If you attended primary school in Virginia and probably the entire South, you received a distorted version on the arrival of the first Africans to land on English occupied land in America. And the truth has been known since 1619 when the first ship carrying enslaved Africans arrived at Point Comfort (Fort Monroe) in Hampton. Yet historians chose to rewrite history to meet their agenda. In August of 1619, John Rolfe, widower of Pocahontas, was at Point Comfort on this fateful day and he wrote in his diary "About the latter end of August, an English ship flying a Dutch flag of the burden of 160 tons arrived at Point Comfort, the Commanders name was Capt. Colyn Jope. He brought not anything but 20 and odd Negras". John Rolfe was serving as the Secretary to the Virginia Company of England. His job was to report back to the Virginia Company current events in Virginia. In addition to Rolfe's manuscript, John Pory, Secretary of State of the Virginia colony, who was also at Point Comfort, on September 30, 1619, wrote a letter to Sir Dudley Carleton, English envoy to the Hague that 20 and Odd Negras had arrived at Point Comfort near Jamestown. But Jamestown historians took that passage, deleted Point Comfort, and said the Africans arrived at Jamestown. And every since historians have written that the first Africans landed at Jamestown. In the memoirs of Capt. John Colyn Jope, captain of White Lion, he wrote in his journal that he unloaded the 20 and odd Negroes at Point Comfort and one of them was named Antonio who he captured from the Bautista. Africans are the only ethnic group brought to America in chains and against their will.
Slavery existed. We can not re-write history like it is “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”. We cannot forget that one segment of our society was held in bondage for 246 years. We need to remember that torturous journey from freedom to slavery, and the long struggle from slavery to be free again. We can not be like the state of Texas who are revising history by changing school text books to say that slavery did not exist. Those who were enslaved for 246 years were unpaid interns who were learning new skills.
Dating back over 12,000 years the native people of Motherland Africa began migrating to toher parts of the world. The people who moved to Europe, and Asia eventually became an industrialized continent. They were building castles, factories, homes, buildings, colleges, bridges, roads, and play houses. They soon developed guns, rifles, cannons and ships. In the year 600 AD Africans migrated to the southern part of Africa to the Angola Region of Africa. As compared to other growing continents in the 1600’s Africans were still living in huts and using bow and arrows.
Ndongo, located in the Angola Region was 150 miles from the coast line of West Africa. For many years our vision of Africa was a barren desert. We knew about the Sahara Dessert and the wilder beast migration of the Serengeti. But this was just a part of Africa. In the south central region of Africa you had Angola. The capital city was Kabasa. Ndongo set on top of a plateau that was 4000 feet above sea level. They had palm trees, and waterfalls, and lush greenery. The water cascaded down to the meadows where they had farms and raised cattle. The Ndongo people were also referred to as Mbundu or Bantu. In 1570 AD the Portuguese set up outposts along the coast of West African and into the Angola Region and claimed the land for Portugal. After many years of peaceful coexistence where the Portuguese taught the Africans Christianity, war would soon change the course of history forever.
As early as 2000 years ago the Romans were enslaving people of color as servants. Around 600 AD the Arab Muslims started enslaving Africans. The transatlantic slave trade started in 1440 when the Portuguese and Spanish began capturing Africans to sell to other countries.
Between 1618 and 1620, thousands of Africans were enslaved during the war between King Alvaro III of Congo and his uncles, and sold into slavery. There was also the war between the Portuguese leader Endes de Vascondes and a band of marauding mercenary soldiers called Imbangala, against the Kingdom of Ndongo.The Portuguese were sitting back watching and in 1618 they decided that this region of Africa was ripe for the taking. So they supplied the Imbangala with guns to attack the African villages including the village of Ndongo in the Angola region. These were the same villages where they had taught Christianity.
The Ndongo Africans were more advanced socially than most tribes. They had accepted Christianity. They had a form of government. It was said they had 6000 huts lined up along a network of streets and had between 20,000 and 30,000 inhabitants.
