumbled in a letter to the intendant of Puebla about “colegiales de España” who came to New Spain to judge a region whose character “ignoran en lo absoluto y mucho menos sus costumbres, educación y vicios.”90 Provoked by similar complaints from his other lieutenants, Intendant Manuel de Flon had already written an angry letter to the viceroy protesting his officials’ impotence to get the Indians to honor contracts because of the protection given them by the audiencia.91

Hacendados in the Puebla-Tlaxcala region regularly blamed the unwillingness of the Indians to work for the frequent crop failures that afflicted the region. In 1798, a well-placed lawyer from Mexico City summed up the feelings of the hacendados in the region of San Juan about the new regime.

The Indians, abusing the protection that out of pity has been given them, have become so insolent that they have converted that protection into the ruin and injury of all of the public. Their work is so sloppy and bad that we are continuously subject to major scarcities of grain.92

To confront the new situation, landowners organized what were called gremios de labradores in Tehuacán in 1794 and in San Juan de los Llanos in 1800.93 In Tehuacán, they agreed to establish a common fund to hire lawyers, imposing for that purpose a tax on the wheat, corn, and sugar they produced. The landowners in San Juan expressed what was essentially the purpose of both groups.

We hope that in the present happy administration, our complaints may be given consideration. The evils [we suffer] have increased because of the willfulness in which the workers on our haciendas live, taking work only when they want.

The government did apparently take note of the problems because in 1800 Viceroy Marquina issued a bando on the obligations of the indios de cuadrilla.94 There is also evidence that the courts began again to force residency. In 1804, in the case of gañanes belonging to the hacienda of Sila in the Province of Ixtlahuaca, the juzgado decided that the Indians did not want to move because of bad treatment, but merely out of “caprice” and because the village of Xiquipilco offered them land. On the basis that they would live “slothfully” in the village and that the hacienda needed their labor, the judges required them to remain.95 The fiscal of the audiencia, moving away from the reasoning behind the Bando of 1785, argued that as gañanes they were protected, well cared for, and productive, all of which they would not be if left to their own devices in a village.

It cannot be determined whether this represented a true shift in the principles motivating the royal bureaucrats, or merely the opinion of one man, but it is doubtful that it had much effect. The era of gañanía had ended not because a law had changed, but because society had. This law, as well as the laws concerning tribute, reflected the new reality of an increasingly mobile Indian population.

Yet when circumstances are given their due, it is still true that changes in principle did occur in the eighteenth century that affected the hacendados’ interests. When the Indians argued that coercion was slavery and that the enforcement of the system of gañanía was destroying village life, their arguments fell on receptive ears. Judges and royal lawyers of the 1760s, and thereafter, were far less willing to accept the argument that the Indians had to be forced to work for the common good and that voluntarism meant the destruction of agriculture. The result was that government did not resist the changes in society favoring the Indians, but supported and encouraged them.96

The Bando of 1785 went even farther and attempted to apply principles that would have brought about a fundamental alteration in a rural environment socially and economically dominated by the creole class. The grumbling of the subdelegate of San Juan about “colegiales de España” reflects a fundamental conflict between Bourbon policy and local perceptions of need and propriety. The Indians were granting or withholding labor on terms that the creoles considered capricious and unacceptable and were being supported by royal bureaucrats. It was that support which so antagonized the hacendados of the Puebla region and led them rightly to blame the law for the problems they were experiencing with the Indians they had previously dominated.


Silvio Zavala, “Orígenes coloniales del peonaje en México,” in Estudios indianos (Mexico City, 1948), p. 317.


Charles Gibson, The Aztecs under Spanish Rule: A History of the Indians of the Valley of Mexico, 1519-1810 (Stanford, 1964), pp. 235-236. The practice does not appear to have been suppressed in Peru at the same time. See Silvio Zavala, El servicio personal de los indios en el Perú (extractos del siglo xvii) (Mexico City, 1979), p. 125. A very interesting and useful explanation of how economic and social change affected labor patterns is provided in Arnold J. Bauer, “Rural Workers in Spanish America: Problems of Peonage and Oppression,” HAHR, 59 (Feb. 1979), 34-63.


For one reference to this law, consult Archivo General de la Nación, Mexico City (hereinafter AGN), Civil, tomo 229, exp. 3, “Reales cédulas a ſabor de los indios de toda la Nueva España,” n.d.


