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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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In 1445 an expedition was fitted out by Prince Henry himself, and the command given to Gonsalvo de Cintra, who was unsuccessful in an attack on the natives near Cape Blanco. He and some other of the principal men of the expedition lost their lives. These were the first Portuguese who died in battle on that coast. In the same year the Prince sent out three other vessels. The captains received orders from the Infante, Don Pedro, who was then Regent of Portugal, to enter the river D'Oro, and make all endeavors to convert the natives to the faith, and even, if they should not receive baptism, to make peace and alliance with them. This did not succeed. It is probable that the captains found negotiation of any kind exceedingly tame and apparently profitless in comparison with the pleasant forays made by their predecessors. The attempt, however, shows much intelligence and humanity on the part of those in power in Portugal. That the instructions were sincere is proved by the fact of this expedition returning with only one negro, gained in ransom, and a Moor who came of his own accord to see the Christian country.

This same year 1445 is signalized by a great event in the progress of discovery along the African coast. Dinis Dyaz, called by Barros and the historians who followed him Dinis Fernandez, sought employment from the Infante, and, being intrusted by him with the command of a vessel, pushed boldly down the coast, and passed the river Sanaga (Senegal), which divides the Azeneghis - whom the first discoverers always called Moors - from the negroes of Jalof. The inhabitants were much astonished at the presence of the Portuguese vessel on their coasts, and at first took it for a fish or a bird or a phantasm; but when in their rude boats - hollowed logs - they neared it, and saw that there were men in it, judiciously concluding that it was a more dangerous thing than fish or bird or phantasm, they fled. Dinis Fernandez, however, captured four of them off that coast, but as his object was discovery, not slave-hunting, he went on till he discovered Cape Verd, and then returned to his country, to be received with much honor and favor by Prince Henry. These four negroes taken by Dinis Fernandez were the first taken in their own country by the Portuguese. That the Prince was still engaged in high thoughts of discovery and conversion we may conclude from observing that he rewarded and honored Dinis Fernandez as much as if he had brought him large booty; for the Prince "thought little of whatever he could do for those who came to him with these signs and tokens of another greater hope which he entertained."

In this case, as in others, we should do great injustice if we supposed that Prince Henry had any of the pleasure of a slave-dealer in obtaining these negroes: it is far more probable that he valued them as persons capable of furnishing intelligence, and, perhaps, of becoming interpreters, for his future expeditions. Not that, without these especial motives, he would have thought it anything but great gain for a man to be made a slave, if it were the means of bringing him into communion with the Church.

After this, several expeditions, which did not lead to much, occupied the Prince's time till 1447. In that year a fleet, large for those times, of fourteen vessels, was fitted out at Lagos by the people there, and the command given by Prince Henry to Lancarote. The object seems to have been, from a speech that is recorded of Lancarote's, to make war upon the Azeneghi Moors, and especially to take revenge for the defeat before mentioned which Gonsalvo de Cintra suffered in 1445 near Cape Blanco. That purpose effected, Lancarote went southward, extending the discovery of the coast to the Gambia. In the course of his proceedings on that coast we find again that Prince Henry's instructions insisted much upon the maintenance of peace with the natives. Another instance of the same disposition on his part deserves to be especially recorded. The expedition had been received in a friendly manner at Gomera, one of the Canary Islands. Notwithstanding this kind reception, some of the natives were taken prisoners. On their being brought to Portugal, Prince Henry had them clothed and afterward set at liberty in the place from which they had been taken.

This expedition under Lancarote had no great result. The Portuguese went a little farther down the coast than they had ever been before, but they did not succeed in making friends of the natives, who had already been treated in a hostile manner by some Portuguese from Madeira. Neither did the expedition make great spoil of any kind. They had got into feuds with the natives, and were preparing to attack them, when a storm dissipated their fleet and caused them to return home.

It appears, I think, from the general course of proceedings of the Portuguese in those times, that they considered there was always war between them and the Azeneghi Moors - that is, in the territory from Ceuta as far as the Senegal River; but that they had no declared hostility against the negroes of Jalof, or of any country farther south, though skirmishes would be sure to happen from ill-understood attempts at friendship on the one side, and just or needless fears on the other.

The last public enterprise of which Prince Henry had the direction was worthy to close his administration of the affairs relating to Portuguese discovery. He caused two ambassadors to be despatched to the King of the Cape Verd territory, to treat of peace and to introduce the Christian faith. One of the ambassadors, a Danish gentleman, was treacherously killed by the natives, and upon that the other returned, having accomplished nothing.

Don Alfonso V, the nephew of Prince Henry, now took the reins of government, and the future expeditions along the coast of Africa proceeded in his name. Still it does not appear that Prince Henry ceased to have power and influence in the management of African affairs; and the first thing that the King did in them was to enact that no one should pass Cape Bojador without a license from Prince Henry. Some time between 1448 and 1454 a fortress was built in one of the islands of Arguim, which islands had already become a place of bargain for gold and negro slaves. This was the first Portuguese establishment on the coast of Africa. It seems that a system of trade was now established between the Portuguese and the negroes.

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