But they were no match to the Portuguese cannons, and rifles. The Africans, men women and children were captured and force to march 150 miles to the shoreline where the slave ships docks were located. They were shackled with chains and many were tied together with tree saplings that were tied around each person’s neck so they could not escape. To many this was the death march to the coast. It would take many days to march that far. Many became sick from lack of food and water along they way. Those who could not make it were killed. When they reached the coast they were put in holding pens, underground cells, or camps. With so many Africans being captured, to keep track of who owned what Africans, the arriving Africans were branded with a hot iron with a mark to show what ship, captain or country owned them. They say between 1617 and 1619, 50,000 Africans were captured from this region. So many Africans had been captured that sometimes it took up to a year to export them. And during that time many more died.
It is estimated that between 12.5 to 15 millions Africans were captured from 1440 until the end of slavery. I tend to use the 12.5 million. Of that 12.5 million it is estimated that 1.5 million Africans died in the march to the coast or in the holding camps waiting to be exported. Another 1.5 million died in the Middle Passage. And 9.5 million made it to the final destination in Europe, the West Indies, Central America, South America and North America. It is estimated that only 362,000 Africans made it to North America.
In May of 1619 the Portuguese ship Sao Joao Bautista started loading 350 Africans who had been captured from the Ndongo region of Angola. Most of these Africans had accepted Christianity and had been given Christian names like Mary, Isabella, Anthony, Antonio, Pedro, John, Katherine, Angela etc. They were loaded into the belly of the ship. They left the port city Luanda in late May headed for Vera Cruz Mexico where the Africans would be come slaves for life in the silver mines.
The men were given a space that was 18 inches wide by 6 foot long. They had to lay on their backs and their ankles were shacked to the person next to them. They could not move and often stayed in this position for the entire journey that could last 30 to 90 days. Some ships had bunks or slats of wood stacked three rows high. So because you could not move they had to urinate and defecate, spit, vomit and bleed where they lay. These fluids would drip down to the first and second levels where Africans lay. Because of these unsanitary conditions dysentery, small pox, scurvy, measles, malaria, yellow fever, and suicide, disease was endemic. The air became stagnant. Many Africans died or were killed if they tried to escape. Many tried to starve themselves to death but they were forced fed. Their diet on the voyage was water, yams and rice. The death rate on board was 10% to 50% depending on how many Africans were packed on board. Some slavers thought the more they packed in the more would arrive alive.
The women and children were housed in separate quarters where possible, but the women were still raped during the voyage.
You can imagine the smell and stench in the hull of the boat. To try to control the smell and disease, the sailors would take buckets of salt water from the ocean and doused the Africans every few days. Some captains would allow the Africans top side to get some fresh air but most did not because the some Africans thought suicide would be better than the unknown of not knowing where they were going and what would become of them. Some believed that they were going to beaten by cannibals or their bodies ground into oil.
By the end of June, one month into the voyage over 100 Africans had already died and the ship was still 1000 miles from Vera Cruz. The Capt. was fearful he might lose his entire cargo of Africans so he stopped in Jamaica and traded 24 African boys for medicine and supplies. They stayed there until the Africans were well enough to travel.
At the same time the ship Treasurer was sent from Jamestown on a trip to pirate Spanish or Portuguese ships of their silver and gold cargo. They met up with the ship White Lion, who many believe was an English ship sailing out of Holland carrying Dutch papers to also pirate Spanish and Portuguese ships. They decided to team up and attack ships as a team. They headed to the Gulf of Mexico.
The Sao Joao Bautista with the Africans left Jamaica in early July headed to Vera Cruz which was still over 500 miles away. As they entered the Gulf of Mexico they were attacked by the Treasurer and the White Lion. The Bautista was heavily damaged and had to surrender. Sailors from the White Lion boarded the Bautista looking for gold and silver. When they opened the cargo hole all they saw were these black faces staring back at them. They were not equipped to take on human cargo because they did not have room or food. This was a new experience. They had never attacked a ship carrying Africans. So they split up 60 or more of the healthiest Africans with the Treasurer and headed back to Virginia. The Treasurer was also heavily damaged in the attack and was taking on water which slowed it down. By all accounts the White Lion had never been to Virginia. The White Lion entered the Chesapeake Bay and pulled into Point Comfort. John Rolfe witnessed the 20 and odd Africans come ashore. Subsequent documentation shows that 25 Africans came ashore. Because the settlers did not have anything to trade, all 25 Africans were traded for only a chest of Indian Maize.