The limits on debt peonage were set by the audiencia in an auto acordado dated May 4, 1656, Eusebio Buenaventura Beleña, Recopilación sumaria de todos los autos acordados de la real audiencia ... de esta Nueva España, 2 vols. (Mexico City, 1787), I, ist pagination, 56.


Instrucción reservada que el Obispo-Virrey Juan de Ortega Montañés dio a su sucesor en el mando el Conde de Moctezuma, prólogo y notas de Norman F. Martin (Mexico City, 1965), PP. 65-77.


For general surveys of the literature on agricultural labor, consult Friedrich Katz, “Labor Conditions on Haciendas in Porfìrian Mexico: Some Trends and Tendencies,” HAHR, 54 (Feb. 1974), 1-47; and Enrique Florescano, “Evaluación y síntesis de las ponencias sobre el trabajo colonial,” in Elsa Frost, Michael C. Meyer, and Josefina Zoraida Vázquez, comps., El trabajo y los trabajadores en la historia de México (Mexico City, 1979), pp. 756-797. Among the more recent literature on the eighteenth century, see particularly for grazing estates, Charles H. Harris, A Mexican Family Empire: The Latifundio of the Sanchez Navarros, 1765-1867 (Austin, 1975); Ursula Ewald, Estudios sobre la hacienda colonial en México. Las propiedades rurales del Colegio Espíritu Santo en Puebla (Wiesbaden, 1976), trans, by Luis R. Cerna; Herman Konrad, A Jesuit Hacienda in Colonial Mexico. Santa Lucía, 1576-1767 (Stanford, 1980); James D. Riley, Hacendados jesuítas en México: El Colegio Máximo de San Pedro y San Pablo, 1685-1767 (Mexico City, 1976); John Tutino, “Life and Labor on North Mexican Haciendas: The Querétaro-San Luis Potosí Region: 1775-1810,” in Frost et al., El trabajo, pp. 339–377; and, Eric Van Young, Hacienda and Market in Eighteenth-Century Mexico: The Rural Economy of the Guadalajara Region, 1675-1820 (Berkeley, 1981). For the conditions of field labor, see all of the above and, also, Jan Bazant, “El trabajo y los trabajadores en la hacienda de Atlacomulco,” in Frost et al., El trabajo, pp. 378-389; Herbert Nickel, “Reclutamiento y peonaje de los gañanes indígenas de la época colonial en el altiplano de Puebla-Tlaxcala,” Ibero-Amerikanisches Archiv, Band 5 (1979), 71-104, and Nickel, “Las deudas pasivas a favor de los gañanes en las haciendas de Puebla-Tlaxcala (época colonial),” Jahrbuch für Geschichte von Staat, Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft Lateinamerikas, Band 16 (1979), 245-265; James D. Riley, “Landlords, Laborers and Royal Government: The Administration of Labor in Tlaxcala, 1680–1750,” in Frost et al., El trabajo, pp. 221—241; and John Tutino, “Creole Mexico: Spanish Elites, Haciendas and Indian Towns, 1750-1810” (Ph.D. Diss., University of Texas, 1976).


Gibson, Aztecs under Spanish Rule, pp. 246-249, 254; François Chevalier, Land and Society in Colonial Mexico: The Great Hacienda (Berkeley, 1963), trans, by Alvin Eustis, pp. 280-285; Tutino, “Creole Mexico,” pp. 312-314. Using the 1792 census data for the Intendancy of Mexico, Tutino found that only 15 percent of the tributary population resided on haciendas; however, there were marked regional differences. In the area around San Juan del Río and Querétaro, nearly 50 percent of the Indians lived on estates. For a more detailed analysis of living patterns in that region, see his article, “Life and Labor.”


See William B. Taylor, “Haciendas coloniales en el Valle de Oaxaca,” in Enrique Florescano, ed., Haciendas, latifundios y plantaciones en América Latina (Mexico City, 1975), p. 92; David A. Brading, Haciendas and Ranchos in the Mexican Bajío, León, 1700-1860 (Cambridge, 1978), chap. 4; and Van Young, Hacienda and Market, chap. 11.


