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AfriGeneas Free Persons of Color Forum

Florida: First Free Negro in America

Dear James:

I’ve enjoyed reading your recent posts. Not only are they informative, but they also piqued my interest. This post in particular piqued my interest.

You asked who was the first free Negro in America.

If you mean “America” (North America) or what we now call the “USA” the colony of Jamestown, Virginia was not the place where the first free Negro lived.

The first free Africans in North America lived in Florida.

Michelle Whitmer discusses the Jamestown celebration and the reaction of scholars like Dr. Michael Gannon in her article “The Story of St. Augustine Florida”.

“A decade's worth of planning brought about a celebration entitled "America's 400th Anniversary," which stunned scholars and historians. Gannon states, "Florida was Europe's first frontier in North America. Its history of permanent settlement by Europeans goes back over four and quarter centuries. One would not know that fact, however, from reading the typical American history textbook - even some used in Florida's own school system." Nolan also is baffled at Jamestown's claim as America's birthplace, stating "1565 comes before 1607 on any calendar...They just went over the line when they ignored the difference between 1565 and 1607 - not good history and not good mathematics."

Please click on the link below to read the entire article, which also highlights the black presence in Florida:

The Florida Museum of Natural History and its curator Kathleen Deagan present a compelling history of the early settlers of North America’s oldest city, St. Augustine on its website.

The opening paragraph reads:

“In 1565 a fleet of Spanish ships led by Pedro Menéndez de Aviles established the first permanent European settlement in North America at present-day St. Augustine, Florida. After a difficult first decade of conflict with the local Timucua Indians, the city established itself as the capital of Spanish La Florida, which in the sixteenth century extended northward to Virginia and westward to the Mississippi. The town was also the administrative center for the very widespread Spanish Franciscan mission system that extended throughout La Florida in the seventeenth century. St. Augustine was entering its fifth decade as a city when the first settlers arrived at Jamestown.”

By clicking on the left column entitled “St. Augustine Exhibit” you’ll enter its exhibition. OR JUST CLICK HERE:

Under “ Colonization and Conflict” you’ll find the name and profile of Juanillo. “Juanillo” was a black sailor and victim of a shipwreck sometime before 1562.”

Further into the presentation you’ll find:

“Isavel was a free mulatta who baked rosquetes, spiral-shaped cakes. She sold these cakes, as well as honey, door to door throughout the town, and from her home. She was an independent entrepreneur in an age when such a status was difficult for any woman, let alone a black woman.”

AfriGeneas has interviewed two scholars Dr. Jane Landers and Dr. Madeleine Burnside about Africans in early North America in Florida. Juan Garrido and Juan Gonzalez are probably the most well documented free men of color. They both accompanied Ponce de Leon’s exploration of Puerto Rico and later in 1513 and 1521 went to Florida. Luis, a mulatto living near St. Augustine became a partner with the legendary Cosme Farfan, Commander of the Spanish treasure fleets. (1554)

Please read Dr. Burnside’s article, “Marooned: Africans in the Americas 1500 – 1750” for additional names and histories.

Thanks again for your posting. I can’t name the first free African in North America’s Florida. There were many decades before the founding of Jamestown.

K Wyer Lane

Tisk, Tisk Jamestown Promoters

“History never lies, only the people who interpret it.”

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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