Historians of colonial Spanish America have long recognized that Bourbon policies designed to rebuild and intensify Spain’s political and economic control over its colonies generated tensions at many levels in colonial society. At times these tensions were openly and violently revealed in large-scale insurrections that merged the agitations of disparate groups into direct conflict with the royal authorities. The most striking instances of such mass rebellion occurred toward the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth centuries, and have often been regarded as precursors of the movements for independence. These were the Comuneros’ rebellion of New Granada in 1781, the rebellion of Túpac Amaru, which convulsed Peru and Upper Peru in 1780-82, and the Hidalgo revolt, which initiated the Mexican insurgency in 1810-11. It is becoming increasingly apparent, however, that these extraordinary moments of mass mobilization formed part of a broader pattern of riot and rebellion in late colonial Spanish America. Recent studies have suggested that, among the Indian peasant communities of central Mexico and the central and southern Andes, rebellion was an endemic and recurrent feature of social life, and was probably increasing in frequency during the latter half of the eighteenth century.1

The phenomenon of rebellion in late colonial Spanish America is of interest for many reasons, not least of which is that it offers a means of investigating the behavior, ideas, and attitudes of those groups in colonial society that stood outside the small and exclusive circles of the economic and bureaucratic elites. For, as historians of early modern Europe have shown, the analysis of collective popular action in civil disorders offers a useful approach to the socially subterranean world of the poor and inarticulate, throwing light not only on their material lives, but also on the values and beliefs that formed essential elements of their intellectual world.2 Taking up this approach, this article will focus on civil disturbances that occurred in the Viceroyalty of New Granada during the eighteenth century, in order to examine aspects of the political behavior of the subordinate classes in a colonial society, and to explore the values and conventions that framed popular attitudes toward colonial government and its agents.

Interest in popular protest in late colonial New Granada has focused almost exclusively on the Comuneros’ rebellion of 1781.3 At its height, this great insurrection mobilized a force alleged to have been more than 20,000 strong, and plunged the viceregal authorities into a crisis of unprecedented gravity. It was not only without parallel in the history of colonial New Granada, but also comparable to the few great regional uprisings that occurred in Spanish America during the late colonial period. The sheer scale and duration of the rebellion have assured it a prominent place in the historiography of the period, and have encouraged historians to regard it as an event of special significance, symptomatic of deepening tensions within colonial social and political life. For historians bent on unearthing the roots of Colombian emancipation, the Comuneros’ movement appears as the first great expression of colonial opposition to Spanish rule, the precursor of the revolution of independence initiated in 1810. Another approach has linked the rebellion to the discontents of the lower classes, portraying it as a frustrated social revolution in which the poor and dispossessed attacked the bastions of wealth and authority, only to be betrayed by creole leaders in pursuit of more limited political goals.4 In his study of the Comuneros, John L. Phelan argues that both approaches are oversimplified. Phelan demonstrates that at no stage did independence from Spain enter into the aims and plans of the Comuneros and their leaders, nor did they seek to overturn the existing social order. While accepting that the economic conditions and social structure of the Socorro region provided fertile ground for rebellion, he suggests that "the crisis of 1781 was essentially political and constitutional in nature …. The central issue was … who had the authority to levy new fiscal exactions.”5 The aims of the Comuneros were largely defensive; they rejected the innovations of the visitor-general who sought to overhaul colonial government and fought to preserve existing administrative and fiscal arrangements. Not only the aims of the rebellion were fundamentally conservative; its ideology was deeply traditional. Phelan argues that the actions of the rebels were informed by long-established and generally accepted ideas about the common good of the community, its rights to express its interests by representation to and negotiation with the colonial bureaucracy, and to defend those rights, by force if necessary.6 In Comunero rhetoric and in the slogans of the rebels, Phelan detects echoes of the political ideas and conventions of the Spanish Golden Age; conventions that, he suggests, had been transmitted through the practices of Hapsburg government. The Comunero movement was, then, a reaction to the violation of these customary arrangements and practices, animated by a shared belief in “a corpus mysticum politicum, with its own traditions and procedures designed to achieve the common good of the whole community.”7

The Comuneros’ rebellion undoubtedly constituted an uprising of singular importance. It was distinguished not only by the scale of popular mobilization, but also by its character as a coalition of forces that temporarily transcended class and ethnic lines and, under creole leadership, united behind a coherent political program. Local protests were thereby fused into a broader, regional movement of insurrection capable of presenting colonial government with a threat of uncommon proportions. And yet, the defiance of authority that underpinned the Comuneros’ movement was neither a novel nor an uncharacteristic feature of colonial social and political life in New Granada. There were many other incidents of civil disorder in eighteenth-century New Granada, which, although they did not achieve the same proportions or generate such wide repercussions, show that the Comuneros’ movement was neither the first nor the last manifestation of popular opposition to colonial government.

These incidents have rarely been studied or even recorded by historians, and their significance for understanding both popular action in the Comuneros’ revolt and in the later movement for independence has been overlooked. They are recorded in the reports, investigations, and legal proceedings of various officials with judicial responsibilities, of which the sala del crimen of the audiencia was the most prominent.8 Variously labeled “tumultos,” “levantamientos,” “sublevaciones,” “motines,” and “rebeliones,” they encompass many distinctive moments of civil disturbance and disorder. They took place in both rural and urban settings, and involved Indians, mestizos, mulattoes, and whites in combinations that varied according to the ethnic composition of the local community. They covered a wide range of conflicts, including the clashes of unconquered or semipacified Indians with settlers in frontier regions, the protests of hispanicized Indians in the areas of established Spanish settlement, riots and attacks on officials in mestizo and white communities, and conflicts that took place in Black slave communities or that involved slaves.

This article will consider neither the first nor the last of these types. Indian frontier uprisings and Black slave rebellions are, in some senses, special cases that merit detailed discussion in themselves.9 It will focus instead on incidents of civil disorder that affected the white, mestizo, and hispanicized Indian sectors in both rural and urban areas of New Granada. As a preliminary account of the phenomenon of civil disorder in New Granada, it does not pretend to offer a social geography of rebellion, or seek to establish any systematic correlation between the timing of popular protests and changes in material conditions in the colony as a whole. The principal aim is rather to investigate the actions and, through these actions, the political attitudes and values of sectors of the population normally excluded from the formal, institutional apparatus of government. Attention will, therefore, focus on two main themes: first, the occasions of civil disorder and the issues behind those disturbances that were prosecuted as unlawful breaches of public order; second, the character and forms of behavior, the extent of participation, and the organizational bases of these disturbances. The main objective is to show that although such incidents took place in unique local settings, they have a significance that goes beyond the local level. For, insofar as they manifest common practices and purposes, they may be regarded as elements in a tradition of popular protest that is characterized by discriminating and structured forms of behavior, informed by a conception of community interest, and underpinned by a sense that forceful, illegal action was permissible under certain conditions.

Although the Comuneros’ rebellion is clearly distinguished by the scale of popular mobilization that it entailed, and the coherence of the political program that it engendered, many of the issues and grievances that it raised were to be found in other, lesser civil disorders that occurred in New Granada during the eighteenth century. At the heart of the rebellion was lower-class antagonism toward the new fiscal regulations imposed by the Bourbon visitor-general. The rebellion began with a cluster of riots protesting the introduction of new controls over the production and sales of tobacco and aguardiente, and the revision of the sales tax. After several weeks of sporadic rioting, a creole leadership emerged in Socorro and popular protest entered into a more organized phase. Coordinated by a supreme council, rebel forces marched on the viceregal capital and forced the colonial government to negotiate a settlement. By this time, the range of issues raised by the rebels had broadened, and the program of “capitulations” drawn up by the Comunero leadership incorporated a spectrum of grievances that went beyond simple opposition to new taxation. It included demands for protection against arbitrary imprisonment of the poor, preference for local men in the disposition of government offices, controls over the abuse of power by clergy and officials, particularly in their treatment of Indians, and freedom for Indians to retain their resguardo lands as individual proprietors.10

The formation of such a broad-ranging program of demands and its presentation to the colonial authorities was without precedent in the history of New Granada. The grievances and antagonisms encapsulated in the demands of the Comunero movement, however, were all expressed in other incidents of civil disorder that occurred in New Granada during the eighteenth century. Moreover, in the behavior and aims of its participants we may also detect features of action and purpose that appear, in muted but unmistakable form, in other, lesser disturbances. Indeed, the Comuneros’ rebellion may be regarded as simply the outstanding episode in a pattern of popular action that manifested itself at other times and in other places in eighteenth-century New Granada, and that embodied actions and attitudes similar to those that launched the uprising of 1781.

The grievances about taxation that lay at the center of the Comuneros’ uprising were certainly not a novel source of popular disaffection. There was, indeed, a recent precedent for the Comuneros’ attacks on the estancos de aguardiente. In the mid-1760s, government efforts to exercise closer control over the distillation and distribution of aguardiente had provoked a rash of civil disorders in the southern regions of the viceroyalty, in the Province of Popayán, the neighboring mining Provinces of Raposo and the Chocó, and in the Audiencia of Quito.

In the years between 1764 and 1766, the viceregal government implemented royal instructions to extend the state monopoly over the sale of aguardiente to previously unaffected areas, and to improve the efficiency of its administration in areas where it already operated. Until then, the regulation of aguardiente distillation and sale in New Granada had been exercised with due regard for local interests. From the late seventeenth century, attempts were made to control the manufacture and consumption of the liquor in New Granada, but it took many years for royal directives to have any effect. It was not until 1736, after several abortive attempts to establish a monopoly, that the crown ordered the foundation of an estanco de aguardiente. Even then, private interests in the colony were taken into account, with the privilege of distilling and selling the liquor being farmed out, allowing private contractors a share in the profits generated by the monopoly. The small returns to the exchequer suggest that enforcement of the regulations was lax. This probably explains why fiercer opposition to the monopoly did not develop in the early stages of its life.

Around mid-century, the colonial authorities embarked on a more perilous course. Faced with the rising costs of administration and defense, the viceroys of New Granada became increasingly interested in bringing this potentially rich source of revenue under firmer state control. At first, tentative moves in this direction proved difficult to implement. In 1744, Viceroy Sebastián de Eslava recommended that the management of the estanco in the town of Honda be transferred from the cabildo and its contractors to direct government control; but this plan was frustrated by opposition in the audiencia in Bogotá.11 Widespread and open resistance to governmental interference in the fiscalization of aguardiente appeared during the 1760s, however, when the authorities sought to extend direct administration of the monopoly to areas where it had previously been farmed out to local contractors.