Jonathan I. Israel concludes that old Indian towns and cities continued to lose population far faster than the overall rate of loss until late in the seventeenth century; see his Race, Class and Politics in Colonial Mexico, 1610-1670 (London, 1975), pp. 39-41. Konrad, Santa Lucía, pp. 225-229, and Riley, Hacendados jesuítas, pp. 147-153, found gañanes in use in the agricultural operations of the massive Jesuit hacienda of Santa Lucía in the 1730s, but the labor force was so unstable that obviously dramatic changes had already taken place. For gañanes in the Mesquital Valley, see Bohumil Badura, “Biografía de la hacienda de San Nicolás de Ulapa,” Ibero-Americana Pragensia, 4 (1970), 104-105.


In Tlaxcala, 50 percent of the Indian population resided on haciendas in 1675, to judge from the amount of tribute hacendados were required to pay. Fondo Archivo General de Tlaxcala (hereinafter AGT), #150, “Sobre adeudo de tributos de los naturales de esta provincia y su cobro, 1675.” These manuscripts are on microfilm in the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. The microfilm is a duplicate of those produced by the Centro de Documentación de Historia de México and located in the Biblioteca del Museo de Antropología, Mexico City. On the importance of gañanes in Tlaxcala in the eighteenth century, see Nickel, “Reclutamiento,” and Riley, “Landlords, Laborers.” For Puebla, consult Ewald, Estudios. See also the comments of a hacendado from the region of Ixtlahuaca in 1776, AGN, Civil, Tomo 109, exp. 6. The judgment concerning other areas of the Intendancy of Puebla, as well as the regions of Apam and Texcoco, is derived from the number of suits generated in these regions.

The possibility also exists that in some areas, Indians were moving out of villages and on to haciendas in search of steady work in the mid- and late eighteenth century. Magnus Mörner argues that this was a general phenomenon in La corona española y los foráneos en los pueblos de indios de América (Stockholm, 1970), pp. 267-269, 304. Support for the position is provided by the records of Jesuit wheat haciendas in eastern Morelos where such a movement appears to have occurred. See the expense statements for the haciendas of Chicomocelo and Cuautepec, 1737–1760, AGN, Jesuítas, Section II, numbers 18 and 29, and AGN, Archivo Histórico de Hacienda, Leg. 300, exp. 2. See also Riley, Hacendados jesuítas, pp. 153–158. For another area of Morelos, see Bazant, “Atlacomulco.”


See Zavala, “Orígenes del peonaje”; Gibson, Aztecs under Spanish Rule, pp. 247-256, and Charles Verlinden, “El régimen de trabajo en México: Aumento y alcance de la gañanía: Siglo XVII,” in Bernardo García Martínez, ed., Historia y sociedad en el mundo de habla español: Homenaje a José Miranda (Mexico City, 1970), pp. 225-246.


AGN, Indios, Tomos 17-20.


AGN, Indios, Tomo 17, exp. 162.


AGN, Indios, Tomo 17, exp. 314. There are several instances in this sample from Tlaxcala of similar noncompliance, indicating that the law was not favored by hacendados and local officials, but also illustrating that the Indians were not afraid to go over the heads of the local elites and that the audiencia would listen.


For an example confirming this, consult AGT, #147, Se ordena al governador de esta provincia recoger y hacer entrega a doña Juana de Medina, de varios gañanes adeudados en la hacienda de dicha señora, 1674.”


For the most complete citation, see AGN, Civil, Tomo 229, exp. 3.


Zavala, “Orígenes del peonaje,” p. 343.


AGN, Bandos, Tomo 7, #90, sections 73-75, “Reglamento y ordenanzas . . . para el govierno y administración del ramo de . . . tributos en las provincias del vireinato de Nueva España, 1770.” Eusebio Buenaventura Beleña also characterized the gañanes as yanaconas in his Recopilación sumaria, I, 3d pagination, 47.


Zavala, “Orígenes del peonaje,” p. 333. The Marqués de Cerralvo declared, “the gañán has the obligation of serving his master for that indebtedness but he can also redeem himself by paying the amount of the tribute in cash.” The continuing use of the practice is confirmed in a cédula dated December 20, 1653, AGN, Reales Cédulas Duplicados, Volume 20, #43.


ACT, Miscellaneous Documents, “Sobre el fundo legal de Santo Tomás Xostla, 1771.” This hacendado specifically criticized the 600-vara laws. For earlier linkages of land and freedom, see the cédula against villages owning too much land issued June 1647, AGN, Reales Cédulas Duplicados, Volume 15, #207; and the arguments put forward in AGN, Reales Cédulas Duplicados, Volume 18, #141, “Ordenando que no haga novedad en el cambio de población que pretenden los indios de San Francisco del Rincón, May 9, 1651.”


