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

Beginning Of Negro Slave Trade, A.D. 1402

The Canary Islands - the "Elysian Fields" and "Fortunate Islands" of antiquity - have perhaps figured in fabulous lore more extensively than any others, and have been discovered, invaded, and conquered more frequently than any country in the world. There has scarcely been a nation of any maritime enterprise that has not had to do with them, and in one manner or another made its appearance in them.

During the period following the death of ancient empires, the Canary Islands lay hidden in the general darkness which fell upon the world. With the modern revival came new and greater mariners, and the islands were once more discovered. It is well to note the connection between these modern rediscoveries and the origin of negro slavery.

In Europe the old pagan slavery existed in many nations, and in the early Christian centuries underwent many modifications through the advance of the new religion and civilization. The modern form of slavery began with the first importation of negroes into Europe, as shown in the following account, from which it appears that the history of modern slavery begins with the history of African discovery.

Petrarch is referred to by Viera to prove that the Genoese sent out an expedition to the Canary Islands. Las Casas mentions that an English or French vessel bound from France or England to Spain was driven by contrary winds to these Islands, and on its return spread abroad in France an account of the voyage. The information thus obtained - or perhaps in other ways of which there is no record - stimulated Don Luis de la Cerda, Count of Clermont, great-grandson of Don Alonzo the Wise of Castile, to seek for the investiture of the crown of the Canaries, which was given to him with much pomp by Clement VI, at Avignon, in 1344, Petrarch being present. This sceptre proved a barren one. The affairs of France, with which state the new King of the Canaries was connected, drew off his attention; and he died without having visited his dominions. The next authentic information that we have of the Canary Islands is that, in the times of Don Juan I of Castile, and of Don Enrique, his son, these islands were much visited by the Spaniards. In 1399, we are told, certain Andalusians, Biscayans, Guipuzcoans, with the consent of Don Enrique, fitted out an expedition of five vessels, and making a descent on the island of Lanzarote, one of the Canaries, took captive the King and Queen, and one hundred and seventy of the islanders.

Hitherto there had been nothing but discoveries, rediscoveries, and invasions of these islands; but at last a colonist appears upon the scene. This was Juan de Bethencourt, a great Norman baron, lord of St. Martin le Gaillard in the County of Eu, of Bethencourt, of Granville, of Sancerre, and other places in Normandy, and chamberlain to Charles VI of France. Those who are at all familiar with the history of that period, and with the mean and cowardly barbarity which characterized the long-continued contests between the rival factions of Orleans and Burgundy, may well imagine that any Frenchman would then be very glad to find a career in some other country. Whatever was the motive of Juan de Bethencourt, he carried out his purpose in the most resolute manner. Leaving his young wife, and selling part of his estate, he embarked at Rochelle in 1402, with men and means for the purpose of conquering, and establishing himself in, the Canary Islands. It is not requisite to give a minute description of this expedition. Suffice it to say that Bethencourt met with fully the usual difficulties, distresses, treacheries, and disasters that attach themselves to this race of enterprising men. After his arrival at the Canaries, finding his means insufficient, he repaired to the court of Castile, did acts of homage to the King, Enrique III, and afterward renewed them to his son Juan II, thereby much strengthening the claim which the Spanish monarchs already made to the dominion of these islands. Bethencourt, returning to the islands with renewed resources, made himself master of the greater part of them, reduced several of the natives to slavery, introduced the Christian faith, built churches, and established vassalage.

On the occasion of quitting his colony in A.D. 1405, he called all his vassals together, and represented to them that he had named for his lieutenant and governor Maciot de Bethencourt, his relation; that he himself was going to Spain and to Rome to seek for a bishop for them; and he concluded his oration with these words: "My loved vassals, great or small, plebeians or nobles, if you have anything to ask me or to inform me of, if you find in my conduct anything to complain of, do not fear to speak; I desire to do favor and justice to all the world." The assembly he was addressing contained none of the slaves he had made. We are told, however, and that by eye-witnesses, that the poor natives themselves bitterly regretted his departure, and, wading through the water, followed his vessel as far as they could. After his visit to Spain and to Rome, he returned to his paternal domains in Normandy, where, while meditating another voyage to his colony, he died in 1425.

Maciot de Bethencourt ruled for some time successfully; but afterward, falling into disputes with the Bishop, and his affairs generally not prospering, he sold his rights to Prince Henry of Portugal - also, as it strangely appears, to another person - and afterward settled in Madeira. The claims to the government of the Canaries were, for many years, in a most entangled state; and the right to the sovereignty over these islands was a constant ground of dispute between the crowns of Spain and Portugal.

