In The Steps of Esteban: Tucson's African American Heritage

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A Brief History

Esteban, A 16th Century Explorer

Probably the first person of African heritage who came to this area was a member of a Spanish expedition. [Smith, 10-12] Esteban was originally from Morocco, and was a slave to a Spaniard. He first arrived in the New World in 1528 with a group sent to Florida to capture Hernan Cortes. Illness and hostile Indian tribes forced the group to leave Florida and flee into the Gulf of Mexico. They were eventually captured by other Indians. Esteban was one of a group who escaped from their captors. Then he joined a group led by a priest, Fray Marcos de Niza, who were searching for the legendary Seven Cities of Cibola.

The group traveled through Guadalajara, Compostela, Culiacan, Topia, Petatlan, Vacapa, and Corazones into what is Arizona today. They followed the San Pedro River Valley north until finally reaching the Zuni city Cibola. Esteban reached the city before the rest of the group, and accounts of his fate vary. Some believe he died there. Other reports say that the Zuni rescued him from slavery by reporting that he had died. They then allowed Esteban to live among them and raise a family.

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