Consult AGT, #142, “Sobre libertad de varios gañanes de la hacienda . . . San Pablo Zitlaltepec . . . 1672”; AGT, #158, “Los naturales de los pueblos de Papalotla, San Pablo Cuahuloatlan, San Miguel y San Cosme, por abusos de autoridad contra Gerónimo Ordóñez, 1679”; AGT, #167, “Real provisión para que don Miguel Blázquez . . . pueda seguir causa criminal contra Esteban Tórrez por haberse llevado los gañanes de la hacienda de dicho señor, 1690.”


Henry Kamen, Spain in the Later 17th Century, 1665-1700 (New York, 1980), PP. 195–196; John Lynch, Spain under the Habsburgs, 2 vols., 2d ed. (New York, 1981), II, 296-299.


Silvio Zavala, El servicio personal, pp. 174-180. Mörner, La corona española, pp. 116-118. See also Margaret Crahan, “The Administration of Don Melchor de Navarra y Rocafull, Duque de la Palata: Viceroy of Peru, 1681-1689,” The Americas, 27 (Apr. 1971), 389-412.


Mörner, La corona española, pp. 181, 204-207, cites additional efforts of the crown during the 1680s to protect Indian villages.


Zavala, “Orígenes del peonaje,” p. 350; Gibson, Aztecs under Spanish Rule, p. 297. Zavala concluded that gañanes were kept on an estate because of money they owed and that while they originally had the right to leave, when their dependency was prolonged for several generations, the hacendados gained social power, becoming patriarchs, and that gañanía became the mark of permanent ties to the estate. Gibson likewise stressed costumbre and stated that payment of tribute was a mark of paternal care of an amo for his servants.


AGN, Civil, Tomo 893, exp. 3, “Fernando Dávila Barrientos, vecino y labrador en la provincia de Tepeaca, sobre que Pedro Francisco y otros gañanes de la hacienda se restituyen a ella, 1721.” For other instances of similar determinations, consult AGT, #249, “Ajuste de cuentas de los indios gañanes de Huamantla . . . , 1717. ” For an example of the return of a gañán who had not been paid, see AGT, #256, “Despacho superior en que manda se ajusten las cuentas de los gañanes de las haciendas de San Antonio y San Diego Buenavista, 1723.” See also AGN, Tierras, Tomo 2825, exp. 3; AGN, Civil, Tomo 1448, exp. 9; and AGT, #351.


For examples of court treatment, see AGN, Indios, Tomo 51, exp. 83. AGT, #226, “José García Lobatón contra José de la Cruz . . . por no querer trabajar, 1716.” AGN, Civil, Tomo 519, exp. 1, “Indios gañanes del rancho nombrado Totolac . . . Jur. de Atrisco contra don Mateo Lozano sobre quererlos extraer a otra hacienda . . . 1736. For other examples of pressures on meseros, consult AGN, Indios, Tomo 51, exp. 83; AGT, #353: AGT, #370; AGN, Civil, Tomo 2108, exp. 4.


For evidence of royal concern, see Riley, “Landlords, Laborers.” The Juzgado de Indios in Peru handled petitions only from the district of Lima; Mörner, La corona española, p. 149.


AGN, Civil, Tomo 1448, exp. 5, “Autos sobre que se ajusten las cuentas a los gañanes de la hacienda del capitán don Manuel Cornejo labrador en la Jur. de Texcoco, 1719.”


AGN, Civil, Tomo 109, exp. 6, “Sobre liquidación de cuentas de los gañanes de la hacienda de Toxchi . . . , Ixtlahuaca, 1775”


In Tlaxcala, one real was the standard in the early part of the century, one and one-half, later. See AGT, #249 and AGT, bis 31, for examples in 1717 and 1784. For evidence that the custom varied from region to region, see the wages described for Metepec in 1715, AGN, Civil, Tomo 2083, exp. 7.


