Juan Ian Nunez Orta – Enslaved in Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico

Sometimes digging through records for many days and weeks may seem to be fruitless as you seek to find your ancestors. It is even harder as you have to dig through books and see pages upon pages of people who are enslaved with minimal information and that are held against their will to increase the fortune of another. The hardest part to read are the infants and children born into slavery when the only reason for it is that their mother was enslaved, and it is a hard pill to swallow that just won’t go down.

For many years Europeans have used the excuse that those that were enslaved were due to prisoners of war, however, documentation we are all coming across provides the real truth, greed.

I hate starting a post in such a negative manner but what is more negative is the excuses we hear til today. Some I hear are ” this is how it was then”, “they were treated like family”, and “people were ignorant then”. If people actually believe this then I have a bridge to sell them. So what people are saying is that those prior to us were incapable of loving another human and they were smart enough to get rich but dumb not to know right from wrong? That is my take away.

So moving this post along, I want to talk about a man, Juan Nuñez, a man who was taken from homeland in Africa and forced into enslavement. While I do not directly descend from him that I am aware of, I do know that Juan is directly connected to my family as he is my cousin’s, Harry Bayala, third great grandfather. In addition, my direct Nuñez were owned by the same slave owner. Lastly, Juan’s descendants do marry into the family multiple times and I am far from done in researching the African descendants that carried the last name Nuñez. I research each line as thoroughly as possible as I wind up discovering that they are actually my ancestors. This is part of my success.

“Juan” was supposedly taken from the western coastal region of Africa sometime in 1835 or prior. This is based on what is recorded in his baptismal record on June 7, 1835 in Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico. Juan was held against his will and purchased by Maria Nuñez. It is not surprising to discover a woman owning slaves after finding many records as you go through books. Based on the historical records for Trujillo Alto, it looks like the slaveholder, Maria Nuñez was no other than Maria Isabel Nuñez. She is well documented.

In the baptismal record, Juan is listed as being 35 years of age and being from the coast of Africa and that his parents are ignored. Juan’s age aligns with the many records as I have come across him, his wife, and his children on the 1860 Census of Trujillo Alto. In addition, I came across baptism records for some of his children as well as civil birth and death records from his descendants. Unfortunately, due to the lack of digitized church death records for Trujillo Alto, I do not know when Juan died.

In my research, I also discovered that Juan took on additional names. His full name is Juan Ian Nuñez Orta. Prior to knowing that he was born in Africa, I though I had come across his mother’s last name, Orta, and that Ian was another name he was baptized with.

So in locating Juan’s baptism record, I was surprised to find that all he had was the name Juan. I decided to look at Juan beyond him just being a slave as I realized that he took on these names himself and it made me ponder about these additional names.

As many are aware about African history, the Muslim faith existed there prior to European enslavement commencing in the 1400s. When we look at people taken from Africa, I tend to think about what their lives may have been like before being forced into slavery.

I started researching more about the region in Puerto Rico, the behavior of those of African descent and the constant name changes. What I realized is that Juan potentially followed the Muslim faith. The reason I came to this conclusion is because of Ian and Orta. I discovered that Ian being uniquely used by those of African descent in Trujillo Alto area.

So starting off with Ian, in the Muslim faith, it is a Quranic name given to both male and female children. Its meaning is time, era, and epoch. It has many different forms of spelling but the most common spelling is Iyan. Could this have been Juan’s real name prior to his enslavement? It is something to ponder and I wonder if his actual name is captured in documents of his purchase. This piece of discovery will require a trip to Puerto Rico to see what the archives have. It is one of my many items to address on my “To Do” List.

When it comes to the name Orta, which I found in the 1860 Census when Juan and his family were listed, I knew there was more to it after discovering he was born in Africa as identified on his son’s, Julio Pio, baptism record in 1843. Unfortunately, if Juan married his wife, Juliana Nuñez, as listed in many of the records, I will not have access to it due to the damage to Book 1 of Marriages for Trujillo Alto currently available. Potentially, those that were enslaved were kept in a separate book as the baptism records were kept and if that is the case, the book is permanently lost.

In my research, I found that Orta is another name used for today’s Central African Republic, previously known as Central African Empire, and today known in Arabic being pronounced as Orta, Afrika. Could this be where Juan Ian came from? Was this Ian’s way of putting down that that is where his roots are from?

Juan Ian and his wife Juliana would proceed to have fourteen children that I have located. Juliana was born in Puerto Rico and eventually she would change her last name from Nuñez to Hernandez Nuñez. While I am still researching the family, below is the list of family members for those who may descend from them. My research continues with the Nuñez.

Juan Ian Nuñez Orta & Juliana Hernandez Nuñez children


Quranic Names. (2019, Jun 15). Iyan. Retrieved from Quranic Names: http://quranicnames.com/iyan

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