So very often, people wish to mark the starting point to events in history. That is hard to do, almost impossible. As additional information surfaces, pinpointing the when and how of history becomes more intriguing, unwinding an almost unending thread that leaves us with more questions than answers. For instance, when were the first enslaved Africans brought by Europeans to what would eventually become the United States?
Surprisingly, the answer is neither Point Comfort in1619 nor St. Augustine in 1565. Recent research is showing that it was in 1526, somewhere near Sapelo Bay, Georgia. Spanish explorer, Lucas Vazquez de Ayllon, embarked from San Domingo after obtaining from King Charles of Spain a license to establish a colony and bring captured Africans to build it. This was his second expedition north, having previously seen the Chesapeake Bay and the James River, and been run out of the Paris Island-Beaufort area of South Carolina by indigenous people. With 500 people from Santo Domingo, of whom a great number were enslaved Africans, and six ships, fully stocked with olive oil, grain, horses, and armaments, they went as far north as Cape Fear, North Carolina, where the lead ship, Capitana, was caught in a storm and wrecked. With a major portion of their cargo destroyed in North Carolina, they set sail south and established San Miguel de Gauldape in Sapelo Bay, perhaps even on Sapelo Island.
As a colonial official (judge) and sugar planter in La Plata, Allyon anticipated great wealth from his investment, but he did not survive his second exploration. Instead, he died, probably from malaria, at the new colony, some say in the arms of a Franciscan priest. After his death, attempts to sustain the colony failed, as hunger and disease reduced the numbers to about 150 people – men, women, and children, Native people attacked, enslaved Africans rebelled (the first slave revolt in what would become the United States), political disputes divided the people, and a cold winter set in, much earlier than anticipated. With all the ships destroyed, the surviving colonists built a ship and returned to Santo Domingo. Although the colony only existed for less than a year, the Spanish recorded this as an official mission, one that was established 39 years before the founding of St. Augustine, 81 years before Jamestown, 95 years before the arrival of the Mayflower, and 207 years before Oglethorpe sailed up the Savannah River to colonize Georgia. Of interest to note: even though the colony did not survive, the animals lost in the shipwreck and many of those left behind by the Spanish are the source of the wild horse breeds today on the Outer Banks in North Carolina, Chincoteague Island, Virginia, and Assateague Island, Maryland.
And the Africans? Many escaped into the lands of the indigenous people. In search of freedom, they too set a precedent that would be repeated over centuries. This became an on-going relationship between the red and the black, the “first and the forced.” The human instinct to resist and be free determined the choices they made.
From the beginning, no matter which European conquest is examined, wealth was the goal achieved by the oppression and enslavement of indigenous, African, and often fellow-Europeans. There is enough of this history that everyone can take a bit. Does it really matter exactly when it began? Is it not more important to simply acknowledge the historical fact and the efforts that were made to abolish the practice? It may be crucial to recognize that the never-ending struggle to achieve universal freedom and liberty is what should be celebrated on July 4th, US Independence Day.