Sex, deviance, and drama : socioracial relationships in the Texas-Coahuila borderlands, 1665-1820

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2017-05

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This dissertation examines the judgment, criminalization, and penalties for “illicit friendships” on the Texas-Coahuila borderlands. During the colonial period, the Spanish monarchy, Catholic Church, and citizens, controlled “excessive” or “illicit” sexuality via well-established forms of behavioral expectations and punishments. Civil and ecclesiastical jurisdictions reserved the right to treat sexual “indiscretions” as criminal offenses against God and King. These lapses included adultery, bigamy, cohabitation, and pre-marital sex, most often categorized by authorities and the public alike as “illicit friendships.” For those caught in defiance, local customs and punishments actually varied widely. At one end of the spectrum transgressors risked physical penalties, imprisonment, or exile; while at the very minimum, others received lesser repercussions such as public embarrassment or no punishment at all. An analysis of 286 criminal court cases reveals the social, economic, and law enforcement networks that existed between Coahuila and Texas. This microhistorical work uncovered the local dynamics of small peripheral communities and the ways these negotiated gender, race, and patriarchy differently than other regions. Its major findings: a communal bond between Texas and Coahuila, a flexible application of the caste system, a male hesitance toward using violence against females to prevent and punish “sins of the flesh,” and a popular culture that accepted and underreported “illicit sexuality,” contribute to the historiography of race, gender, and sexuality in colonial Latin America and the Spanish Borderlands. The suits analyzed also expose a key finding that in the northeastern frontier, regardless of marital or socioracial status, authorities disproportionately charged and punished men more regularly than they did women— a choice that was different than other regions. Documents reveal a more lenient treatment in response to extramarital affairs as cuckolds typically refrained from using forceful retributions against their wives. This type of behavior goes against the stereotype that men in New Spain relied on brutal force to control women. Similar to Historian Susan Deeds’ assessment of Nueva Vizcaya, a lax popular culture that was accepting of “licentious” sexuality also surfaces for the eastern side of the frontier. Unlike other parts of the borderlands however, individuals on this side of the frontier dealt with infidelities less violently. Just as the caste system was malleable in this region, so were community norms regarding gender, violence, and patriarchy.

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