Thus ended the enterprise of Juan de Bethencourt, which, though it cannot be said to have led to any very large or lasting results, yet, as it was the first modern attempt of the kind, deserves to be chronicled before commencing with Prince Henry of Portugal's long-continued and connected efforts in the same direction. The events also which preceded and accompanied Bethencourt's enterprise need to be recorded, in order to show the part which many nations, especially the Spaniards, had in the first discoveries on the coast of Africa.


We now turn to the history of the discoveries made, or rather caused to be made, by Prince Henry of Portugal. This Prince was born in 1394. He was the third son of John I of Portugal and Philippa, the daughter of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. That good Plantagenet blood on the mother's side was, doubtless, not without avail to a man whose life was to be spent in continuous and insatiate efforts to work out a great idea. Prince Henry was with his father at the memorable capture of Ceuta, the ancient Septem, in 1415. This town, which lies opposite to Gibraltar, was of great magnificence, and one of the principal marts in that age for the productions of the East. It was here that the Portuguese nation first planted a firm foot in Africa; and the date of this town's capture may, perhaps, be taken as that from which Prince Henry began to meditate further and far greater conquests. His aims, however, were directed to a point long beyond the range of the mere conquering soldier. He was especially learned, for that age of the world, being skilled in mathematical and geographical knowledge. And it may be noticed here that the greatest geographical discoveries have been made by men conversant with the book knowledge of their own time. A work, for instance, often seen in the hands of Columbus, which his son mentions as having had much influence with him, was the learned treatise of Cardinal Petro de Aliaco (Pierre d'Ailly), the Imago Mundi.

But to return to Prince Henry of Portugal. We learn that he had conversed much with those who had made voyages in different parts of the world, and particularly with Moors from Fez and Morocco, so that he came to hear of the Azeneghis, a people bordering on the country of the negroes of Jalof. Such was the scanty information of a positive kind which the Prince had to guide his endeavors. Then there were the suggestions and the inducements which to a willing mind were to be found in the shrewd conjectures of learned men, the fables of chivalry, and, perhaps, in the confused records of forgotten knowledge once possessed by Arabic geographers. The story of Prister John, which had spread over Europe since the crusades, was well known to the Portuguese Prince. A mysterious voyage of a certain wandering saint, called St. Brendan, was not without its influence upon an enthusiastic mind. Moreover, there were many sound motives urging the Prince to maritime discovery; among which, a desire to fathom the power of the Moors, a wish to find a new outlet for traffic, and a longing to spread the blessings of the faith may be enumerated. The especial reason which impelled Prince Henry to take the burden of discovery on himself was that neither mariner nor merchant would be likely to adopt an enterprise in which there was no clear hope of profit. It belonged, therefore, to great men and princes, and among such he knew of no one but himself who was inclined to it.

The map of the world being before us, let us reduce it to the proportions it filled in Prince Henry's time: let us look at our infant world. First, take away those two continents, for so we may almost call them, each much larger than a Europe, to the far west. Then cancel that square, massive-looking piece to the extreme southeast; happily there are no penal settlements there yet. Then turn to Africa: instead of that form of inverted cone which it presents, and which we now know there are physical reasons for its presenting, make a cimetar shape of it, by running a slightly curved line from Juba on the eastern side of Cape Nam on the western. Declare all below that line unknown. Hitherto, we have only been doing the work of destruction; but now scatter emblems of hippogriffs and anthropophagi on the outskirts of what is left in the map, obeying a maxim, not confined to the ancient geographers only - where you know nothing, place terrors. Looking at the map thus completed, we can hardly help thinking to ourselves, with a smile, what a small space, comparatively speaking, the known history of the world has been transacted in, up to the last four hundred years. The idea of the universality of the Roman dominions shrinks a little; and we begin to fancy that Ovid might have escaped his tyrant. The ascertained confines of the world were now, however, to be more than doubled in the course of one century; and to Prince Henry of Portugal, as to the first promoter of these vast discoveries, our attention must be directed.

This Prince, having once the well-grounded idea in his mind that Africa did not end where it was commonly supposed, namely, at Cape Nam (Not), but that there was a world beyond that forbidding negative, seems never to have rested until he had made known that quarter of the globe to his own. He fixed his abode upon the promontory of Sagres, at the southern part of Portugal, whence, for a many year, he could watch for the rising specks of white sail bringing back his captains to tell him of new countries and new men. We may wonder that he never went himself; but he may have thought that he served the cause better by remaining at home and forming a centre whence the electric energy of enterprise was communicated to many discoverers, and then again collected from them. Moreover, he was much engaged in the public affairs of his country. In the course of his life he was three times in Africa, carrying on war against the Moors; and at home, besides the care and trouble which the state of the Portuguese court and government must have given him, he was occupied in promoting science and encouraging education.

