Crossing the Half-Moon Bridge: Religion, Power, and Colonial Dispossession in Cartagena de Indias


ACLS Fellowship Program




“Crossing the Half-Moon Bridge” is the first urban, religious, and social history of Cartagena de Indias, the main port for the trade in African captives to Spanish South America during the seventeenth century. Cartagena (in modern Colombia) was also one of three seats of the Spanish Inquisition in the Americas. Drawing from the rarely studied financial records of the Inquisition, the book shows how systems of belief and social control were inseparable from capital accumulation and slavery in during this formative era of a Spanish-colonial rule in the Americas. “Crossing the Half-Moon Bridge” tells the story of urban formation by tracing the properties of sixteen women of African descent who accumulated enough wealth to purchase their own freedom from enslavement and to become real estate owners in the city. Their lives took a dramatic turn in 1634 when the Inquisition accused them of witchcraft and confiscated their houses, selling them to men of European ancestry on credit. The book argues that the predominance of the trade in African captives drove religious dispossession in Cartagena, cementing the foundations of a Catholic social order that was racialized, and shaping long-term relationships of capital accumulation throughout the seventeenth century.