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Estevanico (c. 1500–1539) was a Moroccan-Berber who was the first known person born in Africa to land in the present-day continental United States. He is known by many different names, commonly known as Esteban de Dorantes, Estebanico and Esteban the Moor. Enslaved as a youth by the Portuguese, he was sold to a Spanish nobleman and taken in 1527 on the Spanish Narváez expedition. He was one of four survivors among the 600-man expedition, and traveled for eight years with Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, Andrés Dorantes de Carranza, and Alonso del Castillo Maldonado across northern New Spain (present-day U.S. Southwest and northern Mexico), before they reached Spanish forces in Mexico City in 1536.

Later Estevanico served as the main guide for a return expedition to the Southwest, where Spaniards believed he was killed in the Zuni city of Hawikuh in 1539.

Early life[edit]

Estevanico was sold into slavery in 1522 in the Portuguese-controlled Berber town of Azemmour, on Morocco's Atlantic coast. Some contemporary accounts referred to him as an "Arabized black";[1] or "Moor", a generic term often used for anyone from North Africa. Diego de Guzmán, a contemporary of Estevanico who saw him in Sinaloa in 1536, described him as "brown".[2] He was raised as a Muslim, but because Spain did not allow non-Catholics to travel to the New World, some believe he converted to Roman Catholicism.[3] In 1520 he was sold to Andrés Dorantes de Carranza, a Spanish nobleman.

North American explorer[edit]

Reconstructed route of the Narváez-Cabeza de Vaca expedition.

Estevanico traveled with Dorantes to Hispaniola and Cuba with Pánfilo de Narváez's ill-fated expedition of 1527 to colonize Florida and the Gulf Coast. Estevanico became the first person from Africa known to have landed in the present continental United States. After a failed settlement attempt near present-day Tampa Bay, Florida, the party made a series of makeshift boats to try and reach Mexico. The boats wrecked off the coast of Texas, and eventually only Estevanico, Dorantes, de Vaca and Castillo remained alive.[4] The four spent years enslaved on the Texas Gulf Islands.

In 1534 they escaped into the American interior, contacting other Native American tribes along the way. The acts of all four as faith-healers appeared to have helped them with the Indians, who told them about rich native cities to the north.[2] The party traversed the continent as far as western Mexico, into the Sonoran Desert to the region of Sonora in New Spain (present-day Mexico), where they were found by a slave-hunting group of Spaniards.

In Mexico City, the four survivors told stories of wealthy indigenous tribes to the north, which created a stir among Spaniards in Mexico.[5] When the three Spaniards declined to lead an expedition, Estevanico was sold or given to Antonio de Mendoza, the Viceroy of New Spain. He used Estevanico as a guide in expeditions to the North.

In 1539, Estevanico was one of four men who accompanied Friar Marcos de Niza as a guide in search of the fabled Seven Cities of Cibola, preceding Coronado by a year. Estevanico traveled ahead of the main party with a group of Sonoran Indians. He was instructed to communicate by sending back crosses to the main party, with the size of the cross equal to the wealth discovered. One day, a cross arrived that was as tall as a person, causing de Niza to step up his pace to join the scouts.[6] Estevanico had entered the Zuni village of Hawikuh (in present-day New Mexico). He had sent a gourd. The Zuni reportedly killed him and expelled the Mexican Indians with him from the village.[2] After seeing this, De Niza quickly returned to New Spain.

Some historians suggest the Zuni did not believe Estevanico's story that he represented a party of whites, and that he was killed for demanding women and turquoise.[2] Roberts and Roberts write that "still others suggest that Estevan, who was black and wore feathers and rattles, may have looked like a wizard to the Zuni."[7] But both theories are speculation.

