The First Enslaved Africans in America

From Florida to Virginia

William Spivey
ZORA
Published in
5 min readSep 3, 2023

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Unknown. Part of the Blakeslee Collection, apparently collected by John Taylor of Hartford, Connecticut, USA, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The first Black people brought to America by Europeans were slaves and at least one free man on ships, part of Ponce de Leon's expedition in 1513. The free man, Juan Garrido, was a former slave who'd received his freedom while in Spain. Garrido became a Spanish conquistador and later introduced wheat to the New World in Mexico after helping Hernan Cortez conquer the Aztecs. Garrido was the exception to the rule; part of Ponce de Leon's mission was to capture and trade enslaved people, as Spain had become dependent on slaves in the New World for mining and agriculture.

Ponce de Leon pioneered the transatlantic slave trade removing Taino people from the Caribbean Islands to Spain. This became the framework for the transatlantic trade of Africans, which led to millions of Africans being sent to North America, South America, and the West Indies. There's a whole other story about the Spanish introduction of European diseases to the indigenous people of two continents and the harsh treatment of the natives enslaved. Bernal Diaz del Castillo's book, The True History of the Conquest of New Spain, describes much of what happened in Central America.

Back to America, Ponce de Leon was known for his harshness toward the enslaved Black people he brought with him and the Native Americans he was able to capture. When he was the Governor of Puerto Rico, he worked his slaves without mercy. He had them buried on the spot if they died in the field. He released his dogs on those attempting escape and considered it a sport. None of his ways changed once he reached Florida. Several enslaved Black people did escape and set up coastal communities in Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas. They were known as Maroons, as well as their counterparts in Jamaica and the Caribbean. I live thirty miles from St. Augustine, and while researching this story, I'm tempted to get in my car and go tear down a statue of Ponce de Leon.

The Florida enslaved Black people who didn't escape went on to build much of St…

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William Spivey
ZORA
Writer for

I write about politics, history, education, and race. Follow me at williamfspivey.com and support me at https://ko-fi.com/williamfspivey0680