Who Was the First Free Black Man in The Americas?

According to what I’ve read, the first documented free man from Africa to land in the Americas was Juan Garrido. He was born in present day Angola, moved to Portugal, then to Sevilla, Spain. A few researchers think he may have been the servant or slave of Pedro Garrido on his first voyages of conquest. Others think he was a free man. Garrido served with the Spanish forces led by Ponce de León in capturing lands now called the Dominican Republic (c. 1502), Florida (1508) and Puerto Rico (1513). Have you heard of Black Conquistadores in the history books? I hadn’t before I began research on Mexico’s African heritage. Seems remiss not to mention it, because Juan Garrido was not the only African man who accompanied the Spanish in the Conquest. See this article for a list of the most well-known figures.

In 1519, Juan Garrido joined Hernan Cortes’ troops in the invasion of Mexico. The record is clear that he was a free man during that expedition. In 1538, Juan Garrido wrote a letter to the king to ask for compensation for 30 years of service. He settled in Mexico near the capital on land given him as a Conquistador.

Is the Spanish offensive in the Americas painted too white? Although a leading historian published a paper in 1978 about Garrido, to this day the African component of the landing party is not mentioned in US history books about the subject. The fact that the Spanish would not have been successful without numerous indigenous allies in the fight against the Mixteca (Aztecs) is also rarely mentioned.

Hernan Cortés Spanish Currency, Photo Credit: HombreDHojalata


One source claimed a painting existed of Juan Garrido. The researcher said that Garrido and Cortes returned to Spain to seek an audience with the king. The story is that both had portraits made by a Dutch Master, Jan Mostaert. I cannot find any second source that confirms the story. It was certain that free Blacks did live in Spain in the Sixteenth Century. In Garrido’s case, the race construct that we have now makes us believe Africans accompanying Europeans as they sailed to the Americas could only have been slaves. However, he may be a notable exception. Above all, he is a fascinating person in history.

Gracias for reading Fake Flamenco. Olé! –Rebecca

Portrait of an African Man by Jan Mostaert c.1528. Could He Be Juan Garrido?
Rebecca Cuningham

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