The nineteenth century witnessed two transformations that were to influence the development of plantation agriculture in most of the Caribbean islands possessed by the leading European powers. The abolition of slavery called for major adjustments in the relationship between ownership/management and labor force in the sugar industry. Technological advances along with a steady drop in the international price of sugar reinforced the need for the reorganization of production. In response to these changes, planter groups began to rethink the premises on which their past success had rested. The transformations encountered required a different understanding of capital investment and, most importantly, of the organization of labor.1

The various islands underwent this complex transition in very different ways. Apprenticeship, importation of workers, and sharecropping, for example, were proposed and adopted, either separately or combined, as solutions to the “labor problem” in several of the British possessions. How much control planters had over workers’ access to the economic, political, and social means of protecting their class interests largely determined the success of each group’s efforts.2 The technological upgrading of the sugar industry was also recognized as a necessary component of crisis management. How thorough that effort was depended, again, on planters’ resources at a time when metropolitan policy no longer favored the colonial product.3 Everywhere in the Caribbean, planters mobilized to develop some way of making the best of a potentially ruinous situation.

The literature on the British Caribbean sugar industry and, more specifically, on the impact of abolition there has clarified our understanding of these two processes. A number of studies have indicated that access of former slaves to the means of production and planter mechanisms for labor coercion generally set the parameters within which labor relations would be hammered out in the English-speaking islands. Especially significant are suggestions regarding the not-so-obvious loci of power for both planter and workers—support networks, access to information, and manipulations of reality—offered by Eric Foner, Douglas Hall, and Michael Craton. These contributions form part of a larger framework, which treats the relationship between worker and establishment as one based on resistance and control, as advanced by Gwendolyn Midlo Hall in her comparative study of the slave societies of St. Domingue and Cuba.4

Puerto Rico’s sugar industry followed a course similar to that of its Caribbean neighbors. As the island took a sharp turn to join the ranks of “exploitation colonies” in the early decades of the nineteenth century, its society—“innovative only for self-preservation”—began to revolve around the production of sugar for the international market.5 As a consequence, the solution to the immediate need for labor that prevailed in the Caribbean was also adopted in Puerto Rico, and slavery became entrenched in the sugar plantations.6 By midcentury, however, it was evident that Spain was not as willing or as able to promote the island’s privileged position as it had been in the past. Higher taxes, scant protection, and British pressure to end the slave trade threatened the status quo, placing an additional burden on planters already suffering from the drop in the market price of sugar. Having relied on artificial incentives for its initial success, the colonial sugar industry was not capable of sustaining the pattern of growth of earlier decades.

Planters felt trapped in what they perceived to be a critical situation, one they could not survive unless major alterations took place. The sugar industry, however, weathered the midcentury storm basically unchanged, and the doomsday analysis of agricultural reformers reappeared in the 1870s in almost identical form. In the early years, leading citizens denounced the use of slaves and deplored the absence of modern methods in the cultivation and manufacturing processes. By the last decades of the century, with slavery abolished, they forcefully argued for the establishment of banks for agricultural credit and the introduction of sophisticated machinery for sugar production as essential components of economic development. Rejecting the crude mechanisms of labor manipulation adopted at midcentury, specifically the coercive libreta or workbook system, agricultural reformers in the 1870s also advocated the systematic training of the free rural population, generally characterized as “lazy, immoral, and given to gambling.”7 Now that both abolition and the drop in the price of sugar dictated the need for change, some planters entertained the idea of experimenting with new methods of manufacturing sugar. Those who envisioned the establishment of efficient enterprises as the basis for a prosperous future took the bold step of investing capital in modern equipment and rationalizing the production process.

The simultaneous introduction of new machinery and wage payments necessitated a thorough reorganization of the industry, and required a radical transformation in the social and economic relations that defined the plantation system. Sophisticated manufacturing equipment would inevitably give rise to centrales, high-capacity mills supplied by a number of cane growers, with whom the factory contracted for several harvests. Specialization, in turn, required a skilled and reliable work force, available at all times to serve the needs of the enterprise. Economic planners expected wage workers to gravitate toward the modern sugar factories, driven by their desire for more pay and better working conditions. Management would be responsible for the coordination of the labor effort and the smooth running of the equipment. The institutionalization of a free labor market also suggested that workers were to receive payments only when they worked and according to the quality of the services they rendered. Indeed, the enterprise required the subjection of its human component to a form of discipline quite different from that sanctioned by preindustrial patterns of work. This period of redefinition, by its very nature laden with ambition and hope, nevertheless inspired uncertainty and apprehension in both planter and working class.

Several scholars have examined this period of transition in Puerto Rico’s sugar industry. Gervasio L. García and A. G. Quintero Rivera have focused on the establishment of sugar factories as the vanguard of capitalism and (in their control of available land) of the proletarianization of the rural population. They have proposed a framework in which “transformations . . . in the slave and feudal economy”—“a process activated by the establishment of the first modern sugar factories beginning in 1873”— deprived many landholders and landowners of access to land and forced them to work for wages. Perhaps more appropriate is Laird Bergad’s understanding of the transition to capitalism as a process that involved not just the shift to wage labor but transformations in capital investment and land tenure as well. More specifically, Andrés Ramos Mattei has concentrated his efforts on the responses of the planter class to what he perceives as a “structural crisis” after 1870. In several works, he has demonstrated how the purchase of new machinery did not necessarily alter the process of production. The abolition of slavery, he has also argued, provided former slaves with a privileged status, given the highly valued sugar-making skills they possessed. His work, as well as that of other labor historians, recognizes—in James Dietz’s apt words—“that real-world economies may be better represented and understood as complex and dynamic social formations, rather than as simple, static modes of production, [thus permitting] a richer analysis of economic processes and social relations. . . .”8

The purpose of this article is to examine the cumulative impact of abolition and centralization on the working population of Vega Baja, a small town on the northern coast of Puerto Rico, where the island’s first agricultural-industrial sugar complex—Central San Vicente—was established in 1873. There, both management and labor sought to advance their own interests under new circumstances. In response to workers’ assertions of their autonomy, administrators developed a number of mechanisms to attract or coerce potential laborers to the workplace. Neither group knew precisely how to react to the call for change; both naturally resisted some of the consequences of the new order. In this context, the limited impact of the sugar complex on the people most vulnerable to its presence is hardly surprising. Apparently, Central San Vicente barely touched residential patterns, social mobility, and town life. The preservation of worker autonomy was as real as the assertion of planter control, as resolute intentions coexisted with ambivalent attitudes in the difficult period of adjustment for both laborers and management.

The greater part of my findings coincides with those of Rebecca J. Scott for Cuba. A connecting thread in both her work and mine is the myriad manifestations of worker autonomy, as former slaves and free men and women claimed some “space” for themselves in the years of emancipation. The process of interaction among the different forces at play— metropolitan demands, planter interests, and worker concerns—at any one time is, of course, somewhat different for Puerto Rico, as its larger sister received the attention its more developed sugar industry demanded. The experience of abolition in San Vicente, however, is very similar to the local experience of emancipation on Cuban estates. Scott’s graphs of weekly employment figures show curves comparable to mine during the harvest and off-season. She attributes—as I do—the “instability of the work force from day to day and week to week” to the preservation of workers’ access to land and to the mobility provided by abolition. Finally, Scott’s work is most revealing in recording the many instances when former slaves were self-assertive before special courts as well as before municipal authorities. In that San Vicente’s move to wage labor and to a different way of producing sugar was a bit less thorough, its transition was, if not uneventful, much less conflictive.9

Management and Labor at Central San Vicente

The establishment of the first agricultural-industrial sugar complex in Puerto Rico in 1873 was a portentous event. In San Vicente, a 4, 560-hectare estate made up of the best lands of ruined plantations, the division of labor, the installation of the most modern machinery, and the application of advanced management techniques pointed to the progressive attitudes of its founder, Leonardo Igaravídez. First as administrator of his second wife’s and her children’s shares of Hacienda San Vicente and later as owner of most of the property and surrounding estates in his own right, Igaravídez invested enormous amounts of capital in buildings and state-of-the-art equipment. He aspired to centralize, leaving the cultivation of cane to his agricultural neighbors and reserving the process of milling and making sugar for himself. The separation of field from factory work, the feature that distinguished centrales from the traditional units of production, the haciendas, 10 would become a reality at Central San Vicente. The project was proof to reformers that Puerto Rico, although limited by past metropolitan self-interest and subjected to continuous pressures, could support an industrial revolution.11

