First Blacks in The Americas

The African Presence in The Dominican Republic

Timeline

This timeline includes the main facts about the early black inhabitants of La Española that resided in the colony between the 1490s and the 1610s as they appear mentioned in the documents contained in this platform.

**1492Young free black man Juan Portugués (“John The Portuguese”) arrived in La Española with Christopher Columbus in his first trip to the Americas. The information is contained in a statement given by Juan Portugués in 1516 at Santa María del Darién (today’s Colombia) (Document No. 071)

**1497 - The Spanish Catholic Monarchs granted lands to the early settlers of La Española so that they can cultivate a variety of crops, including sugar canes. They also granted lands to build ingenios or sugar mills. Since at the time most of the Iberian sugar estates in the Eastern Atlantic used enslaved black labor, it is likely that those thinking about launching a sugar business in La Española were already thinking of importing enslaved Africans. (Document No. 001)

**1497-1501 - A black woman in the early village of Santo Domingo (also known as “la negra del hospital”), possibly a free person, established the first hospital-like healing site of the colonial Americas at her own bohío or house. (Document No. 060)

**1500 - Young black man Juan Prieto or Juan Moreno (“John the Black”), a servant of Christopher Columbus while residing in La Española, is condemned to a flogging by Columbus for not being able to hunt certain poultry. This individual is thought to be the same Juan Portugués (“John The Portuguese”) who arrived in La Española with Christopher Columbus in his first trip to the Americas. (Document No. 003)

**1501 – Gaspar Gricio, Secretary of the Spanish Crown, proposed a tax code for the new colony of La Española, in which cane sugar was listed as one of the products expected to be produced by the settlers. It is likely the settlers were already thinking of importing enslaved blacks to work in this enterprise. (Document No. 002)

**1501 – September 5: The Spanish Crown allowed a private individual to lead a settler’s expedition to La Española, but prohibited “Jews or Moors or Reconciled” and their descendants from being admitted into the colony. (Document No. 004)

**1501 – September 16: The Spanish Crown gived permission for the introduction of enslaved blacks in the new colonies, under the condition that they be already Christianized. Jews, Moors and the newly converted, in general, were forbidden from going. (Document No. 005)

**1501 – October 16: In Seville, a free black man named Pedro was hired as a servant to go to La Española and work there for two years digging for gold, in exchange for a salary and lodging, as well as meals and beverages during the period of the contract. (Document No. 068)

**1503 – March 29: The Spanish Crown indicated that by 1503 there were an undetermined number of enslaved blacks in La Española and that practically all of them had run away into the wilderness. In response to colonial governor Nicolás de Ovando, the Crown also promised to stop the sending of enslaved blacks to the colony. Furthermore it allowed fifteen foreigners that were already in La Española to remain there, but prohibited any more from being admitted. (Document No. 007)

**1504 – February 15: Following colonial Governor Nicolás de Ovando’s request, the Spanish Crown ordered to stop the sending of “slaves” (enslaved black laborers, for the most part) to the island of La Española. (Document No. 008)

**1504 – August 26: Responding to requests from settlers in La Española, the Spanish Crown authorized importing of enslaved (black) women into La Española, provided they were Christianized. (Document No. 016)

**1505 –
May 5: The Spanish Crown ordered the sending to La Española of twenty enslaved black laborers requested by colonial governor Nicolás de Ovando. (Document No. 010)

**1505 –
September 15: The Spanish Crown acknowledged a new request for more enslaved blacks from La Española’s governor Nicolás de Ovando, promising to send 100 more, and ordering that all those already in La Española be put to work in the gold mines. (Document No. 009)

**1509 – May 3: The Catholic Kings of Spain prohibited the entrance into the Indies of foreigners and descendants of the “burnt ones” (those condemned for heresy) (Document No. 067)

**1510 – January 22: The King of Spain ordered Diego Colón, colonial governor of La Española, to expand to the maximum the number of workers assigned to digging gold, including all the “slaves” (enslaved blacks) that the king had in the island. He also promised to reiterate the order to have 50 additional “slaves” sent to the island for the same purpose. (Document No. 041)

