Known by various names such as Mustafa Azemmouri, Esteban de Dorantes, Estebanico, but mostly commonly by his slave name Estevanico, this man became the first African explorer of North America. He lived from c. 1500 to 1539. Originally from Azemmour, Morocco, then captured and sold into slavery while the region warred with Spain and Portugal, Estevanico is referred to as “the first great African man in America.” It’s unknown if his lineage was African or part-African. He was taken in 1527 on the Spanish Narváez expedition to establish a colony in what was at the time present-day Florida and all unexplored lands to the north and west, including Northern Mexico.
Photo: @discountgolden via Twenty20
The fleet left Cuba in February 1528 with the intent of establishing two settlements near present-day Tampico, Mexico. Storms and strong winds instead required the fleet to land in western Florida. The men and women marched north 300 miles, then built boats to sail west. While in the water, a fatal storm struck them near Galveston Island, and about 80 men survived, three of which, including Estebanico, then became enslaved by the Coahuiltecan people. After several years, the travelers escaped and explored Texas and Northern Mexico. They were the first Europeans and the first African to enter the American West. One of the traveler’s published account of the experience is the main reason Estevanico is recorded in history.
Photo: @darewhee via Twenty20
In 1539, Estevanico was chosen by the Viceroy of New Spain (Mexico) to be the main guide for a return expedition to the Southwest. In doing so, he became the first non-Native to visit Pueblo lands. It’s reported Estevancio died this same year, killed in the Zuni city of Hawikuh or Hawikku (in present-day New Mexico). This event was speculated as his death was not witnessed but reported second-hand. Subsequently, one author, Juan Francisco Maura, suggested the Zunis did not kill Estevanico but instead helped him gain his freedom. Although how his life ended is unknown, the courage of Estevancio is recorded for all to learn.