Counting and Classifying

[From Chapter II, People and Places in Colonial Venezuela (1976)]

Like most Latin American countries, Venezuela has a wealth of materials on the size, composition, and characteristics of her colonial population. Much information comes in continuous series that stretch back for some places into the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, but most of the data are in the form of isolated compilations or surveys focused on restricted portions of the region.

For the purposes of the following discussion, I have divided the available information into seven major groups. First are the parish vital statistics that provided data on baptisms, burials, and marriages. Then are those missionary reports that included population estimates. Third are the accounts of travelers to the area, whose observations on population size and composition have proved especially valuable. The fourth group, government surveys, is rich in data on all aspects of the Latin American environment, including information on economics, politics, geography, and social customs, as well as on population. Episcopal visitas often contain demographic observations of remarkable completeness and accuracy. But few sources of population data can equal the information contained in the sixth and seventh groups: the parish household lists collected through much of the eighteenth century, and the annual parish censuses begun in the last quarter of the eighteenth century.

By combining the data contained in these sources, it should be possible to arrive at a rather complete and detailed knowledge of Venezuelan population history through the end of the colonial period. To be sure, some of these sources duplicate the information contained in others, and in some cases the population reports are little better than educated guesses. Nevertheless, a systematic comparison of the data and a careful evaluation of contemporary conditions can lead us to a reasonable approximation of Venezuela's population geography throughout the period.

Before beginning this analysis, however, it is essential to have a notion of the possibilities and problems offered by the sources in each of these seven data groups. To that end, this chapter will place the sources within their proper context and explore some of the ways the data they contain can best be used.(1)

Parish Vital Statistics

Practically every Latin American parish has a set of books that record in greater or lesser detail the occurrence of baptisms, burials, and marriages. Venezuela is no exception to this rule, although little has yet been done to exploit this material for its demographic yield. The neglect stems from the fact that parish records in Venezuela, as in the rest of Spanish America, lie dispersed throughout the country in local archives. Frequently parish priests resist the attempts of scholars to use the archives, and the documents often prove to be in poor condition or partially destroyed. For Venezuelanists, these liabilities are further compounded by the rudimentary state of research on major aspects of Venezuela's colonial past. When few adequate studies of the period exist, most students feel obliged to concentrate on the analysis and description of the major structural elements of government, economics, and society before narrowing their focus to concentrate on micro-history. Moreover, until recently, micro-history at the parish level has been the almost exclusive preserve of the antiquarian, genealogist, or costumbrista.

Added to these impediments is the nature of the methodology required to fully develop these sources. By and large, few students have been inclined to employ family reconstitution techniques to study Venezuela's parish records. Such techniques, while capable of producing excellent results from materials of this kind, require an investment of time and resources out of proportion to the significance of the results obtainable. However unwarranted in theory, this conclusion gains strength when we realize that none of the province- or country-wide data have been fully studied. Indeed, the results of family reconstitution will be difficult to interpret without the analysis from larger scale but necessarily less detailed studies.

Although no comprehensive guide to the parish archives of Venezuela exists, historians interested in local micro-history should begin with Lino Gómez Canedo's Los archivos históricos de Venezuela. Although it concentrates primarily on the major national archives, it nevertheless has an excellent section on provincial and regional resources. The next best source of information comes from the elaborate descriptions of parish archives in the books of Bishop Mariano Martí, whose visita of the Bishopric of Caracas at the end of the eighteenth century provides one of the best surveys of the central portion of Venezuela extant. Martí reported on the condition and contents of each parish archive, noting the dates of the earliest surviving parish book. The Martí information current in the late eighteenth century, if used with due regard to the vagaries of climate, civil war, and neglect, still gives the best starting point for any study of Venezuela's colonial population records at the parish level.(2)

Missionary Reports

Throughout Spanish America during the colonial period, the regular clergy provided their superiors with detailed, comprehensive reports on the numbers, dispersion, and characteristics of the native populations exposed to their missionary efforts. In Venezuela these reports constitute one of the few sources of population information outside of the regular government and ecclesiastical accounting system. Unfortunately, most of the accounts published leave much to be desired. Frequently the missionaries speak in terms so vague as to be practically useless. But in spite of this disadvantage, the letters and reports from remote missions are often the only sources of information about the location of obscure towns and settlements. This is especially true for mission towns active and prosperous in the eighteenth century that have subsequently disappeared. The reports also discuss the economic base of regions, describing existing trade patterns and assessing the public health history of the area.

Most of the useable missionary accounts come from the eighteenth century and focus on the Orinoco, Apure, and Llanos of Maturín regions, although there are scattered reports from other areas. These sources must be used with extreme care insofar as they make population estimates, but anyone interested in the development of Venezuela's population, and especially her indigenous population, will find valuable information in the records.(3)

Travelers' Accounts

Of all the sources of population data for Venezuela, none has been used as extensively or received as wide notice as the reports of visitors. While this kind of population reporting suffers from a host of difficulties and a variety of errors, it has at the same time the advantage of accessibility and intelligibility. Indeed, most historians of Venezuela's colonial past use these accounts as the principal source for data on population, partly because of the excellence of the two most important late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century travelers' accounts by Alexander von Humboldt and Francois de Pons.