Neither the establishment nor its owner, however, was able to rise to the occasion. Igaravídez started to buy outright the properties that surrounded San Vicente, either because they were unable to supply the factory with cane or because the seigneurial dream of landowning—suddenly within his reach—was irresistible. From 1871 to 1877, he acquired the haciendas Encarnación, Fe, Felicidad, Rosario, and Santa Inés, incorporating them to his investment portfolio and to San Vicente’s production effort. Eventually, the enterprise came to occupy 45.4 percent of the territory of the municipality of Vega Baja, produce more than 50 percent of the municipality’s income, and employ close to 40 percent of its population over 16 years of age (not counting “wealthy heads-of-household”). In the absence of immediate profits, payment of wages for agricultural labor and mortgage obligations on the land became too onerous, particularly when coupled with the necessary industrial investments. With hindsight, the proclivity to control more and more land—translated into the failure to separate the cultivation of cane by others from the manufacture of sugar by Igaravídez himself—can be recognized as only one of the entrepreneur’s mixed goals.12

The enterprise was also unable to operate successfully in the sphere of capital investment. The ambitious goals to which the project was committed necessitated an unusually far-reaching financial program. In an attempt to transcend the confines of traditional credit channels, Igaravídez overextended himself, convinced of his ability to repay his obligations with forthcoming profits. In 1879, he officially defaulted, having very recently borrowed considerable amounts of capital. By the end of the year, some of his most powerful creditors had accused him of fraud and insisted on a formal declaration of bankruptcy and judicial intervention. Arguments concerning the fundamental economic soundness of the project now echoed hollowly. The legalistic line advanced by some of his creditors, more interested in receiving a small but immediate return on their loans than in participating in a promised flow of income at a later date, resulted in the strict application of Spanish bankruptcy law. Beginning in 1883, San Vicente was ineptly managed through a receivership. Even as the central recuperated under the leadership of Igaravídez himself in 1887, those who still believed in the venture succumbed to a series of personal attacks on the part of resentful family members and unsatisfied creditors. Like the haciendas before it, San Vicente ultimately fell victim to the regressive attitudes that were a functional part of the colonial apparatus, and it was dismembered in 1892.13

The failure of Central San Vicente is most evident in its relations with the work force. Independently of the central’s plans for a steady and reliable work force, most jornaleros (daily wage workers) balanced the amount of time they spent at the complex with that dedicated to other pursuits. The skills of experienced industrial laborers affected management decisions regarding where the labor effort was to be channeled. In addition, the coexistence in the heart of the complex of paternalistic carry-overs from slavery and modern impersonal incentives prevented the imposition of the inflexible work discipline envisioned by agricultural reformers. The quiet adaptation of San Vicente’s laborers to the transformations they encountered—in the context of conflict between the central’s economic objectives and the traditional social attitudes of its owner— formed a central part of the transition period in which they lived.

An analysis of the relationship between the workers and the workplace is central to determining the nature of the exchanges between the rural population of Vega Baja and Central San Vicente. It is apparent that the ties that bound central and jornaleros—if not as relaxed as those among equals—were relatively flexible, and in certain respects mutually beneficial. Both workers and enterprise experimented with the transformations at hand; neither had defined a position or formulated clear objectives to confront the changes encountered. Although the complex did its best to encompass all aspects of the workers’ lives, the latter apparently had some degree of independence in their exchanges with the factory. Ultimately, central and jornalero tacitly worked out a series of compromises that impeded the immediate subjugation of the work force to new industrial demands.

The element that defines most basically how exchanges take place between a labor force and an enterprise is the frequency with which available manpower attends the work environment. The more powerful the influence of the employer, the stronger its chances of obtaining the labor it needs when it wants it; the more alternatives open to the worker, the stronger his or her autonomy and bargaining position. Central San Vicente could manipulate its labor force through the offer of employment, control of available land, and (conceivably) influence peddling at the local government level, if necessary. But its workers could also withhold their services if better conditions or pay were available elsewhere, if they had access to the means of production, and (possibly) if they were willing to risk getting in trouble with the authorities.14

One would expect patterns of work attendance to develop somewhat differently for Vega Baja’s nonwhite population, if only because of the particular circumstances under which the give-and-take between management and labor would occur. Former slaves would undoubtedly be most vulnerable to the plantation’s demands, as the power of the law and the influence of their employer with town officials made their apprenticeship contracts15 more than legally binding. Further, the experience of formally asserting their rights and seeking alternative options was relatively new to them, as well as to other free blacks and mulattoes. Their source of strength, on the other hand, lay primarily in their numbers and in their skills.

It is clear that—from the perspective of management—the 290 workers at San Vicente who form the sample of this study16 constituted a reliable labor force, appropriate to the needs of the complex. During the three years for which there are records (1879, 1883, and 1885), the jornaleros of San Vicente performed a total of 59 different tasks at the central. A substantial portion of the individuals who appear in the account books of any given year worked either of the other two years, if not both. An approximately equal number of weeks worked and weeks not worked is also characteristic for the three years. It seems, then, that the same workers appeared at the central every year, and worked there at least as often as they did elsewhere.

Persons of color also made their labor available to the estate on a regular basis. General data on the racial characteristics of the central’s workers indicate that San Vicente’s labor force was composed of a large number of blacks and mulattos.17 All evidence indicates that a good proportion of the nonwhites who filled the ranks of the laboring class during the life of the complex were either “free colored” or former slaves with no previous ties to San Vicente. Only 35 men in the sample (less than 37 percent of all nonwhites) appeared as slaves in the period from 1860 to 1873, and only 9 of these had belonged to Igaravídez before abolition in 1873. However, more than half of the former slaves on the estate had signed contracts with San Vicente and its five dependencies (19 out of 28 contracts signed by the workers from the sample) in 1873. The central seemed to have no trouble in obtaining its share of the nonwhite and non-San Vicente former slave population as part of its labor force immediately after abolition.

It was important to sugar planters to obtain workers to carry out the jobs at hand, convinced as the planters were that rural laborers were by nature lazy and inclined to leave the workplace just when they were most needed.18 On the other hand, working exclusively for wages was not an attractive alternative either for former slaves who now were masters of their own destiny or for small landholders who naturally felt a primary attachment to their own land. Since the number of workers that the complex attracted in any given week was so high (see Figure 1), it appears that management at San Vicente was not particularly troubled by fluctuations in the available labor pool. And for workers, the option of work was always available, as the vast expanse of territory required a relatively steady number of agricultural hands. But cultivating a piece of land or raising cattle was an alternative to working at the central. Still another was settling within San Vicente’s perimeter itself (52 percent of its land was not under cultivation) and raising minor crops there.

Massive unemployment during the tiempo muerto or off-season, roughly from July to December, and ceaseless exploitation during the zafra or cane-cutting and sugar-manufacturing season, roughly from January to June—characteristic of the twentieth-century capitalistic sugar industry—were simply unknown to San Vicente’s work force. The number of workers at San Vicente was relatively stable throughout the year (see Figure 1); that it did not increase progressively as the harvest approached in January indicates that the plans of reformers bent on rationalizing the production process were not fully realized at the central. Agricultural functions continued to be performed as part of the operations of the enterprise, so that a number of hands were employed during the tiempo muerto. Moreover, San Vicente could not monopolize employment opportunities for Vega Baja’s population even during the zafra because its workers had means of subsistence other than their daily wage at the sugar complex. As the central satisfied its demands for labor throughout the year, its jornaleros experimented in developing a cycle consonant with their other economic and personal pursuits.

