Pedro Purcell Bosch – Slave Owner in Puerto Rico

bohiosPedro Purcell Bosch was a prominent man in Peñuelas, Puerto Rico and my great-great grandmother’s brother. His father was Jose Maria Purcell Salvat from Barcelona, Spain, and his mother was Gertrudis Bosch Gotay from Ponce, Puerto Rico. In the 1910 US Census, Pedro is 75, married, owns his home, does not live on a farm, and his profession is listed as a laborer in a general farm crop (“finca cultivo general”). Peñuelas is a small city but was not and still is not a major metropolitan area in Puerto Rico. Growing up, my mom told us that the Purcells were our cousins, and when I saw the connection of the Purcell and Gelpi families, I began looking for records on Purcell as well. Searching for relatives with unique names in that area (as opposed to my Velazquez searching), it can be easy to pick out the names from the civil registration records because in that town during that time period with an uncommon last name, the people are likely related.

That was until I came across Flora Purcell.

Looking at the birth register for Maria Ascension Purcell from 1889, it shows Flora Purcell is her mother, single, and a cook. Then the record continues to say that the maternal grandmother is Margarita Garzon, from Guayanilla, residing in Peñuelas, single, and a cook. Ok…strange. This raises a bit of a red flag in my mind because with the Spanish naming tradition, Flora’s last name should be Garzon like her mother. Reading on, the next paragraph explains the name discrepancy. Ok great.
1889 birth register Maria Ascension [Purcell] Garzon“Likewise the appearing party recorded, that the difference in surnames are noted between her and her mother comes from the ancient servants bought the surnames of their owners and she was of Don Pedro Purcell resident of this town, and her mother as Garzon from Guayanilla.”

Oh ok. Umm. What?

According to the Wikipedia article African immigration to Puerto Rico, “[The slaves] were baptized by the Catholic Church and assumed the surnames of their masters.”
So Flora was a former slave owned by Pedro Purcell Bosch, and that is why she had the name Purcell. The marginal notes state legal acknowledgement of Maria Ascension and her siblings by their father Francisco Costas Diaz, including the legal name change of all the children to Costas Garzon. While I was intending to search for distant relatives, I came across this family. Although they are not relatives, they are a part of the story for mine.

As far as Pedro Purcell Bosch, I do not know the extent of his estate during the time of slavery. At in the Puerto Rico, Registro Central de Esclavos, 1872, I did not find him listed as an owner through the register in Peñuelas. He died March 4, 1917 in Peñuelas at the age of 82.

My dad’s family came to the US from Ireland at the end of the 19th century, and my mom’s family are all from Puerto Rico from before the US acquired the territory from the Spanish-American War. My ancestors seemed to be regular, working class folks, and before researching my family background I knew my family was not involved in slavery since they weren’t even in the US. It never dawned on me that there may have been some involvement in their homelands. Slavery in Puerto Rico was not abolished until 1873. Agriculture was huge for the economy during the 19th century, and slavery was part of that economy and society. However, slavery was different in the Spanish territories than in the US. In the modern era, many people there claim a mixed ethnic background, and the island is very proud of such a rich and diverse culture.


17 thoughts on “Pedro Purcell Bosch – Slave Owner in Puerto Rico

  1. After my grandfather died two years ago I started doing my families genealogies. I loved doing it but there was an overwhelming amount of information, you’re approach to it is fantastic! Thank you for sharing.

  2. I am also researching the name Velazquez (my grandmother’s maiden name) in Puerto Rico, and I am thinking about starting a blog soon. Maybe our lines cross at some point?

    • Hello. It is definitely possible. Where in Puerto Rico is your family from? For me, I have had a difficult time researching that name to find more connections since it is pretty common in Peñuelas.

      • My great grandfather (Velazquez y Nuñez) was born in Adjuntas, and his father (Velazquez y Luciano) was born in Quebradillas I think, but may have lived in Isabela or San Sebastian. My 3x great grandfather (Velazquez y Hernandez) was also from Quebradillas as far as I know. Do you know any other names your Velazquez side is connected to? Velazquez is not that common in the areas I’ve been researching in. At least, it’s been a lot easier than trying to find my Perez relatives, which I’ve found basically impossible. Regardless, it’s nice to see other people my age that are into genealogy!

  3. Hi Kyla,

    My name is Roberto Padilla and I’ve been working on my ancestry for over 15 years. My mother was born and lives in Penuelas. She has described the dwelling of her maternal grandfather a number of times, and looking at the photo on top, it matches up pretty well. It this a family picture from the Purcell’s side of your family, or did you upload it from another source? If it is from the Purcell’s collection, just where was his farm? I see that you mention the Gelpi’s, of which a member of this family had a child with one of my great grandfather’s relative. This great grandfather was a butler on a farm in barrio Santo Domingo of Penuelas. As you can imagine, if the picture belongs to the farm in which my great grandfather worked, it would be priceless from my perspective.

