Puerto Rico: My Ancestors and Their Descendants
The following, a "work in progress", are words or phrases one might find in the documents of the 19 th century. Although some of these words may appear familiar, some of them had completely different meanings from what we might understand them to be today. Needless to say, because of the time period some of these terms carry racial and/or social connotations; they are represented here only because they were used during the period described above and would have appeared in documentation of that era.

Any clarifications to anything that follows is welcome.


Individuals hired to accompany a funeral procession feigning sorrow and pain for the deceased.

A peasant to which the hacienda owner gave living quarters on his property.

Described anyone who comprised the members of a family, the term included slaves as well. (See also Vecino )

Term used almost to the beginning of the 20th century. Synonymous with Jornalero and/or Bracero. They were always free individuals (not slaves).

Amanuense (Trade)
A person who wrote what others, who did not know how to write, dictated.

Amonestaciones Canonicas
This was an announcement of a planned marriage.

An individual who lives on another's property after both have come to agree on a "work contract" whereby the proprietor receives preferential treatment over all others who request the "arrimado's" services. If the arrimado used his lot for cultivation, half of what was reaped was given to the proprietor. Also called "medianero".

A Uso de Feria (Phrase)
Phrase used in a slave's "bill of sale". To say a slave was sold "a uso de feria" was the same as they would sell, in the public market, animals, merchandise etc.



Boticario (Profession)

Bozal (Slave)
Term used to describe a slave recently taken from his native country who had not yet learned the customs and/or language of the country he had been taken to - Esclavo Bozal.

Worker, peasant; one who works in the fields (campo). Could also be described as Jornalero.

Peddler; one who sells portable items (i.e., buttons, needles, ribbons, combs).


Coffee plantation

Graveyard; A place distant from the population where bodies were interred.

Cantero (Trade)
Quarryman, stonecutter.

Foreman; individual in charge of directing and overseeing farm workers.

A scournful, insulting description of a black person's hair.

Burial grounds found next to the church or the hermitage.

Individual who makes or sells wax.

Cimarron (Slave)
Term used to describe a slave or animal that had escaped into the mountains. Esclavo Cimarron

Coartacion (Slave)
Applied to a slave who after a pact with its owner would receive his/her liberty after certain previously described conditions had been met. Generally, the slave would purchase his freedom from the owner.

Burlap; used to cover cots, hammocks etc. It also had another use it was the material which slaveowners gave their slaves to mend their pants.

Como Costal de Huesos (Slave)
Phrase used in the slave's "bill of sale" whereby it meant the slave was sold without hiding anything about his condition - physical or otherwise.

An individual whose livelihood was to fish for "careyes" (large turtle) whose shell would then be used for combs or other decorative items.

Congo (Slave)
Term used to describe the african slave. To call someone a "congo" meant he was tall, very black, with thick lips, and large cheekbones. Esclavo Congo

Small lot of land that the owner conceded to their slaves so that they may cultivate it for their own benefit.


Those born in Puerto Rico irregardless of where their ancestors were from.

Housing units for slaves and/or peasants on the sugar cane or coffee haciendas.

An individual who by observation, and not any formal academic training, had "learned" medicine and practiced it.


To learn something by memory so as to repeat verbatim. A word frequently used in the public instruction documents of the 19th century.

An individual who did not possess any property.

Don - Doña
Prefix applied to one's given name; it was given to students, individuals of means and military personnel.

Dowry; personal property and/or money that a woman would bring into matrimony.


Entierro de Parvulo
Internment of a baptized child younger than seven years old. It was a celebratory ceremony in which the color white was often used to symbolize the purity of the child's soul.

Esclavo de Tala (Slave)
The slave who worked in agriculture.

Esclavo Domestico
The slave who worked in his owner's home. They either cooked, washed, ironed etc.

Escribano (Trade)
Originally these individuals were authorized to attest to deeds and/or legal documentation. Later on this authorization is passed on to Notaries making the escribano then the secretaries of the judicial process.

Escribiente (Profession)
It was a profession of those who knew how to write. When an individual needed to correspond with another they would solicit the services of an escribiente (also could be called amanuense).

Generally a small farm dedicated to the cultivation of "frutos menores" (eg., avocados, oranges, mangos, plantains, etc.) as well as some pasture for the raising of cattle.

A person who makes, sells or installs "esteras" - rugs.

A newborn who has been left at someone's doorstep - usually the baby was left at a well-to-do family's doorstep.


Fajina (Faena)
Word used to describe the chores of cleaning in the home, machines and mills. Normally, the slaves would do this on Sundays or during the week in the evenings.

Fisico (Profession)
Former name applied to physicians.

The strap and "cadridge" belt used by soldiers

Flexible bar or long whip.


Garrote Vil
Instrument used in the execution of death; the condemned were killed by compression of the throat. A ligature was placed around the individual's throat and it was turned with a stick until death. (Imagine a tourniquet.)

