Stephanie Mawson – Unfree Migration in the Seventeenth Century Spanish Pacific: Convict Transportation Between Mexico and the Philippines

 

Event Dates: 13 – 16 September 2015
College Court Conference Centre
Knighton Road,
Leicester LE2 3UF

The Carceral Archipelago: Transnational Circulations in Global Perspective, 1415-1960

Stephanie Mawson (Cambridge) – Unfree Migration in the Seventeenth Century Spanish Pacific: Convict Transportation Between Mexico and the Philippines

The histories of Mexico and the Philippines were united for more than two hundred and fifty years by the galleons that made the annual Pacific crossing, laden with silk and silver. Yet, within this known story of trans-Pacific trade lies a largely unknown history of unfree migration. Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Spanish colony in the Philippines relied on the yearly transportation of convicts from New Spain to support their military aims in Maritime Southeast Asia. Drawn from the plebeian underclass of large urban centres like Mexico City and Puebla and from an itinerant population that roamed the highways of New Spain, convicts were rounded up on an annual basis and forced to endure the perilous Pacific crossing to serve as forzados – indentured soldiers – on the other side of the world.

This paper will explore the history of the forzado system between Mexico and the Philippines during the seventeenth century; it will detail the course and extent of this unfree migration, while also arguing that as a criminal justice measure it was designed to purge New Spain of its most unruly elements, putting them to work on the colonial frontier. However, the disobedient nature of these colonial subjects ensured an instability in the military ambitions of the Spanish empire, with many convicts continuing to engage in rebellious and criminal behaviour once in the Philippines. Convicts were known to escape and turn fugitive amongst indigenous communities, and to sow the seeds of mutiny once they arrived. Thus, the history of unfree migration in the seventeenth century Pacific is also one of transoceanic unruliness amongst a burgeoning New World plebeian underclass.

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