by: Ana D. Rodríguez
In January 2015, I embarked on an archival adventure that led me to process a collection that dates back to early Spanish colonial times in Mexico. The Luis García Pimentel Collection is a manuscripts collection from the Latin American and Caribbean Collection (LACC) at the University of Florida Smathers Library. Named after a respected Mexican scholar who comes from a long line of descendants from Spanish Conquistador Hernán Cortes, the García Pimentel Collection is a journey to a lesser-known history of Mexico. Primarily, it uncovers the development of the sugar industry in Mexico, particularly in the states of Morelos and Puebla. Most of the documents in this collection are centered in two sugar mills: Hacienda Santa Ana de Tenango and Hacienda Santa Clara Montefalco. Luis García Pimentel (1855-1930) inherited Santa Ana de Tenango from his father Joaquín García Icazbalceta and during his administration the hacienda reached its heyday through a series of industrial innovations to improve the production and distribution of sugar. García Pimentel was also a respected scholar, who just like his father Joaquín, forged a career as a historian and bibliographer.
To collect and retrieve the information contained in this collection, paleography, the study of ancient handwriting, was intensely implemented. This skill has been paramount to understanding the customs, the Spanish language style of colonial Mexico, and most importantly, the communication and management of working relationships. For example, most business relationships were handled through an intermediary who represented the interests of the García Icazbalceta brothers, who were owners, at one point, of the Hacienda Santa Ana de Tenango. The intermediary or middleman was usually an escribano real, or an official representative of the Spanish crown, who had the authority to compose an affidavit or a deed of sale on behalf of the family.
Another interesting fact of this collection is that we were able to find and record dates on the documents. The oldest document is from 1532, around nine years after the Conquest of Mexico (1521), and the latest dated document is from March 29, 1926.
The Luis García Pimentel contains mostly documents of legal nature, detailing aspects of ownership and administrative matters of the haciendas. Mercedes (rewards), affidavits, licenses, deeds of sale of land and cattle, testimonies and wills detailing the fate of a slave are just a few sample documents found in this collection. Another salient aspect of this collection is that although Spanish was the ruling language at the time, a small portion of the documents are also written in Náhualt, an indigenous language spoken by the Aztecs.
Documents in the Luis García Pimentel Collection demonstrate the power of the Catholic Church not only as part of the state but also as proprietor of land and sugar mills. Throughout the process of reading to extract information from the bundles of documents, it was revealed that the order of Jesuits Priests in Morelos owned a private school named Colegio de San Pedro y San Pablo (Saints Peter and Paul School), and it possessed a plot of land with access to a nearby river that was used for cattle and a sugar mill. During the sixteenth to mid eighteenth centuries, haciendas were the epicenter of activities pertaining not only to sugar, but agriculture and cattle as well. Embodying the feel of a small town, these majestic dwellings were the homes of powerful businessmen, and most included a Catholic chapel and their own water source.
Undoubtedly, processing the Luis García Pimentel Collection was a transformative experience for me. Thanks to the power of primary resources, I have acquired knowledge of the history of Mexico that informs and sheds light on the golden period of haciendas. The sugar industry during Spanish colonial times is usually associated with the Greater Antilles (Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico), but now Mexico can be added to that pantheon.
———————————————————–If you’d like to find out more about the Luis García Pimentel Collection or about the University of Florida Smathers Libraries, please consult the finding aid on their website or contact Ana D. Rodríguez at firstname.lastname@example.org.