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Juan Garrido: Unveiling the Forgotten Legacy and Achievement of the Black Conquistador

Juan Garrido, the Black Conquistador

The story of this man is something that has always fascinated me. In the annals of history, the tale of the Atlantic slave trade of Africans and others,  often overshadows a lesser-known chapter—the story of black conquistadors who played a pivotal role in the conquest and pacification of lands for the Spanish crown.

Among these unsung heroes stands Juan Garrido, a figure whose life challenges the common narrative and reveals the complexity of African contributions to the New World, and I am glad to write about this man.

The Presence of Black Conquistadors

Contrary to popular belief, Spanish conquest was not solely the domain of European men. Entire units of so-called black conquistadors existed, accompanying the Spanish in their explorative missions and conquests. These African men, often conscripted soldiers or auxiliaries, played a crucial role in shaping the history of the Caribbean and the southern Americas.

As scholar Matthew Restall notes, “Wherever Spaniards set foot in the Americas as members of conquest companies, they were accompanied by black conquistadors.” However, this facet of history remains largely absent from popular culture and has yet to find representation in mainstream media.

Juan Garrido: The African Conquistador

Juan Garrido emerges as one of the most prominent black conquistadors in history. Born on the African continent, Garrido’s journey to the New World began when he was purchased by a Portuguese trader and eventually found himself in the company of Pedro Garrido, who recognized the potential wealth of the unexplored territories.

Garrido’s own words provide a unique insight into his life: “I became a Christian in Lisbon, of my own will, spent seven years in Castile, and landed in Santo Domingo, where I was for some time. From there, I ventured to San Juan de Puerto Rico, where I spent considerable time, afterwards landing in New Spain.” His narrative suggests a blend of voluntary and involuntary movements, underscoring the complexity of the social status of black conquistadors.

Military Exploits and Contributions

Juan Garrido was more than just a participant in the conquest; he was a key figure in military expeditions across the Caribbean and Central America. He claimed to be present at the taking of Mexico City under Cortes, as well as participating in the conquests of Puerto Rico and Cuba. Garrido’s military prowess was not merely for personal glory; he sought recognition and monetary gain, penning a letter to Charles V of Spain detailing his thirty years of service.

In his letter, Garrido not only sought acknowledgment for his military achievements but also highlighted his innovation—introducing maize, a new food source, to the New World. His appeal for recognition sheds light on the multifaceted contributions of black conquistadors beyond the battlefield.

The Invisible Legacy

Juan Garrido serves as a proxy for countless other black conquistadors whose stories remain buried in the historical record. While he sought recognition for his contributions, he symbolizes a larger group of Africans who helped advance Spanish civilization in the New World. Juan Valente, another African conquistador granted an estate for his role in the conquest of Chile, echoes the theme of black conquistadors receiving land and sometimes freedom.

The historical record, however, remains remarkably silent on the roles of black conquistadors in certain regions, such as Peru. The absence of their stories in mainstream narratives is a gap that needs to be addressed. These individuals were not mere conscripts; they lived and died in the conquered territories, shaping the course of history.

Conclusion

The history of African people in the New World is complex and often overlooked. While modern sensitivities complicate our understanding, it is crucial to examine this history through the lens of the past.

Juan Garrido’s life offers a glimpse into the forgotten legacy of black conquistadors, urging us to acknowledge and integrate their stories into the broader narrative. To neglect this facet of history is to ignore the rich contributions of those who played a vital role in shaping the New World.

As we strive to know ourselves and remember our ancestors, let us also remember those like Juan Garrido who defied the odds and left an indelible mark on the pages of history.

Check out my other post on what to teach people (kids or adults) about Africa.

Author Profile

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John Aina Ajibola has a Masters degree as an engineer and has over 3 years of teaching and research experience. He is happiest when on a bike and is also interested in electric energy and computer Science.

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