Juan Garrido of West Africa was a free black man who was known as a conquistador. In the early 1500’s, Garrido led a life that was uncharacteristic of a black man in that time period. In 1503, Garrido went on his first expedition to Hispaniola and was present for the 1508 expedition with Ponce de Leon against Puerto Rico. He was paid well for his deeds with money and land. Garrido would travel with De Leon again in 1513 and 1521.
Juan Garrido was born in the 1480’s and according to research by Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., he was either “sold to Portugese slave traders or somehow traveled on his own to Lisbon.” After moving to Seville shortly before 1500, Garrido was possibly connected to a man named Pedro Garrido.
Known to use the work of slaves for himself, Juan Garrido became a gold miner, and in some instances, a slave hunter. He was also employed as a guard of the Mexico City government and a city caretaker. Garrido joined the Spaniards in many raids, claiming lands like Florida, in the name of Spain. As a participant of the conquests of Spain, Garrido financed the trips himself. It wasn’t until 1538 that he petitioned the Spanish Crown for financial support.
Through the path of his expeditions with Ponce De Leon, Garrido came to be the first African to enter what would become the United States. He could be referred to as the first African American.
There are 16th century paintings depicting Juan Garrido, in which he was mistaken as a slave, like one in which he is holding a pike, standing next to a horse belonging to Hernan Cortes.
Juan Garrido explored a final expedition in 1533 with Cortes to Baja California before he passed away in 1536.