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Newsletter No 11 - Lope Martin: The African Navigator Who Mastered the Pacific

Good morning, afternoon and evening, family,

Welcome to Newsletter No 11.

This week, join me on a journey back in time to discover the incredible story of Lope Martin, an Afro-Portuguese mariner who made history as the first man, black or otherwise, to navigate the treacherous Pacific Ocean.

Lope Martin was an Afro-Portuguese mariner and the first man, black or otherwise, to navigate the Pacific Ocean Voyage from Mexico to the Philippines and back.

Details about Martin's parents or his childhood in Lagos, Portugal, are unknown.

We know that Martin eventually moved to Spain and mastered Andalusia's language and regional accent, convincing people he was a native Spaniard.

We also know that during this period, Spain competed with Portugal for economic supremacy in the lucrative Asian markets. This competition motivated Spain's King Phillip II in 1564 to secretly commission four ships to reach the Philippines, establish a base, and then return home, a feat never accomplished before.

King Phillip II personally selected Martin to pilot the San Lucas, along with captain Alonso de Arellano and a crew of 20 men.

The San Lucas cast off on November 21, 1564. All was well with the voyage until a vicious storm separated the San Lucas from the main fleet. Martin and Captain Arellano decided to weather the storm and sail to the Philippines alone. The hope was that the other three ships, including fleet commander Miguel López de Legazpi, would either catch up or meet them in the Philippines.

Martins and the crew of the San Lucas searched in vain for the other three ships while trading goods until they eventually decided to return to Mexico.

In a terrifying four-month return voyage plagued by rats, food shortages, disease, and the ever-present threat of pirates, it took all of Martin's vast nautical skills to return the ship home.

When they finally arrived in Navidad on August 9, 1565, virtually naked and carrying Asian goods, Arellano, Martin, and the crew were hailed and celebrated as heroes.

However, unbeknownst to Arellano and Martin, their historic voyage was viewed negatively by many back in Spain. The pair's feat was seen as an opportunistic scheme to claim glory, the biggest proponent of this viewpoint being Commander Legazpi.

Spanish officials conspired to send the crew of San Lucas on a resupply mission to the Philippines in the hopes that fleet commander Legazpi would hang them upon arrival.

Aware of the plot, Martin successfully staged a mutiny and briefly captained the supply vessel until a faction of the crew marooned him and his crew on a South Pacific island.

At this point, Martin vanishes from official historical records. He and his crew members may have assimilated into the island's population. It is also possible they were picked up later by a passing ship and lived their best lives elsewhere.

We may never know what happened to Martin and his crew, but we do know that his triumph in piloting the first round-trip voyage across the Pacific and back will live on for as long as there are people to acknowledge his accomplishment and remember his name.

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You can learn more about Lope Martin and his voyage in the book Conquering the Pacific, which I’ve linked below:

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Until next week, stay strong, stay wise, and remember Black History is World History.



Oh, P.S if you were wondering how to pronounce some of the names used this week, check out the links below:

Name Pronounciation links

Arellano - (Opens in a new window)

Lope - (Opens in a new window)

Legazpi - (Opens in a new window)

Navidad - (Opens in a new window)

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