Of the two, Humboldt's has had the greatest impact, and his account represents the most extensive analysis of Venezuela's resources and possibilities available until well into the nineteenth century. A prime example of the Enlightenment polymath, Humboldt took an interest in practically everything. He made every effort to discover the size and composition of the population and to relate its growth to the prevailing economic and social conditions. De Pons, although perhaps more concerned with military affairs, also made a serious but less extensive effort to estimate population size.

Both de Pons and Humboldt traveled widely throughout the country gathering information and observing daily life. But in spite of this intimate acquaintance with Venezuelan conditions, the travelers could hardly have been expected to conduct their own population counts. Instead, they relied on the colonial elite for most of their quantitative information on the country, information which carried with it certain types of inaccuracy and bias.

In the case of population data, Humboldt and de Pons accepted the information provided them by the ecclesiastical authorities, population statistics compiled from the annual parish censuses available in Caracas since at least the mid-1770s. Although neither Humboldt nor de Pons took the figures at face value, both used them as the basis for their own estimates. As a result, neither traveler's information qualifies as an independent check on church-generated population statistics.

Of course the major contributions of these two famous visitors lie not with their population estimates but with their descriptions of the geographic situation, political organization, economic activities, and social structure of Venezuela. Since most of their remarks on these subjects are the result of personal observation and measurement, their value is high indeed. For example, in the effort to locate population centers existing in Venezuela at the end of the century, de Pons and especially Humboldt are indispensable guides.(4)

Special Government Surveys

Under this category come the series of Relaciones geográficas compiled in the eighteenth century. By and large this type of document has been thoroughly exploited, described, and analyzed by historians of the Spanish American empire. Nevertheless, it may be useful to give an indication of the utility of these reports for Venezuelan demographic history.

In general, the Relaciones geográficas available for Venezuela follow the standard format characteristic of similar reports on other Spanish American areas, that is they contain descriptions of principal geographic features, economic conditions, agricultural conditions, military advantages, and population resources of a given locality. In Venezuela, the reports as a rule focus on the urban centers of each area and then interpret the center in terms of its hinterland. As a source of economic data and agricultural profiles, the Relaciones geográficas are excellent, but for population purposes they show very little sophistication. Most of them barely have an estimate of the gross population in the area. Others make a perfunctory effort to separate out subgroups within the population, such as Negro slaves, Indians, or foreigners. On occasion a report will have an estimate of the military potential of an area in terms of the number of able-bodied men of military age in the region.(5)

Also included in this category are special surveys carried out by government officials for various purposes. For example, towns interested in changing their status from sitio to pueblo or from pueblo to villa had to submit extensive files on the state of their population and other characteristics. Likewise, when the Church wanted to create new parishes and requested aid from civil authorities, elaborate files appeared with considerable quantities of population data, sometimes age specific. But if these special surveys appear to be a promising source of population data, they must be used with care. One suspects that a file compiled to prove the populousness and prosperity of a town might be biased, especially if the reward for exaggeration were substantial. The utility of this kind of special report seems even less impressive when we realize that all the population figures come ultimately from the parochial census materials discussed below. Thus, it becomes difficult to use this kind of special survey as an independent check on the accuracy and completeness of the parochial data.

Finally, there is evidence of a considerable body of data collected in the 1770s in a government effort to assess the military strength of the empire. We have the schedule of questions sent out to the civil authorities in each town and the acknowledgements of their receipt. Unfortunately, the returns seem to have passed through the hands of the Caracas authorities on the way to Spain without leaving much of a trace in Venezuela's archives, although they may have been misfiled by the colonial authorities or may appear in some section of the archives not yet consulted. The most likely resting place for these documents, however, is in the Spanish archives. The survey questionnaire and instructions indicate a sophisticated attempt to acquire reliable population information, but we can guess that the extraordinary nature of the survey and its obvious military conscription implications may have seriously compromised its usefulness. Here too, the principal agents of the survey were the parish priests who also supervised the annual parish censuses.

Until a systematic search of the Spanish archives is made, we will of course be unable to determine the importance of the materials held there, but from the available indications, the quantity of that material is quite substantial. However, given the dependence of colonial administrators on the data collection abilities of parish priests, it is likely that the information collected in Spanish archives differs very little from that available from the annual parish censuses.(6)

Episcopal visitas

One of the duties of each new bishop was to conduct a detailed visita of each one of the parishes within his jurisdiction. Although bishops throughout the Spanish American empire honored this requirement in a mostly perfunctory way, a number of conscientious prelates took their duties very seriously and carried out thorough reviews of their sees.

In Venezuela one bishop stands out among all the rest in terms of the comprehensiveness and detail of his episcopal visita. Mariano Martí, Bishop of the See of Caracas, spent the years 1775 to 1783 traveling all over Venezuela visiting his parishes and recording in exceptional detail information on the spiritual and material condition of each parish within his jurisdiction. His records, recently published, constitute a complete description of the Bishopric of Caracas in the last third of the eighteenth century. Not only do the books of the visita include information on the location, boundaries, and physical-geographical features of each parish, but they also contain a wealth of population information.

