University of New Mexico Professor Emeritus Dr. Cortez Williams, an expert in the early history of Blacks in the Southwest, states that documented architectural evidence exists showing that Blacks were in New Mexico before 1050 A.D. He indicates that a 1975 archeological dig in Chaco Canyon produced skeletal remains of a Black person. He states that Carbon 14 dating showed the remains date back to 1050 A.D. Later, DNA testing indicated that the remains were from an individual from Guyana, West Africa, a member of the Mimbres Tribes who was in the state long before 1050 A.D.
Other scholars write that Estevanico, a Black slave born in Azamor, Morocco, first set foot in New Mexico in 1539 near the Zuni Pueblo in search of the Seven Cities of Gold. From that point forward, African-American Moors, Blacks, Mulattos, Afro-Mestizos, and all peoples of African descent have been part of the New Mexican landscape.
Though early historians denied the existence of Blacks, they are not entirely invisible as they are mentioned in explorer’s diaries, government reports, pioneer diaries, and frontier newspapers. They are captured in works of art such as the sketches of Charles Russell and Frederick Remington and early photos of military and civilian photographers.
Quintard Taylor, Ph.D. of the University of Oregon relates that Estevanico or Estevan, as he was also called, became a guide for Fray Marcos de Niza’s expedition into Northern New Spain to find the Seven Cities of Cibola in 1539. He was a large man, adorned with animal pelts, turquoise, and owl feathers. When he attempted to enter the Zuni town of Hawikuh, just east of present New Mexico/Arizona border, which he mistakenly believed to be the first of the Seven Cities, the Native American inhabitants killed him. Some surmise that he was put to death because his medicine gourd was trimmed with owl feathers, a bird symbolizing death to the Zuni.
Professor Taylor states that the Coronado Expedition of 1540 to 1542 that followed
Estevanico’s route included many Blacks, several of whom deserted to reside in New Mexico. Another expedition in 1593 attempted to establish a colony near Santa Fe and had Black members as did the Juan de Oñate party in 1598. Oñate’s party had five Blacks: two were soldiers, two were Black female slaves, and one was a Mulatto slave.
Taylor relates that Juan Guerra de Resa’s relief expedition for Oñate in 1600 included several soldiers who illegally brought Mulatto women and children with them. In 1692 the Don Diego de Vargas expedition that conquered New Mexico after the Pueblo Revolt included two native Africans, Sebastián Rodríguez Brito from Angola and Francisco Rico from the Congo.
Professor Taylor describes the Black and mixed race population in New Mexico growing slowly from 750 in 1630 to 2,900 in 1680. Black and mixed race people settled in the state to escape racial discrimination in Mexico. New Mexico’s geographic isolation gave rise to a modicum of economic and social mobility for the newcomers. José Antonio, a Congo born slave brought from Veracruz to El Paso de Norte in 1752 married Marcela, an Apache maid in a neighboring household. Sebastián Rodriguez Brito, an Angolan born free son of African slaves involved in the de Vargas expedition, rose from servant to landholder and eventually married Isabel Olguín, an Española widow, in 1692.
Fannye Irving-Gibbs of the Historical Research Patrons indicates that Sebastián Rodríguez Brito was born in 1642 and probably entered the United States via Brazil and Mexico. He became the trusted drummer who led Governor Don Diego de Vargas and his colony back to New Mexico after exile. Brito became a man of means and one of the first property owners in the territory.
Melchor Rodríguez, the son of Sebastian Rodríguez, was one of the first twelve Black families with Hispanic surnames who settled in the village of Las Trampas. The twelve Las Trampas families lived in the Analco District of Santa Fe before 1751. This district was a poor section of Santa Fe across the river from the Spanish settlements. The genízaros (individuals of mixed blood) lived separately from the Spanish and Indian families. Among the Las Trampas families were descendants of the Tlascateca Indians who fought with Cortez against the Aztecs as well as descendants of African slaves. Las Trampas was established as a buffer zone between the Spaniards and the Indians in an effort to halt the Indian raids on the Spanish settlements.
Professor Taylor recounts that fewer Blacks entered the state between 1821 and 1848, and those that did were almost exclusively trappers and fur traders. The most famous Black trapper was James Beckwourth who spent 1836-40 at Ft. Vásquez, New Mexico, where he supervised trading operations for Luis Vásquez. Beckwourth married Louisa Sandoval in Santa Fe in 1840. In 1847 he joined the American effort to defeat Mexican forces in the region.
Taylor states that Black slavery did not thrive in New Mexico because landed aristocracy
had other sources of labor including Mexican Americans and Indian slaves. Professor Taylor indicates that most of the 40 Black slaves that did reside in New Mexico in 1860 accompanied Southern born territorial or military officials assigned here during the previous decade.
