Archaeologists uncover the first settlement founded by free African slaves in America

Archaeologists uncover remains of Santiago del Príncipe, the first settlement founded by free African slaves in America

A team of historians and archaeologists from the University of Barcelona and the Patronato of Panama Viejo have identified the remains of Santiago del Principe, the first settlement founded by free blacks in the Spanish Empire.

Also known as Maroons or Cimarrones, the settlers were former African slaves who escaped, resisted the attacks of the Spanish colonial authorities and mounted attacks of their own on the Spanish mule trains and settlements. Eventually, the collective of free blacks became known as the blacks of Portobelo and signed a peace treaty with the Spanish crown, which acknowledged the freedom of the settlers and granted them land.

Santiago del Principe was the first settlement, founded by free blacks in the Spanish Empire, built in 1579 near Nombre de Dios in Colon.

Population resisted Francis Drake’s pirate attacks like a Numantia with African origins and preferred to burn their houses rather than a British pirate owned them. Now, more than four hundred years later, historians and archaeologists from the University of Barcelona and the Patronate Panamá Viejo have found remains of Santiago del Príncipe after having developed field works on a Panamá’s hill for one year. Previously, they spent one year revising historical sources, from the General Archive of the Indies to historical cartography and texts of the Spanish Golden Age literature.

Finds were presented on a press conference on 19 September at the Centre Cultural de España – Casa del Soldado, in Panama. They are part of the UNESCO project in Panama, Afrocolonial Archaeology – Slave Route Sites of Memory – Resistance, Freedom and Heritage, fostered by IBERTUR – Network of Heritage, Tourism and Sustainable Development, the University of Barcelona — by means of the Research Group on Indigenous and Afro-American Cultures (CINAF) and the Laboratory of Heritage and Cultural Tourism (LAB-PATC)— and the Patronate Panamá Viejo. The project is supported and funded by the Spanish Cultural Heritage Institute within the grants conferred on archaeological projects developed in foreign countries. The National Institute of Culture (INAC) in Panama, UNESCO, the Organisation of Ibero-American States (OEI) and the Ibero-American General Secretariat also collaborate in the project.

The Panama Digest
by hi.di. • September 23, 2014

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