The complex story I tell in this book pulls together research con-
ducted in Argentina, Spain, and the United States over more than
two decades. I did not begin with the intention of writing a book
that would recast the first stages of the independence movement in
Argentina. Instead, I pursued a series of economic and social his-
torical topics focused on Buenos Aires during the late colonial and
early national periods. I began with craft organization and later ex-
amined wage and price history, demography, and slavery. During
most of this long intellectual migration, my research was related
and interdependent but not integrated in the service of a single ob-
This changed when, after spending six months in the Archivo
General de la Nación in Buenos Aires collecting wealth data from
the probate inventories of the Rosas period for a different project, I
took some time away from numbers to sample late colonial era audi-
encia cases. I soon stumbled on the criminal cases that now serve as
the explanatory fulcrum of this book, chapter 5, “The French Con-
spiracy of 1795.” This purported conspiracy to raise a slave rebellion
in Buenos Aires not only provided powerful backward linkages to
the economic and demographic changes that had transformed the
Buenos Aires plebe in the previous decade, but it also served to illu-
minate the plebe’s role in the transformative events of 1806–1810.
The result is the book outlined below, a book intended to reinterpret
and reframe the origins of popular support for independence in this
crucial Spanish colonial capital city and to place May 25, 1810, firmly
in the context of Atlantic history.
My assumption is that the porteño plebe experienced the city and
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