All of Martí's figures come from the same parochial censuses discussed below and thus duplicate data available from other sources. Furthermore, Martí's visita chronologically spans two different methods of population accounting, and his data are not always comparable between different parishes. Having noted these liabilities, however, we must also acknowledge that Martí's data have certain advantages not present in any other source. Since Martí took a great personal interest in the information his subordinates compiled for him in each town they visited, he often noted inconsistencies in the population data supplied, and on occasion commented on the thoroughness of the parish priests' bookkeeping. This supervisory role exercised by Martí has given a certain consistency to the population reports of his visita. Moreover, in almost every case, Martí's information records population living in towns separately from population living outside and distinguishes people attached to sitios subordinated to towns from population within the town proper. This detailed geographic and locational breakdown is often unavailable in other materials on colonial Venezuelan population.

Martí also took considerable care to document the history of each parish. From his reports, we can usually discover when the parish was founded, which parish it belonged to before being elevated to an independent curacy, and what other places were attached to it for ecclesiastical and administrative purposes. Martí also made every effort to establish the earliest date in the parish registers and frequently commented on their condition. He made recommendations for the creation of new parishes by splitting up excessively large units or rearranging the boundaries of existing units to create parishes of nearly the same geographic and population size.

Although not precisely within the scope of this essay, it is impossible to pass over some of the other features of this remarkable survey. Martí catalogued the physical possessions of each curacy while at the same time describing the shape, construction, and condition of ecclesiastical buildings. He provided thumbnail biographies of the parish priests and assessed their abilities. And he recorded in considerable detail the gossip brought to him about the lives and activities of citizens in each town.(7)

Parish Household Lists: The Matrículas

From the mid-eighteenth to almost the beginning of the nineteenth century, parish priests sent in yearly registers or lists of their parishioners. These documents, which reside in the ecclesiastical archive in Caracas, provide an exceptional fund of demographic information. The household lists appear to have been compiled to fulfill the obligation of each parish priest to provide the bishop with a full account of his parishioners, indicating race, sex, marital status, and religious condition. Although the precise instructions received by the priests have yet to appear, it does not stretch the imagination to reconstruct the requirements set out for this annual census. For one thing, the returns for all the parishes in the Bishopric of Caracas show a remarkable uniformity of style and organization. For another, the returns are consistent in content and structure throughout the half-century of their existence.

The matrículas, which constitute the first systematic and regular censuses in Venezuela, were organized around the household as the fundamental census unit. Every individual covered by the census had to be located within a household and bear some relationship to the household head. This notion corresponds directly to the Spaniard's often noted obsession with the location of each individual in physical as well as social space. Indeed, nothing aggravated Spanish bureaucrats more than the unattached, unlocated individual.

[Reproduction of a matrícula]

But because location of an individual within a household failed to identify his status clearly enough, the household in turn was structured in such a way as to permit the placement of every individual with respect to the household head. Each household was broken down into its component families, and then the families were broken down into their component parts. Where households held multiple families, the individual families would be listed in descending order according to their status within the household. Frequently persons outside the family structure, such as unmarried adults, servants without families of their own, or individual single slaves living within the household, would appear in a separate category within the listing, but still in descending order by social rank. The households themselves were arranged according to the physical location of the building within the city. With this information, it is theoretically possible to reconstruct the organization and distribution of households throughout the parish and recreate patterns of urban residence.

Unfortunately, we do not always have the street plan of Venezuelan parishes, nor do we have a clear indication of the route followed by each census taker. Although in most cases it appears that priests followed the same routes as their predecessors, it is often difficult to verify the consistency of this practice. But because the matrículas are, at the very lowest level, lists of individuals by name, it is usually possible to follow the development of households over time. Sometimes the priests prove rather careless in assigning last names to individuals within the household, and servants, slaves, and women of all ranks usually appear without patronymics.

In addition to physical location within the town and social location within the household, it is possible to collect data on other characteristics of the individuals listed in the matrículas. Sex can be derived from the given names of practically everyone, and marital status is usually evident from the circumstances of the listing or from some specific indication in the entry. Racial designations appear somewhat less often, but still can be determined for the vast majority of individuals. In all but a few isolated cases, no age data are included in the matrículas, but because religious distinctions were in part age dependent, children under seven can be separated out from the adult population. Practically all the entries in the matrícula indicate whether the individual has taken communion, communion and confession, or is a párvulo--that is, a child under seven not yet required to observe the sacraments.

Without the results of a statistical analysis of these returns over time and space, and without the benefit of a comparison of their data with other sources, it is difficult to assess the value and reliability of the matrículas. In spite of these problems, however, we can make some preliminary observations which may help guide further evaluations. The high degree of standardization of these reports both over time and space indicates a carefully conceived census operation carried out with conscientious regard for the instructions. This conclusion is further buttressed by the physical appearance of the manuscripts themselves. With few exceptions, they are written out with great attention to detail, the formats are internally consistent, and in the cases checked so far, the information changes from year to year. Although it is probable that some parish priests copied the same return year after year, the present state of research on these matrículas does not show that to have been the norm.