AGT, #310, “Los gañanes de la hacienda de doña Antonia Velasquez de la Cadena . . . sobre ajuste de cuentas, 1733.” AGT, #357, “Varios gañanes de la hacienda de San Juan del Ojo de Agua . . . solicitan permisos para avecindarse en el pueblo de la Ascención, 1740.” Ewald, Estudios, p. 76. Ewald believes that the debts of haciendas to their workers were high because of the unprofitability of agriculture (p. 35).


Consult AGN, Civil, Tomo 1448, exp. 5, for examples of Indians who did not want money due to them. One man told the royal officials that his master would keep it for him until he needed it. See also Riley, “Landlords, Laborers,” pp. 234-235.


Política indiana, Book 2, chap. 4, para. 22.


AGT, #473, “Sobre bienes y rentas de las comunidades indígenas, 1773.” This document involved an inspection of every Indian community in the province and indicates the number of families each contained, according to parish registers. The percentage figure is arrived at by comparing the total here, 9,736 families, with the approximate number of tributary units in the province in 1793 cited by Mörner, La corona española, p. 269. Needless to say, there is considerable room for error.


Riley, “Landlords, Laborers,” p. 224.


AGT, #434, “Mandamiento expedido por el gobernador de la ciudad para que todos los dueños de ranchos y haciendas de este partido hagan verifico el pago de tributos, 1762.” A document for 1748 lists a total of 34 haciendas in the jurisdiction. AGT, #381, “Relativo al cobro de tributos que adeudan a la Real Caja varios pueblos y haciendas.”


For examples of release of gañanes from bankrupt haciendas, see AGN, Indios, Tomo 43, exp. 171. AGN, Indios, Tomo 43, exp. 206 and AGT, #357. In all of these cases, the conservator for the creditors or the renter opposed the government’s action. In another case from Puebla in 1733, however, the renter of the hacienda decided it would be cheaper to hire temporary labor than to keep the gañanes and did not demand the return of the fugitives. AGT, #310.


AGT, #359, “Varios gañanes de la hacienda de Jilotepec piden no los estreche el dueño de ella, servirle por fuerza.” For an example of what happened when a hacendado did not follow the advice, see AGT, #306, “Los gañanes de la hacienda de Santa Ana por malos tratamientos y liquidación de cuentas . . . 1732-34.”


AGN, Indios, Tomo 49, exp. 151. For another example, see AGT, #370, “Sobre libertad y liquidación de cuentas de varios operarios de la hacienda de Jilotepec en Ixtacinxtla, 1744.”


For evidence of reluctance to tamper, see Riley, “Landlords, Laborers,” p. 229.


A great deal more work needs to be done before this conclusion can be firmly drawn, but for recent work that tends to support it, consult Tutino, “Creole Mexico,” and Van Young, Hacienda and Market.


For examples, consult AGT, #301, “El arrendatario de la hacienda de San Miguel Tlacotepec contra José Joaquín, mulato, por substracción de gañanes de dicha finca, 1732. AGN, Civil, Tomo 1448, exp. 15, “Colegio de Espíritu Santo de la Puebla contra don Jacobo Yáñez. . . sobre haverles ocultado unos gañanes . . ., Apam, 1753.” For a further example of how economic development affected the tie, see the protest of the owner of the hacienda of San Esteban in Huejotzingo in 1798 against the activities of the director of construction on the road being built to Veracruz, whom he accused of trying to lure workers away from his hacienda. Fondo Archivo Judicial de Puebla (hereinafter AJP), roll 28, “Don Diego Solís, dueño de la hacienda de San Esteban Tepetcingo contra Juan Pedro y Leonardo Mariano, por robos y sedición, 1798-1800.” This is microfilm produced by the Centro de Documentación de Historia de México located in the library of the Museo de Antropología, Mexico City.


Riley, “Landlords, Laborers,” pp. 225-226. For a similar case in the region of Jilotepee, see AGN, Civil, Tomo 1490, exp. 10, “Los gañanes de la hacienda de Candenqui. . . contra su amo sobre cuentas, 1764.” For a very late case at a time (1802) when, by all accounts, the villages should have exhausted their available land, see AGN, Civil, Tomo 2161, exp. 12, “Los naturales que se comprehendan en el mandamiento . . . sobre que no se precisen a trabajar en la hacienda de Sila pagando lo que deban, 1802, Ixtlahuaca.”


AGN, Civil, Tomo 1478, exp. 8, “Los naturales del Barrio de Coateco de Jur. de Izúcar con el capitán don Alonso Gomes Rósete, labrador en Tepeaca . . ..”


