1. What is this document?
This document is the proceedings of an Inquisition case brought against a woman, or a girl, who was 14 years old in 1659. And the blasphemy she was accused of committing was the crime of renouncing God. This was a fairly common crime that blacks and mulattoes were accused of. This woman was a mulata, the child of a white and a black.
In these cases blacks and mulattoes who were slaves or servants were being beaten. And they knew that if they renounced God, which was a crime, the beating would theoretically have to stop and they would be brought to the Inquisition thereby giving them some respite from the beating. So what often happened is an owner or a master would come in and say my slave did this horrible thinghe or she renounced God.. Scholars have argued that this was a strategy to get the beating to stop and to get a hearing at the Inquisition.
This 14 year old girl was named Gertrudis de Escobar. She was actually a free mulata servant in a convent. She was brought to the Inquisition by her mistress, Juana de la Cruz, who was a nun. She had heard that there was a possibility that Gertrudis was thinking of running away, so her mistress was punishing her.
One of the reasons that it is possible for people to kind of get their stories out at the Inquisition is because they ask these open-ended questions. You have to respond to each of the accusations in detail. Whats interesting about this case is that she doesnt get browbeaten into rolling over and saying Im guilty.
The proceedings were secret, and so she was asked if she knew why she was brought to the Inquisition. She didnt know, so the charges were read to her. She had claimed that many of the charges were false. She agreed that she had renounced God, but claimed that she had been forced. She was convicted and sentenced to an auto de fe, which is a public reading of her crime. She was paraded through the streets in public humiliation, and this is a fairly common punishment. Often cases end here.
This case is interesting because then theres this other letter from a cleric written in 1662, two years after the initial case. He tells the story of what happened to Gertrudis after the case was over. Generally, you dont know what happens. But what happened to Gertrudis was, she was sold by her aunt and her cousins to an ingenio, a sugar mill, even though she was free, to pay off the money that she owed the Inquisition. People had to stay in the secret jail of the Inquisition during the time of their trial, and they ate and sometimes they had medicine. She owed 19 pesos by the time the case was over.
She was put to work in the sugar fields, which was difficult work. She was beaten a number of times; she tried to run away. She suffered all these indignities and kept trying to prove over and over again that really she was free. That it was illegal, really, to sell her into the sugar mill. Finally, in 1662, she went to this cleric and appealed to him and said please bring my case to the Inquisition, explain to them what happened, explain to them that I was sold illegally, really, that I shouldnt have been sold. And so what happened to her after the case was over comes from this letter written by this priest that ends up in the Inquisition.
Gertrudis was eventually freed. She had to go back to an ingenio and continue to work for awhile and then the inquisitors decided that she was to be freed. She was not a slave so she couldnt be owned by anybody.
Sometimes owners or masters bring their slaves to the Inquisition for renouncing because somebody else heard them, to save face. But maybe if it happened in private, you wouldnt bring your slave to the Inquisition because people spent a long time in the jails of the Inquistion. Juana de la Cruz did not have access to her servant Gertrudis for over two months. So theres not necessarily a big payoff for bringing your slave to the Inquisition.