“‘Here I being my testament’: Nahua Women as Participants in the Spanish Colonial System, 1650-1750”

Courtney Weis

Authors:  Courtney Weis

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Max Deardorff

College:  College of Liberal Arts and Sciences


This project follows recent trends in research to view historical events and eras from different points of view. Looking at the Spanish colonial period, which is normally told from the perspective of the Europeans, from an often overlooked group is the purpose of this research; the evidence used for this paper comes from indigenous women living at the end of Spain’s colonial presence in present-day Mexico. One of the only avenues to these women are their wills. The wills studied were written in the late-seventeenth and early-eighteenth centuries and give a sense of what Nahua women owned, who they interacted with, and what they believed in. This time period is considered to be the height of cultural fusion between the Nahua and Spanish cultures, but the sources show that indigenous women lived with different levels of this fusion, some having more Spanish influence in their lives than others. Hints of ancient Nahua traditions, like weaving and spirituality, amongst Spanish elements of those wills from women of lesser social and economic status supports this argument.

Poster Pitch

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6 Responses
  1. Hi Courtney! Your research topic is fascinating. How did you initially get the idea to look at the wills of indigenous women? Did any of your findings surprise you or take you down unexpected paths?

    1. Courtney Jean Weis

      Hi, Indica! Frankly, I got to these wills because they are on of the few primary sources available for this topic. These women were ordinary and non-European, so they weren’t considered particularly note-worthy in the society they lived in. But, as the wills show, that is definitely not the case! They are fascinating to read about. I think the most surprising thing that came from this project is how complex legal documents like these can be. The law and legal documents are suppose to be black-and-white, and maybe they were at the time, but hundreds of years later, along with what we know of the time as outsiders, they really aren’t.

  2. Marian Borg

    This is a fascinating topic with so many implications. Besides the elements you described, were wills also used by younger women to convey who they entrusted their children’s care to? Great job with your presentation!

    1. Courtney Jean Weis

      Hey, Marain! The children’s care was definitely included in the wills. In most cases, the women left behind adult children, so there wasn’t a need to arrange care. These older children were mentioned for bequeathing property and handling the women’s burial/funeral arrangements. When there were younger children, however, the care was specified. If the husband was alive at the time, he took on the job, but if the women was a widow, the young child would go to siblings, other family members, and in very rare cases, taken care of by an entity of the Catholic Church. Great question!