Esteban

Early in the 1520s, Esteban de Azemmour was purchased as a slave by Spanish naval captain Andrés Dorantes (Esteban would later sometimes be known as Esteban Dorantes orby the colonialist diminutive, Estebanico, or often simply as Esteban, the Moor), and in 1527 was part of a Spanish expedition that landed on the western shore of Florida.

Reconstructed route of the Narváez-Cabeza de Vaca expedition. Made by Lencer.

Most of that Spanish entrada – once 600 soldiers-strong – died, losing vessels to storms in the passage, losing battles to indigenous forces and losing numbers to bouts with disease as they journeyed from the panhandle through the Gulf of Mexico and to near what is now Galveston. Ultimately, Esteban was one of only four survivors who covered the last of an arduous sun-stroked trek – barefoot and near starving – toward Mexico. Along the way, he and the others (including Cabeza de Vaca whose Relación is one of the only surviving records) inspired many they encountered with tales of survival and, reputedly, with feats of healing.

In the ensuing years, Esteban traveled inland to the north and west, learning languages and customs of indigenous peoples, recounting his adventures, translating and trading information and leading explorations before eventually settling near Culiacán in the Sinaloa region of Mexico in 1536. He died under somewhat uncertain circumstances in 1539 when, at the direction of the Spanish Viceroy, he set off in search of mythic cities of gold and riches near Hawikuh in what would later be known as New Mexico. As an enslaved person of African origin, Esteban was relegated to the margins of history, but his was, by any measure, a life of substance and consequence in the complex story of the Americas. A life lived at thresholds and intersections; ambassador and transgressor, survivor and explorer, leader, resister, pioneer, shaman, servant and soldier.