The evidence presented in this article establishes the era of the major Portuguese asientos (1595–1640) as a key moment in the history of African migration to Spanish Central America. Between 1607 and 1628 alone, Portuguese slave traders made at least 15 voyages from Angola to the Caribbean coast of Central America, landing in most cases “by accident” at the Honduran port of Trujillo while allegedly en route to Veracruz. Many of the West Central Africans carried on these voyages were subsequently marched inland by the same Portuguese merchants to be sold in Santiago de Guatemala, capital of the Audiencia of Guatemala. Their final destinations were often rural properties located in or near the Pacific lowlands of modern-day Guatemala and El Salvador, where the largest sugar and indigo plantations counted dozens of Angolans among their enslaved workers. A decided majority of these involuntary migrants were young men, most no doubt having departed from Luanda following misfortune in the wars that, with a good deal of Portuguese encouragement, wracked their homelands after 1575. Their migration experiences testify to a significant shift in the point of origin of Africans brought to Central America away from Senegambia and neighboring regions of West Africa, birthplace of the majority of Africans transported to Central America prior to 1595. The later-arriving and larger West Central African workforce played a more important role than heretofore understood in satisfying the demands for labor that arose in the early seventeenth century as commercial agriculture briefly boomed amid persistent indigenous population decline.

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