Last updated: August 30, 2017
Estevancio was the first identifiable Muslim in North America. He was a Morroccan guide and interpreter who arrived in Florida in 1527 from Spain with the Panfilo de Narvaez expedition. He was one of the first native Africans to explore the American Southwest and one of the first to encounter the Zunis.
Estevancio was enslaved after the Portuguese captured his hometown of Azemmour, Morocco in 1513 and was later sold as a personal servant to Andres de Dorantes of Bejar del Castanar of old Castille; though he was enslaved by del Castanar, they became good friends. Following the collapse of the de Narvaez expedition to Florida, Estevancio was one of only four survivors of the original 600 explorers to reach the Spanish territory in modern day Mexico after surviving for more than a decade as slaves to native tribes. Upon reaching Mexico, the other three survivors returned to Europe, while Estevancio was sold to Antonio de Mendoza, the Viceroy of New Spain. Putting Estevancio’s rare knowledge of the area beyond New Spain to use, Mendoza ordered him to lead Franciscan Fray Marcos de Niza to explore the area to the north.
In 1539 he led a small reconnaissance party, under the command of Franciscan priest Fray Marcos de Niza, on foot to Culiacan, Mexico. Estevancio went ahead of Fray Marcos sending runners back daily with wooden crosses to indicate the promise of the country ahead. As the days went by the crosses kept getting bigger. On one of these days he came upon Hawikuh, and sent a huge cross back to Fray Marcos. The Zunis didn't trust him because his medicine gourd was trimmed with owl feathers--that symbolized death. He was kept outside the village while the elders debates and the next morning Zuni warriors killed him.
What Makes Estevancio an American Hero?
Despite being an enslaved Native African, Estevancio's knowledge helped transform our knowledge of the American Southwest and offers concrete evidence that Islam and Muslims were not recent arrivals in the United States.