The most striking outburst of popular protest against this policy was in Quito, where city people mounted a resistance that lasted for several months, brought royal government to a standstill, and virtually constructed an autonomous government of their own. The Quito uprising began with the implementation of a royal order establishing an aguardiente monopoly and introducing reforms in the administration of sales taxes within the city. Opposition to these reforms moved through various stages and drew on representatives of all the main sectors of the city’s white, mestizo, and Indian populace. Launched by a cabildo abierto in which the urban patriciate, clergy, and commercial interests expressed their dissent to the viceroy of New Granada, it moved into popular riot in May 1765. For the next six months, the city was to experience a period of disorder and insurrection that was unprecedented in its history, with few parallels in the history of Spanish American urban life, and of a scale and duration comparable to the Comuneros’ rebellion that was to take place, for similar reasons, some sixteen years later.12

On May 22, 1765, pasquinades appeared in the city warning of an imminent uprising in the barrios against the new measures introduced by the director of the aguardiente monopoly. The Audiencia of Quito responded by increasing the guard on the buildings of the royal treasury, but the small force used did not discourage opponents. At seven or eight that night, amidst the clamoring of parish church bells, the beating of drums, and the discharging of fireworks, the vecinos of the two main barrios of the city—San Roque and San Sebastián—joined together in an attack on the estanco and customs building, stoning its windows, hurling down the doors, destroying the contents of the building (including its tax records) and sending a stream of aguardiente pouring into the streets. Only when friars and Jesuit priests interceded did the crowds, an impressive multitude of men, women, and children variously estimated at between four and ten thousand people, become pacific. They agreed to disperse when promised by the audiencia that the alcabala would be reestablished on its old footing, that the estanco de aguardiente be abolished, and that a general pardon be granted to those who had participated in the riot. The people of the barrios, however, were intensely suspicious of the government’s intentions and remained on the alert in the weeks that followed. Any threat of reprisal against the rioters met with an immediate response, and the atmosphere in the city continued to be very tense. When the corregidor of Quito sought to reaffirm royal authority in the barrios, this tension was released in another, more violent riot that became a full-scale urban insurrection. After attempts to make arrests in the barrios, their inhabitants erupted into violent action once more. On the night of St. John’s Day, June 24, a major battle broke out between government supporters and large crowds that massed in the barrios to attack government buildings in the center of the city. A battle for control of the Plaza Mayor and the audiencia palace then ensued, with many fatalities, mostly on the rebel side. The houses of peninsular Spaniards identified with opposition to the rioters were attacked, until finally, faced with overwhelming odds, the ministers of the audiencia retreated, together with peninsular Spaniards and their families, to the sanctuary of monastic houses, leaving the city in the hands of the victorious crowds. On June 28, the audiencia formally capitulated to the rebels’ main demands. They agreed to the surrender of royal arms and to the expulsion of peninsular Spaniards from the city within a week, and promised to intercede with the viceroy in Bogotá for another general pardon. In the months that followed, control of the city passed from the audiencia into the hands of deputies from the barrios and the creole alcaldes of the city’s cabildo. An uneasy calm returned to the city, but it was not until the following year that the audiencia felt confident that tension and agitations were dissolving. Even then, the viceroy was warned that another uprising might take place on the anniversary of the June riots, when celebrations for the marriage of the Spanish princes would allow people to mass in the streets, to move about freely in the city, and to disguise themselves with the masks customarily used in such festivities. The viceroy was advised that the city remained in a state of great agitation, that efforts were being made to subvert the people by spreading the rumors that reprisals were to be taken against them, and that consequently there was the risk of a “fatal catastrophe,” which would begin with a pogrom against the peninsulars.13 There was no repetition of the great riots of 1765, but it was only with the arrival of troops from Guayaquil in July 1766 that the crown felt confident of a complete restoration of its authority in the city.

The Quito rebellion was, like the later rebellion of the Comuneros, a spectacular demonstration of the force of opposition that could be mounted against royal efforts at fiscal reform. And, again like that of the Comuneros, resistance in Quito moved from the level of lower-class rioting to become an organized, large-scale, and lasting rebellion that brought different social and corporate groups into temporary alliance, and drew other issues into the conflict precipitated by fiscal innovation. Thus, while popular protest initially focused on rejecting reorganization of the estanco and alcabala, the riots against these targets also released antagonisms against peninsular Spaniards. The riots had also shown that the crown could not rely on the creole patriciate to control the lower orders. Indeed, there were strong suspicions of creole collusion, if not active involvement, in the rejection of royal policy and the organization of the rebellion. In his assessment of the event, Viceroy Manuel de Amat of Peru was in no doubt that there was a “hidden hand” behind the riots, revealed in the failure of the Quiteño nobility to contain or repress the “disorderly common people.”14 Nor were the clergy exempt from suspicion. Like the urban patriciate, the interests of important sections of the regular clergy were adversely affected by the introduction of the estanco and, although they sought to appear as mediators, there is little doubt that the rioters regarded them as sympathetic to their cause. This does not mean that the Quiteño rioters were simply the manipulable instrument of a clique of disaffected urban patricians and clergy, seeking to use a disorderly rabble for their own ends. Behind the riots in Quito, as in the lesser disturbances provoked by encroachments of royal tax-gatherers in Vélez and Ocaña (see below), was an interaction of aggrieved groups, in which the opposition of prominent members of the community to government policy gave a focus, direction, and sense of legitimacy to the lower-class rioters who acted as the main force of resistance.

Opposition to the introduction of the monopoly administration was also found in other areas of the viceroyalty in the mid-1760s, though in a more attenuated form. The city of Popayán was one such area.15 At the end of 1764, even before the riots in Quito, fears for public order were already being expressed in the city. The peninsular merchant who operated the city’s mint reported that his house had been stoned, his family threatened, and pasquinades against the projected estanco affixed to the doors of the casa de moneda. He also reported that a "tumult" had taken place in one of the city’s barrios, but gave no details on this event.16 After the May riots in Quito, the estanco administrator in Popayán became exceedingly nervous, and informed the viceroy that some of the principal citizens of the city were seeking to raise the plebe against him.17 The governor of Popayán took care to avoid any provocative measures, however, and the monopoly regulations were not rigorously enforced; the city remained quiet with only some minor breaches of the peace.18

This was not the case in the neighboring town of Cali, an urban center of size comparable to that of Popayán.19 In mid-December 1765, Cali experienced a series of minor riots in which pickets of men roamed the streets at night, shouting such slogans as “Long live the King, down with aguardiente, and down with the estanquero." On December 14, the cabildo reported that the plebe was about to rebel, and that meetings were being held between the plebeians of Cali and those of the surrounding rural area, allegedly for the purpose of planning a general uprising. In this instance, however, violence remained purely verbal, for the cabildo of Cali convoked a special meeting and, deciding that the fifty Spaniards in the town could not provide an adequate defense against the much more numerous common people, agreed to suspend the estanco regulations.20

In the adjacent mining provinces—in several small settlements in the Province of Raposo and in the two main urban centers of the Chocó—there was more direct action. On April 10, 1766, it was reported that, in the settlements of Sombrerillo, Las Juntas, and Calima, gangs of porters who carried provisions to the mining areas had attacked the local estanquillos, and had poured away or drunk the aguardiente that they had found. They had directed their action only against the estancos, which they refused to allow to operate.21 In Quibdó, capital of Chocó Province,22 Governor Nicolás Díaz de Perea reported in April 1766 that many mulattoes had come into the town for Holy Week and had there conspired with some whites to attack government offices. On Good Friday, the governor forestalled the uprising, by calling in all the arms in the town, enlisting the aid of trustworthy vecinos, and confronting the mulattoes with orders to disperse.23 Later that year, he reported that he was unable to dispense appropriate punishments, as “these malcontents were helped and protected by all the common people,” and any attempt at reprisal might lead to further disturbances.24 From Nóvita, another mining and administrative center in these frontier provinces,25 there were also reports of trouble. The aguardiente estanquillo in the pueblo of San Agustín was sacked in April 1766 by some mulattoes and free Blacks, “with a view to destroying the estanco in these provinces,” and there were reports that “a large number of mulatto plebeians and free Blacks” were planning to attack the treasury in Nóvita itself.26 Despite some fears of a general uprising in the Pacific lowland mining regions, nothing more came of these protests. The social composition of the region’s population probably played a part in inhibiting the formation of any organized opposition to the estanco, for these were areas in which slaves formed a substantial, at times dominant, sector of the local population, and where white settlers were extremely sensitive to any threat of disruption. The difficulty of enforcing any government regulation in such distant outposts of colonial society may have also blunted protest, once ways to evade the new restrictions had been devised.

Defiance of the government’s efforts to extract higher yields from taxation underpinned many other incidents of civil disorder that occurred in late colonial New Granada. Although these incidents often originated in differences and disputes among local factions, popular protest was commonly precipitated by the behavior of local officials who contravened local conventions and practices concerning the collection of taxes. Some examples will indicate the occasions for such protest, and the aims and actions of those involved.

An early instance of urban protest precipitated by opposition to the intrusion of tax collectors occurred in the town of Vélez in 1740.27 In April of that year, the corregidor of the Province of Tunja arrived in Vélez to carry out a visitation of the town and its jurisdiction, and to raise a loan required by the viceroy to help meet the extraordinary expenditures needed to strengthen colonial defenses at a time of Anglo-Spanish war. The first signs of resistance to these plans appeared when a meeting of the principal vecinos of the town, convoked to apportion the loan, had to be postponed because of the refusal of the alférez real don Alvaro Chacón to take part in it. Resistance assumed a more serious form on the same day of the abortive meeting. At about seven on the night of April 9, a major riot, allegedly involving between 2,000 and 2,500 armed men, took place in the main square of the town. With shouts of “Death to the thieving dog” and “Long live don Alvaro Chacón, King of Vélez,” the crowd attacked the house where the corregidor was lodging, forcing him to take refuge in a convent while the rioters manhandled his servants and a priest who sought to calm their exalted spirits. In a further effort to restore order, the Holy Sacrament was publicly paraded among the gathered people. Even this failed to restrain them, however, and it was only when priests addressed the people from the pulpit that some modicum of calm was restored. The disturbances were not, however, over. Late in the afternoon of the following day—Palm Sunday—there was a recrudescence of disorder. This time the crowd was in a more festive mood, ignoring the corregidor and marching around the plaza, shouting acclaim for the alférez real, and celebrating into the night. The beleaguered corregidor seized this opportunity to escape, and made his way under cover of darkness from the town, to journey on to Bogotá where he denounced the municipal leaders as the instigators of the rebellion.28 When the audiencia learned of the riot, it sent a judge to investigate the event and to prosecute the alférez real. This provoked further resistance, with threats against the lives of the newly elected alcaldes and another riot in which an unspecified number of townspeople protested against attempts to arrest Chacón.29 The investigation dragged on into 1742, but did not result in any attempt to prosecute the offenders, except Chacón, whose prosecution was cut short by his death in prison.30

