Select Page

The language of the law. And in any language, all confusing.

When is a house not a home?

Here’s a hint for getting the right answer today.

When it’s considered as a legal term.

In Spanish.

So okay you may be wondering why The Legal Genealogist is off doing Spanish legal terms here on this fine March morning.

Because I’m in Florida, getting ready to speak to The Villages Genealogical Society today.

And because so many of us forget — or perhaps never knew — that Florida was once Spanish Florida. It actually didn’t become part of the United States until Spain gave it up as part of its concessions in the Adams–Onís Treaty of 1819, wasn’t organized as a territory until 1822, and wasn’t admitted as a state until 1845.1

Which means that the law that applied here in Florida for much of its history was Spanish law.

Which is why today’s 2019 alphabet soup word is hacienda.

2019 letter H

Which doesn’t exactly mean what you might think it means.

When it’s considered as a legal term.

In Spanish.

Looking to the classic American law dictionary, Henry Campbell Black defines hacienda as the “public domain; the royal estate; the aggregate wealth of the state. The science of administering the national wealth; public economy. Also an estate or farm belonging to a private person.”2

Um, yeah, but that doesn’t really tell the story.

The hacienda system was a combination land grant and de facto political system that was in effect in the Spanish colonies from as early as the 16th century and lasting in some parts of the world well into the 20th century. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the original legal system in colonial Spanish America was the encomienda, where political control was given to individuals by giving them power over a labor force.

But that power didn’t come with land, so the system shifted to the hacienda system when those with power accumulated land to go with the labor force.3 That land — the hacienda — might be used for agriculture or mining or a factory, and the owner of the hacienda then put that labor force to work, effectively binding the workers to the land.

The advantage to the hacienda was that — unlike a grant of the encomienda labor force control — ownership of land wasn’t dependent on continued support of the crown.4 Even if you fell out of favor with the current royalty back in Spain, you would keep your hacienda — and because you had workers now tied to your land, you could retain your political power locally.

So your casa (your house) could be on your hacienda (your estate)… but it meant much more in terms of political control and control of the local population and the labor force in places like Spanish Florida.

Which is why hacienda doesn’t exactly mean what you might think it means.

When it’s considered as a legal term.

In Spanish.


Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “2019 alphabet soup: H is for…,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 27 Mar 2019).

  1. Wikipedia (, “Florida Territory,” rev. 19 Jan 2019.
  2. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 556, “hacienda.”
  3. See “Encomienda,” Encyclopaedia Britannica ( : accessed 27 Mar 2019). Also, ibid., “Hacienda.”
  4. Wikipedia (, “Hacienda,” rev. 12 Mar 2019.
Print Friendly, PDF & Email