Finding My Nuñez Enslaved

As I continue to research my African roots, it has become more complex with trying to understand why someone would change their last name arbitrarily and then going back to the original last name. Yes, my third great grandfather, Angel Nuñez Valcarcel aka Angel Diaz Valcarcel, actually did this. This is a line that is definitely of African descent as I uncovered that they were enslaved in Trujillo Alto.

I also know that my 3rd great grandmother, Maria Engracia Nuñez was alive in 1860 as she is listed right below him and the record indicates that they are married. There were 10 years between Maria Engracia and Angel as he is 30 and Maria is 20 years of age. What is quite telling is what I have typically seen when it comes to those of African descent, black women being married off as children and giving birth at a young age. Notice that her eldest, Gavino, is 10 years of age.

Angel Nuñez Diaz, Age 30 & Maria Engracia Nuñez, Age 20 with children indicating enslaved (esclavo) on 1860 Trujillo Alto Census

While this is shocking to many, to an experienced researcher, it is not. Potentially she may have been 25 years of age versus the 20 years of age she is showing. Her granddaughter, Manuela Diaz, who is my great grandmother, was married off at age 11 to a 19 year old Juan Bayala. So there seems to be a pattern; men marrying what to us equates to children. I must say that visiting the Dominican Republic as a child helped me understand how this can happen as I recall meeting children my age and most girls talking about getting married and were able to run the house as if they had been doing this since they came out of their mother’s womb. While I am not making an excuse, both the time period and what they faced were potentially the reasons why daughters were married off extremely young. One thing comes to mind, poverty and trying to feed the family.

Continuing on with the 1860 Census, note that Angel’s children are listed as Nuñez. I have come across that even after Angel switched his last name to Diaz, many of his children continued with the Nuñez last name, while others like my second great grandfather, Felipe Diaz Nuñez, decided to stick with the Diaz last name. It has led me on a zigzag path of trying to understand this line. The infant on the record, Felipe Nuñez, is the father of my paternal great grandmother, Manuela Nuñez Navarro, which she changes her name to Manuela Diaz Navarro. You can read more about her in a prior post here on this website.

The children listed for clarification purposes are:

  • Gavino, male, 10 years of age
  • Nieves, male, 9 years of age
  • Demeterio, male, 8 years of age
  • Silveria, female, 7 years of age
  • Telesforo, male, 6 years of age
  • Felipe, male, infant

Part of my discovery included that Angel Nuñez aka Diaz was free from enslavement. However, it turns out that his wife, Maria Engracia, along with all of their children were all still enslaved. So many questions come to my mind. At first I thought he was the slaveholder but then I recalled that there were many who were able to married someone that were enslaved and yet be free themselves.

There are even situations where you purchase your own freedom but are not able to purchase freedom for your entire family. To see your actual ancestors being held is both angering and overwhelming. I had been meaning to write this post but needed some time to actually process the information and think it through to fully understand what I was looking at. This discovery is going to require a trip to Puerto Rico to see what the Archivo General de Puerto Rico has as far as manumission records.

What truly stood out was when I found Felipe Diaz in 1868 working in another home for another family. Or should I say forced to work as their slave? By now his mother is deceased but he has a younger sister, Inez, who was born around 1865. It seems that his mother passed away sometime between 1865 and 1868. The heartbreak of dying and knowing that your children are still enslaved is definitely something no one should have to face. It makes me realize how amazingly strong my great grandparents were and thank them for making it possible for me to be here.

So the last name Nuñez or Nuñes for the region of Trujillo Alto is heavily tied to enslavement. Those that were enslaved are known to have belonged to a hacienda owner by the name of Isabel Nuñez. This is where I advise people to never assume that someone with the same last name is related to you until you can research it and actually prove it. In fact it can be quite the opposite. If you have DNA tested, you may discover a huge number of different last names. Not everyone wants to keep their slaveholder’s last name, while other did not know what else to use for a last name.

A perfect example is Julian Juan Nuñez Orta and his wife, Juliana Hernandez Nuñez, where same last name does not equate to related. I researched them both and their descendants as they are also of African descent. The only connection to my Nuñez so far is via marriage and potentially being enslaved by the same slaveholders but this can change based on if there were other locations that they came from and their last name is coincidental.

Additional Nuñez families listed on the Trujillo Alto 1860 Census

The same thing goes for the last name Diaz. I can only speculate as to why our family has taken this last name as I have not found a record that states otherwise other than Felipe keeping the last name. Angel’s death was reported by his second son, Nieves, whose full name is Jose Nieves, indicates Nuñez just like himself. Nieves reports his grandparents as being Rafael Nuñez and Ana Nuñez. However, I believe he made an error as his grandmother’s name was Maria. In the 1872 Census, Angel also takes on another last name for his mother Valcarcel. I suspect that that is his maternal grandfather’s last name.

I also suspect that his father, Rafael, is actually the Diaz that is missing and do not believe his grandparents were married as his father was enslaved at some point and the fact that he was initially using Nuñez. The hint Nieves left behind is that both his grandparents were from San Juan. My next stop is researching Rafael Nuñez and Maria “Ana” Nuñez in San Juan but with the many twists, I have to keep an open mind. Felipe’s brothers and sisters kept the Nuñez last name. In addition, Felipe initially did not take on the last name until after his children were born.

Angel Diaz Nunez Trujillo Alto Civil Registry, Libro 1 Def, Folio 144, Num 99

A Little History

Now turning to the history book for the municipality that was written by a distant cousin, I want to point out some things that were happening during this era. I’ve always said that you have to turn to books and records to find the truth so this is important.

In 1855 and 1856, Puerto Rico got hit hard with cholera epidemic. In Trujillo Alto alone, 468 people would die. Per documentation, the epidemic started on November 1st, 1855 in Naguabo. The epidemic, as can be seen from the data pointed out, lasted a little more than a year, and attacked mainly Africans and mulatto people, and this is easily understood by the lack of hygienic conditions in which they always lived.

The Gaceta del Gobierno from February 3rd, 1857 posted that 26,820 people had died on the island and the breakdown was as follows:

  • Whites males: 3,394
  • White females: 2,347
  • Free black males: 8,695
  • Free black females: 6,915
  • Enslaved black males: 3,549
  • Enslaved black women: 1,920

The slaveholders of Trujillo Alto were the following individuals:

  • Manuel de Rivera
  • Isabel Nuñez
  • Jose Balbino Torres Torres
  • Federico Couvertier
  • Avelino Hernandez
  • Jose Balbino Torres Vallejo
  • Benito Diaz (Isabel Panel’s husband)
  • Gonzalo Diaz
  • Juan Jose Balio (Viera Diaz,1962)

Based on knowing this, I believe that I am going to have to turn to the death records during this era to find my ancestors.

Isabel Nuñez was obviously financially well off and it was easy for me to locate her in the history book for Trujillo Alto as she owned my ancestors. I recall seeing a hacienda in the 1838 census records for Puerto Rico where there were many Nuñez living on a land and I didn’t look deep enough. I now realize that I was potentially looking at enslaved ancestors. At the time, I did not know my tie to the Nuñez line but now armed with this information, I can dig deeper and give my ancestors a voice and recognition. Amazing how it has been at least 6 years since I saw those records but yet it remained stuck in memory as if my ancestors were telling me to remember them. I plan to continue researching this line. I’m hoping that I can locate that ancestor that made it through Middle Passage.

Works Cited

Viera Diaz, J. F. (1962). Historia Documental de Trujillo Alto. Barcelona: Ediciones Rvmbos.