Black August: Arrival of First Africans to Virginia

By Tracey Onyenacho Aug 20, 2020

The Black August series highlights historical events that remind us of the legacy of Black radical tradition. Black August is a month that holds space for political education and study of Black history, resilience, and resistance. Black August was started by incarcerated people in the 1970s after the death of George Jackson and August was chosen for its significance in many important dates in Black struggle.

There is debate on exactly the date Africans were brought to what is now known as the United States prior to 1619. However, many scholars and Black history educators refer to 1619 as agreed upon date of the first arrival of human beings brought across an ocean in bondage arrived here. This reference comes from documented evidence from John Rolfe, a colonizer and slaveowner, who wrote about arriving in present-day Hampton, Virginia, with African slaves on his ship. 

The African slaves were believed to be captured from present-day Angola. These enslaved people were captured during the war between Portugal and the kingdom of Ndongo and brought abroad the slave ship, San Juan Batista. John Rolfe and other colonizers bombarded San Juan Batista on its route to present-day Veracruz, Mexico, and took over 20 African slaves with them to their own slave ship. 

Once Rolfe’s ship arrived in present-day Virginia, the enslaved Africans were exchanged for food and kept in Jamestown, the first English land occupation on Turtle Island (currently known as the United States). Remember, this was before the Mayflower.

The 1619 Project, curated by Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Nikole Hannah Jones, excavated the impact of this critical voyage and expounded on how this act is foundational to this country, on its 400th anniversary last year:

In August of 1619, a ship appeared on this horizon, near Point Comfort, a coastal port in the English colony of Virginia. It carried more than 20 enslaved Africans, who were sold to the colonists. No aspect of the country that would be formed here has been untouched by the years of slavery that followed. On the 400th anniversary of this fateful moment, it is finally time to tell our story truthfully.

Sometimes the most radical act is just that of survival.