I am not ignorant that there are reasons for alleging that negroes had before this era been seized and carried to Seville.
Continuing Portugese Discovery and Atlantic Slavery Begins,
our selection from The Spanish in America by Sir Arthur Helps published in 1855. The selection is presented in seven easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in Portugese Discovery Begins; Atlantic Slavery Begins.
Time: Mid 1400’s
Place: West Coast of Africa
In 1442 the Moors whom Antonio Zarco had captured in the previous year promised to give black slaves in ransom for themselves if he would take them back to their own country; and the Prince, approving of this, ordered Zarco to set sail immediately, “insisting as the foundation of the matter, that if Zarco should not be able to obtain so many negroes (as had been mentioned) in exchange for the three Moors, yet that he should take them; for whatever number he should get, he would gain souls, because the negroes might be converted to the faith, which could not be managed with the Moors.” Zarco obtained ten black slaves, some gold-dust, a target of buffalo-hide, and some ostrich eggs in exchange for two of the Moors, and, returning with his cargo, excited general wonderment on account of the color of the slaves. These, then, we may presume, were the first black slaves that had made their appearance in the peninsula since the extinction of the old slavery.
I am not ignorant that there are reasons for alleging that negroes had before this era been seized and carried to Seville. The Ecclesiastical and Secular Annals of that city, under the date 1474, record that negro slaves abounded there, and that the fifths levied on them produced considerable gains to the royal revenue; it is also mentioned that there had been traffic of this kind in the days of Don Enrique III, about 1399, but that it had since then fallen into the hands of the Portuguese. The chronicler states that the negroes of Seville were treated very kindly from the time of King Enrique, being allowed to keep their dances and festivals; and that one of them was named mayoral of the rest, who protected them against their masters and before the courts of law, and also settled their own private quarrels. There is a letter from Ferdinand and Isabella in the year 1474 to a celebrated negro, Juan de Valladolid, commonly called the “Negro Count,” nominating him to this office of mayoral of the negroes, which runs thus: “For the many good, loyal, and signal services which you have done us, and do each day, and because we know your sufficiency, ability, and good disposition, we constitute you mayoral and judge of all the negroes and mulattoes, free or slaves, which are in the very loyal and noble city of Seville, and throughout the whole archbishopric thereof, and that the said negroes and mulattoes may not hold any festivals nor pleadings among themselves, except before you, Juan de Valladolid, negro, our judge and mayoral of the said negroes and mulattoes; and we command that you, and you only, should take cognizance of the disputes, pleadings, marriages, and other things which may take place among them, forasmuch as you are a person sufficient for that office, and deserving of your power, and you know the laws and ordinances which ought to be kept, and we are informed that you are of noble lineage among the said negroes.”
But the above merely shows that in the year 1474 there were many negroes in Seville, and that laws and ordinances had been made about them. These negroes might all, however, have been imported into Seville since the Portuguese discoveries. True it is that in the times of Don Enrique III, and during Bethencourt’s occupation of the Canary Islands, slaves from thence had been brought to France and Spain; but these islanders were not negroes, and it certainly may be doubted whether any negroes were imported into Seville previous to 1443.
Returning to the course of Portuguese affairs, a historian of that nation informs us that the gold obtained by Zarco “awakened, as it always does, covetousness”; and there is no doubt that it proved an important stimulus to further discovery. The next year N. Tristam went farther down the African coast; and, off Adeget, one of the Arguim Islands, captured eighty natives, whom he brought to Portugal. These, however, were not negroes, but Azeneghis.
The tide of popular opinion was now not merely turned, but was rushing in full flow, in favor of Prince Henry and his discoveries. The discoverers were found to come back rich in slaves and other commodities; whereas it was remembered that, in former wars and undertakings, those who had been engaged in them had generally returned in great distress. Strangers, too, now came from afar, scenting the prey. A new mode of life, as the Portuguese said, had been found out; and “the greater part of the kingdom was moved with a sudden desire to follow this way to Guinea.”
In 1444 a company was formed at Lagos, who received permission from the Prince to undertake discovery along the coast of Africa, paying him a certain portion of any gains which they might make. This has been considered as a company founded for carrying on the slave trade; but the evidence is by no means sufficient to show that its founders meant such to be its purpose. It might rather be compared to an expedition sent out, as we should say in modern times, with letters of marque, in which, however, the prizes chiefly hoped for were not ships nor merchandise, but men. The only thing of any moment, however, which the expedition accomplished was to attack successfully the inhabitants of the islands Nar and Tider, and to bring back about two hundred slaves. I grieve to say that there is no evidence of Prince Henry’s putting a check to any of these proceedings; but, on the contrary, it appears that he rewarded with large honors Lancarote, one of the principal men of this expedition, and received his own fifth of the slaves. Yet I have scarcely a doubt that the words of the historian are substantially true — that discovery, not gain, was still the Prince’s leading idea. We have an account from an eye-witness of the partition of the slaves brought back by Lancarote, which, as it is the first transaction of the kind on record, is worthy of notice, more especially as it may enable the reader to understand the motives of the Prince and of other men of those times. It is to be found in the Chronicle, before referred to, of Azurara. The merciful chronicler is smitten to the heart at the sorrow he witnesses, but still believes it to be for good, and that he must not let his mere earthly commiseration get the better of his piety.