Black History Month is an annual observance in February that started as a way of remembering important people and events in the history of the African diaspora. This biography is part of a series that features well known enslaved African Muslims.
Born in Morocco around 1500 to a Muslim family, Estevanico is known for exploring Texas and Southwest America and being the first black man in North America sold into slavery. He was sold by the Portuguese into slavery and was forced to convert to Christianity. Estevanico came into the service of a captain in the Spanish infantry, Andres Dorantes de Carranza. Despite them being master and servant, the two got along quite well because Carranza found Estevanico to be a highly intelligent man.
When Andres de Dorantes went on an expedition to Florida in a company of colonists and soldiers, Estevanico accompanied him. After surviving a hostile encounter with Native Americans, escaping and then sailing to Texas, Estevanico was one of a few men to make it out alive from the Native American confrontation.
He escaped in 1534 into the American interior and became a medicine man, he was treated with great respect and offered food, shelter, and gifts. In fact, as a medicine man, he was held in such high esteem, parties were thrown in his honor. The next eight years were spent traveling New Spain (present day American Southwest), reaching Spanish reinforcements in 1536 Mexico City.
In summary, he participated in the Spanish expedition to Florida, the Gulf Coast, and Northern Mexico. It was not until 1536, where Estevanico was given his freedom. By 1539, he was killed by the natives in Hawikuh, New Mexico.
Since the first colonists arrived to settle in North America, Islam was part of the continent’s religious fabric. The Islamic teachings brought by enslaved Africans did not survive long within plantation communities, but there remains evidence in documents and traditions of its existence. It has been estimated that 30% of African slaves brought to the New World were Muslim, but the exact number transported is unknown.
Muslims first came to North America in the 1500s with colonial expeditions. They were an integral part of mapping the country. African Muslims later fought alongside colonists during the Revolutionary War against British rule, when America struggled to become an independent nation. The founding fathers were aware of Islam and the existence of Muslims in America. Thomas Jefferson, who owned a copy of the Qur’an, included Islam in many of his early writings and political treatises.