Juan Garrido (c. 1480-c. 1550) was a black African-Spanish conquistador. African by birth, he went to Portugal as a young man, likely as a slave. In converting to Christianity, he chose the Spanish name, Juan Garrido (“Handsome John”).
He joined a Spanish expedition and arrived in Santo Domingo (Hispaniola) about 1502. He participated in the invasion of present-day Puerto Rico and Cuba in 1508. By 1519 he had joined Cortes’ forces and invaded present-day Mexico, participating in the siege of Tenochtitlan. He married and settled in Mexico City. He continued to serve with Spanish forces for more than 30 years, including expeditions to western Mexico and to the Pacific. He is credited with the first cultivation of wheat in the New World.
Early life and education
Born in Africa, he went to Portugal as a youth, likely taken as a slave When baptized, he took the name Juan Garrido (Handsome John). He went to Seville, where he joined an expedition to the New World, possibly traveling as Pedro Garrido’s servant.
Arriving in Santo Domingo in 1502 or 1503, Garrido was among the earliest Africans to reach the Americas. He was one of numerous African freedmen who had joined expeditions from Seville to the Americas. From the beginning of Spanish activity in the Americas, Africans participated both as voluntary expeditionaries and, more frequently, as involuntary enslaved colonists.
By 1519 he participated in Marqués del Valle Hernán Cortés expedition to invade Mexico, where they lay siege to Tenochtitlan of the Three Allies (formerly known as the Aztec.) In 1520 he built a chapel to commemorate the many Spanish killed in battle that year by the Aztec.
Garrido married and settled in Mexico City, where he and his wife had three children. He is credited with the first harvesting of wheat planted in the New World for commercial purposes.
Garrido and other blacks were also part of expeditions to Michoacán in the 1520s. Nuño de Guzmán swept through that region in 1529-30 with the aid of black auxiliaries.
In 1538, Garrido provided testimony on his 30 years of service as a conquistador:
“I, Juan Garrido, black in color, resident of this city [Mexico], appear before Your Mercy and state that I am in need of prividing evidence to the perpetuity of the king [a perpetuad rey], a report on how I served Your Majesty in the conquest and pacification of this New Spain, from the time when the Marqués del Valle [Cortés] entered it; and in his company I was present at all the invasions and conquests and pacifications which were carried out, always with the said Marqués, all of which I did at my own expense without being given either salary or allotment of natives [repartimiento de indios] or anything else. As I am married and a resident of this city, where I have always lived; and also as I went with the Marqués del Valle to discover the islands which are in that part of the southern sea [the Pacific] where there was much hunger and privation; and also as I went to discover and pacify the islands of San Juan de Buriquén de Puerto Rico; and also as I went on the pacification and conquest of the island of Cuba with the adelantado Diego Velázquez; in all these ways for thirty years have I served and continue to serve Your Majesty–for these reasons stated above do I petition Your Mercy. And also because I was the first to have the inspiration to sow maize here in New Spain and to see if it took; I did this and experimented at my own expense.”