Commentary No. 040
Date: 1594, October 9
Theme: A black African man sold as a slave by French smugglers on La Española’s northern coast claimed a right to freedom based on his African original social status of nobility
Source: Archivo General de Indias, Escribanía, 17B, fo.1v.-3r., CUNY Dominican Studies Institute Dominican Colonial Documents Collection.
On October 9th, 1594, an enslaved black African captured in the Banda del Norte or northern coastal region of La Española by the Spanish colonial authorities under suspicion of having been smuggled into the island by a French traffickers’ ship, got to appear before one of the audiencia judges of the colony claiming to be a free man. The notary describing the event defined the man as a creole ladino from Guinea whose name was Sebastian and who identified himself as a Christian.
Under oath and before the judge, Sebastian claimed to be a free person from a place in Africa named Vogonda in what was then called Guinea, and to be the son of the king of this African place. He reported that about a year before he was traveling from Vogonda toSierra Leon on a ship of Gaspar de Agui that hired him as his servant. This ship, whose crew was Portuguese, was attacked by French pirates and its cargo of gold, silver, wax and ivory taken by the French. Sebastian and “another free black named Domingo Bran” and “another black woman named Leonor who was also free” were all kidnapped by the French crew. With the stolen goods the French ship proceeded across the Atlantic until they arrived in La Española.
This testimony is clear evidence that when it came to black Africans present in the coasts of West Africa at the end of the sixteenth century, anybody irrespective of social rank in their community of origin was a candidate for enslavement, depending upon who among those engaged in the enslaving business one would come across at any given time.