400 Years of Africans In America

Young girls walk past a sign denoting the 400th anniversary of the landing of the first enslaved Africans in English-occupied North America at Point Comfort in 1619.

Today is the 400th anniversary of the arrival of captive Africans at Old Point Comfort in what would later become Fort Monroe in Hampton, VA.

They were part of an original group of 60 Africans captured in in the kingdom of Ndongo in present day Angola.   With the Transatlantic Slave Trade well underway in the Caribbean and Latin America, the captured Africans were placed on a Spanish ship named the San Juan Bautista to transport them on an unwanted boat ride to Mexico.

The San Juan Bautista was attacked by two pirate ships, the White Lion and the Treasurer, who forced the Spanish ship to surrender its cargo of captive Africans.   Those ships got split up during a storm, and the White Lion ended up at Old Point Comfort.

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I also need to emphatically point out these early Africans weren’t slaves.   Slavery was not legal in Virginia at that time and wouldn’t become so until 1661, so those 20 plus Africans from Angola were traded for food and supplies and treated as indentured servants. 

At the time of the Africans arrival, the colony at Old Point Comfort was failing.   The colonists were resorting to cannibalism to survive, and now you had these Africans who arrived just in time with farming and artisan skills that were spread out amongst the nearby Virginia area homes and plantations

Those African farmers also had the skills to cultivate rice, sugar and cotton, crops that were perfect for this climate, but didn’t have the seven year contracts like the white indentured servants from England.  That meant the Africans were at the mercy of their plantation owners

Many of those Africans worked 15-20 years before they were granted their freedom.   Once that freedom occurred, the freed Africans started their own homesteads, married other white and Native Americans, purchased the freedom of other family members, owned land, and enjoyed their freedom during that 40 year period before slavery stained what would later become the United States for the next 200 plus years

One of the other things that happened with those first African arrivals was the first African descended child born in North America.   Isabella and Antony were part of that group of 20 Africans that ended up living at Capt William Tucker’s home, the commander of Point Comfort

His home was in present day Hampton. and Antony and Isabella eventually got married and had a son named William Tucker. The Tucker family was documented in the 1625 Virginia census, and William was baptized on January 4, 1624.  William is considered to be the first documented African descended child born in English North America.

The occasion of the arrival of Africans in America will be marked by a series of events in Hampton during the August 23-25 weekend. 

In light of the fact we have ignorant MAGAts shouting ‘go back to Africa’ to us, this 400th anniversary celebration of the arrival of Africans in America is a timely one.

It drives home the point that we have not only been here in North America for 400 years and predate the founding of the United States, but despite all the ongoing challenges of being Black in this country, we have managed to persevere, and thrive.

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