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Francisco de Arobe

Francisco de Arobe was a leader of the coastal Afro-Indian Maroon communities of Esmeraldas in early colonial Quito (modern Ecuador).

Arobe was born around 1560 in the province of Esmeraldas, reportedly to an African slave named Andrés Mangache and a native woman from Nicaragua, who escaped together from a ship anchored on the Esmeraldas coast. Arobe and his brother Juan Mangache were two of the “mulatto” leaders of Maroon communities began by his father in the late 1550s and 1560s. By 1577, Francisco’s father had been killed in confrontations with nearby native communities. In that year the maroon leader, Alonso de Illescas, attempted and failed to submit Francisco and Juan to his leadership.

At an unknown date, Arobe married a woman named Doña Juana and had at least two sons. By the 1580s, the brothers were dealing directly with Spanish colonizers. In 1586 Juan repeatedly traveled to Quito, where he received gifts from Rodrigo de Ribadeneyra in exchange for assistance in establishing a colony of Spanish settlers in Esmeraldas. In 1589, Arobe placed his community under the religious instruction of Mercedarian Fray Juan de Salas. Arobe is credited with establishing a church and founding the village of San Mateo, which he and his people further populated after 1598. The records show little additional activity until the late 1590s. By then, Arobe had gained a reputation for assisting shipwrecked travelers who washed up on the Esmeraldas coast. Royal judge Juan Barrio de Sepulveda traveled to Esmeraldas in order to pacify the Maroons, resulting in Francisco traveling to Quito in 1599 with two of his sons, Pedro and Domingo, to pledge his loyalty to the Crown.

On this visit, the royal court commissioned a now famous portrait by the native artist Andrés Sanchez Galque. In the painting the honorific “don,” a title of minor nobility, precedes the names of Arobe and his sons. Judge Barrio described them as rulers over Esmeraldas and “lords of the land.” Arobe also received the military title of captain. The portrait was sent as a gift to King Philip IV, and it remained in the royal collection until the late nineteenth century. While Arobe disappears from the historical record after 1599, his progeny would continue to rule over the Maroon communities for generations. In addition, his portrait is considered the first signed painting of the Americas and has become one of the most recognized portraits of the early colonial period.

Read the full, original biography by Charles Beatty Medina in The Dictionary of Caribbean and Afro-Latin American Biography

View complete story (pdf)

Online Resources

Cheek, Sheldon. “Regal Trio’s Historic Link to Escaped Slaves and South America’s Indigenous Tribes.” The Root. January 28, 2014 https://www.theroot.com/regal-trio-s-historic-link-to-escaped-slaves-and-south-1790874310


Gracia Rivas, Manuel. “El oidor D. Juan del Barrio de Sepúlveda y la exploración de la Costa de las Esmeraldas. (Cuatro mapas americanos, del siglo XVI, en un archivo borjano).” Cuadernos de Estudios Borjanos L-LI (2007): 395-438.

Lane, Kris. Quito 1599: City and Colony in Transition. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2002.

Medina, Charles Beatty. "Arobe, Francisco de." Dictionary of Caribbean and Afro-Latin American Biography , edited by Ed. Franklin W. Knight. , edited by and Henry Louis Gates Jr.. . Oxford African American Studies Center, http://www.oxfordaasc.com/article/opr/t456/e114 (accessed Thu Sep 05 10:28:01 EDT 2019).

Parris, Scott V. “Alliance and Competition: Four Case Studies of Maroon-European Relations.” Nieuwe West-Indische Gids 55, no. 3–4 (1981): 174–224.

Price, Richard. Maroon Societies: Rebel Slave Communities in the Americas. 3d ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.

Rout, Leslie B., Jr. The African Experience in Spanish America: 1502 to the Present Day. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976.

Thompson, Alvin O. Flight to Freedom: African Runaways and Maroons in the Americas. Kingston: University of West Indies Press, 2006.


Charles Beatty Medina

Adapted by

James Almeida and Steven J. Niven

Contributing Institutions

Hutchins Center for African & African American Research, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.

Oxford University Press (USA) African American Studies Center.

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Key Events

c. 1560

Born in Esmeraldas province, on the coast of today’s Ecuador, to an African slave-turned Maroon leader named Andrés Mangache and an indigenous woman from Nicaragua, who escaped together from a ship anchored off the Esmeraldas coast.


With their father deceased, Arobe and his brother, Juan Mangache, are now leaders of the maroon communities. Local maroon leader Alonso de Illescas attempts unsuccessfully to submit the two to his rule.


The brothers assist the conquistador Diego López de Zúñiga on his quest to find gold and emeralds.


Juan makes several visits to Quito, where he receives gifts from Rodrigo de Ribadeneyra in exchange for the Maroon’s assistance in establishing a colony of Spanish settlers in Esmeraldas. He is arrested after rebuffing Ribadeneyra, but ultimately released.


Arobe welcomes Mercedarian friar Juan de Salas to instruct his community in religion. Salas baptizes Arobe and his wife, Doña Juana. He establishes the village of San Mateo and its church.

Late 1590s

Judge of the Royal Court in Quito Juan Barrio de Sepulveda travels to Esmeraldas in order to pacify the Maroons. Arobe’s people are organized into the village of San Mateo and a new church is built in 1598. Barrio’s meetings with the Maroons result in Arobe traveling to Quito in 1599 with two of his sons, Pedro and Domingo, to pledge his loyalty to the Crown. There, a portrait is commissioned of the three, which still hangs in the Museum of the Americas in Madrid.