One of those privateers was the 160-ton White Lion, which sailed out of the port of Vlissingen (Flushing), the Netherlands. Its captain, John Colyn Jope, bore Dutch letters of marque, from Maurice, Prince of Orange. This paperwork allowed him, as a civilian, to attack and plunder Spanish ships. The other ship, the English Treasurer, also sailed out of Flushing and was jointly owned by Robert Rich, Lord Warwick, and Virginia's deputy governor, Samuel Argall. (In 1612, Argall had sailed the Treasurer on what at the time was the fastest-ever voyage from England to Virginia. In 1616, the ship delivered Pocahontas to England.) Its captain, Daniel Elfrith, also bore a letter of marque, his on the authority of Charles Emmanuel I, duke of Savoy, an independent duchy whose land has since been subsumed by present-day France and Italy. An eyewitness said that when the White Lion and the Treasurer met at sea, Captain Jope took command. Afterward, Jope loaded 25 men aboard the White Lion's pinnace and set out to attack the São João Bautista late in July or early in August 1619. When the pinnace's crew, comprised of men from both ships, returned two or three days later, one man admitted that they had attacked an Angolan ship and another claimed that they had found at sea "an empty Angolan ship." They brought along 60 or so of da Cunha's enslaved Africans and substantial quantities of grain and tallow. (A large number of the Africans on the São João Bautista, 100 or more, probably died during the Atlantic crossing.)
The Treasurer arrived at Point Comfort three or four days later, with between twenty-eight and thirty additional Africans aboard. Elfrith sold two or three of them in Virginia, but he also found that the residents of Kecoughtan (present-day Hampton) refused to sell supplies to him or his crew, perhaps because port officials knew that his letters of marque from the duke of Savoy were no longer valid. The duke had made peace with Spain about a month after the Treasurer had left England, which meant that Captain Elfrith and the ship's owners now could be accused of piracy, a legal complication that Virginia officials probably wanted to avoid. Elfrith and his ship were gone by the time Rolfe, William Peirce, and a Mr. Ewins (sometimes spelled Ewens or Evans) arrived. Some of Thomas West, twelfth baron De La Warr's men, who had been aboard the Treasurer, disembarked and the ship's master's mate, a Mr. Gray, was taken up to Jamestown where he was interrogated under the penalty of death.
The discovery by the historian Engel Sluiter of Spanish records linking the
Africans sold in Virginia to the attack on the São João
Bautista discredits earlier theories that they had not been brought
directly to the Chesapeake from Africa. Instead, following the research of John K.
Thornton, Virginia's first Africans may have been enslaved either in Kongo, south
of the mouth of the Congo (or Zaire) River,
In the Colony
Virginia's first muster, or census, was compiled in March 1620. It listed the "colony's thirty-two Africans: fifteen male and seventeen female. They, along with four Indians, were categorized as "Others not Christians in the Service of the English." Because we have no record of any other Africans were arriving in the colony between September 1619 and March 1620, it is possible that all thirty-two could have arrived on the Treasurer and the White Lion. Following this line of thought, if one deducts the two or three Africans that were left by the Treasurer from the thirty-two recorded in the census, then the "20. and odd" Africans exchanged for provisions by the captain of the White Lion might have numbered closer to twenty-nine or thirty. If any births or deaths occurred among the African population between their arrival in 1619 and the March 1620 census, they were not recorded.
Although it is uncertain where the Africans lived, some probably resided at Jamestown in the households of Sir George Yeardley and Captain William Peirce and at Flowerdew Hundred in the household of cape-merchant Abraham Peirsey, all of whom later were identified in the 1624 and 1635 musters as having black servants. (The use of the word servant reflects the fact that when the first Africans came to Virginia in 1619, English and Virginia law had not yet enshrined the practice of race-based slavery.)
Some of the twenty-one Africans listed in the 1624 muster had European names. Four of the eleven Africans living at Flowerdew Hundred were identified by name: Anthony, William, John, and another Anthony. Three Africans resided at Jamestown, but only one was listed by name: a woman named Angelo (sometimes Angela), purchased by William Peirce. An African named Edward lived in the Neck O'Land, the mainland behind Jamestown, and was part of the household headed by Richard Kingsmill, guardian of the late Reverend Richard Bucke's children. Peter, Antonio, Frances, and Margaret resided on the lower side of the James River at Edward Bennett's plantation near the former Indian town of Warraskoyack, while Anthony and Isabella were members of Captain William Tucker's household in Elizabeth City, formerly Kecoughtan. (Tucker was the brother of Daniel Tucker, governor of the Bermuda colony from 1616 to 1619, and probably was aware of how landowners could benefit from African labor.) One African was listed among the dead at West and Shirley Hundred, in the corporation of Charles City.