In 1415, as before noticed, he was at Ceuta. In 1418 he was settled on the promontory of Sagres. One night in that year he is thought to have had a dream of promise, for on the ensuing morning he suddenly ordered two vessels to be got ready forthwith, and to be placed under the command of two gentlemen of his household, Joham Goncalvez Zarco and Tristam Vaz, whom he ordered to proceed down the Barbary coast on a voyage of discovery.

A contemporary chronicler, Azurara, whose work has recently been discovered and published, tells the story more simply, and merely states that these captains were young men, who, after the ending of the Ceuta campaign, were as eager for employment as the Prince for discovery; and that they were ordered on a voyage having for its object the general molestation of the Moors, as well as that of making discoveries beyond Cape Nam. The Portuguese mariners had a proverb about this cape - "He who would pass Cape Not, either will return or not"; intimating that, if he did not turn before passing the cape, he would never return at all. On the present occasion it was not destined to be passed; for these captains, Joham Goncalvez Zarco and Tristam Vaz, were driven out of their course by storms, and accidentally discovered a little island, where they took refuge, and from that circumstance called the island Porto Santo. "They found there a race of people living in no settled polity, but not altogether barbarous or savage, and possessing a kindly and most fertile soil."

I give this description of the first land discovered by Prince Henry's captains, thinking it would well apply to many other lands about to be found out by his captains and by other discoverers. Joham Goncalvez Zarco and Tristam Vaz returned. Their master was delighted with the news they brought him, more on account of its promise than its substance. In the same year he sent them out again, together with a third captain, named Bartholomew Perestrelo, assigning a ship to each captain. His object was not only to discover more lands, but also to improve those which had been discovered. He sent, therefore, various seeds and animals to Porto Santo. This seems to have been a man worthy to direct discovery. Unfortunately, however, among the animals some rabbits were introduced into the new island; and they conquered it, not for the Prince, but for themselves. Hereafter, we shall find that they gave his people much trouble, and caused no little reproach to him.

We come now to the year 1419. Perestrelo, for some unknown cause, returned to Portugal at that time. After his departure, Joham Goncalvez Zarco and Tristam Vaz, seeing from Porto Santo something that seemed like a cloud, but yet different - the origin of so much discovery, noting the difference in the likeness - built two boats, and, making for this cloud, soon found themselves alongside a beautiful island, abounding in many things, but most of all in trees, on which account they gave it the name of "Madeira" (Wood). The two discoverers entered the island at different parts. The Prince, their master, afterward rewarded them with the captaincies of those parts. To Perestrelo he gave the island of Porto Santo to colonize it. Perestrelo, however, did not make much of his captaincy, but after a strenuous contest with the rabbits, having killed an army of them, died himself. This captain has a place in history as being the father-in-law of Columbus, who, indeed, lived at Porto Santo for some time, and here, on new-found land, meditated far bolder discoveries.

Joćo Goncalvez Zarco and Tristam Vaz began the cultivation of their island of Madeira, but met with an untoward event at first. In clearing the wood, they kindled a fire among it, which burned for seven years, we are told; and in the end, that which had given its name to the island, and which, in the words of the historian, overshadowed the whole land, became the most deficient commodity. The captains founded churches in the island; and the King of Portugal, Don Duarte, gave the temporalities to Prince Henry, and all the spiritualities to the Knights of Christ.


While these things were occurring at Madeira and at Porto Santo, Prince Henry had been prosecuting his general scheme of discovery, sending out two or three vessels each year, with orders to go down the coast from Cape Nam, and make what discoveries they could; but these did not amount to much, for the captains never advanced beyond Cape Bojador, which is situated seventy leagues to the south of Cape Nam. This Cape Bojador was formidable in itself, being terminated by a ridge of rocks with fierce currents running round them, but was much more formidable from the fancies which the mariners had formed of the sea and land beyond it. "It is clear," they were wont to say, "that beyond this cape there is no people whatever; the land is as bare as Libya - no water, no trees, no grass in it; the sea so shallow that at a league from the land it is only a fathom deep; the currents so fierce that the ship which passes that cape will never return;" and thus their theories were brought in to justify their fears. This outstretcher - for such is the meaning of the word bojador - was, therefore, as a bar drawn across that advance in maritime discovery which had for so long a time been the first object of Prince Henry's life.

