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Document Signed (“Felipe Macau”, together with various officials), extending the contract of a Chinese worker in Cuba, effectively an indentured servant, giving specific details of his remuneration.

2 pages folio on a printed form completed in manuscript, Colon [Cuba], 24 April 1866.

Slavery was gradually abolished in Cuba from 1817, ending in 1886 and as a result Chinese indentured servitude rose in 1847, and endured until 1874, inexpensively and efficiently substituting about 125,000 Chinese male labourers for black slaves to work the sugar plantations.

Indentured servants were often abused and treated as poorly as slaves were, but the Cuban patrones (sponsors), as well as the Cuban government, could claim that they were not slaves, as they were paid, and were free to leave after a set time. Though they were compensated for their work, Chinese labourers remained subject to corporal punishment, including cuerazos (floggings), grillete (leg shackles), cepo (stocks) and even execution.

Despite the fact that the term “colono” (colonist) was used to refer to Chinese indentured servants in Cuba, labourers were not granted much freedom, and required a master’s permission to exercise their limited independence.

Responding to the cruel treatment of Chinese labourers in Cuba, in 1855 England ceased to participate in the trade, as did Peru in 1856, and America followed suit in 1862. When the Portuguese banned the trade in Macau in 1874, the Qing Dynasty finally took notice and resolved to protect their international subjects, and in 1877 negotiated the Sino-Spanish Treaty, officially ending the trade.

This standard labour contract between a 34-year-old Cantonese man and a labour contract agent Felipe Macau stipulates that the labourer will receive nine pesos per month, in addition to two meals per day, two work outfits per year, and medical care should he need it, in exchange for a one year extension of his indentured servitude. The contract is signed by both parties, in addition to José de Gomas, Adolfo Alvarez, and the Teniente Gobernador (Lieutenant Governor) Perecho[?] on 24 April 1866. The Cantonese man was most likely illiterate as his signature is poor and unclear, though his last name is assumed to be 朱 德 (Zhū Dé), “Dé” meaning morality, or virtue.

We are grateful to Emma Kornberg for her assistance in cataloguing this document.



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