Just Defense of the Natural Freedom of Slaves

Author: de Moirans, Epifanio
Awarded the Adele Mellen Prize for Distinguished Contribution to Scholarship

This book offers a critical Latin text with English, facing-page translation of Epifanio de Moirans's Servi Liberi seu Naturalis Mancipiorum Libertatis Iusta Defensio. The events described in Servi Liberi occurred in Havana, Cuba toward the end of 1681 and the beginning of 1682. It was then that the author, de Moirans, a Frenchman from Burgundy, along with Francisco José de Jaca, a Spaniard from Aragon and fellow Capuchin, did what was most impossible and subversive at the time: he condemned the very institution of slavery. The only extant copy of Servi Liberi is in Seville’s Archivo General de Indias, which, though formerly a stock exchange, became the official depository for Spanish colonial documents over two hundred years ago. Servi Liberi has survived because of the Archive; had it perished, we would have no knowledge of these events, no awareness of these campaigns, and no idea of how two Capuchins struggled with all the established political, economic, and religious interests of their time to change the widespread and destructive practice of slavery.


“. . . the reading of this text is not only an enriching exploration of the past, but also a conscientization in the present: if Christians in the past conveniently rationalized the existence of slavery for their own advantage, Christians in the present may be equally tempted to rationalize the most immoral behavior in the name of scientific advancement, cultural superiority, economic prosperity, political convenience, social status, etc. But is this not the same type of human arrogance that in a former era condoned slavery? In response to such a basic question, this book should make its mark not only as a scholarly monograph, but also as an examination of conscience.” – (from the Preface) Professor John T. Ford, C.S.C., Catholic University of America

“Dr. Edward Sunshine has made a unique and very significant contribution to knowledge and scholarship in this book. Epifanio de Moirans, in 1682 in Havana, wrote a treatise against slavery strongly supporting the emancipation of slaves, refuting the arguments of other theologians who defended slavery, and even calling for restitution to the slaves for the injustice and the loss they suffered. Working with the only extant copy of Moiran’s manuscript, Dr. Sunshine has given us a critical Latin text and a fluent English translation.” – Dr. Charles E. Curran, Elizabeth Scurlock University Chair of Human Values, Southern Methodist University

Table of Contents

Foreword; Preface and Acknowledgements
Introduction; Note on Text Conventions
Summary of the Book’s Argument in Five Conclusions; Prologue
1. The Just Defense of the Natural Freedom of Slaves: From the End, the Beginning
2. Black African Slavery Contradicts the Order of Nature
3. Black African Slavery Contradicts Divine Positive Law
4. Black Slavery Contradicts the Law of Nations
5. Scrutiny of Two Other Titles of Just Slavery
6. Scrutiny of the Arguments of Adversaries
7. Scrutiny of Avendaño’s Report
8. Avendaño’s Scrutiny of Molina’s Statements Is Next
9. Scrutiny of Avendaño’s Report on Rebello’s Statements
10. Scrutiny of Avendaño’s Report on Others
11. Refutation of Excuses
12. Masters Must Pay Blacks Back Wages for Their Labor
13. Masters Must Give Blacks Back Not Only Freedom and Back Wages but Also Lost Profits and Damages
14. The Obligation to Make Restitution, Continued
Notes; Bibliography; Index