Sebastian Toral, the African warrior who helped Spain to conquer the New World in mid 1500s

Sebastian Toral was one of the early Black conquerors in the New World. He played an instrumental role in how the Spanish conquered the southern Mexican state of Yucatán in the 1530s and 1540s.

There is scanty information on where Toral was born or his early life but there is a strong link that he was born in Africa and was brought to the Spanish colonies as a slave, according to BlackPast.

In 1541, he was part of Francisco de Montejo’s forces that fought the second and final attempt to conquer the Maya people of Yucatán. It is believed that Toral was not the only person of African descent as Montejo was granted a license to import one hundred slaves. At least, the fact stands that there was one Black conquistador who learned a Mayan language during the campaign.

Toral was given manumission after his meritorious service. He was exempted from paying tribute collections but he had to petition the Spanish crown at least twice to remind it of its commitment to him.

The role Toral played at the beginning of the Spanish colonial era tells of the services of conquerors like him who helped the Spanish crown in getting the New World to submit to its authority. In the case of Toral, whatever service he rendered to the Spanish crown was to improve his standard of living under Spanish control. As a result of racism, the people of African descent had to intermarry with the indigenous people because they shared a common destiny at the time.

Toral relocated to Merida where he settled with his family and worked in one of the few occupations that allowed Blacks. He was employed as a doorkeeper or a guard. By the late colonial period, the Black population and mixed race made up ten percent of Yucantan’s population. 

A century before some Africans were taken to Virginia in 1619, the Spanish had enlisted hundreds of Africans as conquistadores to help them win wars. Over 500 Africans helped in the establishment of New Spain. Africans in Spanish America were taught to read and write and pursue careers. Toral was also taught to read and write. That helped him to study the Bible and take a Christian name upon baptism — Sebastián Toral. He would then help Spanish conquistador Montejo fight.

History says that Montejo had his own challenges though he was credited as a successful leader. He strengthened the base of his forces with the 100 slaves in his campaign against the Yutacans. Toral was deployed to assist him but he failed in his expedition to subdue the Yutacan.

Toral was with Montejo on his expeditions in Mexico despite the setbacks. Given the same task as Pedro de Alvarado, Montejo would be passed over by the Spanish crown in favor of de Alvarado. Toral married in 1542 when Montejo established Merida. Historians say Toral’s place in history is cemented because every commander he associated with was successful.

Montejo however encountered failures as compared to other captains in the New World. When his career ended, Toral also drew the curtains on his.

Stephen Nartey

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