Slave Trader Hawkins: In Search of the 64 Missing Years


(Editor’s Note: Muhammad Abdullah Muhammad has been a contributor to the Final Call and to its predecessor, Muhammad Speaks, since 1971. Brother Muhammad extended thanks to Brother Leroy Shabazz for his insightful comments regarding this important commentary.)

The Honorable Elijah Muhammad’s teachings place the beginning of our enslavement in North America as follows, “Allah has taught us that our foreparents were deceived and brought into America by a slave-trader whose name was John Hawkins in the year 1555”(Supreme Wisdom, 1957). The teachings relate how Hawkins’ human cargo landed in Jamestown, Virginia, where a scientifically organized slave camp was set up. Children were snatched away from mothers and raised by a White nanny, creating the perfect slave—without trace of memory and imbued with fear.

That record has been very difficult to verify historically, for it seems to have been deliberately hidden from history.

When a Messenger receives a Revelation, the truth of it may seem incongruous and farfetched, but Allah (God) does not lie, and what He reveals must be shown to be, at least plausible or likely to have occurred.

Since the “official records” register that the first slave shipment occurred in 1619 or 64 years later, Khalil Amani pretty much sums up the skepticism that this Revelation has aroused, calling it in his characteristic “ghetto” language, “a lie,” without giving the Revelation the benefit of a doubt or empirical research.

“… What I want to know is what book (other than the N.O.I. …) can we find that our ancestors came to Jamestown in 1555? … None of our great black historians (Josef Ben-Jochannan, Chiekh Anta Diop, J.A. Rodgers, Lerone Bennett Jr., Carter G. Woodson, etc.) wrote that there were Black(s)…that landed on the shores of Jamestown in 1555.”

The slave master’s information about his slave-making methodology, obviously, would not be available to any and all Black historians. The 64 years, we respectfully suggest, hides the process of the breaking-in and making over that transformed an independent self-sufficient leader and warrior into being called a “Negro,” a fearful, subservient and utterly dependent slave. The process is tantamount to a corporate “trade secret” not easily accessed by our scholars and historians. It hides a methodology that, if known, would lend to deconstructing the blueprint that is still used to keep us from accessing the power within that will propel our group to go for self. It would be totally naïve to expect the enemy to make this methodology readily available for us to understand and unravel the mental, psychological, biological and emotional chains that have practically made our people perpetual slaves. So, we must use an historian detective’s tool to track down any signs left behind by the enemy that might confirm that this event could have taken place. We will use “deductive” and “hypothetical” reasoning as well as circumstantial evidence as investigative tools.

There are several questions that should be answered to ascertain the validity of a John Hawkins’ likelihood to have made a slave trading voyage in 1555:

What was the political and military power that ruled trade in the Americas in 1555? When the kingdom of Castile (Spain), through Christopher Columbus, opened America to Europe, the papal seat was held by a Spaniard, Rodrigo Borgia or Pope Alexander VI. At the request of Spain, Pope Alexander issued a bull (decree) that divided the whole world between Spain and Portugal. Undiscovered non-Christian lands to the west of the line were to be Spanish possessions and those to the east belonged to Portugal; thus by all practical purposes in 1555 Spain had exclusive rights involving any trade made in the Americas.

What was England’s political backdrop prior to 1555? King Henry VIII, who renounced allegiance to the Catholic pope (on account of the Vatican refusal to grant him a divorce), died in 1547;  King Edward VI, his son, expired in 1553, which opened the way for Henry VIII’s daughter with Catherine of Aragon (daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain), Mary Tudor, to become queen. Mary, a devout Catholic, attempted to re-establish the Catholic faith in England. In 1554 Mary Tudor married Phillip II, King of Spain, and in the interim Phillip becomes King of England by marriage. So, in 1555 the British and Spanish monarchs were one and the same, which under extraordinary circumstances may have given access, with special permission, to a British subject to establish a slave-trade in the exclusive possessions of Spain in the American continent.Were there any attempts by the Spanish Crown to colonize North America and establish a slave-holding society? Several attempts were made to colonize North America, including the failed attempt by Lucas Vásquez de Ayllón who sailed from Santo Domingo to settle South Carolina in 1526 with 500 men, including 100 Black slaves (the first Black slaves in North America). The expedition was beset by illnesses and mutiny; as a consequence the 100 Black slaves fled, joined and settled with the Native Americans.


