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.