Since we have not yet encountered the instructions to each parish priest on the methods to be used in taking the census, we cannot be sure about the procedures employed. But from a variety of other sources, some conclusions seem reasonable. With the exception of the major city parishes of the province, practically all of the Venezuelan parishes number between one and four thousand persons. This means that each priest would have had to compile data on a maximum number of households in the range of four to six hundred, a task well within the resources of most parish priests. To be sure, many parishes had no priest at all and their matrículas had to be compiled by the curate of a neighboring town. But this situation usually occurred in the less populous parishes, where the number of households concerned may have been half or less of the maximum indicated above.

Having established in theory at least that these matrículas could have been compiled without undue stress by the individual parish priests, it remains to be shown how they did it. Here again we have very little direct evidence. But the organization and physical appearance of the documents themselves would seem to indicate that at least the first matrícula was compiled through a house-to-house survey. Such a procedure had been used before, and since Spanish practice was to use existing procedures and structures as much as possible, one would expect that the same process prevailed in the regular census operation. If the parish priests did indeed compile their original matrícula by a house-to-house survey, their method of updating that survey every year remains to be established.

Several possibilities exist. The curate may have resurveyed the parish every year, although a cursory knowledge of human nature and a basic familiarity with Spanish bureaucracy makes this possibility unlikely. At the other extreme, the priest may have sent in the same return every year, changing only the date. This probably holds true for some parishes over short periods of time, but it is unlikely that any parish would have the same return for the whole period under consideration. For one thing, even the slow moving ecclesiastical bureaucracy might notice this lack of change. For another, few parish priests remained at the same post continuously for thirty years or more. Each new priest would probably want to start off his period with energy and verve calculated to impress his superiors, and the preparation of a new census was one method of doing so. There are some indications in other census materials to support such an interpretation. Finally, we do know that in the cases examined so far the returns have been updated in some fashion.

As is the case in most problems of this kind, the reality can most likely be found somewhere in between the extremes. Until the analysis of these matrículas is completed, however, the following can serve as a possible reconstruction of population accounting administration in the Bishopric of Caracas.

Parish priests in eighteenth-century Venezuela rarely had to care for parishes in excess of four thousand souls. As a result, these men must have had a fairly comprehensive knowledge of who lived where and with whom. Moreover, because of the exaggerated Spanish American concern with social status, it seems reasonable to assume that the parish priest, like everyone else in town, knew everybody, where they lived, and how they ranked on the social scale. Given this intimate knowledge of the town, plus the priest's strategic position as the keeper of vital statistics, records of baptisms, marriages, and burials, it is not difficult to imagine a priest with the requisite knowledge to carry out a thorough yearly updating of his town's matrícula. Every year, sometime after Easter, each parish priest probably sat down with last year's matrícula, his aide, and the parish books, and then proceeded to go through the matrícula household by household. Surely he would know of the deaths, marriages, and births occurring in all but the most remote households. Surely he would know, for example, that a new family in town had rented rooms in a large household in a particular neighborhood. By bringing together his own knowledge of conditions in the parish with the data recorded in the parish books, the priest could thus have made a reliable updating of the previous year's census.

If we can accept this hypothetical sequence of events, it tells us a good deal about the kinds of errors to expect in the matrículas. For example, there is little doubt that the matrículas underenumerated servants, slaves, lower status people, and the children of such individuals. Because the count was based on the household, anyone not belonging to a household was liable to be missed in the census. In like fashion, people living outside the town on haciendas or hatos may have been underrepresented in some matrículas, especially if the parish jurisdiction was large geographically and the territory sparsely inhabited. It may also be wise to even out annual fluctuations through the use of moving averages, because it is quite possible that the priest only updated the whole town by a piecemeal process over a period of years.

These initial reflections also have implications for the research design most adequate for the exploitation of these archives. For example, it would be difficult to use these matrículas for the production of global statistics on the size of Venezuela's population near the end of the eighteenth century because of their focus on the urbanized part of a parish's population. Better use of these data would be for the analysis of family patterns and household structure and for the isolation of differential regional patterns, should these exist. Since we have no reliable way of filling out the universe covered in part by the matrículas, this latter type of analysis would seem to offer the most profitable avenue of research at present. Once the data contained in these matrículas have been rendered machine-readable and analyzed, other possibilities for research will undoubtedly appear.(8)

Annual Censuses

Another series of population data for Venezuela, closely related to the matrículas discussed above, comes from annual numerical census returns from the parishes of the Bishopric of Caracas. Covering the same universe as the matrículas and overlapping in chronological period, these returns appear in a variety of formats. All of them, however, have some similar characteristics. They invariably appear on hand-ruled sheets in the form of a rectangular table. Along the stub and the head are arranged the categories within which the data were collected. In addition to the population data, the table contains the name of the parish, the date of the census, the name of the priest responsible, and an occasional note commenting on special circumstances affecting the statistics. There is usually some reference to the ecclesiastical document authorizing the census. Practically all the format types include information on male-female and ecclesiastical categories, but once these minimum requirements have been met, the formats differ quite substantially.

