What Catholic Church records tell us about America’s earliest black history

“For most Americans, black history begins in 1619, when a Dutch ship brought some “20 and odd Negroes” as slaves to the English colony of Jamestown, in Virginia.

Many are not aware that black history in the United States goes back at least a century before this date.

In 1513, a free and literate African named Juan Garrido explored Florida with a Spanish conquistador, Juan Ponce de León. In the following decades, Africans, free and enslaved, were part of all the Spanish expeditions exploring the southern region of the United States. In 1565, Africans helped establish the first permanent European settlement in what is St. Augustine, Florida today. . . . St. Augustine’s Catholic records show that after English Protestants established a settlement in what became South Carolina in 1670, their African slaves began to flee southward seeking admission into the “True Faith” – which to the Spaniards meant Catholicism.”

To read more stories from the Slave Societies Digital Archive at Vanderbilt University, click here.

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