”The first Africans brought to the New World by European slavers probably arrived in April 1502 aboard the ship that brought the new governor of Hispaniola, Nicolas de Ovando. Soon after they landed, some Africans escaped to the woods and found a new home among the Native Americans. Later that year Governor Ovando sent a request to King Ferdinand that no more Africans be sent to the Americas. His reason was simple: "They fled amongst the Indians and taught them bad customs, and never could be captured."
Why did he feel they could never be retaken? Had the two peoples united as a military force at such an early date? Were Native Americans prepared to drive off European slavehunters? Was an alliance taking place in the woods between two peoples who opposed the Spanish conquerors? The answer to these questions are unclear.
But Governor Ovando is describing more than a problem of bad, untrustworthy servants. His words are more than a complaint about the difficulties of recapturing fugitives in a tropical rainforest. Governor Ovando’s words in 1502 are the first hint of a growing problem for the European masters of the new world, the first notice of a new relationship budding beyond the control of the Spaniards.
Africans arrived on these shores with valuable assets for both Europeans and Native Americans. They were used to agricultural labour and working in field gangs, something unfamiliar to most Indians. As experts in tropical agriculture, they had a lot to teach both white and red people. Further, Africans had a virtual immunity to European diseases such as smallpox, which wiped out Native Americans.
For Europeans seeking a source of labour that could not escape, Africans were ideal because they were three thousand miles from home. They could not flee to loved ones as Indian slaves could. The African man or woman who fled could always be identified by skin colour, and black became the badge of bondage.
Native Americans soon discovered that Africans had some gifts that made them uniquely valuable Through their slave experience they qualified as experts on whites - their diplomacy, armaments, motives, strengths and weaknesses. Escaped slaves came bearing knowledge of their masters’ languages, defences and plans. Sometimes Africans were able to carry off muskets, machetes, or valuable gunpowder. For these reasons their role could be crucial to Native Americans, their place secure in village life. A common foe, not any special affinity of skin colour, became the first link of friendship, the earliest motivation for alliance.
Next the two peoples began to discover they shared some vital views of life. Family was of basic importance to both, with children and the elderly treasured. Religion was a daily part of cultural life, not merely practised on Sundays. Both Africans and Native Americans found they shared a belief on economic coorperation rather than competition and rivalry. Each race was proud, but neither was weighed down by prejudice. Skill, friendship, and trust, not skin colour or race were important. Since Indians willingly adopted people into their villages, Africans found they were welcome.“