From 1776 until the wars for independence in the Bishopric of Caracas, most of the parishes turned in annual returns according to a standard format labeled here Type III . Evidently a directive requiring a special reporting format was issued for the year 1807 and again for the year 1813. The 1807 version is labeled Type II, and the 1813 version, Type I. 

[Reproduction of a Type I Census]
[Reproduction of a Type II Census]

Direct evidence about the intentions and purposes of the special population accounting methods is extremely difficult to find, at least within Venezuela, but some general conclusions can be drawn from the kinds of questions the data answer. For example, both Type II and Type I formats ask for age data, with the Type I format specifying narrower age ranges than Type II. This demonstrates perhaps a greater interest in true demographic indicators, but it also suggests that the age data may have been requested to answer military manpower questions. The latter supposition seems particularly reasonable when we note that the Type II age categories are 0-16, 16-40, and 40 and above. Of course, the 16-40 age group is the one most liable for military service. It should also be noted that the years 1807 and 1813 are within the critical decades when the Spanish imperial system suffered constant attacks both from within and without. Finally in support of this hypothesis, these two census formats are one-time affairs, special purpose surveys probably not designed for general population accounting, and it is clear that the Type I and Type II censuses form a different category of data from Type III information.(9)

Type III Censuses

From the evidence available at present, there is little doubt that royal bureaucrats designed the Type III census format to provide a steady, uniform, and reliable source of demographic information. Moreover, from the phrasing of the only royal communication on this subject that I have been able to find, this procedure was designed to be used for all of America.

[Reproduction of a Type III Census]

The Type III census returns, on which the preliminary population analysis in this book is based, provide information on the race, sex, marital status, and religious condition of the population of the Bishopric of Caracas at the parish level. The data are presented in tabular form, following a standardized series of conventions. Apparently the reports can be characterized as a de facto census. Individuals absent from the parish were evidently excluded from the count, while temporary visitors to the parish were probably included. As a result, persons involved in extended travel have probably been undercounted. Although this would involve a few merchants, some government officials, and perhaps individuals involved in the transportation industry, the number of people actually caught in this circumstance, based on the internal evidence contained in the census returns, seems to have been quite small. Whenever a married man or woman did not appear in the census returns and his or her spouse did appear, the parish priest would note the absence of the spouse and often indicate a reason for the absence.

Even though the census has a fixed date for which it is supposed to be accurate, the small number of individuals considered as absent from the parish would indicate that the census compilers took little pains to determine whether or not a given individual happened to be in town on the particular day of the count. Rather, they most likely considered as absent only those persons habitually away from their homes. Because the census recorded the religious activity of all parishioners, those people absent from town during the Easter period probably ran a greater risk of exclusion from the census than those absent at other times of the year. This chain of explanation cannot, of course, be tested. But it has the virtue of corresponding to the available evidence and at the same time conforming to a commonsense understanding of the operation of Spanish ecclesiastical bureaucracy.

In attempting to assess the coverage of Type III censuses, or for that matter most of the rest of Venezuela's population accounts, it helps considerably to have a notion of the Spanish concept of residence. Within the empire, every citizen, vassal, or slave was expected to have a physical place to which he was attached. Unless he were involved in the process of transferring his residence from one place to another, anyone without a residential location did not legally exist within the system. Vagabonds, runaways, pirates, and smugglers lived in this limbo. Clearly, such people were beyond the limits of civilized society, and as such, could not be considered part of a functioning community.

Since all citizens in good standing had fixed residences, the notion that a census could be taken with reference to those residences and be expected to include all of the King's subjects was perfectly reasonable. As a result, Type III censuses were based on populations whose residential affiliation lay within a parish and who habitually resided there.

A further consideration about the coverage of Type III census data needs to be explained. A town's return covered not only the urbanized part of the parish but also the rural areas subject to the curate's ecclesiastical jurisdiction. In a few large cities this distinction made little difference, since the boundaries of the ecclesiastical jurisdictions coincided with the physical boundaries of the place. But for most of Venezuela, parishes included wide expanses of savanna and vast mountain reaches completely outside the town proper. Indeed, some of the pre-1776 summaries, particularly in the Martí visita, make a careful effort to distinguish between those individuals living inside the town and those living outside. The Type III returns, for the most part, do not separate out the town residents from the rural residents.

This situation leads to some serious complications for the interpretation of the aggregate figures for each parish. One solution to this inside-outside dilemma is to consider the data as representing a population evenly distributed within the parish jurisdiction. Of course, such is not the case, since we know that many characteristics of the population were different for town residents than for rural residents. Another alternative would be to consider the population of the parish to be concentrated at a point source, the location of the parish seat. While this is also an artificial construct, it does have some features to recommend it. In Spanish America, people generally located their place of legal residence within an urban nexus, whether rural village or metropolitan primate city. By considering the population of a parish as concentrated at the point of the parish church, we are able to avoid one of the most difficult problems plaguing an analysis of the kind attempted here, that is, the determination of parish boundaries.