Not much work has been done on this subject, but consult Tutino, “Creole Mexico,” chap. 5; and also William B. Taylor, Drinking, Homicide and Rebellion in Colonial Mexican Villages (Stanford, 1979), pp. 10-28. Some commentators are not as sanguine about the impact of eighteenth-century changes on Indian life. See Brading, Haciendas and Ranchos, pp. 174–204.


AGN, Civil, Tomo 1448, exp. 9, “Simona de los Santos. . . contra Br. don Francisco Roldán, vecino de Apam, sobre reducción de Salvador de la Cruz y Bartolomé de Santiago . . . 1738.”


AGN, Civil, Tomo 229, exp. 3. AGT, #376, “La petición de don Pedro Pérez Varela, como apoderado del común y naturales de todos los pueblos que forman esta provincia de Tlaxcala . . ., 1746. The decree in AGN, Indios, Tomo 55, exp. 446, appears to cover the same case.


AGN, Civil, Tomo 1478, exp. 8.


This decision is cited in the course of the defense in AGN, Civil, Tomo 1495, exp. 9, “Prudencio Cortés contra el mayordomo de la hacienda de los padres de la Cia. sobre que a sus yernos . . . los quieren hacer gañanes, 1765.”


This is a case, one of the few, in which we possess both audiencia records and local copies. AGT, #402, “Don Manuel de la Cruz, gobernador de Calpulalpam, sobre libertad de operarios contra el dueño de la hacienda de Santa Ana en el partido de Huamantla, 1755-AGN, Civil, Tomo 1648, exp. 4, “Pueblo de Calpulalpa, jur. de Texcoco, contra don Antonio Joaquín de Aguayo . . . sobre extracción de unos gañanes, 1755.


The final decree is contained only in AGT, #402.


For examples of the process, see cases in Ixtlahuaca in 1765, AGN, Civil, Tomo ’535. exp. 6; Ixtlahuaca 1775, AGN, Civil, Tomo 109, exp. 6; Apam 1775, AGN, Civil, Tomo 1448, exp. 10; and Apam 1777, AGN, Civil, Tomo 1643, exp. 12.


AGN, Civil, Tomo 1495, exp. 9.


Mörner, La corona española, pp. 337-338.


José Antonio Calderón Quijano, ed., Los virreyes de Nueva España en el reinado de Carlos III, 2 vols. (Seville, 1968), II, 321-322.


Edmundo O’Gorman, “Enseñanza del castellano como factor politico-colonial,” Boletín del Archivo General de la Nación, 17 (1947), 166.


See his bando of July 14, 1773, concerning treatment of gañanes, in Boletín del Archivo General de la Nación, 1 (1930), 99-100; the initiative concerning Indian education, AGT, #473; and the auto acordado sobre tributos, Mar. 22, 1779, in Buenaventura Beleña, Recopilación sumaria, I, 3d pagination, 40.


Santiago Magro y Zurita, Elucidationes ad quatuor libros institutionum Imperatoris Justiniani . . . (with additions by Eusebio Buenaventura Beleño), 4 vols. (Mexico City, 1787), I, 89-100.


AGN, Temporalidades, Tomo 207, exp. 10, Petición de varios indios, Oct. 1, 1777. In this file, see especially the letter to the hacienda administrator, Luis Clemot, from the director general of Temporalidades for the college, dated Nov. 18, 1777. H should be noted that a later letter supporting the action did so on the grounds that it would lower costs because the hacienda would not have to maintain the gañanes. Luis Parilla to Clemot, Nov. 22, 1777.


AGN, Civil, Tomo 1643, exp. 12, “Indios operarios de la hacienda de Lagunilla contra su dueño . . ., 1777”


AGN, Civil, Tomo 2256, exp. 2, “Autos formados a petición de Gregorio Isidro y Lazaro Antonio de Cuautitlán contra don Juan de Villaverde . . ., 1783.” In a case in 1779 involving a hacienda in Jilotepec, the fiscal of the audiencia declared that the petitioner would be free whatever he owed if the facts were as he reported them, AGN, Civil, Tomo 1575, exp. 6. “Manuel Chica, vecino de la hacienda de San Agustín Bolicha contra don Joaquín Suárez . . . , 1779.” See also the suit against the hacienda of Lagunilla in Apam, AGN, Civil, Tomo 1448, exp. 10.


