Hans Jonatan, who escaped slavery in 1802, now has hundreds of relatives in the country.
Hans Jonatan was born into slavery on a Caribbean sugar plantation, and he died in a small Icelandic fishing village. In those intervening 43 years, he fought for the Danish Navy in the Napoleonic Wars, lost a landmark case for his freedom in The General’s Widow v. the Mulatto, then somehow escaped to become a peasant farmer on the Nordic island.
No one knows how he got there. No one knows where in Iceland he is buried today. But the story of the first black man in Iceland, as far as it is known, has endured in local lore, passed down from his Icelandic wife and two children to hundreds of descendants since his death in 1827.
“The old East Fjords people would often say, ‘Oh, yes, you’re descended from the black man,’” one living descendant told Gísli Pálsson in his biography of Jonatan, The Man Who Stole Himself.