This week’s open thread theme is focusing on the accomplishments of black explorers.
The first enslaved African to arrive in Florida whom we can document by name was a black man named Esteban or Stephen the Black. And, long before the explorers Lewis and Clark crossed the continent, he would traverse the land that later became the United States, through the Southwest, to the Pacific Ocean.
Esteban was born in West Africa and sold into slavery in a Portuguese town on Morocco’s Atlantic coast. According to the historian Robert Goodwin, Esteban was shipped to Spain as a slave from the town of Azemmour, in Morocco, in 1522. Andres Dorantes de Carranza purchased him and brought Esteban to Florida in April 1528.
Estevanico traveled with Dorantes to Hispaniola and Cuba with Pánfilo de Narváez’s ill-fated expedition of 1527 to colonize Florida and the Gulf Coast. Estevanico became the first person from Africa known to have set foot in the present continental United States. After a failed settlement attempt near present day Tampa Bay, Florida the party made a series of makeshift boats to try and reach Mexico. The boats wrecked off the coast of Texas leaving only Estevanico, Dorantes, de Vaca and Castillo alive. Castillo’s ability as a faith healer was said to have helped them with the Indians who told them about the 7 wonders. The four had spent years enslaved on many of the Louisiana Gulf Islands. In 1534 they escaped into the American interior, contacting other Native American tribes along the way. The party traversed the continent as far as present-day southeastern Arizona, and through the Sonoran Desert to the region of Sinaloa in New Spain (present-day Mexico), where they were reunited with countrymen.
In Mexico City, the four survivors told stories of wealthy indigenous tribes to the North, which created a stir among the Spanish in the colony. While the other three men returned to Spain, Estevanico was sold to Antonio de Mendoza, the Viceroy of New Spain. He employed Estevanico as a guide in expeditions to the North.
In 1539, Estevanico was one of four men who accompanied Marcos de Niza as a guide in search of the fabled Seven Cities of Cibola, preceding Coronado. Estevanico traveled ahead of the main party with a group of indigenous servants. He was instructed to communicate by sending back crosses to the main party, with the size of the cross equal to the wealth discovered. One day, a cross arrived that was as tall as a person, causing de Niza to step up his pace to join the scouts. Estevanico had entered the Zuni village of Hawikuh (in present-day New Mexico). He had sent a gourd with a red feather, naive to the fact that it was the symbol for war, and they killed him and expelled the indigenous servants from the village. After seeing this, De Niza quickly returned to New Spain.
Accounts suggest the Zuni did not believe Estavanico’s story that he represented a party of whites, and that he was killed for demanding women andturquoise. Roberts and Roberts write that “still others suggest that Estevan, who was black and wore feathers and rattles, may have looked like a wizard to the Zuni.” Juan Francisco Maura suggested in 2002 that Estevanico was not killed by the Zuni, and that he and friends among the Indians faked his death so he could gain freedom.
***Information courtesy of The Root.com/Wikipedia.org***