Slavery Timeline 1501-1600
A Chronology of Slavery, Abolition, and Emancipation in the Sixteenth Century
This page contains a detailed timeline of the main historical, literary, and cultural events connected with slavery, abolition, and emancipation between 1501 and 1600. It focuses on the nations and colonies of the British Isles, but also includes references to the most significant events taking place outside of the British zone of influence (in the sixteenth century that was most of the world) as well as key events in the history of European exploration and colonisation.
While there is plenty of detail in this timeline, it is of course impossible to record every event related to slavery in this period. The following selection is thus intended to provide an overview of the topic only. If there is something I have left out that you think should be included, please let me know.
Click on a date in the list below, or scroll down the page, for information. Links are given to pages on this website only. For my sources and for further reading, look at the page Further Reading: Slavery, Abolition, and Emancipation.
- October 1501: John Blanke, an African musician, arrives in England as one of the African attendants of Katherine of Aragon. Blanke would play the trumpet for the courts of both Henry VII and Henry VIII at least until 1511.
- 1502: Juan de Córdoba of Seville becomes the first merchant we can identify to send an African slave to the New World. Córdoba, like other merchants, is permitted by the Spanish authorities to send only one slave. Others send two or three.
- 1504: a small group of Africans - probably slaves captured from a Portuguese vessel - are brought to the court of King James IV of
- 1505: first record of sugar cane being grown in the New World, in Santo Domingo (modern Dominican Republic).
- 1509: Columbus's son, Diego Cólon, becomes governor of the new Spanish empire in the Carribean. He soon complains that Native American slaves do not work hard enough.
- 22 January 1510: the start of the systematic transportation of African slaves to the New World: King Ferdinand of Spain authorises a shipment of 50 African slaves to be sent to Santo Domingo.
- 2 April 1513: Juan Ponce de Leon becomes the first European to reach the coast of what is now the United States of America (modern Florida).
- 1516: the governor of Cuba, Diego Velázquez, authorises slave-raiding expeditions to Central America. One group of slaves aboard a Spanish caravel rebel and kill the Spanish crew before sailing home - the first successful slave rebellion recorded in the New World.
- 1516: in his book Utopia, Sir Thomas More argues that his ideal society would have slaves but they would not be 'non-combatant prisoners-of-war, slaves by birth, or purchases from foreign slave markets.' Rather, they would be local convicts or 'condemned criminals from other countries, who are acquired in large numbers, sometimes for a small payment, but usually for nothing.' (Trans. Paul Turner, Penguin, 1965)
- 18 August 1518: in a significant escalation of the slave trade, Charles V grants his Flemish courtier Lorenzo de Gorrevod permission to import 4000 African slaves into New Spain. From this point onwards thousands of slaves are sent to the New World each year.
- 20 September 1519: The circumnavigation expedition of Ferdinand Magellan sets out from San Lucar de Barameda. In December 1520, Magellan discovered the ocean which he named the Pacific. Magellan died in the Philipines, 27 April 1521. Only one of the five ships to set out returned to Spain, on 8 September 1522.
- 13 August 1521: with the capture of King Cuahutemotzin by Hernan Cortés and the fall of the city of Mexico, the Aztec empire is overthrown and Mexico comes under Spanish Rule.
- 1522: A major slave rebellion breaks out on the island of Hispaniola. This is the first significant uprising of African slaves. After this, slave resistance becomes widespread and uprisings common.
- 1524: 300 African slaves taken to Cuba to work in the gold mines.
- 1526: Hieronymous Seiler and Heinrich Ehinger of Konstanz become the first Germans we know to have become involved in the slave trade.
- 1527: earliest records of sugar production in Jamaica, later a major sugar producing region of the British Empire. Sugar production is rapidly expanding throughout the Caribbean region at this time - with the mills almost exclusivly worked by African slaves.
- November 1528: a slave called Esteban (or Estevanico) becomes the first African slave to step foot on what is now the United States of America. He was one of only four survivors of Pánfilo de Narváez's failed expedition to Florida. He and the other three took eight years to walk to the Spanish colony in Mexico. After their return in 1536, the group's leader, Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, published an account of their journey through modern Texas and Mexico (1542).
- 1530: Juan de la Barrera, a Seville merchant, begins transporting slaves directly from Africa to the New World (before this, slaves had normally passed through Europe first). His lead is quickly followed by other slave traders.
- 1532: William Hawkins of Plymouth becomes the first English mariner to visit the coast of West Africa, although he does not take part in slave trading.
- 22 January 1532: Martim Afonso de Souza founds the first Portuguese colony in Brazil at São Vicente. Sugar production begins almost immediately.
- 15 November 1532: Francisco Pizaro massacres the Incas at Caxamalca (modern Caxamarca) and captures King Atahuallpa, an event that marks the Spanish conquest of Peru.
- 30 May 1539: Hernando de Soto, following reports from Cabeza de Vaca, lands on the coast of Florida. Of about 1200 men in his expedition, around 50 were African slaves. After exploring modern Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, and South Carolina, the expedition ended in disaster.
- September 1541: on his third voyage to Canada, Jacques Cartier establishes the first French colony in the New World at Charlesbourg-Royal, close to modern Québec.
- 1546: Jacques Francis, an enslaved African salvage diver, probably orginally from Mauretania, arrives in Portsmouth as part of a team hired to salvage guns from the wreck of the stricken Mary Rose.