Resistance to the fiscal demands of the state and to the actions of officials discharging the orders of viceregal government also played a central part in provoking disturbances that occurred in the town of Ocaña in 1755, 1756, and 1760. The first reports of trouble in this small, predominantly white and mestizo settlement31 were made by the corregidor in March 1755, shortly before Easter. He accused members of the cabildo of promoting disturbances in the town, but did not specify the nature of these disturbances.32 Further reports made by the corregidor, however, in May and June of that year concerning conflicts between his civil authority and that of local ecclesiastics, combined with reports from the officer who managed the recently established branch of the royal treasury in Ocaña, suggest that these disturbances were rooted in a quarrel over the collection of taxes.33 The corregidor informed the viceroy of the difficulties that he was having with the local clergy, arising from the action brought by Francisco Segura—a peninsular Spaniard who had married into a distinguished local family—against both the alférez real and a local priest. When Segura took his case against the priest before an ecclesiastical tribunal in the town, both he and his case, together with the royal official who accompanied him, were ignominiously thrown out. Segura then carried his complaint to the corregidor, bringing the latter into conflict with the local clergy. Both Segura and the corregidor were now threatened with excommunication, and the town was kept in a state of agitation by the constant and clamorous tolling of church bells. According to the corregidor, these efforts to dishonor and intimidate Segura arose because he had tried to prevent the disturbances and riots that had taken place, and because he consistently refused to concur in all the “infamies” of those who now sought to discredit him.34 A further request from the corregidor in 1756 for military assistance to deal with disorders, and a report on the breaking of a prohibition on bearing arms indicates that these conflicts within the community persisted into the following year.35

Although the corregidor was vague about the reasons for these disturbances, reports from another source suggest that they arose from opposition to the activities of the recently installed oficial real. For, at the end of May 1755, that officer, one Sánchez Barriga, reported to the viceroy that to counteract the fall in tithe revenues, he had taken their administration under his direct control, and was considering action against the alcaldes and their property for the failure to administer the tax properly.36 The presence in Ocaña of that official, his efforts to exert his authority and to reorganize the collection of taxes created conflicts both within the town and in its hinterland. In 1760, the vecinos of Playahlanca, part of the small mestizo and mulatto farming community of the village of Simaña, protested his plans to impose new taxes on the storage and transportation of goods in their area, coupled with the collection of the alcabala on products that had not previously been encumbered with the sales tax. Not only did they appeal against his “tyrannical procedures” in dealing with them, but they referred to the “well-known misfortunes which the city of Ocaña is suffering due to his harsh measures,” and to the fact that not even the Church of God has been exempt from his outrages.”37 Assuring the viceroy of their loyalty and obedience, they did not repudiate the taxes, but argued that they should be allowed a special exemption, as they were too poor to pay. A report from the cabildo of nearby Tamalameque supported the Playahlanca petition, and refuted Sánchez Barriga’s pretensions on several grounds.38 One of these was the argument that it had been customary to take the poverty of small producers into account by charging them at lower rates for the receipts that recorded their tax payments.

The problems in Ocaña to which the Playahlanca petitioners referred issued in open conflict in 1760. On December 11, a riot took place in the town, in which a mob of between 300 and 500 “personas inferiores" attacked the local magistrates and repudiated their authority. The riot started when the alcaldes were called to deal with a disturbance in the house of some local priests, among whom were clerics who had played a leading part in the disturbances of 1755. The alcaldes had broken down the door of the priests’ house in order to force an entry, prompting one of its occupants to call into the street for help. With his shouts of “Rally to the church,” “Sound the alarm,” the priest summoned aid from the townspeople. The alcaldes took up the rival cry of “Rally to the King," but this brought them no support. A rioting crowd gathered in the main square, wielding sticks and swords, and forced the alcaldes to retreat, pursued by shouts of “Long live the church” and “Death to these pícaros" from the rioters. Another mob, mainly of women, gathered at the priests house and refused orders from the oficial real to disperse. Unable to deal with these mobs, the alcaldes decided to hide, and took refuge with the oficial real, Sánchez Barriga, in his house. When, at two in the morning, they attempted to return to their own homes, the crowd was still in position and in an aggressive mood. On the approach of the alcaldes and their guards, the crowd menaced them with shouts of refusal to recognize the alcaldes as magistrates, and an attack in which one of the magistrates received a light stab wound in his arm. At this point, the alcaldes’ party fired some shots and retired from the fray, calling on the oficial real to spend the rest of the night with them to provide him protection.39 On the following day, this same official, Sánchez Barriga, sent his officers to arrest some of the rioters, only to find that these men—who included “citizens who were both white and of inferior quality”—had taken refuge in the church, together with several priests.40

The affair ended inconclusively, apparently without arrests and without dispelling the animosities that inspired the riot. The violent events of December 11 were succeeded by a long postscript of mutual recriminations in the decade that followed, with claims and counterclaims from the factions involved, with investigations into the behavior of Sánchez Barriga, and a struggle for control of the town’s cabildo.41 The riot of 1760 was, then, the prominent incident in a longer struggle in which leading members of the town’s community resisted the authority and activities of the oficial real. Indeed, the alcaldes who were the targets of the crowd’s actions during the riot argued that there was a long-standing conspiracy among local clerics and their relatives to oppose the oficial real, whose policies were not to their taste, and that these unruly priests abused their spiritual authority in inciting the riot.42 Nevertheless, although these clerics clearly played a leading role, the enthusiastic popular response to their calls for support indicates that they enjoyed considerable local sympathy in their opposition to the oficial real and his allies. While the clerics provided leadership, there were concrete grievances at the heart of the riot, grievances that arose from the high-handed actions of an official who refused to countenance local procedures in fiscal matters and who sought to impress his authority on a community accustomed to a more relaxed form of government. Thus the alcaldes’ attempt to quell the disturbance at the priests’ house on December 11 provided the populace with an opportunity to express their resentment in direct action, legitimized as a defense of the church.

The riots that occurred in Vélez and Ocaña should not necessarily be regarded as typical of civil disorders in eighteenth-century New Granada. They do present some features, however, that, as we shall see, were present in other disturbances. First, they indicate the dangers facing royal officials who sought to introduce innovations, especially in the sensitive matter of taxation. Second, they convey a sense of local distaste for interference by outsiders and suggest the presence of expectations that royal officials should govern by collusion, rather than seek to impose their authority without regard for local interests and sensibilities. Third, they suggest that when prominent citizens—in these cases, municipal officers and local clerics—resisted the exercise of authority by officers of the crown, this generated or aggravated factionalism within the community. This, in turn, both undermined respect for authority and provided a source of leadership and legitimacy for direct action by a broader section of the community, opening opportunities for the release of latent hostilities, of the poor toward the wealthy, the humble toward the powerful, and of taxpayers toward tax collectors.

Many of the disturbances reported to the judicial authorities in eighteenth-century New Granada were also inspired by resentment at changes in taxation, or were ultimately rooted in competition over local economic resources. Like the riots in Vélez and Ocaña, they were invariably defensive actions, in which members of mainly rural communities resisted new demands on their resources, usually from venal officials. They occurred in both mestizo and hispanicized Indian communities, and generally stemmed from the imposition of new or changed taxes, unaccustomed demands for labor services, or conflicts over land.

Cases marked by civil disorder in Indian communities indicate some of the occasions on which Indian peasants made forceful collective protests to defend themselves against the economic incursions of officials and other outsiders. For the Indians of Turmequé in the Province of Tunja, an occasion for violent protest arose on December 14, 1705, when the corregidor of Turmequé, accompanied by the commissioner of the Tribunal de la Santa Cruzada, arrested their cacique, Marcos Gordo.43 This precipitated a riot in which some 800 Indian men and women attacked these officials and the vecinos who came to their aid, and threatened to burn down the village if Gordo were removed from it. Some creole or mestizo vecinos were disarmed by the mob of Indians, others were pursued by stone-throwing crowds and forced into hiding, while the priests who tried to pacify the rioters were insulted and manhandled. For two days and nights, the Indians were congregated outside the jail, “talking in their own tongue and demonstrating their anger.”44 It was only with the arrival of a small force from the provincial capital of Tunja, a week later, that order was fully restored and steps taken to arrest and punish some of the rioters. Although it was triggered by the arrest of the cacique, this protest arose from more deep-seated local grievances. It later transpired that the Indians were aggrieved by the actions of their local priest, who, along with his henchmen, was said to abuse and terrorize the community and to force the Indians to provide him labor for his private use under the pretext that it was for work on the church. Gordo’s arrest followed his return from Bogotá where, with other local Indian leaders, he had registered complaints on behalf of the community, and had defied the authority of the commissioner of the Tribunal de la Santa Cruzada. Thus, behind the immediately visible reason for the riot lay a struggle against the extortions of a local priest, and, the attacks on local vecinos suggest, other outsiders engaged in exploiting Indian land and labor.

Resistance to the depredations of local officials also lay behind Indian defiance of the corregidor of Coyaima, near Ibagué, in 1731. The corregidor, who congratulated himself on his zealous service to the royal treasury, reported that his attempts to draw up a census of the Indian villages of Coyaima and Natagaima had been opposed, and he blamed the Indian teniente for leading opposition to royal taxes. The Indians, on the other hand, protested that their only aim was to free themselves from exploitation by the corregidor, who tried to force wines, aguardiente, and imported textiles on them at inflated prices.45 In the Indian community of Guamo, also in the jurisdiction of Ibagué, official interference in village economic life led to a riot by its inhabitants in 1756. When the administrator of the aguardiente monopoly for the Ibagué region went out to Guamo to break up the illegal stills operated by the villagers, the infuriated peasants rioted against him, stealing his sword, shotgun, and other belongings, and forcing him to leave the village.46 In the village of Soatá, in the corregimiento of Duitama, the activities of local tax collectors provoked several tumults over a period of years before 1752, involving attacks on the agent of the aguardiente estanco and the collector of the alcabalas.47

In a place like Soatá, where mestizos and whites illegally occupied Indian community lands, opportunities for confrontation and breaches of the peace were increased by the presence of such intruders. As non-Indian vecinos took advantage of Indian exemption from the obligation to pay alcabalas to evade sales taxes on their products, this no doubt increased the harassment of Indians by tax collectors. These fraudulent practices were one reason given by the corregidor of Sogamoso and Duitama in 1765 when he recommended that the Indians be segregated from the vecinos.48 He pointed out that bad relations between the Indians and vecinos was a cause of frequent riots in which Indian peasants threatened their non-Indian neighbors, an allegation that was borne out by the investigation that followed a riot of the Indians of Sogamoso in July 1772. In this incident, some 400 Indian peasants, accompanied by “drum and trumpet,” attacked the house and mill of a local vecino, stripped his wife of her clothing, and expelled her from the resguardo. This attack, it was said, was one of many tumults that had taken place in Sogamoso during the previous twenty years.49

These instances of collective protest by Indian peasant communities did not, of course, present any serious threat to colonial government and rarely led to more than summary investigation and mild punishment. If competition over Indian lands was a constant source of friction in areas where dwindling Indian communities were pressured by land-hungry white and mestizo farmers, the Indian peasantry was too divided and demoralized to stage any major rebellion. Indeed, by the mid-eighteenth century, the Indian communities of the most densely populated regions of New Granada—the Provinces of Santa Fe de Bogotá and Tunja—had virtually succumbed to the encroaching influences of Hispanic society. To evade the demands of church and state, Indians had moved away from their communities to merge into the surrounding mestizo parishes and villages, accelerating the decline of indigenous societies already undermined by demographic losses.50 While Indian petitions and protests continued to reach the authorities in Bogotá until the end of the colonial period, the hemmorhage of Indian communities through the processes of migration and miscegenation weakened their capacity for resistance. For this reason, peasant rebellion is less visible and no doubt less common in New Granada than in those areas of Spanish America where an indigenous peasantry still constituted a numerous and vigorous element of the population.