The Prince had now been working at his discoveries for twelve years, with little approbation from the generality of persons; the discovery of these islands, Porto Santo and Madeira, serving to whet his appetite for further enterprise, but not winning the common voice in favor of prosecuting discoveries on the coast of Africa. The people at home, improving upon the reports of the sailors, said that "the land which the Prince sought after was merely some sandy place like the deserts of Libya; that princes had possessed the empires of the world, and yet had not undertaken such designs as his, nor shown such anxiety to find new kingdoms; that the men who arrived in those foreign parts - if they did arrive - turned from white into black men; that the King Don John, the Prince's father, had endowed foreigners with land in his kingdom, to break it up and cultivate it - a thing very different from taking the people out of Portugal, which had need of them, to bring them among savages to be eaten, and to place them upon lands of which the mother country had no need; that the Author of the world had provided these islands solely for the habitation of wild beasts, of which an additional proof was that those rabbits the discoverers themselves had introduced were now dispossessing them of the island.

There is much here of the usual captiousness to be found in the criticism of bystanders upon action, mixed with a great deal of false assertion and premature knowledge of the ways of Providence. Still, it were to be wished that most criticism upon action was as wise; for that part of the common talk which spoke of keeping their own population to bring out their own resources had a wisdom in it which the men of future centuries were yet to discover throughout the peninsula. Prince Henry, as may be seen by his perseverance up to this time, was not a man to have his purposes diverted by such criticism, much of which must have been, in his eyes, worthless and inconsequent in the extreme. Nevertheless, he had his own misgivings. His captains came back one after another with no good tidings of discovery, but with petty plunder gained, as they returned from incursions on the Moorish coast.

The Prince concealed from them his chagrin at the fruitless nature of their attempts, but probably did not feel it less on that account. He began to think: Was it for him to hope to discover that land which had been hidden from so many princes? Still, he felt within himself the incitement of "a virtuous obstinacy," which would not let him rest. Would it not, he thought, be ingratitude to God, who thus moved his mind to these attempts, if he were to desist from his work, or be negligent in it? He resolved, therefore, to send out again Gil Eannes, one of his household, who had been sent the year before, but had returned, like the rest, having discovered nothing. He had been driven to the Canary Islands, and had seized upon some of the natives there, whom he brought back. With this transaction the Prince had shown himself dissatisfied; and Gil Eannes, now intrusted again with command, resolved to meet all dangers rather than to disappoint the wishes of his master. Before his departure, the Prince called him aside and said: "You cannot meet with such peril that the hope of your reward shall not be much greater; and in truth, I wonder what imagination this is that you have all taken up - in a matter, too, of so little certainty; for if these things which are reported had any authority, however little, I would not blame you so much. But you quote to me the opinions of four mariners, who, as they were driven out of their way to Frandes or to some other ports to which they commonly navigated, had not, and could not have used, the needle and the chart; but do you go, however, and make your voyage without regard to their opinion, - and, by the grace of God, you will not bring out of it anything but honor and profit."

We may well imagine that these stirring words of the Prince must have confirmed Gil Eannes in his resolve to efface the stain of his former misadventure. And he succeeded in doing so; for he passed the dreaded Cape Bojador - a great event in the history of African discovery, and one that in that day was considered equal to a labor of Hercules. Gil Eannes returned to a grateful and most delighted master. He informed the Prince that he had landed, and that the soil appeared to him unworked and fruitful; and, like a prudent man, he could not tell of foreign plants, but had brought some of them home with him in a barrel of the new-found earth - plants much like those which bear in Portugal the roses of Santa Maria. The Prince rejoiced to see them, and gave thanks to God, "as if they had been the fruit and sign of the promised land; and besought Our Lady, whose name the plants bore, that she would guide and set forth the doings in this discovery to the praise and glory of God and to the increase of his holy faith."

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."


