Crossing the Continent, 1527-1540: The Story of the First African-American Explorer of the American South

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Crossing the Continent, 1527-1540: The Story of the First African-American Explorer of the American South. By Robert Goodwin. (New York: HarperCollins, 2009. Pp. xviii, 414. Paper, $14.99, ISBN 978-0-06114045-7.)

Robert Goodwin describes Esteban, a slave of Andres Dorantes de Carranza, as the first African American in a truly transatlantic sense and emphasizes that Esteban became the most influential of the four immortal explorers who crossed North America between 1528 and 1536. Goodwin does not really achieve the goal of providing a full biography of Esteban, but he has produced a very readable story.

The lack of scholarly apparatus immediately alerts one that the work will not be very convincing. Goodwin uses contemporary Spanish accounts and is familiar with Spanish archives. His bibliography lists many secondary sources, but the narrative is basically undocumented, aside from some feeble endnotes.

There are many occasions when the author's overall knowledge can be disputed. For example, Goodwin makes the strange claim that the Hispanic requerimiento had an Islamic background that Muslims supposedly utilized to "enslave non-Muslims who refused to accept Islam" (p. 31). Furthermore, King Carlos V supposedly "accepted that it was better to enslave Indians than to have Spaniards abandon their colonies" (p. 65). In addition, Goodwin incorrectly describes the Portuguese as itching for war with Spain until a 1411 truce, while overlooking the battle of Aljubarrota and the resulting 1386 Treaty of Windsor with England that subsequently enabled Portugal to initiate overseas expansion. Amazingly, Goodwin also characterizes Prince Henry as a "hotheaded fool" (p. …