It was only in areas where Indians formed the major element of regional population and retained strong economic and cultural identity that large-scale Indian uprisings took place. In the Audiencia of Quito, within the jurisdiction of the viceroyalty but outside New Granada proper, the Indian communities that formed the basis of rural society staged several major rebellions over the course of the eighteenth century.51 In New Granada itself—roughly the territory of modern Colombia—the Indian population was much smaller and the threat of large-scale Indian insurrection was correspondingly weaker. Only two areas posed such threats from time to time: the first was in the eastern frontier province of the Llanos de Casanare, where white and mestizo colonization was relatively recent, and where the population remained overwhelmingly Indian in origin. Here a major Indian insurrection took place in 1781, at the time of the Comuneros’ revolt. While Indian peasants in the central provinces of New Granada were drawn into the Comuneros’ movement, it was in a weak and subordinate role; only in the Llanos did Indian peasants’ participation provide the main force for regional insurrection and give this episode in the Comuneros’ rebellion a distinctive character and trajectory.52 The second area was in the southernmost reaches of Colombia, merging into northern Ecuador. In the region around the town of Pasto and in the corregimiento of Los Pastos, rural society retained a predominantly Indian character and its Indian peasantry showed signs of that capacity for resistance often found among its counterparts in the central and southern Andes. When Indian peasants murdered the corregidor of Los Pastos and his brother in Túquerres, in 1800, the authorities immediately feared that insurrection would spread rapidly through the region, and they took swift steps to prevent this. They sent in detachments of troops under the command of the governor of Popayán both to punish the rebels and to maintain peace in the area. Here, then, was an Indian peasantry that was regarded as a potentially explosive force, whose control was a military, rather than a simple policing, matter.53

Elsewhere, the decay of Indian society in the main centers of Spanish settlement, and its replacement by a predominantly mestizo population, does much to explain the infrequency of large-scale peasant insurrections in eighteenth-century New Granada. The mestizo population was not subject to the burdens of tribute, labor levies, and forced supply of goods that so often weighed on indigenous communities and created latent conflict between Indian peasants and those who wielded authority over them. Nevertheless, although the mestizo peasantry was less vulnerable to economic pressure from the agents of church and state, it was not entirely free of such exploitation. Apart from the taxes levied by the crown, the local authorities in Spanish urban and village communities might call on local resources of money and labor to maintain public buildings, especially churches, and to provide for the upkeep of roads and trails within its jurisdiction. At times, the enforcement of such regulations by unscrupulous or unpopular officials could provoke strong, organized, and sometimes violent collective resistance.

An instance of such resistance occurred in the small mining town of Zaragoza, in the Province of Antioquia, in 1793.54 In that year, the alcalde of Zaragoza reported that, on November 21, a mob that included the local priest and leading citizens had risen in mutiny against the capitán aguerra, had threatened his life, and had forced him into hiding. In the event, no violence was committed against the offending official and, the alcalde reported, the crowd responded to his persuasion to disperse peacefully.55 The copious documentation that accompanied this report revealed that this minor riot was the culmination of a longer, legal campaign of community complaint against the capitán aguerra.56 In the previous year, the principal vecinos of Zaragoza had twice petitioned the viceroy for his replacement. In August 1792, they had complained that this official, like all his predecessors in recent years, was a constant burden to the town. They asserted that these officials not only lacked experience of the country and its people, but, being poor, were also prone to using their authority to enrich themselves. At the end of the year, the vecinos reiterated their complaint: their representative informed the authorities that the town was in a state of great agitation due to the activities of the capitán aguerra and his main allies, the alcalde and procurador general of the town council. After a quarrel between these officials and the local priest, local society had broken into factions, with the capitán aguerra systematically persecuting his opponents among the leading citizens of the town, and heaping even greater misfortunes on the poor, who were less able to defend themselves. A new tax had been imposed on measures of maize, and both money and labor services extorted to build a new jail. It was also said that this official was offending and corrupting public morals: on his nightly patrols, he used his authority to visit not only the houses of the town but also its matrimonial beds.57 Thus, the riot a year later was not simply a spontaneous outburst of violent anger; it was part of a longer campaign, carried out by legal means, to remove an unpopular official. When negotiation with the authorities had been slow to yield results, members of the community expressed their anger and frustration by other, more direct means, with their action sanctioned and led by leading citizens.

This blend of direct protest and legal action also characterized the defiance shown by the villagers of the settlement of Chinú, in the Province of Cartagena, toward local officials.58 In June 1798, the villagers were summoned together by Agustín Núñez, a delegate of the alcalde, and ordered to open a trail. They refused, reiterated their refusal when the order was repeated by the alcalde and the capitán aguerra, and resisted attempts to arrest their leaders. Then, to the beating of a drum, they marched on the house of Núñez, and sought to expel him from the settlement. Later, when a picket of troops was sent to arrest the leaders of this resistance, local people again rioted in order to secure the release of those arrested.59

The villagers had refused to open the trail on the grounds that it was not a camino real, and that such orders were not customary. Their subsequent petitions to the governor of Cartagena, however, transmitted through a lawyer hired for this purpose, reveal that other issues were involved. It transpired that Núñez was not merely a vecino and ranch owner in Chinú; he was also a regidor and alcalde provincial in the neighboring town of San Benito Abad, and the collector of tithes in its jurisdiction. His use of his power and influence in the region was the real source of resistance in Chinú. The vecinos complained that the trail was for personal rather than public use, as it passed through Núñez’s cattle ranch. They also alleged that he employed violent and oppressive methods to collect tithes; that he used public messengers, paid at low rates, for private business; that he exploited dayworkers by forcing them to accept low wages or payments in kind made at inflated prices; that he forced people to accept goods that they did not want; threw people off their lands and took them over, killed their animals when they strayed on to his property, and expelled anyone who resisted.60 Clearly, then, the tumults in Chinú were more than simply spontaneous outbursts of aggression toward an official discharging his duties. They were incidents in a campaign, led by prominent local men, financed by the community, and represented by a lawyer in Cartagena, to defend local interests against the depredations of a powerful individual.

Although the incidents described above took place in varied environments and covered a range of issues, they all show that neither the viceregal government nor local officials could make economic demands on the colonial populace with complete impunity. If there was a general acceptance of the crown’s right to tax its subjects, efforts to extend or to improve the range of fiscalization could provoke strong reactions. Equally, if it was accepted that local officials would manipulate their authority for personal gain, there was a point at which grudging acceptance of this practice gave way to angry defiance. No doubt this point varied among communities, and the occurrence of disturbances in some places rather than others must be related to specifically local circumstances. Nonetheless, the incidents examined suggest that defiance displaced deference when innovation was attempted, or when official malpractice coincided with intracommunity disputes involving both conflicts of political authority and competition over local economic resources.

As protests against official incursions into local economic life, these disturbances reflect unstated assumptions about the legitimate claims of government and its agents. These assumptions were basically conservative: they did not challenge the right of government to levy taxation or to organize the administration of the colony, but protested against specific taxes and the behavior of particular officials. Indeed, in several of the cases examined, tumults were only part of more prolonged actions, in which members of communities expressed their ultimate confidence in government by carrying their protest beyond the local level by appeals to higher authorities. In this sense, these protests were ultimately respectful of royal authority: they were directed against changes in taxation, not taxation itself; against the representatives of government, not government itself. While respect for governmental authority was encouraged by habits and traditions of deference, combined with the threat of punishment, it also depended on official observance of existing customs and practices. If these were ignored or broken by fiscal innovations or new economic incursions by local officials, defiance of authority could be regarded as a justifiable means of defending local interests. Implicitly, then, these disturbances carried a claim to "rights," if only in the vague sense that they embodied a readiness to defend the status quo against the fiscal and economic pressures of government and its agents.

Such implicit claims to unspecified “rights” were also reflected in disturbances that arose from conflicts over office-holding and the administration of the law. In both these matters, respect for authority was neither automatic nor uncritical. By taking direct action to hinder the holding of office by unpopular individuals, and to pressure local magistrates to enforce the law in particular ways, members of communities in New Granada again showed pretensions to rights of intervention and participation to which the Bourbon state allowed them no explicit or formal claim.

One manifestation of such pretensions is found in disturbances that produced demonstrations of hostility toward local officials, aimed at preventing them from taking office or at expelling them from office. The choice of a local official appears to have been a matter in which members of communities felt that they should have some say. This attitude is reflected in disturbances that occurred when an official was not to local taste. On Sunday, January 9, 1724, a large crowd of citizens of the small mestizo town of Monguí near Tunja turned out to express a vocal vote against the newly appointed juez ordinario by giving him a tumultuous reception when he arrived to take up residence. On arriving in Monguí, the magistrate found a mob of about a hundred men, armed with swords, waiting in the town square to greet him with threatening gestures and shouts of “We will not receive don Juan de Vargas,” “We don’t want him,” “Any other alcalde is better.” The crowd then pursued him, forcing him to retire to his house outside the town.61 A similar incident occurred in the hamlet of El Plato, near Mompós, in 1803.62 When don Joseph Vicente Gómez, a relatively wealthy man from the nearby town of Tenerife and the collector of tithes in El Plato, was designated interim magistrate by the cabildo of Tenerife, the vecinos of El Plato banded together “in tumultuous uproar” to reject him. Even when he was replaced, collective action against him did not cease.63 On two occasions in July 1803, crowds gathered to demand his expulsion from the village on the grounds that he had insulted the local people by calling them thieves, and refused to contribute to community works.64 When an alcalde of Tenerife was sent to investigate, and refused to expel Gómez, the locals rioted against the alcalde, filling his courtroom with dirt, posting a crude and insulting pasquinade, and abusing him with threats and insults until he retreated to Tenerife.65