Among the Africans owned by the Bennett family in 1625 was Antonio (also listed in 1624), who had arrived on the James in 1621. In March 1622, he was one of just a handful of people who managed to survive Opechancanough's attack on the plantation, and he eventually gained his freedom. At some point, Antonio wed a woman named Mary, who had come to Virginia in 1622 on the Margaret and John, and the two lived as Anthony and Mary Johnson in Northampton County on the Eastern Shore. There, they raised four children and by the 1650s owned 250 acres of land. Their two sons owned adjoining farms of 450 and 100 acres each before the whole family moved to Maryland, in the 1660s. Anthony Johnson's grandson, John Johnson Jr., purchased a 44-acre farm there in 1677 and named it Angola.
The African population in Virginia increased dramatically when, in 1628, the ship Fortune, out of Massachusetts Bay, captured a Portuguese slaver carrying about 100 Angolans, whom the captain sold in Virginia for tobacco. A muster planned for 1629 either did not take place or the records did not survive.
1618–1619 - Luis Mendes de Vasconçelos leads campaigns against Kimbundu-speaking people in West Central Africa, capturing thousands. These Africans likely provided the cargo for six slave ships that arrived in Mexico from June 1619 until June 1620.
1619 - Sometime in the first half of the year, the Portuguese slave ship São João Bautista leaves the port of São Paulo de Loanda, a Portuguese military outpost in West Africa, and sails for Vera Cruz, New Spain (present-day Mexico). It carries a cargo of 350 enslaved Africans.
July–August 1619 - Two English ships, the White Lion and the Treasurer, both sailing out of the Netherlands, intercept the Portuguese slaver São João Bautista off the coast of Campeche in present-day Yucatán. After stealing about sixty enslaved Africans, the ships sail to Virginia with the intention of selling them.
Late August 1619 - The White Lion, captained by John Colyn Jope, arrives at Point Comfort, where Jope sells "20. and odd Negroes" in exchange for food. These are the first Africans to enter the Virginia colony. Four days later, the Treasurer arrives and its captain, Daniel Elfrith, sells two or three of the enslaved Africans aboard.
August 30, 1619 - Manuel Mendes da Cunha, captain of the Portuguese slave ship São João Bautista, arrives in Vera Cruz, New Spain (present-day Mexico), with only 147 slaves. He left West Africa with 350, but some were stolen off the coast of Campeche and transported to Virginia for sale. Others probably died en route.
March 1620 - Virginia's first muster, or census, is compiled and lists 892 Europeans and, among "Others not Christians in the Service of the English," four Indians and thirty-two Africans. Fifteen of the Africans are male and seventeen are female.
1621 - An enslaved African named Antonio arrives in Virginia aboard the James. The following March, he will be one of only a handful of people who manage to survive an Indian attack on the plantation of Edward Bennett.
1622 - An enslaved African woman named Mary arrives in Virginia aboard the Margaret and John.
February 1624 - The population of Europeans in the Virginia colony is 906. A muster, or census, lists twenty-one Africans, down from thirty-two in 1620. Twelve of the Africans are identified by name, suggesting they have been baptized.
January 20–February 7, 1625 - The population of Europeans in the Virginia colony is 1,232. A muster, or census, lists twenty-three Africans and one Indian, all of them servants. They live on plantations scattered from the mouth of the James River to Flowerdew Hundred.
September 19, 1625 - The General Court orders Captain Nathaniel Bass to provide clothing to an African man named Brass, whom he had bought from a Captain Jones. The same decision awards temporary custody of Brass to Lady Temperance Flowerdew Yeardley, who is ordered to pay forty pounds of good tobacco per month for his labor.
October 3, 1625 - The General Court revisits its ruling from September 19, transferring custody of an African man named Brass from Lady Temperance Flowerdew Yeardley to Governor Francis Wyatt. The court also voids the original sale of Brass by a Captain Jones to Captain Nathaniel Bass.
1628 - The African population in Virginia rises dramatically when the ship Fortune, out of Massachusetts Bay, captures a Portuguese slaver carrying about 100 Angolans, whom the captain sells in Virginia for tobacco.
1650s - By this time, Anthony and Mary Johnson, two former slaves, are living in Northampton County on the Eastern Shore, where they own 250 acres. Their two sons own adjoining farms of 450 and 100 acres each.
1660s - Anthony and Mary Johnson, both former slaves, and their two sons, all of whom own land on the Eastern Shore, move to Maryland.
1677 - John Johnson Jr., whose grandfather Anthony was a Virginia slave who bought his freedom, buys a forty-four-acre farm in Maryland and names it Angola, suggesting the origin of his family.
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
McCartney, M. Virginia's First Africans. (2019, October 8). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Virginia_s_First_Africans.
- MLA Citation:
McCartney, Martha. "Virginia's First Africans." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, 8 Oct. 2019. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: August 29, 2011 | Last modified: October 8, 2019
Contributed by Martha McCartney, a historian and independent researcher in Williamsburg.