Juan Garrido c. 1480 – c. 1550) was an African conquistador who was born in the Kingdom of Kongo. Mwisi Kongo or Kongolese by birth (not to be confused with Congolese from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) or the Republic of Congo aka Congo-Brazzaville; these two countries were created after the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885), he went to Portugal as a young man. In converting to Catholicism, 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, where he was the first known farmer to have sowed wheat in America. He continued to serve with Spanish forces for more than 30 years, including expeditions to western Mexico and to the Pacific.
Early life and education
Born in the Kingdom of Kongo or “Kongo dia Ntotila” in Kikongo language, he went to Portugal as a youth. 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 in assistance to Pedro Garrido‘s (Handsome Peter).
Arriving in Santo Domingo in 1502 or 1503, Garrido was among the earliest Africans to reach the Americas. He was one of numerous Africans or possibly a “freedman” who had joined expeditions from Seville to the Americas. From the beginning of Spanish presence in the Americas, Africans participated as voluntary expeditionaries, conquistadors and auxiliaries.
By 1519 Garrido participated in the expedition led by Hernán Cortés to Mexico, where they lay siege to Tenochtitlan. In 1520 he built a chapel to commemorate the many Spanish killed in battle that year by the Aztecs.
Garrido married and settled in Mexico City, where he and his wife had three children. Restall (2000) credits him with the first harvesting of wheat planted in New Spain.
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 providing evidence to the perpetuity of the king [a perpetuidad 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 wheat here in New Spain and to see if it took; I did this and experimented at my own expense.“
- Peter Gerhard, “A Black Conquistador in Mexico,” The Hispanic American Historical Review, Vol. 58, No. 3 (August 1978), pp. 451-459
- Review: Matthew Restall, Probanza of Juan Garrido in “Black Conquistadors: Armed Africans in Early Spanish America”, The Americas, Volume 57, Number 2, October 2000, pp. 171-205, accessed 15 February 2012
- Ricardo E. Alegría, Juan Garrido, el Conquistador Black gro en las Antillas, Florida, México y California, c. 1503-1540 (San Juan: Centro de Estudios Avanzados de Puerto Rico y El Caribe, 1990), pp. 6, 127-38.
- Benedict Warren, The Conquest of Michoacán: The Spanish Domination of the Tarascan Kingdom in Western Mexico, 1521-1530 (Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1985)
- James Krippner-Martínez, “The Politics of Conquest: An Interpretation of the ‘Relación de Michoacán’,” The Americas 47:2 (October 1990), pp. 177-98
- The opening of Juan Garrido’s evidence (petitionary proof of merit) of September 27, 1538; Archivo General de Indias, Seville (hereafter AGI), México 204, f.1; a facsimile of this first page, and a transcription of the whole document, appear in Ricardo E. Alegría, Juan Garrido, el Conquistador Negro en las Antillas, Florida, México y California, otjgyjghc. 1503-1540 (San Juan: Centro de Estudios Avanzados de Puerto Rico y El Caribe, 1990), pp. 6, 127-38.
- Ricardo E. Alegría, Juan Garrido, el Conquistador Negro en las Antillas, Florida, México y California, c. 1503-1540 (San Juan: Centro de Estudios Avanzados de Puerto Rico y El Caribe, 1990)
- Anthony Appiah, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience,
- Peter Gerhard, “A Black Conquistador in Mexico,” Hispanic American Historical Review 58:3 (1978)
- James Krippner-Martinez, Rereading the Conquest: Power, Politics and the History of Early Colonial Mihoacán, Mexico, 1521-1565, Pennsylvania University Press, 2001
- Mann, Charles C. 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011.
- Matthew Restall, “Black Conquistadors: Armed Africans in Early Spanish America,” The Americas 57:2 (October 2000)
- Review: Matthew Restall, Probanza of Juan Garrido in “Black Conquistadors: Armed Africans in Early Spanish America”, The Americas, Volume 57, Number 2, October 2000, pp. 171–205 | 10.1353/tam.2000.0015