In other incidents, also reported as “tumultos” or “motines,” intimidation of unpopular officials was staged by small groups operating in a semiclandestine manner, rather than crowds engaged in public demonstrations. These incidents usually arose from rivalries within small communities, in which groups of vecinos related by ties of kinship or friendship attacked officials of whom for some reason they disapproved. While the motives behind such attacks are often obscure, the manner in which they were carried out shows that they were more than merely criminal assaults by lawless thugs. Thus, when don Joachim de Lis, alcalde provincial of the town of Purificación, was attacked on the night of December 31, 1776, his assailants were not simply indulging in a spree of mindless violence, but were making a calculated show of force for political ends. The gang of eight men and two women, “all armed and disguised in different costumes,” who burst into Lis’s house and manhandled him did so in order to force him to sign a document formally renouncing his post as alcalde provincial. As the men were all members of the town council, and their attack took place on New Year’s Eve—the day before the new alcaldes were chosen—the timing and nature of the assault were clearly related to political goals.66 Similar tactics of intimidation were employed in Moniquirá, a mestizo parish in the Province of Tunja, on December 28, 1802. In this incident, a group of about a dozen people, including some women disguised as men, made a nocturnal attack on don Rafael Conde, who was about to become the alcalde in the coming year. They assaulted Conde, warned him that “many alcaldes in the world had been killed," and told him that he would suffer the same fate if he took up his post. Insulting pasquinades were also pinned up in the parish, making the same kinds of threats.67 Again, the timing and character of the assault show its political intentions. Indeed, these were not denied by the defense counsel for the accused. He did not dispute involvement but simply argued for leniency on several grounds. First, he argued that the attack did not constitute an act of rebellion, but was merely the misguided mischief of illiterate and invincibly ignorant rustics who had aimed not to kill Conde, but to intimidate him, as they feared that he would prove to be an excessively severe magistrate. Second, he suggested that other people were involved, and that prominent vecinos had instigated the assault, thereby implying that there was considerable community opposition to Conde.68

An interesting aspect of these incidents (and one to which further reference will be made later), is the element of ritual apparent in the behavior of the assailants. In both cases, reference is made to the use of costumes or disguise, although these did nothing to camouflage the identities of their wearers. This feature is more clearly described in an incident of assault on an official that occurred in Cheva, Tunja Province, in 1809. On the night of November 13 of that year, the corregidor of Gameza was attacked in his home in Cheva by a group of some twenty-five people who, he alleged, were led by the local parish priest. He reported that this group, “their hands and faces stained in black, dressed in petticoats worn back to front, and headscarves … and armed with daggers and cudgels, led by the said priest, in similar disguise” had broken into his house, yelling curses and insults. They had dragged the corregidor, still dressed in his underclothes, from his bed and, showering him with blows to his buttocks, mounted him on a mule and galloped him violently around. They then brought out his wife in a similar manner, tied them together on the same steed, and rode them far from the village before abandoning them, with a warning never to return to Cheva, on pain of death.69 The subsequent investigation into this affair shows that it arose from a clash between the corregidor and prominent vecinos of Cheva, including the juez pedáneo and the collector of tithes, over access to Indian labor.70

These affrays involving local factions are another indication of a popular readiness to participate and intervene in colonial political life. Although they were the work of small groups behaving in a more-or-less covert manner, they were not simply the violent acts of criminal gangs in pursuit of personal vendettas. They were rather an aspect of local politics in which, by engaging in disputes over office or bringing pressure to bear on officials to conform to private needs, the participants displayed an underlying assumption that authority should be exercised in collusion with local interests. Because they were marked by attacks on officers of government, these affrays were treated as acts of rebellion. But if they were illegal, they were not anti-institutional. They did not attack the machinery of the state, but sought to control and manipulate its agents.

The employment of force by groups seeking to exert pressure on officials is also found in incidents of riot that occurred in the city of Tunja in 1727, and in the town of Cali in 1743. Treated as acts of rebellion, these riots were subsequently investigated by specially appointed judges who made lengthy reports. The documents are worth close consideration not only because they convey a sense of how popular disturbances might develop, but also because they throw some light on both popular attitudes toward the law and on the social tensions and antagonisms present in colonial communities.

The Tunja riot of January 23, 1727, took place when a crowd sought to pressure magistrates to enforce the law in an equitable manner, following a street brawl in which a peninsular Spaniard had wounded a mestizo shepherd.71 Both men were apprehended by prominent local citizens who were in the vicinity at the time of the fight, and a curious crowd soon gathered. The alcalde ordinario, don José Calvo, quickly made his way to the scene, having been informed that a crowd had gathered in the main square and that the city would be lost if he failed to arrest the Spaniard, Pedro Sertuche. Calvo was persuaded, however, that the two men should be held separately. He ordered that Sertuche be placed under house arrest, in a house that was the home and property of a fellow peninsular. On the other hand, the injured mestizo, Vicente Barbosa, was sent to the city jail.

This unequal treatment provoked a strong reaction from local peasants and small tradesmen. A vociferous crowd of some twenty-five men and women, including relatives of Barbosa, gathered outside the house where Sertuche was held and staged a threatening demonstration. Members of the crowd complained loudly that there was no justice in the city, and that it was becoming like the Sierra Morena. This disparaging reference to Spain was accompanied by shouts of “Death to Sertuche and all Spaniards,” and “From here to the Sierra Morena, death to all Spaniards. It was also said that people had shouted acclaim for the maestre de campo as their king, referring to a prominent creole, don Martín Camacho, present at the time. This crowd became so aggressive that it was decided that Sertuche should be imprisoned in the city jail, if only for his own safety. In the meantime, his erstwhile opponent, Barbosa, had been released from the jail by another crowd before Sertuche was placed there, bound with manacles at the behest of the mob. Later that night, there was another disturbance caused by people trying to break into the jail to attack Sertuche.

The immediate causes of this riot are plain enough. After a violent brawl between a Spaniard and a mestizo, in which the Spaniard used a firearm to wound his opponent, the local magistrate’s unequal treatment of the two offenders stirred angry feelings among local people. More interesting is the manner in which the action developed and the attitudes that it reveals. It is clear that this was far from the frenzied outburst of a mob hungry for revenge; on the contrary, it was a structured show of force carried out by a threatening, but basically orderly, crowd. Although some witnesses drew attention to the fact that members of the crowd carried swords, stones, and cudgels, there were no attacks on either persons or property. Indeed, most witnesses stressed that the crowd behaved in a restrained and respectful manner. It is also apparent that an element of class antagonism was present and contributed to the development of events. The incident brought a confrontation between individuals who came from distinct social groups. On one side stood the friends and partisans of the peninsular Spaniard, all of them prominent citizens and office-holders in the city. On the other were the relatives and allies of Barbosa, the active nucleus of the protesting crowd, including peasants, artisans, and small traders. Thus the incident was colored by the opposition of rich and poor, of powerful and humble. The antagonism of plebians to patricians, however, was not indiscriminate. The threatening shouts against Spaniards were accompanied by cries of acclaim for a prominent local creole, don Martín Camacho, whom members of the crowd evidently regarded as a possible champion for their cause. In the subsequent investigation, there was never any direct accusation that Camacho had instigated or played a leading role in the riot. But he took part in a subsequent incident which shows that tensions between Spaniards and colonials were aroused. He admitted that the day after the riot he had posted a handbill in the town square, challenging those Spaniards who had been heard to make insulting remarks about himself and fellow creoles during the events of the preceding day.72 His prompt and public reaction to this alleged slander suggests that antagonism between colonials and Spaniards was not far below the surface of social life in the city, and that it affected both rich and poor.

The disturbance in Tunja, then, is of interest for several reasons. First, it suggests the existence of a popular sense of justice, by showing that the poorer members of the community could be moved to concerted action when they felt that basic norms of justice were being flouted. Second, it indicates that although the crowd was ready to use threatening behavior to force municipal officials to meets its demands, it nevertheless recognized the authority implicit in their offices. Third, it reveals an animosity toward peninsular immigrants, a sensitivity toward their arrogant behavior, and a vague sense that local men were the rightful leaders of the community.

In the Tunja incident, popular action was directed toward forcing a magistrate to discharge his duties in an equitable manner. In a riot that occurred in Cali in 1743, a crowd took direct action to prevent a magistrate from perpetrating a perceived violation of the rights of a citizen. The riot took place on February 20, 1743, when a large crowd made a nocturnal attack on the town jail to release a prisoner, and destroyed a gibbet that had recently been erected in the main square. This incident, however, also involved enmities between colonials and Spaniards, reflected in an assault on the house of one of the alcaldes of Cali, who was a peninsular merchant.73

Underlying this event was a long history of factional strife in eighteenth-century Cali, stemming from a struggle for control of the cabildo between newly arrived peninsular merchants and members of the established creole families.74 In the disturbances of 1743, the clergy appear to have played a leading part in both instigating and leading the riot, and the evidence collected suggests that it was part of a campaign of resistance against the incumbent alcaldes. The riot of February 20, however, was more than simply a clash of patrician factions. It involved the mobilization of a crowd for the purpose of forestalling a threatened violation of the normal methods of the law. Rumors had circulated in the city to the effect that a prisoner was about to be tortured—to extract information about a pasquinade—and subsequently hanged. To prevent this, the jail was attacked, and a large crowd mustered in the main square where, despite the parade of the Holy Sacrament by priests seeking to restore calm and despite being fired upon by an embattled alcalde, it refused to disperse until the gibbet had been cut to pieces. Although some witnesses state that most of the rioting crowd was drunk, this was evidently not simply a disorderly melee, but the work of a crowd acting with a definite purpose and a degree of discipline.

Although the direction of a riot undoubtedly owed something to organization by leaders of a faction active in town politics, the rioting crowd should not necessarily be regarded as the blind and unwitting instrument of elite groups competing for control of urban government. The prior circulation of rumors about the alleged mistreatment of a prisoner suggests that the populace had to have some justification for action. In spreading the word that the alcaldes were abusing their power, the populace made an appeal to principles of justice both to promote and to legitimize crowd action of an unlawful kind. By attacking the jail, however, and destroying the gibbet, the crowd did not aim to overthrow the law; it sought rather to prevent a perceived abuse of the law by local magistrates by briefly taking the law into its own hands. Thus, beneath the surface of this rowdy incident in urban politics, we once again may dimly discern a popular conception of justice and of the law that did not tolerate the unrestrained exercise of power by representatives of the state.

The various incidents of civil disorder that have been described do not fit any single mold. They arose in distinctive environments throughout the Viceroyalty of New Granada, sprang from a range of issues, and displayed degrees of participation that ranged from open collective protest by large crowds to semicovert actions by small groups. To seek any general hypothesis that might explain the causes, frequency, and distribution of these disparate events would be premature. In many cases, the information provided by contemporary sources is very limited, and the uneven and inconsistent quality of the primary data makes it difficult fully to investigate and compare reported cases of civil disorder. The problems posed by the primary sources are compounded by the paucity of local and regional histories of New Granada. Until studies of the social, economic, and political life of the communities in which these disturbances occurred become available, it is impossible to comment with confidence on how common such disturbances were, or on their relationship to social and economic conditions. Nevertheless, the disturbances described should not be dismissed as simply spontaneous, unrelated, and insignificant out-breaks of disorder. Beyond the obvious differences in the local milieus in which they occurred, we may detect some characteristic forms of behavior and intention that in turn throw light on popular social values and attitudes toward government.

