Cuban Slavery and the History of East Pyne

Nov. 1, 2017

Written by Rachel Price

In 1900 Moses Taylor Pyne withdrew funds to begin construction on what would eventually become East Pyne, the building that now houses the Spanish and Portuguese as well as other language departments.

I learned of this fact last spring semester thanks to the ongoing Princeton & Slavery Project, a scholarly investigation of Princeton University’s historical engagement with the institution of slavery, which will culminate in a two-day conference this November 17 and 18, 2017.

At the time, I was teaching a course on Cuban literature of slavery and emancipation, SPA 350. The course looked at a variety of materials, from court cases brought by slaves, to an autobiography of a former slave, to novels about slavery in Cuba. Cuba, along with the United States and Brazil, was one of three so-called “slave societies.” Scholars characterize slave societies as those societies whose economies and politics were so fundamentally shaped by the institution of slavery that they were not, like other sites in the Americas, merely states in which some slavery was permitted, but societies utterly defined by the institution. The extent to which slavery defined in particular post-Haitian Revolution Cuba—that is, throughout the whole of the nineteenth century, until abolition in 1886—can, for instance, be appreciated in the fact that one of the central “founders” of Cuban literature and an outspoken critic of slavery, Domingo del Monte, was also the son-in-law of one of the country’s wealthiest slave traders, Domingo de Aldama.

What never occurred to me while reading several canonical examples of literature about slavery that del Monte himself either solicited or encouraged was that the very building in which our class was reading and discussing such writing had been constructed with funds that Moses Taylor Pyne’s family built through business deals with Domingo de Aldama.

As part of the Princeton & Slavery Project, recent Princeton History PhD Maeve Glass (2016), now a legal historian at Columbia University, had researched the sugar business run by Moses Taylor Pyne’s grandfather. It was in Glass’s unpublished research paper that I saw that the first name on a list of sugar merchants in Cuba who supplied the Moses Taylor and Company was that of Domingo de Aldama.

Glass has graciously made her research available to the larger public. Please use the link below. 

Maeve Glass- Princeton and Slavery Project.pdf