The best single source for information on the size and boundaries of Venezuela's parishes is the report of Bishop Mariano Martí's visita. Even there, however, the geographical descriptions and toponymical terminology are so vague and imprecise that accurate boundary descriptions are almost impossible to derive. In fact, the mere process of locating parish centers is in many cases a job of major proportions. Because of the concentration of Venezuelan population inside towns and the practical difficulties of establishing parish boundaries, I have assumed that the population characteristics analyzed here refer to population aggregates concentrated at the point source defined by the parish church. In like fashion, the regionalization developed in the course of this study are based on data conceived of in these terms. This procedure has been used with a full understanding of the distortions introduced, and the results of the analysis must be taken within this context.(10)

Temporal and Geographic Coverage (Type III )

Within this framework, the Type III data fall into a two-dimensional matrix whose boundaries help clarify the nature of the data. Along a temporal axis, the census returns are distributed as in Part II, Table 7. Beginning in the 1770s, the number of returns peaks around the turn of the century and tapers off thereafter, although scattered returns exist as late as 1838. Over half of all returns in this group fall in the 1800-1809 decade. Along a geographical axis, we can see that the Type III returns cover mainly that portion of modern Venezuela shaded in Map 3-1 and identified in Map 1-9. This area corresponds roughly to the Bishopric of Caracas after 1800. During the period 1776-1800, the Bishopric had been reduced by the separation of the Coro and Trujillo jurisdictions and their aggregation to the newly created Bishopric of Mérida de Maracaibo. Although the area covered by the Type III censuses represents about twenty percent of Venezuela's surface area, it includes more than sixty percent of Venezuela's population in that period and covers the central coast and valleys, the most important regions of the country from both a socioeconomic and political perspective. The completeness of coverage varies from year to year, with the critical 1800-1809 period showing the highest response.

In an effort to smooth out short-term fluctuations in the data, I have divided the series into four chronological groups. Those returns for parishes reporting before 1800 form the first group, representing about twenty percent of the total number of returns. Those returns for the years 1800 through 1809 make up the second group of about thirty-five percent. The third group of returns covers the years 1810 to 1819 inclusive, about a third of the total. The last group includes the years after 1819, some fifteen percent of the returns.

Because the collection of census returns is rarely complete for all the parishes for every year, some means of estimating the missing data had to be devised. The method adopted here has little to recommend it in terms of statistical elegance but much in terms of practicality. What I have done is to construct a ten year average for each parish. This method, for almost all of the parishes, gives a population value for the mid-point of the two ten year periods 1800-1809 and 1810-1819, in addition to a less reliable mid-point value for the decades preceding 1800 and the decades following 1819.

Such a procedure gives a reasonably accurate representation of Venezuela's population before the dislocations of the independence movement and a comparable picture of her population during the independence era. In the few cases where only one return exists for a given parish within the time period, I have taken that value, whether it occurs at the beginning or the end of the time period, as the best estimator of the mid-point value. To be sure, during the independence era Venezuela's population suffered severe dislocations in selected areas, but the nature of these dislocations has not yet been discovered, nor are there any guides to the magnitude of the changes. Perhaps after the conclusions of this preliminary analysis have been thoroughly evaluated, a more sophisticated estimating formula may be employed, but for the present, the procedure outlined above will probably involve the least risk of serious error.

These manipulations result in two files of population data for late colonial Venezuela possessing a comprehensiveness and consistency rare indeed for Latin America. The first file, composed of the averages for each parish reporting in the period 1800-1809, forms the base for most of this book. [ This is not included in this web publication.] The second file, the complete collection of Type III returns, is tabulated and cross-classified in the statistical series that accompanies the analysis. [This is included but in a different and more complete form than in the printed book.]

Census Categories and Definitions (Type III )

In addition to the aggregate population data on the size of parishes within the Bishopric of Caracas, the Type III censuses also divide the population into three categories that need to be defined in terms of the Spanish information system. There appears to be no difficulty with the male-female distinction recorded in the returns. Priests, however, and nuns living in convents, frequently were not included in the tabulations since they were considered outside the traditional civil jurisdictions. They appeared rather in a separate category within the census, without the specificity required in the reporting of the civil population. Although this lack of consistency is regrettable, its effect on the total returns is quite small, as the number of ecclesiastics in any parish was few indeed.

The returns also divided the inhabitants according to what we might call their religious condition, although in modern terms this distinction is more closely allied with civil status. Individuals were first divided into two groups, those over the age of religious responsibility, from seven on up, and those below that age, called párvulos. Adults, in this case people seven years old or older, and children were also separated into male-female groups and differentiated by race. Adults were further divided by civil status, that is married or unmarried. Widows were almost certainly included in the unmarried category, for parish priests frequently noted that the number of married males and females was unequal because of some unusual circumstance. The assumption here, of course, is that all married females had a living male partner and vice versa. Since death broke the marriage bond, it made good sense to include the widows or widowers among the unmarried. It must be emphasized that these civil status distinctions are in fact religious distinctions based on the ecclesiastically defined condition of the individuals involved. As a result, when interpreting the statistics derived from the file, this special character of the definition of single, married, and child must be kept in mind.(11)

