Sebastián Toral (? — ?)

Map of Yucatan
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Map of Yucatan
“Image Ownership: Public Domain”

Sebastián Toral was one of the earliest black conquistadores in the New World. He helped the Spanish to conquer the southern Mexican state of Yucatán in the 1530s and 1540s. Although historians do not know much information about his life, Toral was most likely born in Africa and came to the Spanish colonies as a slave. He fought with Francisco de Montejo in his second and final attempt to subdue the Maya peoples of Yucatán (1541). Montejo had been granted a license in 1533 to import one hundred slaves, so Sebastián Toral was not alone. At least one black conquistador learned a Mayan language during the campaign. For his service, Toral received manumission and was exempted from tribute collections, but he had to petition the Spanish crown at least twice to ensure the latter.

Although there is only scant information about black conquistadores like Sebastián Toral, their presence at the beginning of the Spanish colonial era in the New World suggests that people of African origin played an important but still understudied role in relations between Europeans and indigenous peoples of the Americas during first contact.

Black men like Toral worked to better their own circumstances under Spanish control, often at the expense of indigenous people, and also due to racism, found themselves in similar circumstances as indigenous people—occasionally reproducing with them. Eventually, Toral settled in the newly founded state capital of Mérida with his family, and he worked in one of the few occupations open to blacks in New Spain. He became a portero or doorkeeper/guard. By the late colonial period pardos (mixed race with black heritage) and negros (blacks in Spanish) comprised ten percent of Yucatán’s population.