**1510 – January 22: The King of Spain repeated a prior order to the Casa de la Contratación in Seville to send 50 “slaves” to La Española to work in the extraction of gold for the Crown. (Document No. 042)

**1510 – January-June: Sometime in this period a ship with a cargo of black slaves captained by Pero de Ledesma was sent by the Spanish Crown to La Española. The data appeared in a royal communication of October 23 or 24 of 1511. (Document No. 012)

**1511 – July 6: The King of Spain wrote to the colonial royal treasurer of Santo Domingo approving the proposal to move the king’s “Indians and slaves” already assigned to the mines of San Cristóbal to other mines in La Española due to low yielding of gold. (Document No. 066)

**1511 – July 21: King Ferdinand of Spain expressed dissatisfaction and perplexity at learning about the death of “blacks” in La Española. (Document No. 065)

**1513 – March 14: A freedwoman Catalina and her son Diego, both blacks, obtained license to travel from Seville to the Americas, possibly to La Española. (Document No. 013)

**1514 – October 18: Bishop Pedro Suárez de Deza obtained a royal license to ship 10 slaves from Seville to La Española to work in the construction of the church at the village of La Concepción (La Vega). (Document No. 052)

**1515 – June 15: A royal license was issued to Francisco de Esquivel to ship 6 “black slaves that are Christian” from Seville to La Española. (Document No. 014)

**1518 – January 18: Alonso Zuazo, oidor of the Audiencia of Santo Domingo, boasted in a letter about imposing discipline among the enslaved blacks of La Española by applying exemplary harsh punishment like flogging and cutting of ears to some of them. (Document No. 056)

**1518 – March 2: The Spanish Crown granted license to Cristóbal de Tapia, a colonial treasury official of La Española, to import into the colony 15 enslaved black men and 2 enslaved black women to work at a sugar estate. (Document No. 006)

**1519 –Three enslaved blacks convicted of a homicide in La Española got the tips of some of their toes severed as punishment. (Document No. 017)

**1519 – According to a settler called to testify, some enslaved blacks owned by politically powerful masters in La Española were literally able to get away with the murder of other black men. (Document No. 043)

**1519 – September 15: A “white slave” was brought to La Española by a ship captain and was sold to Audiencia judge or oidor Alonso Zuazo. (Documento No. 054)

**1520 – August 20: In the face of the imperial trade monopoly imposed by Spain, colonial treasury officials of La Española requested that the colony’s settlers be allowed to buy enslaved blacks wherever they wanted and in the quantities they deemed necessary. (Document No. 018)

**1521 – December 24: The first recorded black uprising in the Americas. On Christmas Eve, a group of enslaved blacks from the sugar estate of governor Diego Colón in the vicinities of Santo Domingo City rebelled and marched towards the village of Azua on the southern-central coast of the island. The event is cited in the introduction to the ordinances about blacks in La Española of January 6, 1522. (Document No. 019)

**1522 – January 6: In response to the uprising of black slaves during Christmas holiday, colonial Governor of La Española Diego Colón issued a new set of ordinances for a stricter control of the movements and behavior of the enslaved black population of the colony. These are the earliest ordinances on blacks that have survived from the times. (Document No. 019)

**1522 – November 13: The Spanish Crown stated that many ship captains and sailors were entering “slaves” into La Española without the required license, and it ordered the colonial authorities to make an inventory of the slaves that had arrived in that manner. (Document No. 020)

**1523 – December 27: Spanish King Charles V acknowledged having received reports from the colonial authorities of La Española from September of that year indicating that shortly before some blacks had run away from their masters and later another group had begun to act out. The Crown insisted in the need to “punish” and “pacify” those involved. (Document No. 021)

**1527 – June 28: Spain’s King Charles V said in a letter to María de Toledo, vicerein residing in La Española, that he had received information about an uprising of blacks and Indians in the island. Another communication from the king on the same date referred to the same issue. (Documento No. 064)

**1527 – June 28: Spanish King Charles V stated that many enslaved blacks were being carried to La Española without the required royal license, being introduced “secretly” or abusing the number of slaves allowed by the licenses. (Document No. 059)