But if the religious and sex distinctions are relatively straight- forward once the definitions are understood, the same cannot be said of the racial distinctions. Every individual included in the census was cross-classified by racial category. In the Type III censuses in Venezuela, five racial categories were used: white, Indian, pardo, Negro, and slave. Although in other parts of America more complex racial designations enjoyed considerable popularity, these five worked so well in Venezuela that most commentators found it difficult to extend the nomenclature. In fact, there is some indication that the term Negro was gradually falling out of use by the end of the eighteenth century. For the purposes of this analysis of the Type III censuses, these terms can be defined in the following way.(12)

Whites were those individuals reputed to be of pure Spanish ancestry without any known trace of African or Indian ancestry. In practice in America, this rigid definition became considerably weakened over time, until by the end of the eighteenth century the term white meant little more than a person with a reasonably close approximation to a Spanish, white stereotype, plus a reasonably prosperous economic condition. In many instances the status of white could be acquired in recompense for distinguished service or substantial financial contribution. As a result, knowing that an individual bore the classification white, we are unable to state with any certainty the nature of his genetic heritage. We can, however, make a series of conditional assumptions about the individual. We can guess that he was either racially white (that is of undiluted white Spanish descent for the last four generations at least) or that he may have deviated somewhat from such genetic purity but have been of sufficient merit and wealth to convince his peers and his sovereign to regard him as white. One suspects that the amount of money and merit required to justify being considered white must have increased substantially with the degree of deviation from the pure white Spanish norm. Because inclusion within this racial group implied access to a variety of privileges, powers, and immunities, admission was jealously controlled by whites and supervised by royal officials. At least in Venezuela, there is considerable evidence that the white elite's control of their group suffered serious erosion during the last decades of imperial rule. In an effort to reduce social tensions and with a commendable interest in feathering the royal nest, the Spanish bureaucracy followed a reasonably consistent policy of expanding the elite by conferring white status on racially nonwhites whose merits were visibly attested to by their generous contributions to the Crown. In spite of the cheapening of white status near the end of the century, this racial category remained one of the best defined and most consistently reported in the census returns. As a legally defined status, jealously guarded, little room remained for the census taker to err in classifying these individuals.

This relative lack of ambiguity in racial classification also occurs with the slave category. With all slaves legally defined as such in a host of official documents, it would appear unlikely that many slaves would have been misclassified. Even though the classification of slaves was relatively clear-cut because of the legal definition, that group contained a wide variety of human types: domestics, artisans, field hands, runaways, newly landed Africans, third generation Venezuelan blacks, and light-colored mulattos.

If the white and slave classifications are straightforward in terms of interpretation, such is not the case with the remaining three categories of Indian, pardo, and Negro. The Indian category, while explicitly racial in theory, in practice involved a combination of cultural and racial criteria. For an individual to be considered an Indian, he had not only to correspond to an Amerindian stereotype, but also to have a cultural level distinguishable from the Spanish norm. In Venezuela, Indians as an identifiable group included those residents of mostly rural parishes who, while not completely assimilated, nevertheless participated in the Spanish labor and market system. Excluded from consideration entirely were those Amerindians who did not form part of the Spanish system, the so-called wild or untamed Indians. But for the Bishopric of Caracas this exclusion poses no serious problem because the areas of significant unassimilated Indian population fall outside the limits of the Bishopric.

It is difficult to know how to regard the Indian category or to imagine how a parish priest might have gone about classifying his parishioners within that category. Until more specific information becomes available, the following explanation will have to suffice. Parish priests undoubtedly employed a pragmatic and what might be called a consensus method for establishing an individual's race for census purposes. If the person in question had obvious Amerindian features and lived in a way stereotyped as Indian, there could have been little difficulty in classifying him. But if the individual had achieved complete acculturation in the sense of speaking colloquial Spanish and living in the Spanish style, the determination of his category might have been considerably more difficult. In such a case the category might have turned on the individual's reputation within the community, on whether his baptismal certificate stipulated that he was an Indian, on his wealth, and on the claims he made for himself. This determination must have been complicated by the extensive miscegenation characteristic of Spanish America. Pure Indian types were probably fairly rare in the more populous areas, and in any event, such individuals were most likely included in the Indian category without problem. But the white-Indian or the Negro-Indian mixture must certainly have produced classification dilemmas. In such a situation, the individuals became part of that category whose stereotype most closely approximated the individual's personal characteristics. Quite obviously such a system leaves much to be desired as a classificatory scheme for census purposes. Equally apparent is the room for wide variation in the interpretations of the standards employed in different spots throughout the country. The Indian-Negro mixtures frequently must have ended up in the pardo category, and some of the more prosperous Indian-white mixtures may have passed as whites.

Although the Indian category poses considerable problems of interpretation, these are small when compared to the difficulties presented by the pardo category. In theory, pardos were people with a mixed African-European ancestry, but in practice this simplicity quickly disappeared. Pardos who lived in legal bondage fell under the category of slave, regardless of their phenotype. Light colored individuals of means or merit who managed to acquire a certificate of whiteness ended up included among the whites. Runaway slaves who escaped detection were often identified as pardos in their place of residence. Products of Indian-Negro liaisons living in areas with small Indian populations must also have been more readily classified as pardos than as Indians. Third or fourth generation free Venezuelans of pure African ancestry were also included within the pardo group. As a result, the range of individual included in the pardo category was wide indeed, and worse yet, the criteria for the category undoubtedly varied from time to time and place to place. Nevertheless, there are some consistencies underlying the use of this catchall term.

