Slavery’s bitter roots: In 1619, ‘20 And odd Negroes’ arrived in Virginia

The first documented Africans to arrive in the English-speaking colony of what would become Virginia arrived in August 1619 on the “White Lion,” a Dutch man-of-war ship carrying enslaved cargo from the West Coast of Africa.

The arrival of the ship was reported by colonist John Rolfe who wrote: “About the latter end of August, a Dutch man of Warr of the burden of a 160 tunnes arrived at Point-Comfort, the Commandors name Capt. Jope. He brought not any thing but 20 And odd Negroes, w[hich] the Governo[r] and Cape Merchant bought for victuals.”

The “20 And odd Negroes” had been captured in 1619 from “the Kingdom of Ndongo” in Angola. They were packed with more than 350 enslaved Africans aboard the Sao Joao Baustista, a Portuguese slave ship that set sail from the coast of Africa, bound for what then was called Vera Cruz, on the coast of Mexico.

“The ship was overcrowded,” said James Horn, the historian who serves as the president of the Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation. “It suffered horrible mortality on the voyage to Vera Cruz.”

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