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.
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.
As major port city for Angola in the sixteenth century, Luanda became the center for commercial, political, and cultural affairs. The Portuguese also used Luanda as their major slave trading port until 1836. The end of slave trading caused a temporary decrease in Luanda’s economy and export activity but by the 1840s, the city exported palm and peanut oil, timber, ivory, cotton, coffee, tobacco, and cocoa. Throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries Colonial Portuguese authorities invested in port and rail infrastructure to expand agricultural and mineral exports. By 1940, the city had 61,208 people including nearly 10,000 white inhabitants. After World War II new waves of colonists from overcrowded Portugal arrived. The growth of the "European Quarter" often meant the displacement of Africans to slums on the edge of the city.
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.
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