At a general level, these incidents indicate that, while the inarticulate mass of the colonial populace had no opportunity to participate in the formal organizations and institutions of government, they were able to express their grievances and voice their beliefs by informal means. Although of sporadic timing and scattered incidence, the events described strengthen the impression given by some contemporary observers that the mass of the colonial population could be a restive and potentially turbulent force. For the emissaries of the Bourbon state in New Granada, this was a measure of the lamentable lawlessness of the lower orders, who were insufficiently exposed to the disciplinary guidance of church and state. In a vivid formulation of this view, Archbishop-Viceroy Caballero y Góngora condemned the insubordination of the lower classes in unequivocal terms. The mestizos, he stated, were without “the two principal sentiments which Nature inspires in rational man—belief in one God, whom he should love, and in one king, whom it is just to obey.”75 As for Indians and Blacks, according to the archbishop, they were governed by even baser feelings. In all, the common people formed an “indomitable monster,” whose criminal proclivities were at the root of the colony’s ills.76

Made soon after the Comunero revolt, Caballero y Góngora’s remarks reflect the instinctive horror of popular rebellion natural to a high official of church and state; hence, they may exaggerate the extent of popular insubordination. Nevertheless, the Archbishop-Viceroy’s comments reflected a basic reality of colonial life. Governmental control over the extensive territory and diverse society of New Granada was undoubtedly weak and uneven.77 The largely mestizo population, most of which was thinly spread over large rural areas, was accustomed to little direct interference from government; indeed, in some areas in late eighteenthcentury New Granada, Bourbon officials were still trying to build a basic infrastructure of royal administration.78 Furthermore, though the population was divided by considerable inequalities of wealth and social status, lower-class habits of deference do not seem to have been as well developed as those of their counterparts in Europe: the uncouth and insolent manners of the lower orders occasionally drew scandalized comment from peninsular observers during the eighteenth century, while the familiarity of the lower classes with their social superiors was to be a source of surprise for foreign visitors during the early years of independence.79 When colonial government sought to impose its will without regard for these conditions and the conventions they had fostered, it risked defiance, sometimes on a widespread scale. This was the lesson of the aguardiente riots of 1765, a lesson that, ignored by the reformist visitor-general in 1781, was to be repeated by the Comuneros in a still more obvious way. Thereafter, viceregal government became more sensitive to the threat of colonial insubordination. Thus, in 1803, Viceroy Pedro de Mendinueta commented upon the low level of wages paid to agricultural workers at a time when prices were rising, and observed that a time might come when the poor would force the landowners to yield a large share of their wealth.80 He also testified to the continuing existence of that strong undercurrent of popular animosity toward the tax collector, and warned the crown against imposing additional fiscal burdens on the colony, for fear that this might provoke a rebellious response.81

When the refractory disposition of the New Granadan population was openly expressed, it did not take the simple form of unbridled vandalism. Among the features shared by the disturbances described above were those elements of structured and discriminating behavior that historians have frequently found in the actions of rioters and rebels in other parts of colonial America and in contemporary Europe. From the incidents described above it seems, first, that defiance of authority was rarely a simply spontaneous outburst of collective anger. Tumults often took place during hours of darkness, perhaps because this made it easier for the participants to conceal their identities. At times, crowds were brought together by some signal, such as the tolling of church bells or the beating of a drum, both of which were commonly used to gather people together for normal social functions. The use of signals and the cover of darkness suggest that there was an element of preparation behind some incidents of civil disorder, though others—like that which occurred in Tunja in 1727—arose as a spontaneous response to the actions of the authorities. There were, in addition, occasions on which disturbances merged with, or developed from, public gatherings, particularly public festivities.

The relationship between civil disorders and communal festivities has often been noted by students of popular protest and popular culture. In his study of rebellions in colonial Mexican villages, William B. Taylor has drawn attention to the similarities of behavior in riots and fiestas, and the tendency for riots to turn into celebrations.82 For early modern Europe, the relationship of festivals and riots has been more closely defined: there, historians have found that public festivities were occasions on which the revelry and ritual of traditional celebrations might sometimes spill over into riot and rebellion.83 There is some evidence, which we will now consider, that preparation for and participation in public events of this kind were also related to the phenomenon of civil disorder in eighteenth-century New Granada.

Unfortunately, we know little about the calendar and customs of festivals in colonial New Granada; nonetheless, at a general level, some of the main events for public celebration and some of the customs involved can be identified. The most important moments for public celebrations were the major feast days of the Roman Catholic calendar. These included New Year’s Day, Epiphany, Carnival at the beginning of Lent and Holy Week at its end. These were followed by Whitsunday, Ascension Thursday, Corpus Christi, St. John’s Day, the Feasts of All Saints and All Souls, the Immaculate Conception, and, finally, the celebrations of the Christmas period, moving in to the New Year once more. In addition to these feast days, there were other saints’ days, such as that of St. Peter, which had widespread significance, and still others, such as those of local patron saints, which had purely local significance. There were also opportunities for celebrations of secular inspiration: the birth of a prince, a royal marriage, the arrival of a distinguished visitor or official, the election of alcaldes, and market days. On these occasions, people interrupted their work routines, sometimes gathered at the church, sometimes participated in processions organized by the clergy, and diverted themselves with eating, drinking, dancing, and, on certain occasions, specific games and rituals.

According to a recent study of the Mompós region in New Granada, such festivals were frequent occurrences. Orlando Fais Borda, in his history of the area, suggests that public festivities lasting several days were celebrated on the slightest pretext, and moved from village to village throughout the year.84 While they lasted, Fais Borda argues, the whole community participated, including Indian concertados, Black slaves, white landowners and their tenants, and even the wives and daughters of the rich, who set up stalls to distribute sweets and cane brandy. At carnival time, social barriers were temporarily swept aside; not only did all sectors of the community mix freely in the streets, but rules of deference were violated in more direct ways, as “by means of disguises, dance and so-called pullas, corrosively critical stories in verse form … the entire society was brought to the same level.”85 Such verses provided a means for the populace to make and to hear open criticism of the rich, the powerful, and the governing members of their society. During Holy Week in Mompós—as in other major cities in New Granada—members of all social classes were again brought together, especially in the organizations of hooded nazarenos who carried the ceremonial floats, and who were drawn from the confradías that organized the processions. In Mompós, there were ten confradías and one archicofradía, and they included the sons of the principal landowners as well as common fishermen, peasants, and poor artisans. Entry was open to all, their mayordomos were chosen by election, and it was these bodies rather than the civil or ecclesiastical authorities that organized and controlled the Holy Week celebrations.86 The leveling of social barriers in such organizations might also be paralleled by games and rituals that inverted social positions and created a “world turned upside down” in the manner of some European carnivals. In Mompós, for example, Spaniards dressed up as Indians to take part in their festivities.87 In Cartagena, mock cabildos were organized by the city’s barrios during carnival. These elected a king, sometimes a queen, who was surrounded with princesses, ministers, and courtiers, a complete mockery of the panoply of royal government. The “king” exercised absolute authority for the duration of his “reign” and everyone involved dressed in appropriate costume. Alliances were made, mock wars fought between neighboring barrios, and prisoners taken before mock judges to be sentenced to some forfeit, such as a ducking, or walking with shoes on the wrong feet. These “punishments” could be avoided only by payment of a fine, which then went to help finance the celebrations.88

Until we know more about the character of popular festivals in New Granada, it would be hazardous to generalize about their role in the social and political life of the colony’s communities. It must be noted, however, that attention to the incidence and nature of festivals may help to explain the timing of disturbances and the manner in which tumultuous crowds were mobilized and how they behaved. Festivals brought communities together in public gatherings, permitted and encouraged the relaxation of normal rules of behavior, and sometimes allowed the use of disguise and the public expression of criticism through ritual forms. It is not, then, difficult to see how they might provide the occasion for civil disturbances. In some cases of attacks on officials, the use of curious disguises by assailants indicates a connection with festive activities. The incidents of this kind that took place in Purificación in 1776 and in Moniquirá in 1802 both occurred in the festive period between Christmas and New Year, a time also charged with political significance as it heralded a change of alcaldes. Here, then, it is plausible to see a nexus between festival frolics and political action. Furthermore, action of this sort may have been an elaboration of other, more muted forms of political and social criticism permissible at this time of year. In Mompós, at least, December 31 was the time for posting pasquinades through which a secret accuser might attack the misdeeds that another person had committed during the preceding year.89

Several of the other cases of riot and tumult that we have considered also coincided with important feast days, times when gatherings of community members for public and private amusement might merge into, perhaps legitimate, collective protests. The riots that took place in Vélez in 1740 started on the even of Palm Sunday and continued into Palm Sunday itself; the disturbances in Ocaña in 1755 were first reported in late March and so may also have been connected with preparations for Easter festivities. The major riot that occurred in Ocaña took place in a different season, but here, too, there was a possible connection with local festivities; for the riot occurred within two days of the feast of the Immaculate Conception, an important religious holiday in the Catholic Hispanic world and one that still attracts special celebration in some areas of contemporary Colombia. The riots in Cali in 1765 happened at a similar time, reaching a peak on December 10, two days after this feast day. Similar coincidences may also be found in the major rebellions of Quito in 1765 and of the Comuneros in 1781. The first riot in Quito took place on May 22, a week before the beginning of Holy Week and so conceivably within the period of preparation for the major festival of Semana Santa. The correlation is much clearer in the case of the second riot: it occurred on the night of St. John’s Day, June 24, a day when the city attracted villagers from the surrounding countryside and the traditional moment for a half-yearly payment of tithes. The riots that sparked off the Comuneros’ rebellion began in Socorro on March 16, 1781, a market day in the town. They then spread through the surrounding villages in the month leading up to Easter, with the third and last of the riots in Socorro itself taking place on April 16, Easter Monday.

If festivals may sometimes have provided the occasion for civil disorder, they may also be important to an analysis of popular protest in a more general sense. As important moments of local social concourse, in which the community could indulge in a collective experience organized by and for its members, the major festivals of the year also brought an element of organization and purpose into community life. The members of the cofradías—whose main function was the organization of religious festivals and whose membership usually crossed class lines90—were mobilized; the clergy might mingle with the laity, and the rich with the poor. On most such occasions, social tensions could be released through celebration and symbolic conflict, allowing the community thereby to reaffirm a sense of common identity that transcended divisions between social groups. Moreover, while such practices may have palliated antagonisms among social groups in the local community, they may also have redirected latent animosities toward outsiders and officials who were often not of the local community or were imperfectly integrated into it.

