The Landing of the First Enslaved Africans to English North America
In August 1619, a privateering vessel flying the flag of the Dutch Republic arrived at Point Comfort (now known as Fort Monroe in present-day Hampton). According to John Rolfe, the ship held no cargo but “20 and odd” Africans, who were traded to Governor George Yeardley and Cape Merchant Abraham Peirsey in exchange for provisions. These individuals, originally captured by Portuguese slavers in West Central Africa (likely modern-day Angola), were the first recorded Africans to arrive in English North America.
While the White Lion, which carried the the first Africans to Virginia, did fly a Dutch flag, research has revealed that both the ship and its captain, John Jope, were English. Jope held a letter of marque from Vlissingen, a notorious privateer haven in the Netherlands, which allowed him to legally plunder Spanish and Portuguese vessels. He could not have done so under English authority, as England and Spain were at peace in 1619. While patrolling the Gulf of Mexico in late July or early August 1619, Jope encountered the Treasurer, another privateering vessel, captained by Daniel Elfrith. Sailing in consort with one another, the White Lion and the Treasurer managed to capture a Portuguese slave trading vessel, the Sao Joao Bautista (Saint John the Baptist), which was bound for Vera Cruz, Mexico.
Jope and Elfrith soon discovered that the Sao Joao Bautista, was carrying approximately 350 enslaved Africans. It is likely that many of the enslaved Africans were skilled laborers from West Central Africa’s urban centers, and many were likely Christians as well, converted by the Portuguese before or after their capture. After taking on as many captive Africans as their ships could carry, Jope and Elfrith chose to sail north to the Virginia Colony.
We come together this weekend to recognize the landing of the first enslaved Africans on our shores here at Point Comfort–a point in our country’s history that had, and continues to have, a profound impact on this country and its people.
Schedule of Events at Continental Park from 11 am to 4 pm
Parade of African Nations
Drum Call-Libation: Bring your own drum and participate in the Circle of Drums
Performance by Crimson Thunder Drumline from Katherine Johnson Elementary School in Newport News
Prayer for Social Justice, Reconciliation and Healing
Keynote Address: Award winning author, educator, and historian, Ric Murphy. His latest book is titled Arrival of the First Africans in Virginia, 2020 Phillis Wheatley Book Award winner
Bell ringing ceremony for Healing, Remembrance, and Hope
Flower Petal Ceremony to remember the lives lost through the Middle Passage
Vendors and food trucks will be onsite from 10 am to 4 pm. Limited seating will be available. Bring your own folding chair or lawn chair. This event is weather permitting.
Special thanks to the Fort Monroe National Monument, City of Hampton, Hampton Convention & Visitors Bureau, Fort Monroe Authority, and Project 1619, Inc. for their support of this program.