AGT, #408, “Real provision en que manda al teniente del partido de Huamantla, reduzga y haga reducir las cuentas de los gañanes de la hacienda de San Pablo Ocohocuatla . . . , 1756.”


AGN, Civil, Tomo 1448, exp. 10. A similar pattern applied in Texcoco. AGN, Civil, Tomo 1685, exp. 7, “Autos fecho a pedimiento de Miguel Aparicio y consortes . . . gañanes de la hacienda nombrada San Nicolas . . .. 1772.”


AGN, Civil, Tomo 2217, exp. 2, “Tomás Hernandes y Ramón Vicente, indios de Cuautitlán contra el mayordomo de la hacienda de Guadalupe sobre varios excesos, 1764.”


AGN, Civil, Tomo 109, exp. 6.


AJP, roll 53, “Petición de don Joaquín de Vargas Domínguez al Juzgado de Puebla, 1803.”


AGT, #bis31, “Representación hecha por los gañanes de las haciendas de San Francisco Zoltepec y Santa María Nativitas . . . , 1784.” For similar judgments in other provinces at about the same time, see AGN, Civil, Tomo 1575. exp. 6; AJP, roll 28, “Carta de don Juan Joseph Leal a don Gaspar de Portola, gobernador de Puebla, January 30, 1781.”


For one example of a reply, see AGN, Civil, Tomo 1352, exp. 9, “Puntos que promueve en beneficio de los indios el Alcalde Mayor de Tetepango, 1784.” The Bando was published in the Boletín del Archivo General de la Natión, 1 (1930), 100-107. It is also found in Buenaventura Beleña, Recopilación sumaria, II, 195-198.


“Auto acordado de 1779,” in Buenaventura Beleña, Recopilación sumaria, I, 3d pagination, 41. It was reissued in 1793, AGN, Bandos, Tomo 17, #55.


This cédula, dated Dec. 11, 1796, is cited in AJP, roll 28, “Don Diego Solís . . . contra Juan Pedro . . . , por robos y sedición, Huejotzingo, 1798.


This decree, dated Dec. 20, 1798, is cited in the petition of Domingo de Usabiaga to the luzgado de Puebla, Sept. 16, 1801, AJP, roll 53.


For the sections on debts, see #11-12. Priests were ordered to collect fees without pressure and, if unable to, to pardon the debts. The viceroy also specified that advances beyond five pesos were permitted if for “grave domestic needs,” as certified by the alcalde mayor.


Section 7. “The Indian gañanes and the rest are as free as the purest Spanish commoners, and it is at their will and discretion as to whether they remain or not on the haciendas in which they serve.”


AGT, #bis38, “Testimonio de real cédula a fabor de los gañanes de las haciendas de Tecoac, el Balconsillo, Piedras Negras y el rancho de la Candelaria situadas en el partido de Huamantla, 1786.”


AJP, roll 28, “Los indios gañanes de la hacienda de Puchingo contra don Miguel de Arroyo, sobre liquidación de cuentas, 1782. For other instances in which gañanes tried to find alternatives to leaving, see the case of San Juan Tepeyehualco in 1756, AGT, #394. There are also instances in which gañanes tried to buy the estate in order to avoid having to leave. AGT, #bis71, “Relativo al nombramiento de capitanes de la hacienda del Carmen hecho por el común de naturales de la misma, 1792.”


Gibson, Aztecs under Spanish Rule, p. 254; Taylor, “Haciendas coloniales,” p. 92.


Boletín del Archivo General de la Nación, 1 (1930), 107-110.


The 1790s and the early nineteenth century were periods of frequent crop failures. See Enrique Florescano, “El problema agrario en los últimos años del virreinato, 1800-1821,” Historia Mexicana, 20:4 (1971), 477-510.


AGN, Civil, Tomo 1352, exp. 3, “Agustín Hernández, gañán de Istapantongo, jur. de Temascaltepec, sobre que se observe lo prevenido en el Bando de Gañanes, 1792.”


For the key decisions and their consultas, see AGT, #bis60. See also AGN, Civil, Tomo 1352, exp. 4, “Consulta del encargado del gobierno de Tlaxcala sobre el cobro de deudas de los indios laboríos tlaquehuales, 1794.” There is an irony here, since in 1746 the first Revillagigedo had decreed that only gañanes could become indebted, AGT, #376.


