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Cuban Slavery Documents collection

Biographical/Historical note

This set of documents relate to the institution of slavery, the slave trade, and the use of indentured servants and contract laborers in Cuba during the 19th century. Cuba participated heavily in the slave trade to obtain cheap labor for the sugar plantations beginning in the 16th century. Cuba stopped officially participating in the slave trade in 1867 but the institution of slavery was not abolished on the island until 1886. The demand for cheap labor never abated of course, and plantation owners sought other ways of obtaining workers. They followed the lead of the British and the French by switching to importing contract laborers (indentured servants), called colonos. Free people, either voluntarily or through coercion, signed a work contract that stipulated the term of service and the pay they would receive. In theory, the Colonos could leave the employ of their owners at the end of the term of service, but in practice the conditions for the Colonos were not much different than those endured by the slave population. The majority of the colonos came from China (Chinese Coolies) but they also imported people from the Canary Islands, Mexico, and Africa.