Two of the Africans, Isabella and Antonio stayed in Hampton and became servants in the household of William Tucker who was the Commander at Point Comfort. They are believed to have become indentured servants serving a term of 7 years or more. On January 3, 1624 their son William Tucker was baptized. He was the first documented child of African descent born in America. He is buried in the Aberdeen section of Hampton.
The rest of the Africans were taken by Governor George Yeardley and his Cape Merchant Abraham Piersey. But they were not taken to Jamestown. Rather they were taken to their private plantations in Charles City, property previously inhabited by the Weyanoke Indians. Yeardley owned the 1000 acre Flowerdew Hundred Plantation.
The original Africans were servants for life or they had to serve a term of 7-10 years. It all depended upon which plantation they ended up on. The smaller plantations such as William Tuckers released their Africans after they had served their servitude. The larger plantations such as Flowerdew Hundred made their Africans servants for life until the word slave became a part the colonist vocabulary and they became slaves for life. The larger plantations needed free labor and they were not about to let the Africans go free. In 1661 they became slaves for life.
The Treasurer’s voyages were being financed by former Virginia Governor Samuel Argall and Lord Rich. Rich was one of the more famous and influential investors in the Virginia Company. The Treasurer had been commissioned by Samuel Argall to pirate ships of their cargo, but the voyage in 1619 was the first time they had ever captured human cargo. In May 1619 Samuel Argall was removed from office for his involvement in piracy. Four days after the White Lion carrying the first slaves to Virginia arrived, the ship “Treasurer” sailed into the harbor at Point Comfort to unload their cargo of Africans for provisions. But the settlers knew the Treasurer’s history of piracy and with Samuel Argall no longer in office, the ship was not allowed to dock. There are reports that some plantation owners friendly with the captain of the Treasurer were able to purchase a few of the Africans before The Treasurer fled to Bermuda where they sold fourteen Africans.
The Bantu created complex yet peaceful nation-states that evolved political, religious, and military institutions, where elders were greatly respected and children were cherished. Wisdom and art were esteemed highly, and Bantu proverbs in the form of Anansi tales later passed to the West and down through the generations as the Brer Fox and Rabbit folk stories of Uncle Remus. They wove silk textiles, were skilled musicians, and invented a variety of musical instruments, including a stringed, boxlike device that became the American banjo. The Bantu manufactured iron, produced carbonized steel, and hunted and fought with bows and arrows. Bantu were farming and herding people, who forged iron tools and weapons, built the stone towers and temples of Great Zimbabwe, possessed jurisdiction, and income-raising military and legislative functions. The first generations of Africans to Virginia were skilled farmers and artisans. Along with their culture, they also brought many ideas and innovations. It was the skills and free labor of the Africans that saved the colony who were about to abandon Virginia and head back to England. It has been written that in 1648 the governor ordered rice to be planted as a suggestion from the Africans.
Recently GOP members in Congress read the US Constitution but admitted sections referring to slavery. Now some politicians want to erase all mention of slavery, Indians or genocide from United States text books. In material distributed to the legislators, they demanded that state laws governing textbook criteria ensure that "no portrayal of minority experience in the history which actually occurred shall obscure the experience or contributions of the Founding Fathers, or the majority of citizens”. What’s next, are these same revisionist going to rewrite the Bible.
Why is it important where the first Africans landed? History should be an accurate account of facts. History is not a fictional fairy tale, epic movie, or special interest group’s distortion of facts to promote tourism. Ask those immigrants who landed at Ellis Island or Plymouth Rock if it’s important. The first Africans who landed at Point Comfort were not immigrants, but their landing was one of the most significant events in our country’s history.
“The transatlantic slave trade, just like the systematic elimination of the Native American Indian in the United States and the Holocaust in Germany, is a human tragedy that changed the world. We cannot change history or the impact that it had on past generations, but we should always recognize and learn from the perils and transgressions of people's inhumanity toward one another.”