AGN, Civil, Tomo 1352, exp. 4. The viceroy was requesting information from the governor as to why there were so many complaints from the province over tlaquehuales who wanted to be called gañanes.


In 1792, the audiencia went so far as to have an oidor live on a hacienda for some time to determine what purchases were necessities. See AGN, Civil, Tomo 507, exp. 1, “Autos sobre la petición de los operarios de la hacienda y obraje de la Barranca . . . sobre ajuste de cuentas, 1792. ” For other examples of court review of debts, see AGN, Civil, Tomo 1352, exp. 6, “Expediente sobre el ocurso de varios indios labradores de la hacienda de Santa Inés sobre estar recargados de trabajo, Tepeaca, 1793. AGN, Civil, Tomo 1367, exp. 8, “Juan Diego de la Cruz y compañeros, gañanes de la hacienda de San José Buenavista con el mayordomo . . . sobre . . . cuentas, Metepec, 1793.” AGN, Civil, Tomo 1685, exp. 1, “Diligencias practicadas por el subdelegado de Apam . . . a solicitud de Pedro Perfecto, indio operario de la hacienda de San Lorenzo, 1797.”


See for examples of such arrangements, AGN, Civil, Tomo 1960, exp. 6, Sobre que se deje en libertad a Vicente Nolasco para poder trabajar donde le acomodo y satisfacen sus deudas, 1800.” AJP, roll 28, “Defensa de un indio que se dice estar endeudado a resulta de haber sido trabajador en la hacienda llamada San Isidro . . . , Tlaxcala, 1791.” For a different angle regarding the maximum amount of wages that could be used to pay off a debt, see AJP, roll 29, “María Padilla contra el rancho de Francisco López, por su marido, 1808.”


AJP, roll 28, “Diego Solís . . . contra Juan Pedro . . . , 1800.” For a similar situation, see “Petición del indio Domingo Antonio por su libertad, 1803, AJP, roll 28. Petición del indio, Juan de los Santos,” AJP, roll 29.


AGN, Civil, Tomo 1646, exp. 11, “El alcalde mayor de Tulancingo sobre inconvenientes de algunos artículos del Bando de Gañanes, 1786.”


AGT, #bis60, foja 5.


One interesting case to the contrary involved a dispute between the Marquesa de San Francisco, the subdelegate of Acámbaro, and the intendant of Guanajuato. Essentially the subdelegate had intervened on the side of the workers on one of the Marquesa’s haciendas and been supported by the intendant. See Defensa jurídica de la sra . . . Marquesa de San Francisco en los autos . . . promovidos ante el superior gobierno . . . sobre la conducta observada en la hacienda de San Cristóbal y el maltratamiento de sus operarios libres y esclavos . . . (Mexico City, 1796).


AGN, Civil, Tomo 167, exp. 5, “Don Miguel de Oyate . . . contra don Marcelo de Molina, sobre pesos, 1792.”


AJP, roll 53, Carta de Francisco Antonio Carillo a Manuel de Flon, Mar. 24, 1803.


AJP, roll 53, Carta de Intendant Manuel de Flon a Viceroy Félix Berenguer de Marquina, Jan. 8, 1802.


Brief of don Mariano Pérez de Tagle, July21, 1798, in AJP, roll46, “Movimientos tumultuarios de los indios de la hacienda de Tepitlán.”


AGN, Civil, Tomo 1352, exp. 5, “Sobre aprobación del compromiso celebrado entre el común de labradores de Tehuacán de las Granadas y los hacenderos para fomento de agricultura, 1794.” AJP, roll 53, “Sobre la informalidad de las haciendas se queja el gremio de labradores, San Juan de los Llanos, 1800.” See also Florescano, “El problema agrario,” p. 491, for some general background on the phenomenon.


AJP, roll 53, “Sobre informalidad . . . .”


AGN, Civil, Tomo 2161, exp. 12.


For the general impact of crown policy and the creole reaction to it, see Florescano, “El problema agrario”; Brian Hamnett, “Obstáculos a la política agraria del despotismo ilustrado,” Historia Mexicana, 20:1 (1970), 55-75; and David A. Brading, “Government and Elite in Late Colonial Mexico,” HAHR, 53 (Aug. 1973), 389-415.