America’s Earliest Africans

Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. discusses two of the earliest Africans to arrive in the Americas—men who journeyed to this continent a century before the first “20 And Odd” Africans arrived in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619.

Juan Garrido, a free black African, joined Spanish explorers in present-day Florida in 1513. He later helped Cortez take Mexico before moving on to California in search of gold.

Twenty years later, a black explorer known as Esteban the Moor struggled to cross a Texas desert—he was just one of four survivors of a Spanish expedition that went horribly wrong. A guide and translator for his companions, Esteban and his group had walked 15,000 miles by 1536 and seen more of the North American continent did than any explorers would until Lewis and Clark.

To learn more, tune in to PBS on October 22, 2013, 8-9 pm ET, for episode one of The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Check the local listings on the broadcast schedule.

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  • Toshi

    Esteban, along with Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca, Andres Dorantes, and Alonso del Castillo probably travelled 1,500 miles, not 15,000.

  • Calvin Pearson

    I respect Mr. Gates but after many years of receiving
    documentation on the arrival of the first 20 and odd Africans in Colonial
    America in 1619 he still misstates history by saying they arrived at Jamestown.
    They came ashore at Point Comfort, today’s Fort Monroe in Hampton, Virginia.
    They 20 and odd never traveled to or landed at Jamestown. President Obama
    declared Fort Monroe a National Monument because that is where the first
    Africans landed. I wish Gates and PBS would have gotten their facts straight before
    producing the series. For the true story go to

  • Thomas Ellingwood Fortin

    Well Calvin, yes, your right, and I do hope that Mr. Gates does not go that old, inaccurate route of saying Juan Garrito was with Ponce de Leon when he discovered Saint Augustine. Actually they did not get that far north. Juan also never went to California, it was not discovered even then, but he did settle in Mexico {Nueva Espana] and supposedly planted the first wheat crop in the New World. One other thing, Juan was a professional soldier or Conquistadore, and was with Juan Ponce de Leon in Puerto Rico before the 1513 voyage. But it is cool that first Africans to land in the New World were free men, and professional soldiers, not slaves. I also got word that Ft. Mose, the first African settlement of free families next door to St. Augustine will be featured. Right now we are still preparing a documentary film on Ponce de Leon, including Juan Garrito, and another on Spain, Hispanics and the American Revolution, including the free regiments of Hispano Africans who fought against the British.

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