**1527 – June 28: Worried about the presence in La Española of a population of enslaved black men much larger than that of white colonists, and fearful of a rebellion by the enslaved, king Charles V mandated the sending of enslaved black women to the colony and the promotion of marriages among blacks (and family formation) as a tool to reduce the inclination of black slaves to rebel. (Document No. 022)

**1527 – July 20: Spanish King Charles V mentioned that in correspendence of November, 1526 he had been informed about an uprising “of the blacks and the Indians" that took place in La Española. (Document No. 061)

**1527 – October 24: The members of the City Council of Santo Domingo asked the Spanish Crown to allow them to acquire enslaved black laborers through free market relations so they could get them at lower prices. (Document No. 023)

**1528 – February 15: In response to requests from settlers of La Española to for the Crown to send the 4,000 enslaved blacks whose shipping to the colony had been contracted with the Governor of Bresa, the Spanish King stated to have ordered the sending of a part of them already. Also the King approved a ban by the authorities of Santo Domingo against the arrival of free blacks as well as Ladino black slaves, both accused of the inciting of rebellions. (Document No. 045) 

**1528 – March 30: The authorities of La Española expressed acute concern for the shrinking population of colonists and highlighted the importance of enslaved black labor for the survival of the colony, arguing that without slaves the settlers would not stay in La Española. (Document No. 025)

**1528 – April 6: The fleeing of enslaved blacks away from the gold mines and agricultural farms in La Española continued. A dispute took place in the colony between Governor Diego Colón and the Audiencia judges as to the need for a constable that should specialize in the prosecution of run-away slaves. (Document No. 024)

**1530 – April 10: A female black slave was burned at the stake in Santo Domingo City accused of poisoning her female mistress. (Document No. 026)

**1536 – November 20: In a communication, the Spanish Crown acknowledged having received a request of permission from Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo in La Española to have two armed black slaves acting as his body-guards. (Document No. 027)

**1537 – February 3: In La Española Indians and blacks condemned to the death penalty or dismemberment or torture by the colonial judicial system were presenting judicial appeals that sent their cases to the courts in Spain and delayed for months the trials before a final sentencing could be official. King Charles V ordered the colonial authorities to stop accepting the appeals. (Document No. 029)

**1537 – February 3: The King of Spain approved the appointment of local individuals of La Española as new judges so that two pending trials against run-away blacks “that require great punishment” could be completed and the sentence of death or mutilation could be executed. (Document No. 030)

**1538 – April 8: In some rural areas of La Española, there were 600 blacks and Indians to 100 Spaniards, and in some sugar estates there were 100 blacks and Indians. Colonial authorities thought there was a need for more constables to punish crimes in those areas. (Document No. 031)

**1538 – April 10: A testimony from the colonial authorities of La Española shows the fundamental role of the enslaved black labor force in the construction of the defensive walls and structures of the city of Santo Domingo. Also, when pirates attacked unprotected villages and places in areas of La Española away from Santo Domingo City, enslaved blacks were at as much risk as the rest of the settlers’ population, since they could be treated by the attackers as chattel stolen or kidnapped to be exchanged for a ransom. (Document No. 032 and Document No. 070)

**1539 – September 3: Catalina Fernández, a black freedwoman in Seville, obtained license to travel to La Española with her daughter Francisca de Castilla, apparently a freedwoman as well. (Document No. 033)

**1544 – Two groups of maroons roamed in La Española, and a military squad led by a captain was sent by the colonial authorities to fight them, killing some, making others prisoners and punishing others, while some could not be captured. The information appears in a correspondence from the king of Spain of April 24, 1545. (Document No. 034)

**1544 – July 14: Maroon and rebel black slaves in La Española were a concern for residents of the city of Santo Domingo. (Document No. 050)

**1544-1545 Several passengers going from Seville to the Indies embarked with them a number of enslaved blacks. (Document No. 046)

**1545 – April 24: Spanish King Charles V ordered the colonial authorities of La Española to issue new ordinances on the treatment of enslaved blacks, apparently with the thought that some current abuses against black slaves by their masters were a factor in inciting rebellions. (Document No. 034)

**1545 – April 24: King Charles V expressed support for the idea of the colonial authorities of La Española about either deporting or freeing all ladino black slaves because these were prone to rebel and incite bozales to rebel in search for freedom. (Document No. 034)

