Commentary No. 003
Date: 1500. La Española.
Theme: A young black man, named Juan Moreno or Juan Prieto, who worked as Christopher Columbus’ servant in La Española, is considered the first black person on record to arrive in the Americas since 1492.
Source: España. Ministerio de Cultura, Educación y Deporte, Archivo General de Simancas, INC. 13, 1ra. Parte, fo. 13v.- 21r., 2da. Parte, fo. 4v.- 5r.
Note: This transcription has been donated by paleographer and archivist Isabel Aguirre Landa. An earlier version was published in Consuelo Varela: La caída de Cristóbal Colón. El juicio de Bobadilla. Madrid, 2006.
The earliest person of black African descent known to arrive in the Americas for whom there is a historical record is a Juan Moreno or Juan Prieto, a then young black man that worked as a servant of Christopher Columbus and was part of the 1492 expedition across the Atlantic that arrived in La Española in December of that year. The oldest document where he is mentioned is the record of a judicial inquiry launched in La Española by the Spanish Crown in 1500 about Christopher Columbus’ behavior as governor of the new colony during the prior seven years, and it was published in 2006 by historians Consuelo Varela and Isabel Aguirre. This record includes a few depositions by three different witnesses that mention Moreno or Prieto as one among several of the colony’s settlers that suffered harsh physical punishment, including execution in some cases, at the order of Columbus for any act the Admiral considered out of line in those trying early years of the colony. 
The young Juan Prieto or Moreno mentioned in the 1500 document has been identified as the same “Juan Portugués, black” colonizer that appeared as a deponent in another, later judicial inquiry of 1515 done in the village of Santa María de la Antigua del Darién (in the Caribbean coast of today’s Colombia) that had been first commented upon by historian Juan Gil Fernández in a study published in 1984. Gil was the first scholar to identify Portugués as the first black person to arrive in the Americas in modern times, based precisely on the 1515 deposition given by a then adult Juan in response to an inquiry, launched at the time by the Spanish Crown while trying to find people who had known Christopher Columbus in person for the purpose of clarifying the titles and rights owned by the Crown to Columbus’ descendants.
The colonists that mentioned Juan Prieto or Moreno while responding to the 1500 pesquisa or inquiry were the clergyman Francisco de Sesé, Pedro Camacho, Rodrigo Pérez , and Francisco de Sesé. All of them mentioned Juan Prieto or Moreno as one of the individuals in the colony harshly punished by Columbus after incurring behaviors that the Admiral considered deserving of retribution. More concretely, Sesé testified that the young Juan was ordered to go hunting with a dog for some meat for the Admiral and after returning with little game was punished with one hundred lashes and with announcing himself by yelling, while walking naked in public, the reason for his punishment, in this case for “being” a rogue or rascal. Camacho and Pérez added that the accusation against Juan included as well that of “lying to his master” and losing the dog he took with himself for the hunting.
 The record is known as the pesquisa de Bobadilla (inquiry by Bobadilla), after the second governor of La Española, Francisco de Bobadilla, appointed by the kings of Spain to replace Christopher Columbus as the institutional leader of the colony, and was first published and studied in 2006 by historian Consuelo Varela and paleographer Isabel Aguirre in their monograph La Caida de Cristóbal Colón. El juicio de Bobadilla.
 The terms “moreno” and “prieto,” therefore, appear clearly used since the first decade after Columbus’ arrival in La Española to refer to black people.
 The study, under the title ‘Juan Portugués, negro,” appeared first in volume 28 of ‘Historiografía y Bibliografía Americanistas,’ a scholarly journal published at the time by Escuela de Estudios Hispanoamericanos, Spain’s main research center on Latin American colonial history, located in Seville as well. A more recent reprint has been published, with new footnotes from the author, in a compilation of Gil’s numerous studies on Columbus published in 2007 by the Academia Dominicana de la Historia, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. (This 2007 edition of the essay is included in theBibliography section of this website.)
Juan Gil’s essay is based on the 1515 deposition’s records that he found while doing research at the Archivo General de Indias, the General Archives of the Indies, the main repository of historical documents of the Spanish Empire, located in the former imperial capital, Seville. As per Gil’s reference, the record is contained in Bundle No. 987 of the Justicia section of the Archives. In his statement, Juan Portugués describes his work for and collaboration with Christopher Columbus, as well as his participation in the 1492 trip. The document appeared first in Spanish in the volume Pleitos Colombinos. IV- Probanzas del Fiscal (1512-1515), published by the Escuela de Estudios Hispanoamericanos of Seville, Spain in 1989. The edition was prepared by a team of top Spanish colonial historians and researchers at the time, led by Antonio Muro Orejón. Most of the text pertaining to Portugués is on pages 287-308.
 Folio 14r. of the pesquisa.
 Folio 21r. of the pesquisa, and folio 5r. in the Segunda Parte of the pesquisa.
 Folio 4v., Segunda Parte of the pesquisa.
 Folio 5r., Segunda Parte of the pesquisa.