Geometra (Profession)
Person with knowledge and who dedicated themselves to the measurement of land - "agrimensor" - surveyor.

Godo, Da
Name Puerto Ricans applied, disrespectfully, to Spaniards living in Puerto Rico.

Semi-circular piece of iron with a loop at each end whereby a chain would be threaded through. Used to affix the leg of a prisoner to a fixed area. Also used to punish slaves.


Any individual who inhabits a place; formerly "alma".

Noble. Hidalgo por ambas lineas; child of Noble parents. Hidalgo por los cuatro costados; that to whose four legitimate grandparents were of Noble lineage. Hidalgo Simple; child of Noble father and peasant mother.

An individual who gratuitously delivered, by horse, the mail from the interior of the island to the coast.

Hombre Libre
One who had never been a slave. (A slave who had gained his freedom was called "Liberto".)


The branch of the government which today would be the "Departamento de Hacienda".


One who works by journal. On June 11, 1845, then Governor Juan de La Pezuela declared "jornalero" any individual who lacked capital or who although had property the cultivation of said properties would not adequately provide for the individual or his family. All "jornaleros" were to carry a journal whereby his employer would place entries as to the work performed, what was owed and the character of the employee.


An individual who owned some land and cultivated it for his own use. He was superior to the "jornalero" but inferior to the "hacendados".

Lackey; one who accompanied his master by horse.

Ladino (Slave)
In Puerto Rico it described a slave, who by his close contact with Spaniards, had acquired some of the latter's characteristics and "defects". Esclavo Ladino

One dedicated to the cutting down of firewood/kindling for sale or as part of his "jornalero" duties for distribution to haciendas.

One who had been born into slavery gains his freedom.

Limpieza de Sangre (Document)
Documentation confirming ones racial origin, genealogy and religious beliefs. This document was required for those whose goal was to work in a government/public position or even to get married. In effect until 1870.


Mandinga (Slave)
Term used to describe a slave from the Sudan area of Africa whose skin was reddish in nature. They were said to have been the best field workers and the most preferred in Puerto Rico. Esclavo Mandinga

To give freedom to a slave. The slave had several ways in obtaining his freedom: (1) purchasing (coartacion), (2) concession by the slaveowner (graciosamente) or , (3) by advising the slaveowner of a potential uprising among other slaves against their owners, thus granting the advisor his freedom as a reward.

Commerce and sale of minute "dry" items such as needles, buttons, ribbons etc.

Name given to children between the ages of 7 and 10.


Negro Alzado
A slave who had escaped into the mountains to hide. By territorial laws in Puerto Rico during this time they could not establish any type of abode in the mountain area and therefore, they lived virtually as nomads to avoid capture.


Oidor (Profession)
A judge

Archaic adverb which equated to "ademas" (besides, in addition) or to the phrase "ademas de esto".


A distanced location where the escaped Esclavo Cimarron would establish a meeting place.

Mulatto; half-caste, mixture of black with white.

Small child.

Non-skilled worker.

Attorney without a case/lawsuit in search of one. Also a liar, causing difficulties .

The offspring of a male commoner even when the mother has "Hidalguia por los cuatro costados".

Public announcement made through the streets. Pregonero: employed by the municipality to publicly announce.

A small store where "liquid" goods and food would be sold.


Individual who took the rations of food to the workers on the sugar cane and/or coffee fields.

In Puerto Rico the term was used to describe a poor house made of palms leaves and situated in the country.

Individual who purchases, eggs, hens etc., with the goal of reselling the items.

Reglamento de Jornaleros
Imposed by the then Governor Juan de la Pezuela in 1845. It included several restrictive characteristics; amongst them it declared that a jornalero was any individual who lacked capital or a skill and therefore, he was mandated/obligated to provide service to another. All jornaleros were also obligated to carry a journal whereby the work conduct and other information was annotated by the employer.

Retinto, Negro
Very black. Another term was "endrino".



Excessive cruelty



Archaic term used by the "jibaros" to describe the cutting back of vegetation so as to recultivate the land.

Teniente A Guerra
Title given to that individual who was the municipal executive of a small, (not very rich) municipality or a recently founded municipality.

Tiempo Muerto
The period between the end of the harvesting of a crop and the commencement of the same.

Tienda de Raya
Hacienda store, where the hacienda owner would sell various articles to its workers.

Individual who makes barrels.

To toast; primarily the coffee bean.


The vecino was the "jefe" or "head of household". A home would be comprised of the head of household - vecino, his wife - alma, child(ren) - alma(s).

Small "liquid" goods store; small pulperia.

Narrow path formed primarily by the traffic of workers and cattle.

Title given to those towns where their urban and economic development was greater than others. For example, La Villa de San German was one.

Work in Progress - More to Come

Copyright © October 2001 - 2005, Dalia Morales
Revised: December 26, 2005
URL:  Puerto Rico: My Ancestors and Their Descendants