The accounts kept by a Vega Baja merchant contain a powerful statement of the workers’ autonomy and serve as a testimony to their relative independence. Apparently running into cash-flow difficulties at the close of the harvest, the central resorted to the convenient method of remunerating workers through a line of credit at a local business. But San Vicente’s workers were reluctant to accept as a substitute for cash payments the merchandise of Francisco de Diego’s store, with which the enterprise contracted in 1881. Neither the value of goods received by the workers nor the number of workers actually choosing this method of payment remotely approaches the figures on wages paid by the central to its jornaleros in other years. It is clear that few workers decided to accept this offer; the majority preferred to wait for cash payments—a decision that indicates that these individuals had other ways to provide for their daily existence, in the form of either land and animals or another occupation. 19

The same appears to have been true for former slaves immediately after abolition. The fact that only a minority of the former slaves of Igaravídez—one of the largest slaveholders in the island20—appear in San Vicente’s work force between 1879 and 1885 points to a heavy population movement away from the central, which suggests a certain independence of spirit in the early apprenticeship period. What is even more telling, only 69 of Vega Baja’s libertos signed apprenticeship contracts with San Vicente in 1873; if those who signed agreements with the five haciendas San Vicente controlled are included, the number rises to only 126 out of a total 307 libertos whose apprenticeship contracts are recorded in Vega Baja. Although close to half of those who initially contracted with San Vicente remained there, a large proportion of the nearby haciendas’ slave population chose to make their daily living outside the sugar complex in the first years of abolition.

In the face of worker autonomy, planters had to devise ways to attract the number of workers necessary for the daily operation of their enterprises. Wage policies appear to have been purposefully directed at attracting workers, especially skilled ones. San Vicente began by paying wages on time and in cash—not issuing internal tokens or providing credit as did coffee haciendas and as became common for sugar plantations later in this period. This policy should have impressed on the workers the notion that San Vicente was a financially solid enterprise, which adhered to fair business practices, foremost among which was the honest exchange of wages for labor. 21

San Vicente also paid nonwhites a bit more than it did whites (42 and 39 centavos as a daily average, respectively, in the years 1879, 1883, and 1885), apparently in another attempt to attract local reliable workers. Nonwhites outnumbered whites two to one in higher wage categories. Colored people were evenly distributed in all wage categories, as opposed to whites, who were concentrated in the lower wage categories (60 percent of whites worked in the lowest two categories). Possibly because they were former slaves and had industrial skills or were more familiar with factory operations after many years’ experience—as discussed again below—nonwhites found themselves favored by an enterprise hungry for steady laborers.

The central could also offer conditions of work that appealed to laborers. The contracts that San Vicente signed with former slaves clearly demonstrate that management considered their presence essential to the smooth working of the complex and strove to attract them. The agreements signed between Igaravídez’s representative and slave “protectors” appointed by law provided the jornaleros of San Vicente with more benefits than those offered by other landowners or administrators. Among the incentives to work at San Vicente were four acres of land for cultivation and/or construction purposes or a room, and a cow for milk; workers in other estates received a room, if anything. San Vicente’s new jornaleros were also better paid; most of them received 4 to 5 reales (1 real was equal to 12. 5 centavos) per day, as compared to 3 to 4 reales for those contracting with other haciendas. 22 Clearly, San Vicente was ready to pay the price of keeping its labor force.

Another way in which the central attempted to make the complex attractive to its workers was to offer meals within its premises. San Vicente purchased sweet potatoes from two independent suppliers and plantains from Hacienda Encarnación, probably supplementing this basic diet with codfish or jerked beef bought from a local importer. The central also hired an individual to prepare employee and worker rations (of first, second, and third class). 23 Although the number of meals provided each week fluctuated considerably, it was consistently at least three times the number of workers at San Vicente that week (see Figure 1). Considering the average number of days each laborer worked was about three, these figures indicate that most workers took advantage of the convenience of having their lunch prepared and served in the workplace.

These enlightened and rational policies, however, were undermined by the vacillation that is a function of experimentation. It was easier to revert to patterns that were familiar than to insist on a new course whose initial implementation was difficult and whose final outcome was uncertain. If one scratches below the surface, the absence of a consistent policy regarding remuneration becomes obvious. Cash payments, the dismissal of jornaleros, and the reduction of their wages at different moments during the life of the complex indicate a conscious effort to establish impersonal exchanges between laborers and enterprise. But unexplained delays in wage payments and the credit line for workers mentioned above point to the ease with which the administration returned to more traditional practices. 24

Moreover, the inconsistencies reflected by maximum and minimum wages for each occupation (see Table I) and by wage patterns for the various age groups suggest that the central based its wage policy on more than the services rendered. The difference between the highest and the lowest amounts disbursed was so great, and the fluctuations in wage for the same person so small, that it does not seem to have been the skill required for the task that determined remuneration scales. Younger men did get paid slightly more than older men, as one would assume given the type of work the agricultural-industrial complex required. Yet men in productive ages appear in the lower and higher wage categories in just about the same proportion as men of less productive ages. It is possible that the central responded to individual characteristics—such as personal contacts or duration of employment—which cannot be determined from available sources.

Just as naturally as San Vicente clung to personalized wage payment practices, the central resorted to other methods characteristic of traditional labor-management relations in seeking to assure itself of the workers needed. Igaravídez’s plans to organize construction crews to build homes for workers in 1880, for example, suggest the motives behind what appear to be progressive attitudes on the part of the entrepreneur. Contemporaries referred to this effort as one directed to the “improvement of the proletariat,”25 and no doubt Igaravídez himself believed this. But his altruism certainly did not rule out the practical use of these residences as a means of tying a potential labor force to areas close to the central. The same is true of initiatives in 1867 and 1886 to establish worker colonies near San Vicente as a reward for the most diligent laborers. If the agricultural colonies had flourished, one could speculate, the central would have been the recipient of the labor of their residents. 26 The same tendency is evident in the apprenticeship contracts the enterprise executed with former slaves. Although the central trusted that its offer of higher wages would attract the necessary workers, it did not rule out the possibility of reinstating the terms on which its relationship with the slave force had been predicated. The promise of land and animals was intended to contribute to reconstituting the work force that San Vicente might lose to abolition.

In carving out a work cycle, both Central San Vicente and its laborers actively pursued their own welfare. Neither gained the upper hand. The laborer, apparently active in other economic functions, developed what seems to have been a satisfactory balance between central and other activities. The sugar complex, determined to obtain the labor it needed, attempted to use its work force effectively and to bind it through unofficial mechanisms. The coexistence of paternalistic benefits, commonly associated with the old hacienda economy and with the social structure promoted by slavery, and modern wage incentives obstructed the development of labor relations characterized by the mercenary exploitation of the work force by the enterprise. The central—for both management and labor—was built on the flexible foundations of an ongoing experience and activity. Labor relations at Central San Vicente, then, operated within its owner’s mixed economic objectives and traditional social attitudes, as adapted to the needs of the enterprise. Patterns of work attendance at San Vicente reflect the compromise between worker autonomy and planter control.

Another element that defines the pattern of exchanges between factory and worker is the direction to which the labor effort is channeled. Although Central San Vicente’s laborers were able to defend their autonomy with respect to the frequency and length of their daily stints at the workplace, the enterprise could place its workers in the different occupations that required hands throughout the year. From tiempo muerto to zafra, for example, the number of workers performing agricultural tasks (skilled and unskilled) declined by 60 percent, as the number of industrial workers increased by 33 percent. 27 Unloading cane from wagons in the factory, clearly, was a job only carried out during the grinding months, just as planting cane required substantial increases in the agricultural labor force during the tiempo muerto. That the number of men actually performing a particular job throughout the year was small when compared to the number of times that occupation was filled (see Table II) indicates that the central regularly assigned the same workers to a particular task and shifted them to another only when priorities changed, perhaps in an attempt to develop individual skills within a system based on division of labor.

But the managers at San Vicente appear to have remained ambivalent about the frequency with which different age groups were to be employed in particular occupations. Young men, not surprisingly, were more numerous in all occupations. Also as expected, men in productive ages carried out maintenance and industrial functions (which require stamina and alertness) in notably larger numbers than did older men, who also worked less frequently at these tasks. But men presumed less productive filled skilled and unskilled agricultural occupations (in which tasks must be performed quickly and efficiently) more than once in roughly the same proportions as did younger men. It seems that the central did not discriminate on the basis of age when assigning men to tasks regularly; either age was not taken into account as a practice or management responded to day-to-day circumstances which are now unknown. In this respect, the impression one gets is of an enterprise in which traditional practices, nonbusiness concerns, and exceptional cases were more important than the policies contemporaries would have defined as modern, rational, and consistent.