Professor Taylor writes that the territorial legislature passed an act restricting entrance
of free Blacks into New Mexico in 1856. He indicates that in 1859 Miguel Otero, delegate to Congress, persuaded territorial legislators to enact a Slave Code prohibiting slaves from traveling and restricting their right to testify and to bear arms. After the Civil War began, the Slave Code was repealed, and in 1862 Congress banned slavery in the territories.
Early Black Settlement of Albuquerque
Nash Candelaria writing in “La Herencia del Norte” magazine in fall 2001 provides
a colorful description of the role of Blacks in settling the city of Albuquerque. He states: “Overlooked in the cultural mosaic is the early infusion of African blood. Little known other than to historians and genealogists are the African ancestors of some of the founding families of the state’s largest city, Albuquerque.”
Candelaria has researched his own genealogy which shows that he is a descendent of two of the founders of Albuquerque. His research reveals that Spanish governor, Francisco Cuervo y Valdés, sent to the viceroy in Mexico City certification that the villa had been founded in 1706 by 35 families consisting of 252 people. The minimum requirement for founding a villa was 30 families. Valdés named the city for the viceroy, the Duke of Albuquerque. Four years later there was an inquiry as some claimed that the villa had been illegally founded. Witnesses indicated that Albuquerque had been settled by 19 families consisting of 103 people plus 10 soldiers with their dependents. The villa remained nonetheless.
Twenty years after the villa’s founding, a visiting general described the populace as Spaniards, Mestizos and Mulattos living on scattered farms. Mestizos are persons of mixed racial ancestry, in particular of mixed European and Native American ancestry. The history of Mulattos, persons of European and Black racial ancestry, has been largely ignored until very recently.
Slavery existed to some extent in the colonial Spanish Empire in the Americas. Spaniards of higher rank owned African slaves. The lighter the Black person’s skin, the higher his or her social standing. Diego de Vargas, who led the reentry into New Mexico after the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, was a slave owner. In his will, he ordered two Black coachmen and a light-skinned Mulata married to one of the coachmen to be sold, and he freed another Black slave of many years on the condition that he escort de Vargas’ two sons to Mexico City.
Mulattos, who were likely the offspring of Spanish fathers and African mothers, were often free men. There were no laws against these unions in New Mexico as there were in the English colonies. There were also no barriers to Mulattos becoming property wners. On the remote frontiers in New Mexico, there was little resistance to intermarriage between Spaniards and Blacks.
Until the mid-1800’s official documents in New Mexico included ethnic designations. The 1750 Albuquerque census listed 200 Indians and 500 others including Spanish. approximately 60 were identified as Mulatto adults. Seventy years after the founding of the villa, there were two male heads of families from Bernalillo, Francisco Candelaria and his brother, Feliciano Candelaria, listed as Mulattos. Three others listed as deceased with the same names as the founding settlers were also identified as Negro or Mulatto. Of the 22 heads of families who first settled the villa, five were Negro or Mulatto. By the 1790 Albuquerque census that listed 900 heads of households, only five were identified as Mulattos.
Candelaria goes on to recount the history of Ana de Sandoval y Manzanares, the matriarch of the Candelaria family, who was mother of two of Albuquerque’s founders. Her father was most likely Mateo de Sandoval y Manzanares, a free Mulatto native. He was possibly the son of a slave and once a slave himself who became a property owner. According to one source, Ana de Sandoval y Manzanares and her children, aged two, four, and twelve, joined the refugee flight south to El Paso, Texas, following the Pueblo Revolt. The matriarch and her family were among the most loyal to the king of Spain and returned to resettle New Mexico. Her father, Mateo, however, chose to reside in Torreón, Mexico. She and her children, then aged 14, 16, and 24, returned to New Mexico. In 1697 they were back in Santa Fe, where they received livestock and supplies from Governor de Vargas. In 1706 her two adult sons, Francisco and Feliciano, moved from Bernalillo with a group that later founded the villa de Albuquerque.
In 1716 Ana, about 66 years old, petitioned for 172 square miles of land at San Clemente, south of Albuquerque, which had belonged to her father before the revolt. She traveled 1,400 miles to Mexico City by donkey, staying there almost two years until she was granted the deed to the property. Ana de Sandoval y Manzanares died in Albuquerque at the approximate age of 84.
Candelaria writes that few remnants remain of early African heritage in northern New Mexico: “There is little to show, any traces being absorbed by the overwhelming numbers in the Indo-Hispanic culture. One still visible remnant of African culture in Northern New Mexico is the use of the color blue for house trim to ward off evil. Notwithstanding, the recognition of New Mexico’s and Albuquerque’s African heritage in the relatively open Spanish colonial society attests to the relatively tolerant society in which marriages across cultures occurred.”
Candelaria continues, “This was one of the earliest open, multicultural societies in what is now the United States of North America and gives to Albuquerque the distinction of being the only, or one of the few, major cities whose founders included settlers of African descent.”