**1545 – April: In a communication Prince Phillip of Spain expressed concern about the uprisings of maroon blacks in La Española and the attacks they had launched in villages and rural areas of the center and north of the island. (Document No. 035)

**1545 – April 24: A communication from Charles V of Spain stated that there were enslaved Berbers and free descendants of Moors with trades in La Española, ordered a list to be drawn and prohibit any more from being admitted into the colony. (Document No. 028)

**1547 – April 30: In a document the Spanish King referred to local cowboys in charge of cattle herds in La Española (mostly enslaved blacks), as being prone to get together, socialize and idle when they had chances to bring their herds to graze next to each other. (Document No. 055)

**1553 – Residents of Santo Domingo City still remembered how black maroon leader Sebastián Lemba’s severed head was exhibited at the city’s public square after he was killed. (Document No. 062)

**1553 – December 5: A young man of black complexion (“carimoreno”) from Santo Domingo studying in Seville, requested royal license to return to La Española. (Document No. 036)

**1555 – A Portuguese slave ship arrived in Santo Domingo loaded with branded black Africans and sugar crates. (Document No. 063)

**1555-1556 – A cargo of enslaved black Africans that arrived in a Portuguese ship at the port of Santo Domingo without a license were seized by the local colonial authorities and sold at an auction. (Document No. 044)

**1556 –February:  A “black ladino man creole of Saint Tomé, slave” was called by the authorities of Santo Domingo to declare in the inquiry launched about the cargo of enslaved black Africans brought in by a Portuguese ship. (Document No. 048)

**1557 –January 24: A female black slave testified as witness against a Spanish or creole settler accused of rape against a Mestizo young girl in Santo Domingo City. (Document No. 051)

**1558 –October 8: The prison of Santo Domingo City held blacks and non-blacks, slaves and non-slaves, men and women, within the same building. (Document No. 037)

**1568-1572 – In a communication to the Crown, the colonial prosecutor of La Española stressed the need for additional enslaved laborers for the colony. (Document No. 058)

**1575 – December 14: María de Cota, a black freedwoman from Santo Domingo, requested royal license to travel to the Americas after serving for more than ten years under two mistresses in Seville, Spain. (Document No. 038)

**1575 – December 16: A number of enslaved black Africans were auctioned publicly in Santo Domingo City. They had been seized from a Portuguese ship that arrived with them as cargo at the port of Santo Domingo City from Africa without the required license. (Document No. 053)

**1576 – November 11: A deed of freedom was issued in Santo Domingo to María and Francisca Dávila, black women, mother and daughter and former slaves of the late Francisco Dávila. (Document No. 047)

**1579 – April 22: Colonial prosecutor of La Española Gaspar de Torres recommended the importing of large numbers of enslaved blacks at affordable prices to work in the gold mines of the colony. He also recommended putting an end to the commercial trade monopoly of Seville, as key to the survival of La Española as a colony. (Document No. 039)

**1580 – July 2: In Seville, Spain, a black freedwoman born in Santo Domingo named María de Cota requested a royal license to travel back from Seville to La Española with her three-year old daughter also born in Santo Domingo. (Document No. 069)

**1594 – October 9: A black African sold as a slave by French smugglers on La Española’s northern coast claimed his right to freedom before judicial authorities of the colony, based on the fact that he was of a noble family in a kingdom named Vogonda in Guinea, Africa. (Document No. 040)

**1594 – October 21: The smuggling of enslaved blacks into La Española continued in the vicinities of Bayahá, on the northwestern coast of the island. (Document No. 057)

**1605 – May 12: Eight slaves of Captain Gerónimo Agüero Bardeci were seized by the Audiencia of Santo Domingo during a trial against him under the accusation of corruption. (Document No. 049)

**1613 – A black or mulatto man from Santo Domingo named Juan Rodríguez arrived at the Hudson Harbor in North America on board of a Dutch ship and stayed at least for a year residing in the area devoted to trading furs with the local natives or indigenous population, and becoming in the process the first non-native immigrant resident. (Juan Rodríguez and the Beginning of New York City)