Juan Francisco Maura suggested in 2002 that the Zunis did not kill Estevanico, and that he and friends among the Indians faked his death so he could gain freedom.[8]

Some folklore legends say that the Kachina figure, Chakwaina, is based on Estevanico.[9]


Estevanico is known by different names, in the Portuguese, Spanish, Arabic and English languages, in a variety of historic works. Among the most common are Arabic: إستيفانيكو‎; "Mustafa Zemmouri" (مصطفى زموري), "Black Stephen"; "Esteban"; "Esteban the Moor"; "Estevan", "Estebanico", "Stephen the Black", "Stephen the Moor"; "Stephen Dorantes" and "Esteban de Dorantes," after his owner Andres Dorantes;[10] and "Little Stephen".

Estevanico in Fiction[edit]

The Moor's Account, a 2014 novel by Laila Lalami, is a fictional memoir of Estevanico, the Moroccan slave who survived the Narváez expedition and accompanied Cabeza de Vaca—and who is thus the first black explorer of America. Lalami explains that little is known about him except for one line in Cabeza de Vaca's chronicle: "The fourth [survivor] is Estevanico, an Arab Negro from Azamor."[11]

Estevanico in Popular Culture[edit]

The character Esteban from The Mysterious Cities Of Gold was believed to be loosely based on the story of Estevanico.[12]

Professor A.L.I. an educator and rapper often goes by the alter-ego Black Steven, a nod to Estevanico the Moor.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Robert Goodwin, Crossing the Continent, 1527-1540, Introduction, New York: Harper Collins, 2008
  2. ^ a b c d Donald E. Chipman, "Estevanico", Handbook of Texas Online, accessed 13 Aug 2009
  3. ^ Horwitz, Tony (2009). A Voyage Long and Strange: On Vikings, Conquistadors, Lost Colonists, and Other Adventurers in Early America the Trail of. New York: MacMillan. p. 131. 
  4. ^ Cabeza de Vaca, Álvar Núñez (1983). Cabeza de Vaca's Adventures in the Unknown Interior of America. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press. pp. Chapter II. 
  5. ^ Chipman, Donald T.; Denise Joseph (1999). Notable Men and Women of Spanish Texas. Austin, Tx: University of Texas Press. p. 17. 
  6. ^ Weigle, Marta (2003). The Lore of New Mexico. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. pp. 38–39. 
  7. ^ Roberts, C.A.; Roberts, S. (2006). New Mexico. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico. pp. 24–26. 
  8. ^ Maura, Juan Francisco (2002). "Nuevas interpretaciones sobre las aventuras de Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, Esteban de Dorantes, y Fray Marcos de Niza". Revista de Estudios Hispánicos 29 (1-2): 129–154. 
  9. ^ Washburn, Wilcomb E. (1996). The Cambridge history of the Native Peoples of the Americas, Part 1. London: Cambridge University Press. p. 371. 
  10. ^ Katz, William Loren (1971). The Black West. Garden City, NJ: Doubleday & Company, Inc. 
  11. ^ Laila Lalami, The Moor's Account. New York: Pantheon Books, 2014. ISBN 978-0307911667.
  12. ^ [1] 5 May 2008 (accessed 21 December 2014)
  13. ^ [2] 20 May 2011 (accessed 21 November 2014)


  • Arrington, Carolyn. Black Explorer in Spanish Texas: Estevanico, Austin, TX: Eakin Press, 1986
  • Goodwin, Robert. Crossing the Continent, 1527-1540, New York: Harper Collins, 2008
  • Katz, William Loren. The Black West, Garden City, NJ: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1971
  • Logan, Rayford. "Estevanico, Negro Discoverer of the Southwest: A Critical Reexamination", Phylon 1 (1940): 305-314.
  • Maura, Juan Francisco. Burlador de América: Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, Parnaseo/Lemir. Valencia: Universidad de Valencia, 2008.
  • Maura, Juan Francisco. “Nuevas interpretaciones sobre las aventuras de Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, Esteban de Dorantes, y Fray Marcos de Niza,” Revista de Estudios Hispánicos (PR). 29.1-2 (2002): 129-154.
  • Shepherd, Elizabeth. The Discoveries of Esteban the Black, New York: Dodd, Mead, 1970. pp. 111–4.*
  • Lalami, Laila. The Moor's Account, New York: Pantheon Books, 2014. Fictional memoir of Estebanico's life.

External links[edit]