- February 1548: Jacques Francis becames the first known African to give evidence in an English court of law when his Venetian master, Peter Paulo Corsi, is accused of theft by a consortium of Italian merchants based in Southampton. Francis gave evidence in Portuguese through a translator.
- 1555: the Portuguese sailor Fernão de Oliveira, in Arte de Guerra no mar (The Art of War at Sea), denounces the slave trade as an 'evil trade'. The book anticipates many of the arguments made by abolitionists in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
- 1555: Queen Mary of England, under pressure from the Spanish, forbids English involvement in Guinea.
- July 1555: a small group of Africans from Shama (modern Ghana) described as slaves are brought to London by John Lok, a London
merchant hoping to break into the African trade.
- 10 November 1555: a group of Norman and Breton sailors, under the command of Nicolas de Villegagnon, found the first French colony in South America. The settlement, close to modern Rio De Janiero in Brazil, is named La France Antarctique.
- 1556: The Italian city of Genoa tries to prevent trading in slaves - not for any humanitarian reasons - but only in an attempt to reduce the numbers of Africans in the city.
- 1556: Domingo de Soto, in De justicia et de jure libri X (Ten Books on Justice and Law), argues that it is wrong to keep in slavery any person who was born free.
- October 1562: John Hawkins of Plymouth becomes the first English sailor that we know about to have obtained African slaves - approximately 300 of them in Sierra Leone - for sale in the West Indies. Hawkins traded the slaves illegally with Spanish colonies, but the trip was profitable and others followed. These contributed to increasing tensions between England and Spain. (As well as initiating the English slave trade, Hawkins also introduced both the potato and tobacco to England.)
- 1569: a Sevillian Dominican, Tomás de Mercado, publishes Tratos y contratos de mercaderes (Practices and Contracts of Merchants), which attacks the way the slave trade is conducted.
- 1571: the Parlement of Bordeaux sets all slaves - "blacks and moors" - in the town free, declaring slavery illegal in France.
- 1573: a Spanish-Mexican lawyer, Bartolemé Frías de Albornoz, publishes Arte de los contratos (The Art of Contracts), which casts doubt on the legality of the slave trade.
- 20 February 1575: Paulo Dias de Novães founds the Portuguese colony of São Paulo de Luanda on the African mainland (modern Angola). The colony soon became a major slave-trading port supplying the vast Brazilian market.
- 13 December 1577: Sir Francis Drake sets out from Plymouth on his circumnavigation of the globe. (Returns 26 September 1580)
- 29 January 1579: with the Union of Utrecht, the northern provinces of the Low Countries unite to create a Calvinist republic free from Spanish rule. The United Provinces (modern Netherlands) soon becomes an important slave-trading nation and an aspiring colonial power.
- 1580: Following the death of King Henry of Portugal, and a short campaign by the duke of Alva, Spain and Portugal are united under Philip II of Spain. Spain thus becomes the most important colonial power - and the largest participant in the slave trade.
- 27 July 1585: the first English colony in the New World is established at Roanoke Island (modern North Carolina), organised by Sir Walter Raleigh and governed by Ralph Lane. It was not successful, and the colonists withdrew in June 1586.
- 16 November 1585: In the first of a series of attacks on Spanish colonial interests, Sir Francis Drake sacks the slave-trading settlement of Santiago in the Cape Verde Islands.
- 11 January 1586: Sir Francis Drake sacks the Spanish colony of Santo Domingo (modern Dominican republic). He goes on to sack Cartagena (modern Columbia) and St. Augustine (modern Florida). These acts of piracy are among the factors that precipitate war between England and Spain.
- 23 July 1587: A second English colony is founded at Roanoke Island, again organised by Sir Walter Raleigh. When it is revisted by English ships in August 1590, it has vanished without trace.
- July-September 1588: the failure of the Spanish Armada (an intended Spanish invasion of England, largely destroyed by bad weather) provides a boost for English maritime power and for English colonial ambitions, although the boost may have been more psychological than actual.
- 1592: Bernard Ericks becomes the first Dutch slave trader.
- 1594: L'Espérance of La Rochelle becomes the first French ship positively identified as participating in the slave trade. However, French merchants may have been involved in small scale slave trading since the 1540s.
- 1595: in a pattern that was to be adhered to for several decades, Philip II of Spain grants Pedro Gomes Reinal, a Portuguese merchant, a near monopoly in the slave trade. Reinal agrees to provide Spanish America with 4250 African slaves annually, with a further 1000 slaves being provided by other merchants.
- 11 July 1596: Queen Elizabeth I of England sends a letter complaining that 'there are of late divers blackmoores brought into this realme, of which kinde of people there are allready here to manie ... Her Majesty's pleasure therefore ys that those kinde of people should be sent forth of the lande". Accordingly, a group of slaves were rounded up and given to a German slave trader, Caspar van Senden, in 'payment' for duties he had performed.
- 1597: Francis Bacon writes On Plantations which becomes an important early text of British colonial discourse.
- 1600: Pedro Gomes Reinal dies. The Spanish slave-trading monopoly is passed to Jaão Rodrigues Coutinho, Governor of Angola.
- 1600: King Philip III of Spain outlaws the use of Native American slaves in Spanish colonies.