This document reveals the deep prejudice that colonial Spaniards held against blacks, most of whom were imported as slaves from the 1520s onward. Spaniards generally viewed blacks as unruly and rebellious but needed them to work in areas like the Caribbean, where native populations had been decimated, or in the gold and silver mines. This prejudice extended to mulattos, the product of black and European unions. Above all, Spaniards feared black uprisings, and thus placed strict prohibitions on the gathering of blacks and mulattos and limited their access to firearms.
Identity was visually marked in Spanish America--be it by the number of accompanying slaves and servants, or the amount of lace falling from the cuff. Spaniards envisioned that "sangre"--or blood--both defined a person and determined his or her status in a hierarchical society. Yet "sangre" was invisible. Thus, one’s visual appearance contained the coded markers of "sangre", such as clothing, deportment, and setting. Making sure that the visual markers aligned with the correct status became the business of the colonial state, which policed status markers. In this document, we can see how colonial lawmakers sought to keep black and mulatta women "in their place" at the bottom rung of the social order by prohibiting them from wearing the elegant clothes and rich jewels that would both signal high status and possibly attract Spanish lovers.