San Miguel de Guadalupe was not a total failure as the first foreign colony on U.S. soil. In the unplanned way that history meanders and careens, a new community emerged in the woods, which also included foreigners from overseas, the Africans. This new mixed settlement would soon have many American models. Though neither white, Christian, nor European, they became the first settlement of any permanence on these shores to include people from overseas. As such, they qualify as our earliest inheritance.
The Black Indians of the Pee Dee River became the first colony on this continent to practice the belief that all people - newcomer and native - are created equal and are entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
The first Africans brought to the New World by European slavers probably arrived in April 1502 aboard the ship that brought the new governor of Hispaniola, Nicolas de Ovando. Soon after they landed, some Africans escaped to the woods and found a new home among the Native Americans. Later that year Governor Ovando sent a request to King Ferdinand that no more Africans be sent to Americas. His reason was simple: They fled amongst the Indians and taught them bad customs, and never could be captured.
Africans had a virtual immunity to European diseases such as smallpox, which wiped out Native Americans. They soon discovered that Africans had some gifts that made them uniquely valuable. Through their slave experience they qualified as experts on whites - their diplomacy, armaments, motives, strengths, and weaknesses.
In the century following Columbuss landing, millions of Native Americans died from a combination of European diseases, harsh treatment, and murder. Africans took their places in the mines and fields of the New World. The 80 million Native Americans alive in 1492
became only 10 million left alive a century later. But the 10,000 Africans working in the Americas in 1527, had by the end of the century become 90,000 people.
These figures are even more striking within local areas. In 1519 when the Spaniards arrived, Mexico had a population of 25 million Indians. By the end of the century only a million were still alive. The invader calculated that more profit would be made if laborers were worked to death and replaced. In their plans pain and suffering did not count, and no cruelty was considered excessive.
Out of the shifting labor forces a new population emerged of mixed Africans and Native Americans. By 1650 Mexico alone had an African-Indian population (some with white ancestry) of one hundred thousand. A new race was being born.
By the 1570s the flames of revolt were burning brightly in Mexico. One in every ten slaves was living a free life in hiding.
It was in Mexico that Europeans made their strongest effort to keep Africans apart from Native Americans. Black men far outnumbered their women and so sought Indian wives. A Native American wife meant, if she was free, that children born to her would be free, not slaves. So extensive was the contact between red and black people that Spanish law prohibited the two races from living together or marrying.
Racial mixing was so common in Mexico that it became hard to tell by skin color who was free and who was slave.
Not only did Mexicos maroon experience prepare its dark people and mixed races to march to independence, but it cast up a leader in Vicente Guerrero, a Black Indian. Born in Ixtla in 1782, Guerreros parents were of mixed European, Indian, and African stock. As a young man, Guerrero became a mule driver, and in 1810, he was one of the first to enlist in the war for independence.
In his first battle, he was commissioned a captain. As the conflict dragged on for years, the leading revolutionaries died or were captured. But with two thousand ragged men carrying guns and ammunition taken from falleed Spanish soldiers, Guerrero kept the spark of rebellion alive in the Sierra Madre Mountains. Repeatedly Spanish officials tried to persuade the charismatic young man to surrender and return home. They even sent his father to ask him to accept a pardon. Guerrero fought on.
By 1821 the independence movement was headed toward success. Guerreros incorruptibility gave it strength and drew peasant support. His swarthy face, resonant voice, and flashing eyes made him an object of profound respect even among his enemies, reported U.S. historian H. H. Bancroft. In 1824 Guerrero, who had only learned to read a few years before (when he was forty), helped shape the Mexican Constitution. He wrote the provision All inhabitants whether White, African, or Indian, are qualified to hold office.
In 1829 the former mule driver became President of Mexico. He began a program of far-reaching reforms, abolishing the death penalty, starting construction of schools and libraries for the poor. He ended slavery in Mexico. Yet, because of his skin color, lack of education,, and country manner, he was held in contempt by the upper classes in Mexico City.
In 1739 slave fugitives living in St. Augustine built a fort to protect their families and stem British incursions. Spain, with few of its own soldiers, was pleased to have their lands protected by these dark men. The English were furious about a fort guarded by hundreds of armed Africans and their Indian soul mates.