I was reading about Hernando de Soto and saw William Powell's painting (Relevant bit cropped and added below):

enter image description here

The odd thing (Marked with a red arrow) is the man who looks Moorish and is dressed in Moorish Military attire unlike the other people in the party. Of course the painting was created some 300 years after Hernando died so it can hardly be considered historical evidence. Not to mention, it is unlikely that the Spanish would have allowed the converted Andalusians to dress in that fashion. But that made me think if there were any Moors (That is, the Conquered people of Muslim Al-Andalus) who accompanied him in his expeditions.

I have looked about (Perhaps not that well, American history is not my forte) but all the mentions of Hernando and Moors that I have found are in context of his upbringing and the downfall of Muslim Andalusia in 1492, eight years before he was born or the Moors that came with other Conquistadors.

So my question is, did any Moors accompany Hernando de Soto (specifically him, not any other Conquistadors)? If not, why did the painter William H. Powell paint a Moor there?

3 Answers 3


I understand that there are four surviving accounts of de Soto's expedition.

Three of those accounts were written by survivors:

  1. Rodrigo Rangel or Ranjel, who was de Soto’s personal secretary;
  2. Luys Hernández de Biedma, the Spanish King’s representative;
  3. and an individual known as the “Gentleman from Elvas”, who is believed to be a Portuguese mercenary soldier.

The fourth account, by Garcilaso de la Vega, was written much later, and is believed to be a compilation of testimony collected from a number of survivors from the expedition over time.

Translations of the surviving accounts, together with other materials relating to the De Soto expedition, have been published in The De Soto Chronicles: The Expedition of Hernando de Soto to North America in 1539–1543, edited by Lawrence A. Clayton, , James Knight Vernon Jr., and Edward C. Moore (University of Alabama Press, 1993).

The first volume is available to read on archive.org.

Of particular interest here is the 'Elvas narrative' (published in volume 1 of The De Soto Chronicles) which describes the gathering of the company.

On page 452, in the section titled Hernando de Soto: A Brief Biography, Paul E Hoffman states that:

Four men of possible Moorish origins have been noted.

  • (my emphasis)

(That's out of about 700 people who sailed with the expedition).

So, the presence of people of Moorish origins on de Soto's expedition seems perfectly plausible.

Of course, it's quite possible that this fact was entirely unknown to William Henry Powell, who was - as you observed - painting more than 300 years after the events that he was depicting.


The entire image in question can be seen here. Under the image is a numbered scene describing the images individuals. The person in question is listed as Moorish Servant.

A little more research into De Sotos expedition leads to this page, which confirms a number of slaves and servants were included in the expedition:

His force also included about 100 slaves, servants, camp followers, and pig herders.

It would seem, combined with the timing you mention concerning the fall of Moorish Andalusia, the painter chose to portray one of those servants as Moorish.

A book from 1853, William H. Powell's historical picture of the discovery of the Mississippi ... By Henri L. Stuart has this passage concerning this:

The Moorish servant or armor bearer of De Soto who is seen behind him in the Moorish costume carrying his master's helmet forms an admirable allusion to the then recent fall of Grenada and the overthrow of the Moorish Empire in Spain It was the fashion of that age as it has been the fashion with conquerors of every age from the times of the Great Empires of Asia for the conqueror to carry in his train in menial service some of the men who were left after the wreck of their national fortunes De Soto did not form an exception probably to the rule then of universal application and it was a happy thought in Powell to introduce him there The very glance at his turban opens a whole field of history to the scholar one glance at the turbaned head would recall to Irving his history of Grenada

  • I'll opt more for the Atlantic Creoles he picked up in Cuba? Compare English and French Wikipedia pages… Commented Oct 15, 2018 at 16:28

Why did Powell paint a Moor?

Because there was a famous Moorish slave in the New World at the time.

One of earliest prominent first hand accounts of the exploration of the modern South East US was written by Cabeza de Vaca, a Spanish explorer who survived the disastrous Panfilo de Navarez expedition of 1527; 15 years before de Soto. One four men survived the expedition, one was Estavancio, a Moor described as brown-skinned.

Cabeza de Vaca's book was written in 1542, the same year de Soto died in Mississippi; his adventures had lasted from roughly 1528 to 1536. This book is probably the single best primary source for de Soto's expedition due to its literary merit and anthropological detail, even though at least two surviving records were written by members of the de Soto expedition.

Therefore, if Powell had done any research on the time surrounding de Soto's expedition, he probably read Cabeza de Vaca, whose story prominently mentioned a Moorish slave/companion.

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