Part 1: 40 Years Before Jamestown

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Where did it really begin?For African-Americans everywhere, there is an important and unknown part of history –that’s never been told.It’s surrounds the discovery of the New World, this place we call America. I’m Jason Allen Carvell, and before there were dreams of equal freedom in Philadelphia, free Africans had already created a more perfect union in Spanish Florida.This is our story.The history of African American people as key players in the first America. This is – “America’s Untold Journey” Our story begins 40 years before Jamestown….

His name was Pedro Menendez de Aviles. By 1565 he had been Captain-General of the Spanish Treasure Fleets for 15 years. A powerful man and a confidante’ of the King, his plan was to come to Florida to establish settlements.  He left Spain with 12 ships and made his way to Florida, landing there on September 8th.  It was here that he and Spain began. The Enterprise of Florida and America.

During the 16th Century Spain considered Florida, La Florida to extend from the Keys all the way up to the Chesapeake Bay and west to the Mississippi River. That was Florida and it was Spanish territory and they did not want any of the other European nations trying to colonize it or explore it or exploit it.

The new world was built by three groups, the Europeans, the indigenous and the Afrikaners, and  that without any of those three, this would not have happened.

African men and women, both free and enslaved participated in every single Spanish conquest expedition in the 16th century.

The first people of African heritage who came to the Americans both here in the US and in Latin America were free. They were soldiers, they were conquistadores, they were sailors and wives.

We do see free Africans who are primarily African sea farers, African sea farers from the early 14-hundreds who were utilized by the Europeans to navigate up and down the west coast of Africa.

In fact, Juan Ponce de Leon’s 1513 expedition carried two free blacks on that expedition. One of whom was a gentlemen by the name of Juan Garrido.

When I was little, I read encyclopedias for fun. I started with A and I would go to Z, and then I would start again. I never knew there were Black conquistadores. I never knew that he went on to fight with Cortez in Mexico.  I never knew that he was credited with introducing wheat to North America.

The colonist had a tremendous stake in this particular venture called the enterprise of Florida. They were all invested whether they were commoners that had a skill or whether they were the nobility that were going to be the leaders of the colony.  And so your Africans here as free men, were here just like any other colonists, anywhere else in the world. They were trying to make a better place for themselves. And in that, they were all working toward a common goal.

They’re not just doing labor tasks. we see them in really critical roles, they are skilled they’re what we might refer to as engineers, (they’re skilled workers and artisans)

 Many of the farmers, the people of African descent brought food and the knowledge of food that will grow in the tropics. West Africa is essentially on the same latitude as this part of the country.

 The free Blacks became shopkeepers and merchants and artisans and craftsmen. In other words, what makes the colony function.

They were also skilled translators and interpreters, often acting as key negotiators with Florida natives. The very first interpreter in Spanish Florida worked directly for Pedro Menendez and his name was Juanillo. (Pron: Wah-neeh-yo)

 Juanillo was a Black Spaniard who was the interpreter for the first settlement and he had been shipwrecked in Florida some years before and ended up as a captive, a slave, and Menendez rescued him and brought him to the colony and he got a place in the militia and he became the interpreter )

The own property just as did other Europeans and often you have examples of free blacks owning property in parts of town, very close to the Plaza that were not simply limited to the colonial white elite.

The interesting thing about Spanish race relations in the 16th or 15th centuries is that you wouldn’t necessarily have identified a Black Spaniard as an African or Black. There was a wide range of skin color and they were Spaniards first.

In Spain, you were judge by two things.  Whether you were Spanish or whether you were Catholic.  If you were, you were on one level, and if you were born in Spain. If you weren’t, you were on another.

 Indeed the Spanish did have a very rigid “class” system. African’s and other non-Spaniards living in Spanish Florida, were mostly thought of as second-class citizens by Spanish noblemen, regardless of whether they were free or enslaved.

 It’s really only been very recently that the general public has been made aware that St. Augustine precedes Plymouth Rock and Jamestown.

The first European settlers in Spanish Florida were from Spain.  They were racially diverse, socially diverse, you had Portuguese,  Germans, Italians, we know now that there were North Africans from Morocco and Tunisia.

If you walk the streets of St. Augustine at the time of Jamestown, you probably would have heard seven different languages including languages from West Africa.

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