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Discovery Of The Canary Islands And The African Coast
By Arthur Helps
Jun 7, 2008 - 11:13:10 AM


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After passing the Cape of Bojador there was a lull in Portuguese discovery, the period from 1434 to 1441 being spent in enterprises of very little distinctness or importance. Indeed, during the latter part of this period, the Prince was fully occupied with the affairs of Portugal. In 1437 he accompanied the unfortunate expedition to Tangier, in which his brother Ferdinand was taken prisoner, who afterward ended his days in slavery to the Moor. In 1438, King Duarte dying, the troubles of the regency occupied Prince Henry's attention. In 1441, however, there was a voyage which led to very important consequences. In that year Antonio Goncalvez, master of the robes to Prince Henry, was sent out with a vessel to load it with skins of "sea-wolves," a number of them having been seen, during a former voyage, in the mouth of a river about fifty-four leagues beyond Cape Bojador. Goncalvez resolved to signalize his voyage by a feat that should gratify his master more than the capture of sea-wolves; and he accordingly planned and executed successfully an expedition for capturing some Azeneghi Moors, in order, as he told his companions, to take home "some of the language of that country." Nuno Tristam, another of Prince Henry's captains, afterward falling in with Goncalvez, a further capture of Moors was made, and Goncalvez returned to Portugal with his spoil.

In the same year Prince Henry applied to Pope Martin V, praying that his holiness would grant to the Portuguese crown all that it could conquer, from Cape Bojador to the Indies, together with plenary indulgence for those who should die while engaged in such conquests. The Pope granted these requests. "And now," says a Portuguese historian, "with this apostolic grace, with the breath of royal favor, and already with the applause of the people, the Prince pursued his purpose with more courage and with greater outlay."

In 1442 the Moors whom Antonio Goncalvez had captured in the previous year promised to give black slaves in ransom for themselves if he would take them back to their own country; and the Prince, approving of this, ordered Goncalvez to set sail immediately, "insisting as the foundation of the matter, that if Goncalvez should not be able to obtain so many negroes (as had been mentioned) in exchange for the three Moors, yet that he should take them; for whatever number he should get, he would gain souls, because the negroes might be converted to the faith, which could not be managed with the Moors." Goncalvez obtained ten black slaves, some gold-dust, a target of buffalo-hide, and some ostrich eggs in exchange for two of the Moors, and, returning with his cargo, excited general wonderment on account of the color of the slaves. These, then, we may presume, were the first black slaves that had made their appearance in the peninsula since the extinction of the old slavery.

I am not ignorant that there are reasons for alleging that negroes had before this era been seized and carried to Seville. The Ecclesiastical and Secular Annals of that city, under the date 1474, record that negro slaves abounded there, and that the fifths levied on them produced considerable gains to the royal revenue; it is also mentioned that there had been traffic of this kind in the days of Don Enrique III, about 1399, but that it had since then fallen into the hands of the Portuguese. The chronicler states that the negroes of Seville were treated very kindly from the time of King Enrique, being allowed to keep their dances and festivals; and that one of them was named mayoral of the rest, who protected them against their masters and before the courts of law, and also settled their own private quarrels. There is a letter from Ferdinand and Isabella in the year 1474 to a celebrated negro, Juan de Valladolid, commonly called the "Negro Count," nominating him to this office of mayoral of the negroes, which runs thus: "For the many good, loyal, and signal services which you have done us, and do each day, and because we know your sufficiency, ability, and good disposition, we constitute you mayoral and judge of all the negroes and mulattoes, free or slaves, which are in the very loyal and noble city of Seville, and throughout the whole archbishopric thereof, and that the said negroes and mulattoes may not hold any festivals nor pleadings among themselves, except before you, Juan de Valladolid, negro, our judge and mayoral of the said negroes and mulattoes; and we command that you, and you only, should take cognizance of the disputes, pleadings, marriages, and other things which may take place among them, forasmuch as you are a person sufficient for that office, and deserving of your power, and you know the laws and ordinances which ought to be kept, and we are informed that you are of noble lineage among the said negroes."

But the above merely shows that in the year 1474 there were many negroes in Seville, and that laws and ordinances had been made about them. These negroes might all, however, have been imported into Seville since the Portuguese discoveries. True it is that in the times of Don Enrique III, and during Bethencourt's occupation of the Canary Islands, slaves from thence had been brought to France and Spain; but these islanders were not negroes, and it certainly may be doubted whether any negroes were imported into Seville previous to 1443.

Returning to the course of Portuguese affairs, a historian of that nation informs us that the gold obtained by Goncalvez "awakened, as it always does, covetousness"; and there is no doubt that it proved an important stimulus to further discovery. The next year Nuno Tristam went farther down the African coast; and, off Adeget, one of the Arguim Islands, captured eighty natives, whom he brought to Portugal. These, however, were not negroes, but Azeneghis.

The tide of popular opinion was now not merely turned, but was rushing in full flow, in favor of Prince Henry and his discoveries. The discoverers were found to come back rich in slaves and other commodities; whereas it was remembered that, in former wars and undertakings, those who had been engaged in them had generally returned in great distress. Strangers, too, now came from afar, scenting the prey. A new mode of life, as the Portuguese said, had been found out; and "the greater part of the kingdom was moved with a sudden desire to follow this way to Guinea."

 

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