Occupational distribution by race presents itself largely as a carry-over from the days of slavery. Although there are no marked differences in the frequency with which the various racial groups filled unskilled agricultural tasks, skilled agricultural occupations held twice as many nonwhites as whites. Compared to whites, other groups were also more heavily represented in industrial and maintenance occupations: there are almost no whites in industrial functions, and whites were outnumbered three to one in maintenance functions. Slaves carried out precisely these tasks before abolition—because they were a resident labor force that complemented the work of free men in the fields during the zafra, and because whites refused to work late and in the factory. 28 That nonwhites performed functions that required careful attention or constant attendance in postabolition San Vicente points to the persistence of work cycles characteristic of slave haciendas.

Similarly, age distribution by race is only indicative of the repetition of patterns commonly associated with slavery. Although both white and nonwhite populations were fairly young, nonwhites over the age of 50 outnumbered their white counterparts two to one (see Table III). These older men, it is true, were in a privileged position in that they performed highly skilled tasks that required reliable workers. But the racial imbalance in the older age groups suggests that nonwhites, perhaps because they were less mobile, depended on wage labor well into their late years, while whites could support themselves through other means. Nonwhites remained tied to the sugar complex and served its needs until very late in life, much as they had done as slaves.

San Vicente, then, strove to operate under general principles of division of labor at the same time that it left intact numerous past patterns of labor relations. In some instances, such as the channeling of the labor effort by age, management decisions do not follow any obvious pattern. The tendency of San Vicente’s nonwhites to perform the same functions slaves used to carry out on haciendas and under the same demanding conditions, on the other hand, is both quite compatible with economic rationality and reminiscent of times past.

The Central and the Community

The influence of the central on the daily life of the workers, one expects, would naturally extend beyond the premises themselves. Remarkably, patterns of residence in the municipality were not affected by San Vicente’s growth in terms of control of land and capacity for employment. For the nonwhite population, in fact, the presence of the industrial giant seems to have simply confirmed the patterns of residential segregation commonly associated with slavery. Evidence also suggests that Vega Baja’s rural population was not thoroughly proletarianized, despite the sudden need for labor that made itself felt in 1873 and continued to put pressure on the surrounding areas for the next two decades. The continuity that marked patterns of geographical and socioeconomic mobility found reflection in the absence of exceptionally complicated cases in the court records of these years.

When it came to choosing a place to live, San Vicente’s workers seemingly ignored the presence of the central and its continuous demands for an accessible labor force subjected to its needs and absorbed by its functions. Table IV presents the number of workers with established residences in Vega Baja by area (see Figure 2). The residential patterns of San Vicente’s work force in 1883-85—to take the shortest time span with the largest number of cases—show an even distribution among the different areas of the municipality. The greatest number of the 136 workers whose residence is known lived in the area west of the central. There was also a high concentration of people in the area immediately surrounding the workplace—made especially significant by San Vicente’s proximity to the town itself. The distribution across the municipality is nevertheless quite even, as 44 percent of the workers at the central lived in areas that can be considered well outside the perimeter of the sugar complex.

The central, interestingly, did not seem to provide a pole of attraction for Vega Baja’s workers. Whereas a quick look at the percentages in Table IV suggests population movement toward the complex after 1887, a more remarkable phenomenon is the loss of population in all four sectors of the municipality, precisely in the years San Vicente began to recuperate. It seems that laborers, not heeding the call from the workplace, simply removed themselves from municipal boundaries and worked at San Vicente only intermittently. Of the 30 workers who lived in Vega Baja during the three time periods, moreover, 40 percent remained in the two groups of neighborhoods closer to San Vicente; 43 percent moved away or stayed far from the central; only 17 percent moved closer to San Vicente or remained in the group of neighborhoods closest to the complex. Contrary to expectations, the central did not attract individuals who had established residences in Vega Baja before 1873 to the areas it controlled and influenced as it grew.

Similarly, the residential patterns of San Vicente’s nonwhites resemble those associated with slavery. Whereas figures for the working population as a whole show an even distribution across the municipality (see Table IV), data for the three time periods on those individuals whose race is known indicate not only that more than 70 percent of the nonwhites lived in the two divisions closest to the central, but also that the nonwhite population was double that of the whites in those areas. The opposite is also true: whites concentrated in the two areas farthest from the complex, and there easily outnumbered nonwhites (see Table V).

This distribution is significant on two counts. In the first place, that proximity to the workplace appears as a function of race confirms the suspicion that nonwhites were more dependent on their income from wages than were whites and thus tended to live near, if not in, the central itself. (Nonwhites, in fact, worked for the central an average of 3. 8 days per week, compared to 3. 2 days for whites.) Secondly, these postabolition patterns of segregation appear to have been simply a carryover from the days of slavery: nonwhites (slaves) lived predominantly in the coastal areas, where they were used in the sugar plantations; whites (free men) were likely to live farther inland—in the mountains—where they were able to cultivate plots of land not appropriated by haciendas and to keep a distance from them.

The extent to which San Vicente’s workers were able to control their economic future outside the central is indicated further by analysis of an occupational sample showing movement from jornalero status through industrial or artisan tasks into some sort of proprietor status, be it as a landholder or a cattle owner, from 1870-73 through 1883-85 to 1887-91. Although, admittedly, this sample is by definition composed of the most stable workers, my findings are nonetheless suggestive. Of the 28 men for whom occupational information exists in all three time periods, more than half approached or attained proprietor status, while 43 percent remained in the same occupational category; only 1 worker actually moved down. Whereas one might expect a sudden proletarianization of Vega Baja’s population—through loss of access to the means of production and subjection to the demands of the enterprise—nearly the opposite seems to be true.

That the presence of the sugar complex seems to have caused no significant disruptions in the daily life of Vega Baja’s population is also suggested by the nature of the social disorders described in juicios verbales or local court hearings. Conceivably, workers who begin to lose “territory”— however defined—over which they previously had control will attempt to regain their losses through what may not appear at first sight to be the right channels or in ways not obviously effective. One would not be surprised to discover, in response, a retrenchment on the part of officials in the face of what they were bound to consider challenges to their authority. The way in which workers choose to make a statement, of course, varies by case, as does what authorities perceive to be a questioning of their own right to define and establish order. 29 Be that as it may, all of the minor (and some major) infractions of the law as recorded in the local court hearings would indicate that the workers of San Vicente easily adapted to (if they did not ignore) the sudden appearance of the business giant in their living space.

The cases against workers for indebtedness, theft, and miscellaneous disruptions of the established order could in theory be indicative of dislocations in traditional patterns of moral values. But, when coupled with myriad other situations that made their way into court, these instances do not seem to be exceptional or related to the appearance of Central San Vicente. Overt social unrest and increased political activism do not seem to have occurred—a finding that is consistent with the workers’ other actions and reactions. Under these circumstances, officials reacted as was customary, with leniency when deemed necessary, with full force when respect for authority was at stake. The official response was somewhat more of an adaptation to local conditions than a strict application of the law. 30

Indebtedness was common for the workers of San Vicente. Most often, local authorities or the injured party pressed charges. In the apremios (demands for money) carried out by the municipal government to secure the payment of back taxes, treasury officials followed a standard procedure: they first pressed formal charges before the town magistrate, visited the house of the debtor to request the money owed, threatened to seize property until payments were made, and—once convinced that the person was truly insolvent—apparently dropped charges. An exception was the 1881 case in which a massive accusation was brought against the jornaleros de la jurisdicción. In this case overseers were charged with the task of retaining part of each worker’s wage to cover a 48-centavo tax on income, and the municipality was able to recover a little over 80 pesos, as much as they could have expected from 167 taxpayers. In general, though, it does not seem that Vega Baja’s public officials were particularly concerned about workers’ tax payments, and they adopted a realistic attitude with respect to revenue collection devices.

Less nonchalant were the town merchants whose establishments customarily ran a line of credit through which regular clients could purchase personal articles. José Manuel Portela, Ramón B. Portela, and Manuel Otero figure prominently among the merchants with whom San Vicente’s jornaleros opened accounts; they and others pressed strict charges against 23 workers for amounts ranging from 50 centavos to nearly 10 pesos. Igaravídez, Mariani y Cía. accused two jornaleros of owing, respectively, close to 20 and 40 pesos; the company apparently sold construction materials that the debtors bought as supplies for other types of work. Although debtors were permitted to schedule payment according to their needs, plaintiffs in these cases invariably recovered the amounts owed.

