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Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Rosalía Gómez, the last slave of Tenerife

"Rosalía Gómez, the last slave of Tenerife"; Nelson Díaz Frías discovers an unpublished history of slaves in Arona

"This is an impressive and hitherto unknown true story of a woman of flesh and blood, called Rosalía Gómez, who was born at the beginning of the 19th century as a slave in the south of Tenerife." Thus begins the new book by the prolific historian Nelson Díaz Frías, entitled 'Rosalía Gómez (1801-1874), la última esclava de la isla de Tenerife' (Rosalía Gómez (1801-1874), the last slave on the island of Tenerife), which will be presented in the coming weeks.

This work, sponsored by the Department of Historical Heritage of the Arona City Council, collects the unpublished story of this woman, who lived in the south of Tenerife for much of the 19th century, and whose mere existence constitutes, in itself, a historical anachronism.

“This new book by historian Nelson Díaz Frías reveals a reality in our history that many people will be surprised by”, says Councilor José Alberto Delgado.

Rosalía Gómez was the last person subjected to slavery on the island of Tenerife and, most likely, also the last slave in Spain, discounting the American overseas territories of Cuba and Puerto Rico. In this book, Nelson Díaz Frías hits us, with the precision of data, with the biography of the last Tenerife slave, a woman whose existence barely reached beyond the limits of the municipality of Arona and who was born a slave for the simple fact that her mother was a slave, as well as her grandmother and all her maternal ancestors before her, constituting a unique and astonishing case of a whole lineage of slave women subjected to captivity, generation after generation from the 16th to the 19th century, at the hands of the successive generations of the same family of the rural bourgeoisie of Chasna.

Rosalía was born in Charco del Pino (Granadilla de Abona), in 1801. At just 10 years old, she was separated from her family and transferred to Arona, a municipality where she would spend the rest of her life, when she was sold to her third and last owner. The first was Antonio Gómez del Castillo, mayor of Granadilla at the beginning of the 19th century, hence she adopted his surname. Because of the family uprooting of the slaves and their social marginalization, they were not even aware of their true lineage,” Díaz Frías explained.

The investigation has revealed that Rosalía had offspring despite her single status. She gave birth to three children who, like their mother and ancestors, acquired the status of slaves from the day they were born, but were never sold at the will of their first and only owner, reaching freedom in adolescence as a result of the abolition law enacted in 1837. 

Díaz Frías' study determines that the last slave in Tenerife achieved her freedom at the age of 40 and the status of servant three years after the abolition law was approved. Her new condition would be acquired from her last owner, José Medina, great-grandfather of Juan Bethencourt Alfonso, a renowned doctor and anthropologist from San Miguel.

The author explains that Rosalía would end up settling after a few years in a humble house in the hamlet of Túnez (Arona), where she died in 1874. The house in which she lived from the age of 10 until she was liberated three decades later still exists in the church square in Arona and today it is owned by the descendants of José Medina. In the book there is a photo of the house and even of the room where Rosalía Gómez very possibly rested.

Nelson Díaz Frías explains, "I came across a burial certificate from November 1874 by pure chance, where the details of the late Rosalía Gómez, her parentage, her age ... and a note made by the priest that caught my attention were recorded: "The late Rosalía Gómez was brought to this town as a slave girl ”. I was curious and wanted to investigate who that woman was, if she left offspring and which family she served as a slave”.

“It is the first lineage that I find of slaves in which I have been able to trace their ancestry practically until the beginning of the seventeenth century, and also enslaved by the same Vilaflor and Arona family generation after generation. Her great-great-grandmother is the oldest of this lineage at the beginning of the 17th century and this great-great-grandmother's ancestors were slaves of African origin, although Rosalía was a white woman”.

In addition, this work contains essential chapters to better understand the phenomenon of slavery in the society of the south of Tenerife in past centuries, although the bulk of the work is dedicated to the unfortunate life of the slave Rosalía Gómez, who came to Arona when she was bought by the rich, Don José Antonio Medina, as well as the unpleasant circumstances of her ancestors and the slave family to which they belonged.

Díaz Frías emphasizes that Adeje concentrated the largest number of slaves in the South because it was a jurisdictional manor owned by the Marquis of Adeje. Many worked the sugar cane, which required great physical effort. "To this day, it is known in Adeje and also in Los Cristianos the families that come from black slaves," he says.

The book is complemented with a genealogical study of the descendants of the freed slave, as well as the lineages descended from slaves in the south of Tenerife, today represented by, among others, the names of Marcelino, Melián, Morales, Salazar and Urbano.

When asked about the message that he would like to remain among the readers of his latest work, Díaz Frías argues that “I have only tried to give a voice to a woman who never had one and who, at least, was able to live half of her life in freedom unlike her ancestors, who died slaves. The book tries to provide a lesson for the present and the future, which is to maintain hope in the men and women who fight for a more just society."

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