While in some cases tumults may have been shaped by collective activities associated with festivals, the structured character of action in civil disorders seems to have been typical of all the incidents described. Where violence was used, it was purposeful and selective. The incidence of human casualties was very low, and when injuries occurred, they were rarely fatal. This was not simply because crowds went unarmed; reports of riots often refer to the presence of swords, clubs, and more rudimentary weapons, such as stones. But there was an apparent reluctance to use arms as more than instruments of threat. Only in the large-scale rebellions, of Quito in 1765 and the Comuneros in 1781, are there any signs of organized armed conflict or quasi-military organization. Even in these cases, armed conflict had an unpremeditated and improvised air. In Quito, the crowd used mortars against their opponents only after these weapons had been used against the crowd, and had been captured in defensive actions. The Comuneros’ movement assumed a militaristic structure, with men from different areas under separate commands, but the rebellion never took on the aspect of a war. In both cases, casualties were few relative to the large numbers of insurgents, and were less often the victims of rebel action than of violence used by the authorities in their efforts to restore order. In none of the smaller incidents decribed, such as those of Vélez, Ocaña, Tunja, and Cali, did the crowd’s action result in any fatalities. A few people on opposing sides may have been wounded in the frays, but attacks on persons aimed to intimidate and humiliate rather than to kill or maim. In several cases, the individuals who were targets of the crowd’s animosity received no more than threats or some rough treatment in actions designed to frighten or expel them from the community. As a sanction imposed by the community, expulsion was more common than serious physical violence or murder, and was an interesting imitation of a sanction used by the government itself: punishment by banishment.

Damage was much more likely to be inflicted on buildings than on persons. As historians of the Comunero rebellion have invariably observed, the Comunero rebels generally exercised great restraint in their actions. They tended simply to attack the symbols of hated taxes, taking over the estanco offices and stores, and destroying their contents. This restraint also marked the anti-estanco riots of 1765. It was particularly noticeable in the May riot in Quito, where, having emptied the estanco office and put its administrator to flight, the crowd then embarked on a painstaking demolition of the building, stone by stone. In smaller incidents, such as that of Tunja or Cali, we hear of attacks on the town jail and the destruction of a gibbet; in Sogamoso, of an attack on the house and mill of a vecino; and in El Plato, of the despoiling of a building used as a courtroom.

The extent of community participation is difficult to measure and compare. At times, it might be large, as in the Vélez, Ocaña, and Quito riots, where a substantial proportion of the townspeople joined in action. At other times, it was relatively small, measured in tens rather than in hundreds. In many cases, the documentation is vague on numbers, referring only to “many people,” to “a multitude,” or to some such ill-defined quantity. Generally, however, we may assume that crowds were small, reflecting the small size of the communities from which they were drawn.

The kinds of people who participated in civil disorders also varied with the local setting, depending on the size of the community and its ethnic composition. In most of the disturbances discussed, participants included people of different social rank, though the documentation is invariably uninformative about the occupations or economic positions of those involved. The documentation does convey, though, the impression that disturbances engaged a cross-section of the community, or, in incidents in villages such as El Plato or Chinú, virtually the entire community acting in concert. In the disturbances in Vélez, Ocaña, Zaragoza, and El Plato, as well as in the incidents of nocturnal attacks on officials, municipal officers, local clerics, and leading citizens played prominent roles in promoting action against government officials, with the support of undifferentiated crowds and gangs loosely described by some general term like the plebe, or “people of inferior quality.” It seems, then, that participants in such collective actions mirrored the structure of local society, with leading parts played by prominent vecinos backed by their social inferiors. At times, such men may have been coopted as leaders without their full consent. Some years after the riot in Chinú in 1798, a witness confessed on his deathbed that a Catalán vecino who had been imprisoned for leading the disturbances in the village had been forced to accept a position of leadership by threats to his land and property.91 Such cooptation—on pain of death or damage to property—was also used by Comunero rebels to coerce men of local standing to take positions of command in the movement.92 By this means, the rebels showed their concern to present their protest as that of the community as a whole, represented through the traditional medium of its leading citizens, and thereby to help legitimate their actions. Apart from the case of Chinú, there are traces of this behavior in tumults that took place in Tunja, where the maestre de campo was called upon to champion lower-class rioters, and in Vélez, where the alférez real was acclaimed the “King of Vélez.”

Evidently the civil disorders of late colonial New Granada were neither inspired nor guided by any specific or explicitly elaborated political ideas, they rarely had repercussions outside their immediate localities, and they left no permanent forms of political organization. Nevertheless, they were not entirely innocent of political ideas or significance. In the structured forms of collective protest and acts of defiance against government and its agents, we may dimly detect attitudes and beliefs that were normally unstated, and rarely expressed in written or explicit form. In their reactions to the fiscal and economic impositions of government, to the appointment of officials opposed by members of a local community, or to perceived abuses of authority by incumbent officials, the small and highly localized disturbances described herein throw back some reflections of popular attitudes and values, especially with respect to the relations of government to its subjects. These attitudes are similar to those encountered in other precapitalist agrarian societies: a belief in a right to land and the use of its products; a belief in the right to produce and consume essential items of consumption (foodstuffs, tobacco, and aguardiente) without arbitrary taxation; the idea that local customs should be respected and that justice fairly administered. These attitudes implicitly defined a basic notion of freedom: the right to resist arbitrary intrusions by government and its agents. This minimal and residual notion of freedom was nurtured by the colonial experience of government. Despite its imposing structure of law and bureaucracy, Spanish government in New Granada, as in other colonies, held only loose control over the mass of the population. In this sense, the society of New Granada shared in that freedom which Mario Góngora has described as “peculiar to the Americas—a form of liberty existing outside the framework of the state … not based on any well-defined notion or any new concept of the state … [but] … rooted in laxity.”93

This popular outlook, expressed in the minor civil disorders discussed, also played an important part in the emergence and development of the Comunero rebellion. In his analysis of the rhetoric and ideas of the Comuneros, Phelan argued that the movement was informed by beliefs about the common good of the community, the right of the community to express its interests to government and to resist unjust laws, by force if necessary. Phelan observed that these ideas were remarkably similar to those of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Spanish political thinkers, and he suggested that they had been conveyed to the colonial context through the practices of Hapsburg government. Comunero leaders were not conversant with Spanish political theory; their acquaintance with such ideas came from experience of Hapsburg political practices that had established and observed an “unwritten constitution” in New Granada, a set of conventions and customary procedures that symbolized a pact between the monarch and his subjects.94 While Phelan’s emphasis on the influence of Hapsburg paternalism is well-placed, it must be stressed, however, that these ideas were not confined to the creole patriciate or derived solely from its conception of government. Just as the ideas of sixteenth-century Spanish political thinkers were in part a distillation of popular beliefs and attitudes, so the ideas of the Comuneros in eighteenthcentury New Granada reflected popular attitudes that arose from local experience. In an isolated and backward agrarian society, where the writ of metropolitan government ran thin outside the main cities, local experience nurtured a belief in the community outside the state, with its own customs and conventions, and the right to defy governmental authority and to oppose the exercise of power when it collided with local interests. It is this outlook that is periodically reflected in civil disorders and that also informed the Comunero rebellion. The distinctive feature of the Comunero rebellion was that it brought popular agitation under creole leadership, molding the diffuse actions and attitudes of lower-class rioters into an explicit and coherent program of demands. But at the heart of the movement was that same defiance of arbitrary government and taxation that lay behind other, lesser civil disorders.

So, despite the special characteristics of the Comunero rebellion, it may be seen as another expression of a tradition of popular actions undertaken in defense of the customary arrangements and practices of local community life. Expressed in sporadic, multifarious actions rather than in precise arguments, revealed in criminal proceedings rather than political treatises, this tradition is inarticulate and elusive; but the ability of the populace to act collectively, in pursuit of common goals and against prescribed targets, suggests that, even in this backward and isolated colonial society, there existed a popular conception of the proper functions and limits of government that constituted a significant, if neglected, dimension of social life.


See, for example, William B. Taylor, Drinking, Homicide, and Rebellion in Colonial Mexican Villages (Stanford, 1979), pp. 113-151; Leon G. Campbell, "Recent Research on Andean Peasant Revolts, 1750-1820,” Latin American Research Review, 14:1 (1979), 3-49; Segundo Moreno Yáñez, Sublevaciones indígenas en la audiencia de Quito, desde comienzos del siglo xviii hasta finales de la colonia (Bonn, 1976).


Some seminal works in this area are E. P. Thompson, “The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century,” Past and Present (London), 50 (Feb. 1971), 76-136; George F. Rudé, The Crowd in History: A Study of Popular Disturbances in France and England, 1730-1848 (New York, 1964); Eric J. Hobsbawm, Primitive Rebels: Studies in Archaic Forms of Social Movement in the 19th and 20th Centuries (Manchester, 1959).


The main works on the Comuneros are those by Manuel Briceño Perozo, Los Comuneros (Bogotá, 1880); Pablo E. Cárdenas Acosta, Los Comuneros (reivindicaciones históricas y juicios críticos documentalmente justificados) (Bogotá, 1945), and by the same author, El movimiento comunal de 1781 en el Nuevo Reino de Granada, con copiosa documentación inédita, 2 vols. (Bogotá, i960); Germán Arciniegas, Los Comuneros (Mexico City, 1951); Luis Torres Almeyda, La rebelión de Galán, el comunero (Bucaramanga, 1961); Armando Gómez Latorre, Enfoque social de la revolución comunera (Bogotá, 1973); Francisco Posada Zárate, El movimiento revolucionario de los comuneros (Mexico City, 1971); Inés Pinto Escobar, La rebelión del Común (Tunja, 1976); John L. Phelan, The People and the King: The Comunero Revolution in Colombia, 1781 (Madison, 1978).


An excellent synthesis of this approach is found in Indalecio Liévano Aguirre, Los grandes conflictos sociales y económicos de nuestra historia, 3d ed. (Bogotá, 1968), pp. 439-502.


Phelan, The People and the King, p. xviii.


These arguments were also developed by Rafael Gómez Hoyos, La revolución granadina de 1810: Ideario de una generación y de una época, 1781-1821, 2 vols. (Bogotá, 1962), I, 133-204.


Phelan, The People and the King, p. xvii.


The bulk of the documentation used in this article comes from two main sources, both in the Archivo Histórico Nacional de Colombia (hereinafter cited as AHNC): first, the records of the sala del crimen of the Audiencia de Santa Fé, found in the 218 volumes of Juicios criminales; second, the reports of the provincial governors, corregidores, and other officials, scattered throughout the 148 volumes of Milicias y marina.


Neither of these subjects has yet received much attention. For a study of an Indian frontier war, see Allan J. Kuethe, “The Pacification Campaign on the Riohacha Frontier, 1772-1779," HAHR, 50 (Aug. 1970), 467-481; also, María Dolores González Luna, “La política de población y pacificación indígena en las poblaciones de Santa Marta y Cartagena (Nuevo Reino de Granada), 1750-1800,” Boletín Americanista (Barcelona), 20: 28 (1978), 87–117. On slave resistance, see Jaime Jaramillo Uribe, “Esclavos y señores en la sociedad colombiana del siglo xviii,” Anuario Colombiano de Historia Social y de la Cultura, 1 (1963), 3-62; Roberto Arrazola, Palenque, primer pueblo libre de América (Cartagena, 1970); Aquiles Escalante, “Palenques in Colombia,” in Richard Price, ed., Maroon Societies: Rebel Slave Communities in the Americas (New York, 1973).


A full analysis of the capitulations is given by Phelan, The People and the King, pp. 156-171.


