The Maltese in 1791. The case of Cadiz

Cadiz's role as eighteenth-century Spain's most cosmopolitan and prosperous city has been amply documented. Historians have highlighted, in particular, the importance of foreigners in the city's economic and social life.28

The Maltese contingent in Cadiz's foreign community seems to have been of an importance disproportionate to the size of their tiny island. In 1765 they made up nearly one in ten of Cadiz's foreign population.29 The proportion had gone down to 4.32% by 1791 but the absolute number had nearly tripled from 83, in 1765, to 217, in 1791.30

Our analysis of the data on the Maltese in Cadiz in 1791 shows the existence of two groups with very different characteristics. A minority of 33 men, or 15% of the total, had professions directly associated with the sea as seamen, fishermen, divers etc. The only features which these shared with the majority was their Maltese origin, Catholicism and to some extent their place of origin in Malta, the Grand Harbour area. They constitute a phenomenon which we have not encountered anywhere else and we have therefore excluded them at the moment of drawing up our profile of the typical Maltese merchant as regards origin, settlement pattern, profession, civil status, sex, length of stay and age.

Maltese merchants operating in Spain seem to have come, in the main, from the harbour towns of Senglea and Cospicua and to a lesser extent from the villages of Zejtun and Zabbar, further inland.

Only 67, of the 217 Maltese heads of family in Cadiz, declared their specific origin but 52 of them, or 77%, were from Senglea (formerly Isla) or Cospicua (formerly Bormula). These two harbour towns had also been the most important places of origin twenty years earlier, in 1771, accounting for 72% of those swearing fealty to the Spanish crown.31 Earlier still, in 1745 - 1746, we saw that Senglea and Cospicua had accounted for 66% of captains and crews on the brigantines so the dominance of the harbour area seems to have persisted throughout the second half of the century.

A secondary focus of importance was Zejtun, some distance away from the main harbour. In El Puerto de Santa Maria, for example, 19% of the Maltese there in 1791 came from Zejtun.32 The proportion was even higher in the Kingdom of Aragon. In 1771 55% of the Maltese in the City of Valencia came from Senglea and Cospicua, while 32% came from Zejtun.33 We lack the corresponding figure for the City of Valencia in 1791 but in what seems to have been one of the most important towns of Maltese settlement in the Kingdom, Jativa, as many as 54% came from Zejtun.34 The preference for the Kingdom of Valencia noted earlier for Zejtun crews had persisted.

Once in Spain the Maltese seem to have stuck together. Their shops, which also doubled up as their homes, were concentrated in leading commercial streets. In 1771 Cadiz most Maltese shops were to be found in two streets, Guanteras and San Agustin.35 By 179l there seems to have been some spatial growth. Five streets, Nueva, Guanteras, San Agustin, Valenzuela and Amoladores accounted for 85.7% of the Maltese in Cadiz but there was a secondary focus in the Santa Maria quarter which hosted 51.5% of the small minority of the Maltese community in Cadiz who, apparently not engaged in trade, led a more settled existence there. But apart from this latter group, and isolated individuals in other areas, Maltese settlement in Spain came to be identified, as we saw earlier when talking of shop location, with specific streets, a tendency reinforced by the fact that most were in the same business. In Játiva in 179l, 87% of the Maltese lived in one neighbourhood.36 The corresponding figure for the French was 59%.37

The Maltese in eighteenth-century Cadiz were, in the main, engaged in trade, but the size of the community meant that a higher proportion than would be the case elsewhere had other occupations.

Though nearly three quarters of the Maltese in Cadiz were in some form of trade(162), 15.2% were engaged directly as sailors, fishermen or such like. Another 5% were silversmiths or other artisans while the remaining 5.8% were employed in a variety of jobs or gave no details.

The 15.2% to whom we have referred to as hombres de mar or seafarers, were shown in an earlier article to have had a distinctive profile from the rest of the Maltese community.38 These 33 men tended to live apart from the traders, had an average age of 60, had lived in Spain for around 30 years, could not read or write and tended to be married to Spaniards. They clearly had a high degree of commitment to their new country. But Cadiz was quite unique in possessing such a relatively large minority of people not engaged in trade of some sort.

In fact, the almost exclusive dedication to business and, more specifically, the retail business, is one of the crucial characteristics of Maltese settlement in Spain. This is evident wherever they were to be found. In Malaga, in 1765, only 9% of the Genoese were in commerce while the corresponding figure for the French, the English and the Maltese was 40.9%, 84.8% and 96.0% respectively.39 The situation is echoed elsewhere. In El Puerto de Santa María all the 59 Maltese were dedicated to commerce as opposed to 22.3% of the French.40 In Játiva the 31 Maltese were all dedicated to commerce as opposed to 62.5% of the French.41 It is clear, in view of the number involved, that the impact of the Maltese presence in Spain was not of any consequence in overall demographic terms. It was a highly specialized flow of individuals seeking a specific economic niche. This is also reflected in the fact that it consisted almost exclusively of men, even after the 1771 laws which required married men to bring their families to Spain.