Perhaps the best way to comprehend the meaning of the term pardo is to explore the terrain covered by the name. Although at the beginning there was apparently some effort made to define the pardos carefully, by the eighteenth century the classification system which had seemed adequate in the sixteenth century had become completely changed in practice and complicated in theory. Originally these categories of white, Indian, pardo, Negro, and slave had seemed fairly easy to apply, but as a variety of crossbreeds emerged and as more of them achieved an eminence surpassing their supposed racial limitations, the system gradually became modified to accommodate exceptions to the rules. Over time, there was an apparent inflation in the coin of social discrimination in Venezuela. Whites as a group became less and less racially pure and began to include new-made men whose accomplishments allowed them to buy into the white category. At the same time, the bottom-line category of free men, Negro, became used less and less. Negroes were supposed to be individuals of purer African descent than those included in the pardo category. Negroes should have been blacker and closer to an African stereotype than pardos. In fact, by the late eighteenth century few people were included in the Negro classification. Until more evidence on the composition of this group becomes available, I have hypothesized that in the later part of the 1700s those labeled Negroes were actually recently freed slaves whose origin remained fresh in the community's memory. This explanation helps make some sense out of the small number of individuals included in the category. Of course, it is also possible to assume that by the late eighteenth century few Venezuelan blacks had maintained their racial purity, and that therefore few would qualify for inclusion in the Negro category. This explanation, while plausible, lacks a certain feeling of verisimilitude, in part because it only partially explains the low figures, and in part because contemporaries discussing the racial situation tended to lump Negroes and pardos together and to use the terms in such a way as to imply that pardo could refer to nonwhite, non-Indian, and nonslave, but that Negro only referred to black people with a social status somewhat beneath that of pardos. Equally convincing is the lack of concern with racial somatic characteristics in the literature, which implies that the distinction between Negro and pardo may have been based more on relative distance from slavery than on any racial stereotyping.

From the foregoing discussion of this point, the difficulty of interpreting the racial distinctions can readily be appreciated. Before commenting on the utility of these distinctions, a word on the terminology used here is in order. Many designations have been proposed to refer to the Spanish notion of stratifying individuals according to quasi-racial, quasi-social, and quasi-legal criteria. Some have proposed the term social-race to identify these categories. This emphasizes the social nature of the distinctions, while at the same time recognizing their racial basis. Others, wishing to highlight the class or economic basis for these distinctions, have proposed the term racial-class, which has some features to recommend it. But after giving some thought to this problem, I have chosen a thoroughly conservative approach, preferring the notoriously vague concept of race to the semi-scientific terms social-race or racial-class. Although the notion of race has taken on an almost vicious derogatory connotation when used outside strictly scientific, genetic contexts, it has much to recommend it as a term for these Spanish American classifications.

Race is the term and concept most Spaniards used when referring to whites, pardos, Indians, Negroes, and slaves. Moreover, although it may have been possible to change racial category by substantial achievements or payments, no one believed that the elevated person had thereby actually changed his race. He may have been able to pass the newfound condition on to his descendents, but unless the phenotype corresponded to the stereotypical norm expected, passage into the new racial category could never be complete. Because most Spaniards saw these ethnic distinctions as inheritable characteristics, I find their notion of race the most appropriate term for their classification system.

As for the names for each of the categories within the racial system, I have chosen to translate blancos as whites, indios as Indians, negros as Negroes, and esclavos as slaves, because these English counterparts carry much the same meaning in common speech as their Spanish originals. I have, however, kept the Spanish term pardo rather than translate it as mulatto or something similar. The reason for this is that mulatto in English does not convey the same breadth of meaning as the Spanish term pardo. By keeping pardo, I hope to emphasize the special way in which the term was applied, as discussed above. The closest equivalent might well be the present use of black in reference to African-Americans in the United States, but the use of that term today is somewhat more inclusive and has political and social overtones not present in the Spanish usage of pardo in eighteenth-century Venezuela. As a result of these considerations, I have stayed with the racial categories of white, Indian, pardo, Negro, and slave. The order of these categories in the discussion and in the data refers, of course, to the order in which these groups always appear in contemporary documents and reflects their theoretical position in the Spanish American social hierarchy.

Even though I have spent a considerable amount of time explaining the problems inherent in the racial classifications employed by late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century census takers, it must not be assumed that the conceptual and theoretical fuzziness of the terms used renders the categories themselves useless for social analysis. For all the difficulty we may have in understanding the racial distinctions, contemporary Venezuelans had very little trouble attaching categories to specific individuals. And although the meaning and social values attached to the names may have changed gradually over time, it does not follow that contemporaries believed the categorization nothing more than a census taker's exercise. Not only did the various categories have widespread acceptance, but they had a practical impact on the lives of individuals so classified.

With this brief survey of the census-taking methods and classification schemes of Venezuela's eighteenth-century population accounts completed, it is now possible to proceed with the description and analysis of Venezuela's population in the last generation of the colonial period.