Royal policy toward the production and sale of aguardiente in New Granada is reviewed in ibid., pp. 23-26, and in Gilma Mora de Tovar, “La política fiscal del estado colonial y el monopolio de la industria del aguardiente en la Nueva Granada durante el siglo xviii,” Desarrollo y Sociedad (Bogotá), 10 (1983), 99-119. There is some additional information in Anthony McFarlane, “Economic and Political Change in the Viceroyalty of New Granada, with Special Reference to Overseas Trade, 1739—1810” (Ph.D. Diss., London University, 1977), pp. 126-128.


For printed contemporary accounts of the Quito uprising, see “Relación sumaria de las dos sublevaciones de la pieve de Quito,” Boletín de la Academia Nacional de Historia (Quito), 23: 61 (1943), 102-116; “Noticia de los movimientos de Quito en el año de 1765,” Museo Histórico (Quito), 3:9 (1951), 37–54. The most complete secondary account of the rebellion is in Joseph Perez, Los movimientos precursores de la emancipación en Hispanoamérica (Madrid, 1977), pp. 46-63.


AHNC, Milicias y marina, tomo 126, fols. 258-260.


Ibid., Historia, tomo 3, fols. 24-36.


Popayán had a reported population of 13,702 at the time of the 1778 census. Of these inhabitants, 38 percent were classified as whites, 20 percent as Indians, about 20 percent as “free men of all colors,” and about 22 percent as slaves. Ibid., Censos de varios departamentos, tomo 6, fol. 375.


Ibid., Milicias y marina, tomo 148, fols. 490-493.


Ibid., tomo 126, fols. 113-120.


Ibid., tomo 148, fols. 484-489; tomo 126, fols. 96-97, 205-206; tomo 137, fols. 62-67.


The population of Cali in 1778 was nearly 11,000, of whom most (about 65 percent) were mestizo and mulatto, about 24 percent were slaves, and only about 8 percent, white. The small remainder was Indian. Ibid., Censos de varios departamentos, tomo 6, fol. 375.


“Informe rendido al virrey sobre la supresión del estanco de aguardiente y los movimientos subversivos que eso ocasionó,” Boletín Histórico del Valle (Cali), nos. 43-45, (1937), 246-249.


AHNC, Milicias y marina, tomo 126, fols. 199-204.


In 1778, Quibdó had a population of some 2,241 inhabitants, of whom 50 were white, 1,077 were Indians, 400 were mestizo and mulatto, and 714, slaves. Ibid., Censos de varios departamentos, tomo 6, fol. 377.


Ibid., Milicias y marina, tomo 126, fols. 185-186.


Ibid., Milicias y marina, tomo 126, fols. 147-148.


In 1778, Nóvita had a population of 1,628, of whom nearly 70 percent were slaves. Most of the rest were of mixed race, with only 39 whites recorded in the census. Ibid., Censos de varios departamentos, tomo 6, fol. 377.


Ibid., Milicias y marina, tomo 126, fols. 121-122.


There are no census data for Vélez in 1740. In 1779, its jurisdiction included nearly 49,000 people, of whom 18,000 were whites, and nearly 27,000 people were of mixed race. Ibid., Censos de varios departamentos, tomo 6, fol. 271.


Ibid., Milicias y marina, tomo 137, fols. 606-608.


Ibid., tomo 137, fols. 597-598.


Ibid., Juicios criminales, tomo 34, fols. 439–445. For comment on the fate of Chacón, see E. Otero D’Costa, “Levantamiento en Vélez,” Boletín de Historia y Antigüedades (Bogotá), 16 (1928), 82-87.


In 1793, Ocaña had a population of 5,679; about 30 percent were whites and about 52 percent were of mixed race. Archivo General de Indias (hereinafter AGI), Seville, Indiferente General 1537, “Padrón General … Provincia de Santa Marta” (Santa Marta, June 21, 1793).


AHNC, Milicias y marina, tomo 139, fols. 913-914.


On the establishment of a caja real in Ocaña, see Eduardo Posada and P. M. Ibáñez, eds., Relaciones de mando: Memorias presentadas por los gobernantes del Nuevo Reino de Granada (Bogotá, 1910), pp. 78-79.


AHNC, Milicias y marina, tomo 73, fols. 903-933.


Ibid., tomo 139, fol. 934.


Ibid., tomo 116, fols. 940-941.


Ibid., tomo 139, fol. 1131.


Ibid., tomo 139, fols. 1133-1135.


This account is based on the testimony of the incumbent alcaldes, their successors, and various witnesses. Ibid., tomo 73, fols. 857-861, 862-875, 886-897, 902-903.


Ibid., tomo 73, fol. 858.


Ibid., tomo 97, fols. 482-483; tomo 134, fols. 900-901; tomo 139, fols. 1147-1150, 1154-1155.


Ibid., tomo 73, fol. 857.


Ibid., Juicios criminales, tomo 165, fols. 511-555.


Ibid., fol. 526.


Ibid., tomo 116, fols. 983-985.


Ibid., Caciques e indios, tomo 45, fols. 476–491.


Ibid., Juicios criminales, tomo 146, fols. 742-853.


Germán Colmenares, La provincia de Tunja en el Nuevo Reino de Granada: Ensayo de historia social (1539-1800) (Bogotá, 1970), p. 75.


AHNC, Juicios criminales, tomo 174, fols. 40-93.


This process is discussed in Colmenares, La provincia de Tunja, pp. 85-114, and in Margarita González, El resguardo en el Nuevo Reino de Granada (Bogotá, 1970), pp. 47–80.


See Moreno Yáñez, Sublevaciones indígenas en la Audiencia de Quito, passim.


See Phelan, The People and the King, pp. 100-104; Jane M. Loy, “Forgotten Comuneros: The 1781 Revolt in the Llanos de Casanare,” HAHR, 61 (May 1981), 235-257.


For accounts of this uprising, see Javier Laviña, “La sublevación de Túquerres de 1800: Una revuelta antifiscal,” Boletín Americanista (Barcelona), 20:28(1978), 189-196; also S. E. Ortiz, Agustín Agualongo y su tiempo (Bogotá, 1958), pp. 46-53.


The 1777 census of Antioquia recorded Zaragoza’s population as follows: 73 white, 654 “freemen of all colors,” and 359 slaves, for a total of 1,086. AHNC, Censos de varios departamentos, tomo 6, fol. 483.


Ibid., Policía, tomo 2, fol. 571.


Ibid., fols. 558-626.


Ibid., fol. 589.


The 1778 census of the Province of Cartagena lists the population of Chinú as follows: 92 whites, 121 Indians, 1,652 “freemen of all colors,” and 61 slaves, for a total of 1,926. Ibid., unclassified.


Ibid., Juicios criminales, tomo 64, fols. 692-696; tomo 196, fols. 947-997.


Ibid., tomo 187, fols. 362-373.


Ibid., tomo 50, fols. 423-424.


According to the 1793 census of the Province of Santa Marta, El Plato had a population of 341, of whom 334 were “freemen of all colors.” AGI, Indiferente General 1537.


AHNC, Juicios criminales, tomo 71, fols. 579-580.


Ibid., fols. 580-593.


Ibid., fols. 594-595.


Ibid., tomo 30, fols. 784-839.


Ibid., tomo 49, fols. 6-19.


Ibid., fols. 82-92.


Ibid., tomo 145, fols. 361-364.


Ibid., fols. 387-388.


The following account is based on the statements of those involved and the testimonies of witnesses, collected by both local officials and the investigating magistrate, and reported in ibid., tomo 142, fols. 1-107; tomo 178, fols. 240-387.


Ibid., tomo 178, fols. 277-278.


Ibid., Miscelánea, tomo 53, fols. 333-345; tomo 60, fols. 753-836; tomo 70, fols. 913-947.


Germán Colmenares, Cali: Terratenientes, mineros y comerciantes—siglo xviii (Cali, 1975), pp. 197-204.


Archivo Restrepo (Bogotá), Correspondencia reservada del Arzobispo-virrey: Antonio de Caballero y Góngora to Gálvez, Oct. 15, 1782, no. 11.




See, for example, the comments made in the late 1780s by Francisco Silvestre, Descripción del reyno de Santa Fé de Bogotá (Bogotá, 1968), pp. 31, 32, 114.


For contemporary reports on conditions and settlement policies in the Caribbean coastal region, see G. Reichel-Dolmatoff, ed., Diario de viaje del Padre Joseph Palacios de la Vega (1787-88) (Bogotá, 1955); also, “Noticia individual de las poblaciones nuevamente fundadas en la provincia de Cartagena … por Don Antonio de la Torre Miranda,” Boletín Historial (Cartagena), nos. 45-46 (1919), 512; and nos. 49-51 (1926), 606-628. For reports on the Province of Antioquia, see E. Robledo, ed., Bosquejo biográfico del Señor Oidor Juan Antonio Mon y Velarde, visitador de Antioquia, 1785-1788, 2 vols. (Bogotá, 1969).


See, for example, the comments of Basilio Vicente de Oviedo, Cualidades y riquezas del Nuevo Reino de Granada: Manuscrito del siglo xviii publicado, con un prólogo, por Luis Augusto Cuervo (Bogotá, 1930), pp. 178-180; also, Charles S. Cochrane, Journal of a Residence and Travels in Colombia during the years 1825 & 1824, 2 vols. (London, 1825), II, 131.


Posada and Ibáñez, eds., Relaciones de mando, p. 474.


Ibid., p. 549.


Taylor, Drinking, Homicide, and Rebellion, p. 118.


See, for example, Peter Burke, Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe (London, 1979), pp. 178-204.


Orlando Fais Borda, Mompox y Loba: Historia doble de la costa, 2 vols. (Bogotá, 1980), I, 154b-155b.


Ibid., p. 156b.


Ibid., pp. 157b-158b.


Ibid., p. 155b.


Guillermo Abadía Morales, Compendio general del folklore colombiano (Bogotá, 1977). pp. 358-359.


Fals Borda, Mompox y Loba, I, 156b.


Gary Graff, "Cofradías in the New Kingdom of Granada: Lay Fraternities in a Spanish American Frontier Society, 1600–1755" (Ph.D. Diss., University of Wisconsin, 1973), chaps. 4, 5.


AHNC, Juicios criminales, tomo 196, fols. 953-954.


On the cooptation of the Socorro leaders, see Phelan, The People and the King, p. 80. A further example, not given in the histories of the rebellion, is found in Girón, where Pedro Valenzuela and other vecinos nobles were compelled to become captains of the rebels under threat of death. AHNC, Juicios criminales, tomo 52, fols. 597–602.


Mario Góngora, Studies in the Colonial History of Spanish America, trans. by Richard Southern (Cambridge, 1975), p. 125.


Phelan, The People and the King, esp. pp. 79-88.

Author notes


The author would like to thank the British Academy for financial assistance that enabled him to undertake research in Colombia and Professor John Lynch for his reading of an earlier draft.