In Cadiz in 1791, 14.3% of the Maltese were married to a Spaniard, but if we exclude the long-established "seafarer" group this goes down to 7.1%. This is comparable to the 8% married to Spaniards in Malaga in 1765 and contrasts with the far greater proportion of Frenchmen and Genoese, 26.2% and 42.2% respectively, who were married to Spaniards in Malaga in the same year.42

According to Iglesias Rodríguez, cases of Maltese married to Spaniards in El Puerto de Santa Maria in 1791 are exceptional, as opposed to an average for the whole foreign community there of slightly over half.43 In Cadiz in 179l, 51% of those in commerce were single while 37.1% were married to Maltese women. To the extent that marriage to a local girl is an indicator of assimilation, than the Maltese show themselves to be amongst the least assimilated of foreigners in Spain and yet some had been living in Spain, on and off, for a not inconsiderable period of time.

Once again excluding the seamen, more than half of the Maltese in Cadiz in 1791 (54.6%) had first come to Spain less than 10 years previously. This same situation prevailed in El Puerto de Santa Maria, in contrast to all foreigners, of whom nearly half had been in Spain for over 20 years by 1791.44 The 12,000 cases nationwide, collected by Salas Ausens and Jarque Martínez, nevertheless show a situation not very distant from the Maltese one with 43.9% having been in Spain ten years or less and only 35% with 20 years residence or more.45

Maltese migration to Spain is clearly of a short term nature though it would probably not be totally accurate to talk of a seasonal or golondrina type migration, as suggested by Iglesias Rodríguez or Alfonso Mola.46 The earlier brigantine epoch was characterized by a seasonal element but the second half of the eighteenth century typically involved a two or three year stay followed by perhaps a period of equal length away. Of the 67 Maltese taxpayers in Játiva in the hectic thirty years from 1771 to 1800, only 11 or 16.4% appear as contributors in at least 10 years. The vast majority, 46, or 68.6%, contribute in five years or less.47

Not unlike the French in Cadiz described by Ozanam, the vast majority of Maltese seem to eventually settle back in their own country after 4 or 5, 3 or 4 year stints in Spain.48

One of the benefits of having access to the primary source, instead of just the reports submitted to the regional or central government, is that we are also in a position to secure information concerning two additional parameters of the Maltese colony in Cadiz, its age distribution, and its educational level as measured by the ability or otherwise to sign the individual declarations.

We have information concerning the age of 177 of the 217 Maltese householders in Cadiz, and the overall impression is one of youth. Excluding the seafaring minority, 44.4% are thirty years old or younger, while an additional 21.5% are between 31 and 40. This follows the pattern of migrants to Spain in the second half of the eighteenth century observed by Salas Ausens and Jarque Martínez, admittedly on very fragmentary information.49

The ability to sign one's own name, an indicator of educational level, was widespread amongst the Cadiz Maltese of 1791. Excluding those associated directly with maritime trades, 58.7% signed their name. In Malaga, 26 years earlier, as many as 68% of the Maltese signed their name compared to an overall average for all foreigners in Malaga in 1765 of 55.5%.50

To sum up we can see that, in overall terms, the profile of the typical Maltese that we get by a detailed analysis of the information provided by their individual declarations, is one of a single or unaccompanied young male who had not been in Spain more than a few years and who was engaged in trade.

Though based, in the first instance, on data from Cadiz suitably adjusted to discount the 15% minority which, unique to Cadiz, was not, in principle, engaged in trade, the profile has been found to fit other Maltese communities across space and time. We have also shown that it is not just their country of origin which sets the Maltese apart. The partial studies conducted on foreigners in Spain, at a national or local level, show that there was a greater probability that the Maltese migrant would be a single or unaccompanied male than was the case for other nationalities. He also tended to be younger, stay less, and stick together with fellow nationals more. He was also unique in at least one other feature, namely, his almost exclusive dedication to the retail trade. Like Italian peasants in Argentina, Mexican harvesters and Scottish miners in the United States and others, the Maltese were heading for a specific niche. It was a specialist migration.

We now have a fairly good idea of who the Maltese migrant was in terms of origin, sex, age, civil status, profession and educational level. We have also looked at his business practices but the migrant also ate, slept, dressed, prayed and generally did the normal every day things that human beings do. In this section we look at this qualitative aspect of Maltese migrant life in Spain. Although based mostly on material for Valencia we nevertheless draw upon sources from other parts of Spain in an effort to produce a better, overall picture.

Source: Corsairing to Commerce: Maltese Merchants in XVIII Century Spain by Carmel Vassallo (Malta University Publishers, 1997. ISBN: 99909-45-04-7). They are for private study and reference only. Reproduction and distribution are prohibited. Copies of this book may be purchased from the Mediterranean Institute, University of Malta, Msida, Malta.

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