First Blacks in The Americas

The African Presence in The Dominican Republic


The pioneering exhibit Sixteenth-Century La Española: Glimpses of the First Blacks of the Early Colonial Americas, shown for the first time at the CUNY Dominican Studies Institute between the months of March and August of 2015 and featured in a story in The New York Times in July, is available as a travelling exhibit for interested institutions. The exhibit is composed by 25 poster-size panels, each showcasing a particular document from sixteenth-century La Española that mentions one or several aspects of the lives of the Black inhabitants of this first European colony in the Americas. Each document is accompanied by a paleographic transcription, an English translation, a contextual comment and an image of a historic site from colonial times in La Española.

Each panel is a written snapshot of a particular aspect of the lives of the Black men and women of African ancestry that, free or enslaved, arrived and lived in La Española between the early 1500s and 1605. Some of the cases that appear in the exhibit include: a woman-healer; a male maroon leader; an enslaved man that tried to argue for his freedom before the colonial authorities; a female slave born in Santo Domingo that was sent to Spain and once freed bought her license to return; a man that was convicted of a crime and punished with the severance of some of his toes; the slaves of a powerful colonial official who got away with a murder protected by their master; as well as the enslaved Blacks that built the defensive walls of Santo Domingo City;  and the domestic Black slaves of a colonial military officer. They help us understand the predicament and conditions of Black people in this early colony in the Americas.