More serious crimes required the application of more stringent principles as outlined in the penal code. In six cases of theft examined, the judge paid particular attention to (1) the seriousness of the crime, determined by value categories (most objects stolen had a value of 25-250 pesetas) and by aggravating circumstances (such as darkness, vagrancy, false pretenses), and (2) restitution of the amount involved. The resulting prison terms, however, varied considerably. Two months and a day was the sentence for thefts in value categories up to 250 pesetas, whereas some people served more than three years for theft of an amount not specified in the proceedings. Still another person was in jail for only nine days after having beaten up two people (one of them a fellow worker at San Vicente) because they refused to give him money.

These cases point to a flexibility in local proceedings that had apparently become customary in the face-to-face application of the law. In all instances, the accused—men between the ages of 18 and 26—pleaded guilty, some even offering the reasons for having committed the crime: hunger, friendship ties with the principal perpetrators, or lack of work. As the young men must have expected, their confessions usually resulted in lighter sentences.

Most accusations in which police authorities themselves became involved had to do with the smooth regulation of everyday life for Vega Baja residents. Four of San Vicente’s workers, for example, owned horses and cows that were found roaming on a neighbor’s property. The penal code stipulated a fine of 25 pesetas and the payment of damages to the owner of the property. In all cases, this was done without protest and things returned to normal with no further disturbances. The tables were turned in at least one case: two jornaleros sued a guardia civil who had seized their fighting cocks in the public plaza; they received the cocks’ fair price as a result. Apparently, the interruption of the popular Puerto Rican pastime was a more serious offense than disturbing the peace.

A most peculiar case—exceptional in that it involved many of San Vicente’s jornaleros—makes reference to the excesses of another guardian of the peace in carrying out his duty. The accuser Juan Sánchez—alias “Títere” (mischievous and street-wise)—picked a fight with a certain “muchacho moreno” (dark boy) who also worked at San Vicente, in an unimportant incident complicated by the persecution of Sánchez by a man who carried a horse bridle, guardia civil Antonio Joven. Sánchez naturally fled the scene of the crime and, as his pursuer followed him, found refuge in the home of various townsfolk, one of them “el ciego [the blindman] Cosme Galíndez,” a co-worker at San Vicente. After a lengthy chase, Joven caught up with Sánchez, took him to the police station, and beat him up in the presence of several people. Witnesses to the street affair and eventual beating testified in favor of Sánchez. The judge, however, was more impressed by Joven’s description of Sánchez’s disrespectful behavior and irreverent gesticulations. He dropped charges against the guardia civil, alleging that no crime—except a mild beating—had been committed.

Several details make this account valuable to the understanding of Vega Baja life. References to people’s street names—“el ciego,” “Títere,” “muchacho moreno”—point to a familiarity in day-to-day dealings not often glimpsed through other sources. That Sánchez had a well-deserved reputation as the disorderly town clown with much support from his neighbors indicates a healthy tolerance, and even incorporation, of deviant behavior within local patterns of social expectations. The authorities apparently also ignored (or condoned) Sánchez’s misbehavior—just as they tolerated Joven’s retaliation.

Vega Baja’s juicios verbales place San Vicente’s laborers in a context that, like the workplace itself, could conceivably have been transformed by the establishment of an industrial routine unfamiliar to those it most closely touched but in practice was not greatly changed. The existence of the sugar complex did not promote changing lifestyles, suggest new rules of behavior, or dictate different sanctions than those that had become customary. Vega Baja’s population seemed to proceed with business as usual, more often than not quietly adapting to the new situations encountered. 31

The failure of the first modern sugar factory in nineteenth-century Puerto Rico resulted ultimately from the inability of its owner to reconcile his aspirations with the limitations of the context in which the enterprise grew and operated. Don Leonardo Igaravídez, Marqués de Cabo Caribe, tried to set up a rational system of sugar production at his establishment in the municipality of Vega Baja, only to meet with frustration when the short-term credit mechanisms available to him proved wanting. The experimental nature of the project—manifest in San Vicente’s limited impact on the social and economic life of its workers—must ultimately be understood as a response to the difficulties encountered by the export economies of the Caribbean as their sugar industries struggled to adapt to changing patterns in both the organization of labor and the process of production. San Vicente and its owner, though perhaps unique in their momentary success and final failure, accurately reflect many of the larger forces that made the nineteenth century a period of redefinition.

Labor relations at Central San Vicente conserved the quality that had characterized hacienda life, and did not evolve into strictly business ones. Jornaleros found other means of employment and maintained their independence of action. They preserved the patterns of work to which they were accustomed, as the central never became a powerful force to contend with. Previous patterns of occupational distribution endured as the complex failed to establish new directives with respect to wage incentives and the division of labor. San Vicente’s workers adapted to the transformations at hand, preserving their relative autonomy within and outside the work environment.

The producer of change itself was clearly caught up in the uncertainty of the moment, and had limited impact on the daily routine its workers were used to following. Rewards for efficient laborers remained paternalistic concessions, such as permission to use land or the show of support in time of need. Incentives in the form of wages for a greater production effort were still a personal prerogative of the managerial echelons. The jornaleros of San Vicente, on their part, readily adjusted to the central’s lack of definition and clear objectives. They seem, in fact, to have successfully dealt with these deviations from previously accepted patterns, and perhaps to have adapted better than the agricultural-industrial complex itself.

It would be risky to generalize about labor conditions in Caribbean sugar plantations or about the transformations faced by Puerto Rico’s economy at the end of the nineteenth century from the experience of Central San Vicente. This exceptional case, however, points to trends seen in other historical contexts. It suggests that the most ambitious plans could succumb before an inadequate infrastructure—the result of an unresponsive colonial apparatus. It is also indicative of the flexibility that needs to accompany the most carefully laid out schemes. Because San Vicente suffered from the absence of a financial establishment that could provide long-term investment to large-scale projects and survived as long as it did by creative improvisations on time-tested business practices, its ups and downs are reminiscent of the struggle of so many other Caribbean plantations to survive violent market fluctuations. Likewise the give-and-take that characterized the enterprise’s exchanges with its workers can be recognized as another example of the hammering out of labor relations in postemancipation societies. Neither enterprise nor jornaleros changed with the rapidity or thoroughness demanded by elaborate plans to transform the sugar industry. The less-than-conflictive transition to wage labor and to centralization in San Vicente resulted ultimately from a less-than-receptive context.


Studies of the nineteenth-century sugar industry are available for almost every area in which cane was grown. A basic sampling would include, for Brazil, Peter L. Eisenberg, The Sugar Industry in Pernambuco. Modernization Without Change, 1840-1910 (Berkeley, 1974) and Gadiel Perruci, A república das usinas. Um estudo de história social e econômica do Nordeste: 1889-1930 (Rio de Janeiro, 1978). For Cuba, it would include Roland T. Ely, Cuando reinaba su majestad el azúcar. Estudio histórico-sociológico de una tragedia latinoamericana: El monocultivo en Cuba. Origen y evolución del proceso (Buenos Aires, 1963); Ramiro Guerra y Sánchez, Sugar and Society in the Caribbean. An Economic History of Cuban Agriculture, Marjory M. Urquidi, trans. (New Haven, 1964); and Manuel Moreno Fraginals, El ingenio. Complejo económico social cubano del azúcar, 3 vols. (Havana, 1978). For Puerto Rico, some important works are Andrés A. Ramos Mattei, ed., Azúcar y esclavitud (Río Piedras, 1982) and Francisco A. Scarano, Sugar and Slavery in Puerto Rico: The Plantation Economy of Ponce, 1800-1850 (Madison, 1984). Representative of the work that has been done for the rest of the Caribbean are Jay R. Mandle, The Plantation Economy. Population and Economic Change in Guyana, 1838-1960 (Philadelphia, 1973) and Christian Schnakenbourg, Histoire de l’industrie sucrière en Guadeloupe aux XIXe. et XXe. siècles, Tome I, La crise du système esclavigiste (1835-1847) (Paris, 1980). The impact of slavery as an institution and the process of abolition in the Caribbean have been covered by Alan H. Adamson, Sugar Without Slaves. The Political Economy of British Guiana, 1838-1904 (New Haven, 1972); Michael Craton, Searching for the Invisible Man. Slaves and Plantation Life in Jamaica (Cambridge, 1978); José Curet, De la esclavitud a la abolición. Transiciones económicas en las haciendas azucareras de Ponce, 1845-1873 (Río Piedras, 1979); Luis M. Díaz Soler, Historia de la esclavitud negra en Puerto Rico (1493-1890) (Río Piedras, 1974); Eric Foner, Nothing But Freedom. Emancipation and Its Legacy (Baton Rouge, 1983); Douglas Hall, Free Jamaica, 1838-1865. An Economic History (New Haven, 1959); Moreno Fraginals, Frank Moya Pons, and Stanley L. Engerman, eds., Between Slavery and Free Labor. The Spanish-Speaking Caribbean in the Nineteenth Century (Baltimore, 1985); and Rebecca J. Scott, Slave Emancipation in Cuba. The Transition to Free Labor, 1860-1899 (Princeton, 1985).


