In the In the following account, Professor Allison Blakely of Boston University describes the presence of blacks in Early Modern Europe. His article reminds us that persons of African ancestry resided across Europe. Their numbers ranged from a few hundred scattered across Germany, Scandinavia and Russia in the period between the 16th and 18th Centuries to approximately 150,000 on the Iberian peninsula. His discussion below is excerpted from a larger article written for the American Historical Society in 1999.
Historians have documented the arrival of black people in Britain as members of the Roman Army. The first reference to a black African in Britain in the historical record is at a Roman military settlement at Carlisle, in ca. 210 AD. Shortly after, in the years 253-58 AD, Hadrian's Wall on the Empire's northern frontier was guarded by a division raised in North Africa. Other Africans were brought to Britain at various times although the continuous presence of black people in Britain is traced to 1555, when Africans arrived in the company of a London merchant.
John Blanke, a black trumpeter, was a regular musician at the courts of both Henry VII and Henry VIII. Musicians' payments were noted in the accounts of the Treasurer of the Chamber, who was responsible for paying the wages. There are several payments recorded to a “John Blanke, the blacke trumpeter.” This trumpeter was paid 8d [8 pence] a day, first by Henry VII and then from 1509 by Henry VIII.
Sistema de Castas (or Society of Castes) was a porous racial classification system in colonial New Spain (present-day Mexico). It was a “hierarchal ordering of racial groups according to their proportion of Spanish blood.” In this system, notable categories with significant meaning were español (Spaniard), castizo, morisco, mestizo, mulatto, indio (Indian), and negro (black). At the sistema de castas’ most extreme, there were more than forty classifications, with español being the most desirable and negro being the least desirable for sociopolitical purposes. Race, color, physical features, occupation, and wealth in this society mattered as Spanish officials attempted to control every aspect of a person’s life from employment to regulating dress codes and friendships.
R. Douglas Cope, The Limits of Racial Domination: Plebeian Society in Colonial Mexico City, 1660-1720 (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1994); Lawrence B. De Graaf, Kevin Mulroy, and Quintard Taylor (et al.), Seeking El Dorado: African Americans in California (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2001); Ilona Katzew, Casta Painting: Images of Race in Eighteenth-Century Mexico (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004); Douglas Monroy, Thrown Among Strangers: The Making of Mexican Culture in Frontier California (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990); Leslie B. Rout, The African Experience in Spanish America: 1502 to the Present Day (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1976); Quintard Taylor, In Search of the Racial Frontier: African Americans in the West, 1528-1990 (New York: W.W. Norton, 1998).
Born December 9, 1579 in Lima, Peru, St. Martin de Porres is best known for his charitable work. His piety allowed him access to the Dominican order of his country, and his acts of compassion for the sick became part of the justification for his canonization as the first black saint of the Americas.
Fathered by a Spaniard of noble birth, Don Juan de Porres, and born of an emancipated American black slave living in Panama, Anna Velasquez, Martin de Porres’ fair-mindedness and empathy became discernible traits at an early age.
Educated for a time in Santiago de Guayaquil, de Porres returned to Lima and by 1591 had become an apprentice to a surgeon/barber. Upon gaining knowledge of medicine, de Porres began applying his skills in healing the sick and infirmed. His work with the underclasses of Lima culminated with his decision to apply as a helper to the Convent of the Most Holy Rosary, a Dominican community. Because of his racial background, he wasn’t immediately offered the holy habit but was promoted to distributing alms, attracting large sums of donations to support his work in a Dominican infirmary. It was here where de Porres’ reputation as a “miracle healer” began.
J. W. Seabrook, “Review of Meet Brother Martin!” The Journal of Negro History, 26:4 (October, 1941); Gayle Murchison, “Mary Lou Williams’s Hymn Black Christ of the Andes (St Martin de Porres): Vatican II, Civil Rights, and Jazz as Sacred Music,” The Musical Quarterly, 86:4 (2002).
Known as the Primer Libertador de America or “first liberator of the Americas,” Gaspar Yanga led one of colonial Mexico’s first successful slave uprisings and would go on to establish one of the Americas earliest free black settlements.
Rumored to be of royal lineage from West Africa, Yanga was an enslaved worker in the sugarcane plantations of Veracruz, Mexico. In 1570 he, along with a group of followers, escaped, fled to the mountainous regions near Córdoba, and established a settlement of former slaves or palenque. They remained there virtually unmolested by Spanish authorities for nearly 40 years. Taking the role of spiritual and military leader, he structured the agricultural community in an ordered capacity, allowing its growth and occupation of various locations.
Jane G. Landers, “Cimarrón and Citizen: African Ethnicity, Corporate
Identity, and the Evolution of Free Black Towns in the Spanish
Circum-Caribbean,” in Jane Lander and Barry Robinson, eds., Slaves,
Subjects, and Subversives: Blacks in Colonial Latin America
(Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2006); Charles Henry
Rowell, “El Primer Libertador de las Americas,” Callaloo 31:1 (Winter
The Changamire dynasty of rulers emerged from the Shona people who had founded the state of Monomutapa around 1500. Named after its founder Changa (also known as Changamir), Changamire had been a province of Monomutapa but with the rise of civil wars and the Portuguese occupation of Monomutapa's capital, the Changamir seized the opportunity to establish a new state called Rozwi which later became known as Changamire. Changamir broke free of Monomutapa and led a mass migration to the area in modern Zimbabwe near Bulawayo. Changamir and his successors conquered the indigenous people and ruled the region between the Zambezi and Limpopo Rivers (now modern Zimbabwe) until 1830.
Accra is the political and economic capital of modern Ghana on the Gold Coast. Between 1500 and 1578, a fortress operated by the Portuguese stood at the site of modern Accra. This fort provided the Europeans with an outlet for trade, particularly in slaves, with the Ga people, themselves recent migrants from the inland hills of the region. While the Ga destroyed this fort in 1578, by the mid seventeenth century, a group of Ga, known as the Accra, had settled on the site. In 1642, the Dutch expelled the Portuguese from the Gold Coast and established a new trading post at Accra. In the early 1660s, the Company of Royal Adventurers of England Trading to Africa (later the Royal African Company) established a series of posts in the region sparking a war between the English and the Dutch over the Gold Coast trade monopoly. After the treaty of Breda in 1672, the victorious English established their own trading post at Accra which was eventually expanded into a fortress.
Luanda was founded by Portuguese explorer Paolo Dias de Novaes as St. Paul of Luanda in 1576. It became the capital of a Portuguese colony in 1586 and became the capital of independent Angola when the former Portuguese colony gained its independence in 1975. Luanda is also the largest city in Angola with an estimated 2009 population of over 4.5 million. The city is located in the northwestern region of the country on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. The most common religions are Catholic, Baptist, and Methodist but missionaries of many faiths reside in Angola. The city's major sports are basketball, soccer, and tennis.
During the third Council of Trent in 1564 Pope Pius IV decided to disband the hermit societies, whereupon he encouraged their communities to join the Franciscan orders. When Benedict became a member of the Order of Friars Minor he was sent to Palermo, to the Franciscan Friary of St. Mary of Jesus.
Likely a slave accompanying the Italian Jesuit missionary Alessandro Vaglignano to Japan circa 1579, we first hear of Yasuke in the writings of the Portuguese missionary Luís Fróis in the years 1581 and 1582. Fróis recounted the frenzy on the capital city streets of Kyoto when residents lost all decorum upon witnessing for the first time a black man in their midst.
The disturbance attracted the attention of the legendary daimyo (feudal warlord) Oda Nobunaga, best remembered for his efforts to unify and bring political stability to Japan.
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