Did a significant event occur in the life of John Hawkins that would indicate his involvement in some secret but extraordinary feat? James A. Williamson in his Hawkins of Plymouth uncovers very significant information that merits more investigation. While Phillip II and Mary Tudor (1554-1555) were negotiating their marriage, some of Phillip’s emissaries travelled through Plymouth, utilizing the services of its leading firm of ship owners, the Hawkins. It seems that in that interval the young John Hawkins met with King Phillip.  “Philip came in peace in 1555 to marry the Queen of England and confirm an Anglo-Spanish alliance …” What occurred during Philip’s stay in England in 1555 is very significant. Williamson cites a document from the Archives of the Indies in Spain that is very transcendental and which may shed some light about the activities of John Hawkins that year.

A Spaniard who knew Hawkins asserted that when Philip landed in England he conferred a knighthood on Hawkins for some special service rendered.

Footnote: This statement was made by the pilot Juanes de Urquiza. It occurs in a document in the Archives of the Indies cited by Miss I. A. Wright in Spanish Documents concerning English Voyages to the Caribbean, Hakluyt Society, 1929, p. 79n.

Could it have been that Hawkins arranged a secret slave trip to a very secret place in North America at the behest of the Spanish monarch? Phillip II arrived in England during the summer 1554 and remained until September 1555. Therefore, King Phillip had ample opportunity to commission young Hawkins a task across the Atlantic that would take over six months to complete; most likely accomplished before King Phillip’s departure in September 1555. Indeed that possibility cannot be ruled out, since to grant a knighthood to a 23-year-old man is a most extraordinary honor, and whatever Hawkins did to earn this title must have been a feat of lasting historic consequences. If Hawkins engaged in the abduction and transportation of slaves in 1555, this evidence points out that it may have been under Spanish, rather than British directives. The relationship between King Philip and Hawkins lasted for many years and Hawkins “persistently referred at a later stage to King Phillip II as “my old master…” In 1571 Hawkins played double agent and was involved with Phillip II in a plot to assassinate Elizabeth I. However, Hawkins changed sides and his information helped to have the main conspirators arrested and executed. Queen Mary Tudor’s reign lasted until 1558; and subsequently when her half-sister Elizabeth I was enthroned, she reverted to the Anglican Church and made use of pirates and corsairs to debilitate the Spanish stronghold in the Americas.

Conclusion: England was not involved with the transatlantic slave trade in 1555; if a slave trading took place it could only have occurred under Spanish patronage. Coincidentally, in 1555 the Spanish and British Monarchs were one and the same. As far back as 1526 the Spanish Crown attempted to establish a colony in North America, which included 100 African slaves. An extraordinary commission took place in 1555 involving John Hawkins under the direct orders of King Phillip II of Spain for which Hawkins was knighted, according to an account reported and recorded in the Archives of the Indies in Seville, Spain. What could this commission have been? The fact that Hawkins was knighted means that he accomplished it successfully. Young men tend to repeat their successful endeavors later on in life. In 1562 Hawkins initiated an open and public slave trading business; was he repeating the feat that earned him a knighthood in 1555? On account of the above deductive and hypothetical reasoning we cannot discard the Honorable Elijah Muhammad’s revelation that John Hawkins took part in a slave trading voyage in 1555 as a lie. The empirical questions and data posed above leaves open that possibility.

We invite historians to continue to unveil these 64 hidden years in our history.

Sources: James Williamson, James A. Hawkins of Plymouth. London: Adam and Charles Black, 1949. Khalil Amani, Ghetto Religiosity III: If You don’t Know, Now You Know. Lincoln: iUniverse, 2003. Lerone Bennett Jr., Before the Mayflower. Chicago: Johnson Publishing, 1962. William Loren Katz, Black Indians: A Hidden Heritage. New York: Atheneum, 1986.

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