The Slave Who Found a New World

Many American history textbooks mention the African explorer Esteban Dorantes. Some voice certainty about his participation in the first, ill-fated Spanish expedition across the American South in 1528 and his discovery in 1538-39 of Arizona and New Mexico. Others cautiously place him in a mixture of fact and mythology.

In Crossing the Continent, Robert Goodwin, a British historian and expert on the Spanish colonial empire, takes us on a scholarly and geographical journey in search of the real Esteban. And Esteban was real. He was born somewhere in sub-Saharan Africa around 1500. He was sold into slavery in the coastal town of Azemmour, Morocco, and arrived in Spain in 1522. In the large slave market in the teeming city of Seville, he was sold again, this time to Andrés Dorantes de Carranza, a captain and conquistador. And that, in short, is how Esteban came to be aboard one of five ships that sailed from Spain in 1527, first to Santo Domingo and then on to Florida in search of gold and glory.