In Barbados and Antigua, for example, an apprenticeship period was not even necessary; planters knew that former slaves would be forced to settle in estate lands and provide the labor for their plantations. One worrisome situation was worker migration to Trinidad and Guyana, where high wages and importation of labor (especially East Indian) were the key to recovery. In St. Kitts, the threat of eviction from estate lands was a mechanism planters used to keep their new wage workers in line. In Jamaica, an economy in decline called for the more innovative (and realistic) method of selling land to freedmen and women, so that planters capitalized on a clearly difficult situation. Workers, in turn, protected their new status through informal networks of support, notable among them the church. See William A. Green, British Slave Emancipation. The Sugar Colonies and the Great Experiment, 1830-1865 (Oxford, 1976), 245-260; Craton, Searching for the Invisible Man, 23-24; Craton, James Walvin, and David Wright, Slavery, Abolition and Emancipation. Black Slaves and the British Empire (London, 1976), 326-327; Hall, Five of the Leewards, 1834–1870. The Major Problems of the Post-Emancipation Period in Antigua, Barbuda, Montserrat, Nevis and St. Kitts (St. Laurence, Barbados, 1971), 40, 45-47; and Foner, Nothing But Freedom, 21, 23-25, 37-38.


Again the case of the British West Indies is instructive. The double blow of abolition and open competition beginning in the late 1830s made it necessary for planters to increase production through improved technology. Compare Hall, Five of the Leewards, 109-112; Claude Levy, Emancipation, Sugar, and Federalism: Barbados and the West Indies, 1833-1876, (Gainesville, 1980), 121-122; and Eugene D. Genovese, The World the Slaveholders Made. Two Essays in Interpretation (New York, 1969), 32.


See Foner, Nothing But Freedom, 21-25; Hall, Five of the Leewards, 44-51; Craton, Searching for the Invisible Man, 23-24. Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, Social Control in Slave Plantation Societies: A Comparison of St. Domingue and Cuba (Baltimore, 1971) attributes to a politically reinforced racism the ultimate preservation of white supremacy in plantation societies.


Franklin W. Knight, The Caribbean. The Genesis of a Fragmented Nationalism (New York, 1980), 65, 123.


Recent studies show that, small as it was, the slave population of Puerto Rico was concentrated on the cane-growing areas. Benjamín Nistal Moret has shown statistically how slaves, not wage workers, tended to work in field tasks, traditionally understood to be a monopoly of the free during the harvest. Ramos Mattei’s findings are the same as mine: slaves appear to have handled the industrial aspects of production, being a resident and therefore reliable labor force. See Scarano, Sugar and Slavery, 33; Nistal Moret, "Problems in the Social Structure of Slavery in Puerto Rico during the Process of Abolition, 1872” in Between Slavery and Free Labor, Moreno Fraginals et al., eds., 155; Ramos Mattei, “El liberto en el régimen de trabajo azucarero de Puerto Rico, 1870–1880” in Azúcar y esclavitud, Ramos Mattei, ed., 105.


The arguments for reform in the sugar industry can be found in the works of Federico Asenjo y Arteaga, José Ballesteros Muñoz, Salvador Brau, Enrique Delgado, Manuel Fernández Umpierre, Fernando López Tuero, Santiago MacCormick, M. and J. Rosich, and Francisco del Valle Atiles. These authors also advocated planter involvement in the regeneration of the “proletariat” and, for the most part, rejected the reestablishment of the Reglamento de Jornaleros. This semicoerced wage labor system, adopted in 1849, automatically classified as a wage worker anyone who could not produce enough for subsistence on the amount of land he owned, and required him or her to carry a libreta, on which was recorded personal information, as well as notations regarding place of work, duration of employment, and any debts the worker may have contracted. See Labor Gómez Acevedo, Organización y reglamentación del trabajo en el Puerto Rico del siglo XIX (Propietarios y jornaleros) (San Juan, 1970).


The “proletarianization” argument can be found in Gervasio L. García and A. G. Quintero Rivera, Desafío y solidaridad. Breve historia del movimiento obrero puertorriqueño (Río Piedras, 1982), 15-18. In their appraisal of the situation that preceded abolition and widespread mechanization, these two authors are reacting to the conceptualization of the nineteenth century by other scholars, such as Eugenio Fernández Méndez, Historia cultural de Puerto Rico, 3rd ed. (San Juan, 1971), 207-321, who refers to an “active agrarian capitalism,” complete with an internationally prized colonial product, businesslike planters, and a semicoerced labor force. Laird W. Bergad’s Coffee and the Growth of Agrarian Capitalism in Nineteenth-Century Puerto Rico (Princeton, 1983), 193-203 contains a most suggestive discussion of labor and economic organization in the coffee haciendas of Puerto Rico following midcentury. Ramos Mattei, La hacienda azucarera. Su crecimiento y crisis en Puerto Rico (siglo XIX) (San Juan, 1981), 37-39 and “Technological Innovations and Social Change in the Sugar Industry of Puerto Rico, 1870-1880” in Between Slavery and Free Labor, 161 explain succinctly the notion of “structural crisis.” James L. Dietz, Economic History of Puerto Rico. Institutional Change and Capitalist Development (Princeton, 1986) offers a thorough discussion of the historiography on the nineteenth century in the first chapter, 3-78. The quote is on p. 34.


The importance of Scott’s Slave Emancipation in Cuba cannot be overemphasized. The best and most recent statement of the issues that are relevant to the study of societies in transition to wage labor can be found in pp. 201-293.


I use the words hacienda and plantation interchangeably to mean generally the socioeconomic units of agricultural production common in nineteenth-century Puerto Rico. Curet, De la esclavitud a la abolición, 3 characterizes sugar haciendas in Puerto Rico before 1873 as independent and almost self-sufficient production units with a mixed labor force composed of slaves and wage workers, dedicated to the cultivation of cane used in the manufacture of sugar for export. Use of this term to refer to Puerto Rican estates, then, should not be construed as a statement on the size of the property, its market orientation, predominant mode of production, or status of the labor force, such as historiographical debates on Latin American haciendas and plantations are likely to expound. The principal theoretical models—the applicability of which is still to be tested empirically by Puerto Rican historians—are discussed fully in Enrique Florescano, ed., Haciendas, latifundios y plantaciones en América Latina (Mexico City, 1975); Robert G. Keith, ed., Haciendas and Plantations in Latin American History (New York, 1977); James Lockhart, “Encomienda and Hacienda: The Evolution of the Great Estate in the Spanish Indies,” HAHR, 49:3 (Aug. 1969), 411-429; Magnus Mörner, “The Spanish American Hacienda: A Survey of Recent Research and Debate,” HAHR, 53: 2 (May 1973), 183-216; Eric R. Wolf and Sidney W. Mintz, “Haciendas and Plantations in Middle America and the Antilles,” Social and Economic Studies, 6 (Sept. 1957), 380-412; Eric Van Young, “Mexican Rural History since Chevalier: The Historiography of the Colonial Hacienda,” Latin American Research Review, 18: 3 (1983), 5-62. Similar works appeared for the study of plantations: George L. Beckford, Persistent Poverty. Underdevelopment in Plantation Economies of the Third World (New York, 1972); Lloyd A. Best, “Outlines of a Model of Pure Plantation Economy,” Social and Economic Studies, 17 (Sept. 1968), 283-327. For the Puerto Rican case, see also Fernández Méndez, Historia cultural, 207-321; Mintz, “Labor and Sugar in Puerto Rico and in Jamaica, 1800-1850,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, 1 (Mar. 1959), 273-283.