  4. Pedro Purcell Bosch became a store owner when he entered old age. He imported merchandise from Spain and would re-sell it in a small store that he constructed besides his house in the town of Penuelas. Before this he was the owner of various properties and was in the agriculture business. He married Maria del Carmen Irizarry in 1860 and had 11 children: María Concepción, Ludo, Luis, Norberto, Justa, Irene (Susa), Francisca, Petra, María, Julio y Santiago.

    • Hello Waldemar. Pedro Purcell Bosch’s sister was my great-great grandmother, Eufracia Purcell Bosch. I have had trouble with the new password requirements on this site and stopped using it for some time. I have seen your name pop up on occassion while researching my ancestors because you wrote a book on this Purcell family. Thank you very much for taking the time to comment here. Feel free to email me at

  5. Hello Kyla,
    You page is wonderful, thank you for sharing. I would like to do something very similar once I have all my ducks in a row. Our connection would be Penuelas but my family’s names are Mas and Batiz. The Mas family in particular I have connected to being slave owners in what was then district 5 of the Ponce slave registry. Smaller towns like Adjuntas and Maricao among others fall into that district. I would really like to pick your brain about what you know. I get the feeling we could make a connection. I think our ancestors may have rubbed elbows at the very least.

    • I am of the Mas family. I am Dominick Adrian Mas, son of Adrian Raphael Mas. This article is interesting to me because I had found that Mas may be Hebrew, either meaning “slave” or as an acronym “book seller.” My Father told me we were Jewish but I thought he was joking. Our ancestors were Tribal Natives of Mallorca Spain and they were slaughtered, I believe during the times of the Spanish Inquisition, until escaping near extinction. I am in search of my family and the history of them.

  6. Hi Kyla, I love your blog. Its so well put together. I especially loved this post. May I ask in which civil record book you saw the note about the previous slave? Was it a Catholic church record? Because I noticed they have their own section set aside for slave/ colored names. Just wondering because I am at the point in my own family history search also from Puerto Rico, where I’m pretty sure slavery existed for my ancestors. I have found several clues but no real facts yet. Any tips you have would be appreciated. Thanks!!!

    • Hi Diana,
      The record was from the civil registrations for a child born to a mother with the same last name as my ancestor’s relative. The only information provided regarding the mother’s former slave status was found in the marginal notes. The margin noted a name change for the child stating the mother was no longer to use the surname of her owner but the surname of her own mother. I have not looked at the church records for the child who was born to see what other information may be provided there. The civil registration was enacted over a decade after slavery was finally abolished in Puerto Rico, so it seemed strange that the mom continued to use the owner’s surname. She would have been a child herself at the time of slavery, but I haven’t seen her mother pop up in the Slave Registers for Puerto Rico. The owner was not my direct-line ancestor, so I haven’t looked much farther into this. Thank you so much for reading and taking the time to respond. I like your blog and I am going to pass on your entry about Ancestry’s new searchable database for Puerto Rico because it has consumed all of my free time for the past week to fill in any gaps. 🙂

  7. I am of the Mas family. I am Dominick Adrian Mas, son of Adrian Raphael Mas. This article is interesting to me because I had found that Mas may be Hebrew, either meaning “slave” or as an acronym “book seller.” My Father told me we were Jewish but I thought he was joking. Our ancestors were Tribal Natives of Mallorca Spain and they were slaughtered, I believe during the times of the Spanish Inquisition, until escaping near extinction. I am in search of my family and the history of them.

  8. Hi Kyla, Super blog! I’ve enjoyed reading your blog posts tonight. This post in particular caught my eye as my paternal Puerto Rican grandfather was Sapia Bosch from La Playa and Ponce, Puerto Rico. How interesting…I never considered that his family would have owned slaves, and very interesting that my novel published in Feb 2015 is the story of a former slave and midwife who lives and works in La Playa de Ponce, PR. I’ve always thought I was channeling Ana’s spirit…maybe there’s more truth to it than I original thought. Thanks so much and good luck with your search.

  9. Hello, I’m helping a family with connections to Penuelas but don’t know where else to search. Any thoughts?

    • Not sure what you’ve tried but has worked the best for me. The Puerto Rico Civil Registration began in 1885 and the microfilmed documents are available online for free. They are also online at to view with a subscription. They indexed the records, but it is tricky to use he search fields. You will get some funky results since not all of the information was transcribed to the index and it seems that MANY of their indexers were not familiar with Spanish or Spanish names. To find ancestors earlier than 1885, you can order the microfilm of the church records through FamilySearch and view it at your local LDS family history center. In my experience, waiting for the microfilm took nearly a year. No one said this family tree stuff was easy! Haha Hope that helps and good luck!

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