Cannery Islands, Discover Of

Discovery Of The Canary Islands And The African Coast

Author: Helps, Sir Arthur

Discovery Of The Canary Islands And The African Coast

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.

Joham 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 dispatched to the King of the Cape

Verdi 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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