In 1444 a company was formed at Lagos, who received permission from the Prince to undertake discovery along the coast of Africa, paying him a certain portion of any gains which they might make. This has been considered as a company founded for carrying on the slave trade; but the evidence is by no means sufficient to show that its founders meant such to be its purpose. It might rather be compared to an expedition sent out, as we should say in modern times, with letters of marque, in which, however, the prizes chiefly hoped for were not ships nor merchandise, but men. The only thing of any moment, however, which the expedition accomplished was to attack, successfully the inhabitants of the islands Nar and Tider, and to bring back about two hundred slaves. I grieve to say that there is no evidence of Prince Henry's putting a check to any of these proceedings; but, on the contrary, it appears that he rewarded with large honors Lancarote, one of the principal men of this expedition, and received his own fifth of the slaves. Yet I have scarcely a doubt that the words of the historian are substantially true - that discovery, not gain, was still the Prince's leading idea. We have an account from an eye-witness of the partition of the slaves brought back by Lancarote, which, as it is the first transaction of the kind on record, is worthy of notice, more especially as it may enable the reader to understand the motives of the Prince and of other men of those times. It is to be found in the Chronicle, before referred to, of Azurara. The merciful chronicler is smitten to the heart at the sorrow he witnesses, but still believes it to be for good, and that he must not let his mere earthly commiseration get the better of his piety.

"O thou heavenly Father," he exclaims, "who, with thy powerful hand, without movement of thy divine essence, governest all the infinite company of thy holy city, and who drawest together all the axles of the upper worlds, divided into nine spheres, moving the times of their long and short periods as it pleases thee! I implore thee that my tears may not condemn my conscience, for not its law; but our common humanity, constrains my humanity to lament piteously the sufferings of these people (slaves). And if the brute animals, with their mere bestial sentiments, by a natural instinct, recognize the misfortunes of their like, what must this by human nature do, seeing thus before my eyes this wretched company, remembering that I myself am of the generation of the sons of Adam! The other day, which was the eight of August, very early in the morning, by reason of the heat, the mariners began to bring to their vessels, and, as they had been commanded, to draw forth those captives to take them out of the vessel: whom, placed together on that plain, it was a marvellous sight to behold; for among them there were some of a reasonable degree of whiteness, handsome and well made; others less white, resembling leopards in their color; others as black as Ethiopians, and so ill-formed, as well in their faces as their bodies, that it seemed to the beholders as if they saw the forms of a lower hemisphere.

"But what heart was that, how hard soever, which was not pierced with sorrow, seeing that company: for some had sunken cheeks, and their faces bathed in tears, looking at each other; others were groaning very dolorously, looking at the heights of the heavens, fixing their eyes upon them, crying out loudly, as if they were asking succor from the Father of nature; others struck their faces with their hands, throwing themselves on the earth; others made their lamentations in songs, according to the customs of their country, which, although we could not understand their language, we saw corresponded well to the height of their sorrow. But now, for the increase of their grief, came those who had the charge of the distribution, and they began to put them apart one from the other, in order to equalize the portions, wherefore it was necessary to part children and parents, husbands and wives, and brethren from each other. Neither in the partition of friends and relations was any law kept, only each fell where the lot took him. O powerful Fortune! who goest hither and thither with thy wheels, compassing the things of the world as it pleaseth thee, if thou canst, place before the eyes of this miserable nation some knowledge of the things that are to come after them, that they may receive some consolation in the midst of their great sadness! and you others who have the business of this partition, look with pity on such great misery, and consider how can those be parted whom you cannot disunite Who will be able to make this partition without great difficulty? for while they were placing in one part the children that saw their parents in another, the children sprang up perseveringly and fled to them; the mothers enclosed their children in their arms and threw themselves with them on the ground, receiving wounds with little pity for their own flesh, so that their offspring might not be torn from them!

"And so, with labor and difficulty, they concluded the partition, for, besides the trouble they had with the captives, the plain was full of people, as well of the place as of the villages and neighborhood around, who in that day gave rest to their hands, the mainstay of their livelihood, only to see this novelty. And as they looked upon these things, some deploring, some reasoning upon them, they made such a riotous noise as greatly to disturb those who had the management of this distribution. The Infante was there upon a powerful horse, accompanied by his people, looking out his share, but as a man who for his part did not care for gain, for, of the forty-six souls which fell to his fifth, he speedily made his choice, as all his principal riches were in his contentment, considering with great delight the salvation of those souls which before were lost. And certainly his thought was not vain, for as soon as they had knowledge of our language they readily became Christians; and I, who have made this history in this volume, have seen in the town of Lagos young men and young women, the sons and grandsons of those very captives, born in this land, as good and as true Christians as if they had lineally descended, since the commencement of the law of Christ, from those who were first baptized."

The good Azurara wished that these captives might have some foresight of the things to happen after their death. I do not think, however, that it would have proved much consolation to them to have foreseen that they were almost the first of many millions to be dealt with as they had been; for, in this year 1444, Europe may be said to have made a distinct beginning in the slave trade, henceforth to spread on all sides, like the waves upon stirred water, and not, like them, to become fainter and fainter as the circles widen.


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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