SPANISH COLONIAL WOMEN AND THE LAW: COMPLAINTS, LAWSUITS, AND CRIMINAL BEHAVIOR
Documents from the Spanish Colonial Archives of New Mexico, 1697–1749
By Linda Tigges, Editor and J. Richard Salazar, Translator
“This is an important work from Linda Tigges and Richard Salazar dealing with early eighteenth century women and the law. However their court cases were decided, these Spanish Colonial women were successful in the legacy they left for future generations. If you are a twelfth generation New Mexican or a newcomer, you will find this work priceless.” —Henrietta Martinez Christmas
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Women in early 18th century Spanish Colonial New Mexico had rights and privileges under Spanish law that were not enjoyed by other women in North America until the late 19th and early 20th century. Women were considered separate entities under the law and valuable members of Spanish society. As such, they could own property, inherit in their own name, and act as court witnesses. In particular they could make accusations and denunciations to the local alcalde mayor and governor, which they frequently did.
The documents in this book show that Spanish Colonial women were aware of their rights and took advantage of them to assert themselves in the struggling communities of the New Mexican frontier. In the documents, the women are shown making complaints of theft, physical and verbal abuse by their husbands or other women, and of non-payment of dowries or other inheritance. Other documents are included showing men accusing women of misrepresenting property ownership and dowry payments and of adultery and slander.
Spain was a legalistic society and both women and men used the courts to settle even minor matters. Because the court proceedings were written down by a scribe and stored in the archives, many documents still exist. From these, thirty-one have been selected allowing us to hear the words of some outspoken Spanish women and the sometimes angry men, speaking their minds in court about their spouses, lovers of their spouses, children, and relatives, as well as their land, livestock and expected inheritance. The documents transcribed and translated in this book are a small number of the existing documents held in Santa Fe at the Spanish Archives of New Mexico, at the Bancroft Library at University of California, the Archivo General de la Nacion in Mexico City, and elsewhere. A synopsis, editor’s notes, maps, and biographical notes are provided. The material can be considered a companion, in part, to Ralph Emerson Twitchell’s 1914 two volumes, The Spanish Archives of New Mexico, available in new editions from Sunstone Press.
Linda Tigges, PhD, is a retired land planner. In the 1980s and 1990s, she worked with the City of Santa Fe’s Archaeological Review Committee and the Historic Design Review Board and prepared City publications on architectural history and Spanish Colonial Santa Fe. She is a New Mexico certified historian with the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division. She is also the editor of Spanish Colonial Lives, Documents from the Spanish Colonial Archives of New Mexico, 1705–1774. Written material includes archival research on Santa Fe historic properties, published work on the Santa Fe presidio in All Trails Lead to Santa Fe, An Anthology Commemorating the 400th Anniversary of the Founding of Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1610, from Sunstone Press, as well as articles for various journals and publications.
J. Richard Salazar retired from the New Mexico State Records Center and Archives in 1996 as Director of the Archival Services Division of that agency. Since that time he has been conducting historical research for the various acequia associations of northern New Mexico in their attempts to determine their acequia priority dates. He has worked with New Mexico’s archival documents, including the land grant records, for over forty years. He was the transcriber and translator for Spanish Colonial Lives, Documents from the Spanish Colonial Archives of New Mexico, 1704–1774. He was born and brought up in northern New Mexico.
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