First Liberator of the Americas

Gaspar YangaThe history of the African slave and his fight for freedom is often focused on the United States, their emancipation by President Lincoln in 1863. Yet the history of their fight for freedom extends further back in history and reaches the depths of the American continent.

In 1570, a community of African slaves, led by Gaspar Yanga, started a rebellion in Mexico during the early period of Spanish colonial rule. This uprising took refuge in the difficult terrain of the highlands, near Cordoba outside the city of Veracruz, and established San Lorenzo de los Negros.

The small community of runaway slaves, or palenque, living on the mountaintops, grew for nearly 40 years. Yanga assumed leadership of the palenque, he structured the agricultural community in an ordered capacity, allowing its growth. Part of the survival tactic was looting caravans of trade goods along the Camino Real (Royal Road) between Veracruz and Mexico City. They were also believed to have attacked nearby haciendas. In 1609, the Spanish colonial viceroy decieded to try and regain control of  Yanga and his Palenque, not only to control these slave but to send a message to others.

While most of the slave troops were armed only with primitive weapons, they were able to take advantage over the Spaniards with their knowledge of heavy terrain. The goal was to cause the Spaniards enough pain to corner them into negotiation and after years of battle, the Spaniards agreed. The negotiation also lasted years, Yanga had 11 conditions for peace, most important of which was recognition of the freedom of all of the palenque’s residents. Yanga, in turn, promised to serve and pay tribute to the Spanish crown. Finally, in 1618, the town of San Lorenzo de Los Negros was officially recognized by Spanish authorities as a free black settlement. This town would later be referred to as Yanga, named after its founder, the first liberator of the Americas.


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