For contemporary accounts of San Vicente’s achievements, see Carlos Peñaranda, Cartas puertorriqueñas, 1878-1880 (San Juan, 1967), 85-87; M. Fernández Juncos, in La Razón (San Juan), May 15, 1873; Ramón Soler Fort, in El Economista (San Juan), May 17, 1874. Calculations on the economic impact of the complex on the municipality are derived from documents in the Archivo Municipal de Vega Baja (AMVB): “Relación de propiedad y bienes de Leonardo Igaravídez, que presenta Serapio Miticola, depositario judicial de los bienes del concurso necesario,” box 1880C, doc. 72; “Provincia de Puerto Rico. Pueblo de la Vega. Resumen del padrón general de habitantes de este territorio en la parte relativa a la clasificación por cabeza de familia y demás condiciones sociales que a continuación se expresan,” box 1885A, doc. 1; “Villa de la Vega Baja. Año ecco. de 1883 á 84. Padrón general que comprende todas las fincas rústicas de propiedad particular que existen en esta jurisdicción el cual forma la junta pericial con vista de las declaraciones juradas presentadas por los dueños o representantes, y las alteraciones que en algunas de ellas ha tenido necesidad de practicar por constarle haberse obtenido mayor producción que la confesada” and “Villa de la Vega. Contribuciones. Expediente relativo a la derrama de la contribución municipal para el año 1883-84. Reparto parcial que se hace a la sección 2a de Pecuaria de la cantidad que le corresponde levantar en unión de las demás riquezas con arreglo a la renta imponible que cada uno disfruta,” box 1883B; “Padrón general que comprende el ganado vacuno, caballar y mular que existe en esta jurisdicción, con designación del que se halla exento del tributo por estar destinado a la agricultura” and “Villa de la Vega. Año de 1887-88. Padrón General de las fincas rústicas, su valor y productos que forma la junta pericial para el repartimiento del año 1887 á 88,” box 1887A, doc. 4. Also interview with and mimeographed material obtained from Nitza Massini and Piedad Morayta, of the Scientific Inventory Division of the Commonwealth Department of Natural Resources; Pedro San Miguel, “Tierra, trabajadores y propietarios: Las haciendas en Vega Baja, 1828-1865,” Andles de Investigación Histórica, 6 (1979), 3, 8-12; Peñaranda, Cartas, 88.


For descriptions of Igaravídez in the context of both hacienda and town that evoke images of a landowning patriarch, see Peñaranda, Cartas, 91-93. To say that Igaravídez tried to consolidate his dominion by buying land, however, is not to suggest that the complex inevitably was doomed to operate like an oversized, inefficient hacienda, and would fail. It must be said, in addition, that San Vicente’s financial collapse cannot be attributed to the lack of better-quality output. Puerto Rico’s largest customers were, after all, U. S. refineries, which required the lower-grade product. As was true for many of the centrales that made their appearance in the 1880s, the difficulties in obtaining long-term investment capital were a much more serious obstacle to financial success. Ironically, San Vicente’s failure at centralizing perhaps prolonged its existence.


The court case can be largely reconstructed through documents in Audiencia Territorial (AT), Serie Civil (SC), Archivo General de Puerto Rico (AGPR): Documentos relacionados a la quiebra, box 31, docs. 438, 441, 442; Relación del proceso de quiebra, box 50, doc. 709; Recusación del presidente de la Real Audiencia, box 40, doc. 560; Serie Criminal, “Testimonio de varios lugares de la causa criminal seguida contra D. Leonardo Igaravídez mandado compulsar en virtud de apelación del Pror. Duprey en el incidente de prisión que fue oído en un solo efecto. Juzgado de la Insta, de San Francisco,” box 1; Documentos sin clasificar, box 325 or 4(?); Sala de Gobierno, “Expediente sobre impedimento de los Jueces de esta Capital y de los Abogados residentes para conocer la quiebra de la Caja de Ahorros de San Juan de Puerto-Rico y otros negocios,” box 16, doc. 9. See also Memoria leída en la reunión de acreedores de Don Leonardo Igaravídez que tuvo efecto en 17 de julio de 1888, presidida por el Señor Don Augusto de Cottes, Presidente de la Comisión elegida por aquéllos al celebrar el convenio que puso fin a la quiebra del Señor Igaravídez, para vigilar su observancia e intervenir en su cumplimiento (Puerto Rico, 1888) and Documentos que debieron leerse en la reunión de acreedores de Don Leonardo Igaravídez convocada para el 17 de noviembre de 1888, por la Comisión Interventora del cumplimiento del Convenio, celebrado por aquéllos y que no tuvo efecto por falta de número bastante de concurrentes (Puerto Rico, 1888). In addition, Ramos Mattei, La hacienda azucarera and Dulce María Tirado Merced, “Las raíces sociales del liberalismo criollo: El Partido Liberal Reformista (1870-1875)” (M. A. thesis, University of Puerto Rico at Río Piedras, 1981) include a section on Igaravídez’s misfortunes.


Walter Rodney, A History of the Guyanese Working People, 1881-1905 (Baltimore, 1981), 41-44 suggests that, even though planters found a natural ally in the court system— through which they could control the work force—village labor (task gangs) and (independent) peasant laborers could command some influence because of their effective organization and skills. A contrast is provided by Fernando Picó, Libertad y servidumbre en el Puerto Rico del siglo XIX (Los jornaleros utuadeños en vísperas del auge del café) (Río Piedras, 1979), 82, 158-159. He refers to peonización, the process by which landholders became wage workers as a result of the valorization of land in the coffee-producing regions of Puerto Rico. The mechanisms used in this case were a strict application of the existing labor code— the infamous Reglamento de Jornaleros—and the importation of coffee pickers at harvest time.


When abolition was declared on Mar. 22, 1873, former slaves were required to sign three-year contracts with a person of their choice. Island historians are still in the process of determining whether these agreements—which generally made no provisions for medical care, clothing, or working tools—were signed with former masters and what instruments of coercion, if any, were used by the planters to bind their work force.


Unless otherwise stated, all conclusions in this article stem from my analysis of 290 cases chosen randomly among a universe of 889 persons who worked in San Vicente during 16 sample weeks that are representative of both the harvest and the off season in 1879, 1883, and 1885, and who also appeared in at least one other primary source. These data were drawn from the following sources, all in AMVB unless otherwise specified: Jornales, box 71, docs. 963, 964 and Documentos relacionados a la quiebra, box 31, doc. 451, to be found in AT, SC, AGPR; “Datos suministrados por los comisionados de barrio para formar tres estados que comprenden el número de habitantes de este partido con expresión de sus clases, condiciones, estados y sexos según lo dispuesto en la superior circular no. 119 de 3 de enero de 1860,” box 1860D, doc. 25; “Pueblo de Vega Baja. Año de 1870. Barrios de Pugdo. Adentro, del Pueblo, de Cibuco, de Yeguada, de Almirante Norte,” box 1870, doc. 1; “Indice alfabético del padrón gral. de jornaleros,” box 1870, doc. 2; “Copia del padrón de esclavos de esta jurisdicción,” box 1873A, doc. 20; “Contratos de Libertos,” box 1873B, doc. 60; “Pueblo de Vega-Baja. Sección 2a. Ejercicio de 1880-81. Agricultura menor y pecuaria. Evaluaciones parciales practicadas por el ayuntamiento de este pueblo en unión de los síndicos elejidos por cada una de las secciones de contribuyentes que han de levantar el repartimiento general autorizado por el artículo 135 de la Ley para cubrir el déficit del presupuesto municipal del corriente año económico,” box 1880, doc. 1; “Pueblo de Vega Baja. Contribución Territorial para el año 1880-81. Riqueza Agrícola. Cultivo de fincas propias o arrendadas. Declaraciones juradas,” box 1880, doc. 5; “Relación de los artesanos de este término municipal que presenta el síndico del gremo Don Valentín Resi agrupados y clasificados sus jornales. . . .,” “Relación de los braceros que constituyen la sección 6a de contribuyentes y que con arreglo a lo dispuesto por el Aymto de conformidad con lo que prescrive la base 6a de la regla 2a del Arto 135 de la Ley deben figurar en el repartimiento general de este año con la tercera parte de la suma que puedan alcanzar por término medio de su haber durante el año calculado a razón de tres reales diarios en veinte y cuatro días laborables de cada mes. Dicho cálculo constituye una renta imponible para cada uno de la suma de 36 pesos anuales. año ecco de 1883 á 84,” “Villa de la Vega. Contribuciones. Expediente relativo a la derrama de la contribución municipal para el año 1883 á 84. Reparto parcial que se hace a la sección 2a de Pecuaria de la cantidad que le corresponde levantar en unión de las demás riquezas con arreglo a la renta imponible que cada uno disfruta” and “Villa de la Vega Baja. Año ecco. de 1883 á 84. Padrón parcial que comprende la riqueza Agrícola de este término municipal con expresión de sus valores y productos para la derrama de la contribución territorial del mencionado año. Padrón general que comprende todas las fincas rústicas de propiedad particular que existen en esta jurisdicción, el cual forma la Junta pericial con vista de las declaraciones juradas presentadas por los dueños o representantes, y las alteraciones que en algunas de ellas ha tenido necesidad de practicar por constarle haberse obtenido mayor producción que la confesada,” box 1883B; “Padrón general que comprende el ganado vacuno, caballar y mular que existe en esta jurisdicción, con designación del que se halla exento del tributo por estar destinado a la agricultura” and “Villa de la Vega. Año de 1887-88. Padrón General de las fincas rústicas su valor y productos que forma la junta pericial para el repartimiento del año 1887 a 88,” box 1887A, doc. 4; “Pueblo de Vega-Baja. Artesanos y jornaleros. Año económico de 1887 á 88. Relación de las utilidades que calculan a los contribuyentes por este concepto en el repartimiento general del expresado año, formado por los síndicos de esta Sección,” box 1887A, doc. 6.


