Four hundred years ago, in August 1619, a Dutch ship brought Africans to Jamestown, Virginia--and sold them. The rest is history. Slavery was about to begin.
To set the record straight, not one, but two ships arrived in August 1619. Besides “Dutch ship” with “20. and odd Negroes”, as John Rolfe’s famous letter noted, “Three or four days after [afterward] the Treasurer arrived.” The Treasurer was an unlicensed privateer in the service of Robert Rich, Earl of Warwick. It did not sail upriver to Jamestown, but remained at Point Comfort. Rolfe did not mention them, but the Treasurer also brought more Africans.
How do we know?
A census of the Virginia colony in March 1620 lists 32 Africans, including the now-famous 20 who came on the Dutch ship in August 1619. Where did the other dozen come from? One of the dozen was a woman named Angelo, who was listed in a 1625 census as having arrived on the Treasurer.
But the Treasurer, damaged by years of wind and waves, became a derelict ship, unseaworthy in 1620, so Angelo must have come before that date. She was not the only African who arrived on the Treasurer. The 1625 census also lists a young African couple, William and Isabel, and their child, Willam. They were in the household of William Tucker, commander of the fort at Point Comfort when the Treasurer arrived there in 1619. So was William Pierce, the colonist who bought Angelo.
We know nothing about Angelo but her name. We do know that William Pierce, her master, had a fifteen-year-old daughter, Jane, who had just married the thirty-four-year-old widower, John Rolfe. His first wife was Pocahontas, who had died in London in 1617.
There’s a lot we don’t know about that early history.
See my book, A Tale of Two Colonies: What Really Happened in Virginia and Bermuda?