Buried Truth: The 400th anniversary and more…

When the nation officially commemorated the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War, I quietly informed those who requested my support that if it was to be a rehash of what was disseminated 50years earlier, “thank you, but I will pass.” However, I was informed that the goal was to tell a more comprehensive history including the common soldier, the politics and the story of the enslaved complete with economic, political and humanitarian stories. I became fully engaged.

It is never too late to seek and share the truth!

I expect we will witness the same kind of enlightenment during the 2019 400th commemoration and we will come away wiser for the effort.

For the sake of study and discussion, indulge me in the sharing of my own current findings.

The “20 and odd Negroes” as described by John Rolfe were believed to have been originally captured by the Portuguese in Angola, West Central Africa

 

 

Map of Angola, West Central Africa

 

 

 

and were bound along with an estimated 330 others for sale as enslaved people to Vera Cruz, New Spain (current-day Mexico) on the vessel the Sau Joao Bautista. They were attacked in transit by privateers, one licensed by the Dutch and the other by Britain. The ships were named the White Lion and the Treasurer; the captain of the former took the “20 and odd” as spoils. The story of the Treasurer is yet to be fully documented.

Below is an excerpt from the article published in 2011 and modified in 2017 in the Encyclopedia of Virginia by the Virginia Humanities in partnership with the Library of Virginia. It is a thorough account and the entire piece is worthy of your attention.

Link: https://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/Virginia_s_First_Africans#start_entry

“Virginia’s first Africans arrived at Point Comfort, on the James River, late in August 1619. There, “20 and odd Negroes” from the English ship White Lion were sold in exchange for food and some were transported to Jamestown, where they were sold again, likely into slavery. Historians have long believed these Africans to have come to Virginia from the Caribbean, but Spanish records suggest they had been captured in a Spanish-controlled area of West Central Africa.”

It is critical to read an article from start to finish, study the resources and then search for other articles on the same subject.

On the Jamestown Rediscovery website https://historicjamestowne.org/history/the-first-africans/ there is another story, similar but not the same. I find this particular passage of interest.

“Many of the captives would have come from urban backgrounds and after capture could have received the basics of Christianity because Portuguese law required all slaves to be baptized Catholics before arriving in the Americas.”

My concern is terminology. Were these first Africans traded or sold? In my opinion, there is little doubt of that, however, indentured servants were also described as sold. To assume that the term sold meant into what we know now as slavery, is not a definitive interpretation based simply on the choice of the idiom.

According to records, these “20 and odd” were indeed enslaved by the Portuguese when the ships were attacked. Nonetheless, the privateers did not take their bounty to a country that sanctioned the institution of slavery. Instead, they sailed and landed in the colony of Virginia, a colony that would not institute slavery until 1661.

It begs the question, what were their expectations? Could they have known that the Jamestown settlement needed laborers and were they familiar with the system of headrights instituted in 1618?

The compensation for their assets was food and supplies.

Food for thought: Is custom equal to law? If an official position is stated based on supposition, should the study end there?  Always remember whose voice is being spoken and never fail to examine the agenda of that voice.

Stay tuned; there is much more to come.

Previously  published in the Orange County Review, Mar 28, 2018.

 

 

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