Of those individuals whose race is known (158), close to 61 percent were listed as negro, mulato, pardo, or moreno. Racial categories, of course, depend on the type of documentation used. For the sake of simplicity (and especially in those cases where all I can reconstruct is that the person was, quite literally, not white), I refer to all persons of color as “nonwhite.”


The reformers cited in n. 7 take up the issue of the reliability of the Puerto Rican worker.


Employees and workers would have to wait two months and four weeks, respectively, for cash payments from San Vicente’s management. De Diego would “pay,” for four weeks and on a daily basis, all or part of the wage in articles for which he would be reimbursed by San Vicente through subsequent sugar sales. Documentos relacionados a la quiebra, box 31, doc. 447, May 31, 1881, AT, SC, AGPR. The reaction of San Vicente’s workers can be contrasted both to the more assertive actions of the workers in British Guiana, who went on strike when wages were reduced, and to the helplessness of Cuban cane workers and Puerto Rican coffee pickers, who came to be paid in “tokens,” redeemable only at the plantation store. See Rodney, History of Guyanese Working People, 33; Moreno Fraginals, La historia como arma y otros estudios sobre esclavos, ingenios y plantaciones (Barcelona, 1983), 153; and Carlos Buitrago Ortiz, Los orígenes históricos de la sociedad precapitalista en Puerto Rico (Ensayos de etnohistoria puertorriqueña) (Río Piedras, 1976), 29.


Ramos Mattei, La hacienda azucarera, 24 states that San Vicente's slaves numbered 201 in 1864. Just before abolition, however, Igaravídez was listed as the owner of 65 slaves. “Copia del padrón de esclavos de esta jurisdicción,” box 1873A, doc. 20, AMVB.


As Levy, Emancipation, Sugar, and Federalism, 80 makes clear, other plantation societies also resorted to offering high wages to attract workers; British Guiana’s legislation of bounties resulted in migration from Barbados. For references to tokens and credit as payment in other settings, see n. 19. That San Vicente’s workers were used to being paid in cash and on time became evident in 1889, when a group of workers gathered before the Vega Baja town hall to complain about delays in their wage payments. Los últimos sucesos de la Central “San Vicente.” Circular y documentos que la comisión elegida por los acreedores de don Leonardo Igaravídez dirije a dichos acreedores para su conocimiento. Abril de 1889 (Puerto Rico, 1889), 21.


Contratos de Libertos, box 1873B, doc. 60, AMVB.


Jornales, box 71, doc. 963, Nov. 17, 24, Dec. 8, 1883, AT, SC, and Juan Ramón de Torres, box 60, Jan. 14, 1875, Protocolos Notariales, AGPR.


Memoria leída, 11-12, Ultimos sucesos, 21; Documentos relacionados a la quiebra, box 31, doc. 447, May 31, 1881, AT, SC, AGPR.


Peñaranda, Cartas, 93.


“Expediente sobre Colonias Agrícolas y Aldeas. Villa de Vega-baja, año 1886, " box 1886D, doc. 33, June 1, 6, 18, Sept. 7, 1886, AMVB.


The percentage increase and decrease were calculated using six zafra and six tiempo muerto weeks from the original sample. Jornales, box 71, docs. 963, 964 and Documentos relacionados a la quiebra, box 31, doc. 451, AT, SC, AGPR.


The importance of slaves and former slaves in the context of what planters perceived as an unreliable and uncommitted free labor force has been discussed in Scarano, “Slavery and Free Labor in the Puerto Rican Sugar Economy: 1815-1873,” in Comparative Perspectives on Slavery in New World Societies, Vera Rubin and Arthur Tuden, eds. (New York, 1977), 553-563; and Ramos Mattei, “El liberto,” in Azúcar y esclavitud, 91-124.


Louis A. Pérez, Jr., “Vagrants, Beggars, and Bandits: Social Origins of Cuban Separatism, 1878-1895,” American Historical Review, 90: 5 (Dec. 1985), 1092-1121 suggests that a reduction in the access of Cuba’s working class to resources necessary for their support was a cause of social unrest before the independence war of 1895, and of banditry—lawlessness as social protest—during that period. In the coffee areas of Puerto Rico, a similar phenomenon is evident; for contrasting views, see Luis Edgardo Díaz Hernandez, Castañer. Una hacienda cafetalera en Puerto Rico (1868-1930) (Río Piedras, 1983), 57-63 and Bergad, Coffee and Agrarian Capitalism, 140. More recently, Rebecca Scott has broken new ground by suggesting in several oral presentations the different kinds of political mobilization that can be seen as attempts on the part of workers to define their situation. Her “Comparing Emancipations: A Review Essay,” Journal of Social History, 20: 3 (Spring 1987), 565-583 also makes reference to the limitations that the state might encounter in its efforts to promote or revoke traditional entitlements.


Because only 26 of the jornaleros in the sample got into any kind of trouble with the law in the period 1879-1891, the court records of other San Vicente workers will be used to render a picture of social relations within the town itself. The sources are temporary box T80–116, Juicios Verbales, 1879, 1883, and 1885, AT, SC, AGPR; and, all in AMVB: Apremios por contribuciones, box 1889E, docs. 52, 54, 59, 61, and 77; “Pueblo de Vbaja. Expediente de apremio seguido contra los jornaleros de esta jurisdicción en cobro de los 48 cvos, que adeuden por contribución del año 1880 á 1881, ’’ box 1889E, doc. 55; “Villa de Vega Baja. Año de 1890. Ngdo. de cárcel. Expediente formado sobre cumplimiento de condena impuesta por la superioridad al preso [name] de esta cárcel,” box 1890C, does. 57, 58, 60, 63, and 64; “Expediente sobre cumplimiento de condena del preso [name],” box 1891F, does. 137, 140, 150, 151, 156, 157, 159, 162, 172, 181, and 184.


The progressive reduction in "breathing space” that Raymond Williams, The Country and the City (New York, 1973) convincingly traces for late-eighteenth-century England is not evident here. E. P. Thompson’s variant of class consciousness as a process through which a group evaluates a new situation by traditional moral values is much more appropriate to describe the limited impact of Centra] San Vicente on its workers. See his “Time, Work-Discipline and Industrial Capitalism,” Past and Present, 38 (Dec. 1967), 56-97 and “The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century,” Past and Present, 50 (Feb. 1971), 76-136.

Author notes


I wish to acknowledge the financial support of the Graduate School at the University of Texas at Austin, the Inter-American Foundation, and the Research Council of Colgate University, all of which contributed funds and resources toward the completion of this piece. Richard Graham, Franklin W. Knight, Francisco A. Scarano, O. Nigel Bolland, Rebecca J. Scott, and Jaime E. Toro have read and commented on several of its incarnations. I thank them for their valuable suggestions and constant encouragement.