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African Explorers of Spanish America

African Explorers of Spanish America

The first Africans from Spain were known as ladinos, or hispanicized Africans, and were soldiers, servants, settlers, and slaves. They began to arrive in the Americas as early as the 15th century, many as auxiliaries to the Spanish and Portuguese explorers. As Matthew Restall states, “[F]rom the very onset of Spanish activity in the Americas, Africans were present both as voluntary expeditionaries and as involuntary colonists” (Restall 2000:172). Many people of African descent initially saw passage to the New World as a means of bettering their social and economic positions. Landers notes, “[G]iven their numbers and roles in Spanish port cities like Seville, and their generally depressed economic conditions, it is not surprising that both free and enslaved Africans hoped to improve their lots by crossing the Atlantic on the earliest voyages of exploration and conquest” (Landers 1999:9).

Those who voluntarily set out on expeditions and became part of armed auxiliaries were more likely than those in unarmed roles to gain their freedom. The African pioneers who set out for the New World contributed greatly to the building and maintenance of colonial societies. Together with the Europeans, they formed a specialized and limited pool of human resources circulating througout the circumCaribbean area. Between 1519 and 1600, 151.6 thousand Africans disembarked on the Spanish American mainland and another 187.7 thousand over the next 50 years. In all, 54% of all enslaved Africans brought to the New World between 1519 and 1700 disembarked in Spanish America (Eltis el at 2001).”

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