Junious Ricardo Stanton
“About the last of August came in a Dutch man of warre the sold us twenty Negars” John Rolfe Jamestown Colony 1619
This year marks the four hundred anniversary of kidnapped Africans being brought to the shores of North America’s British Jamestown colony in 1619 by Europeans. Africans had been to this hemisphere as explorers from African and Asian Kingdoms (read They Came Before Columbus by Ivan Van Sertima and When The World Was Black parts one and two by Supreme Understanding). Africans were also with the early European soldiers of fortune when they came to this hemisphere in search of riches and bounty.
In his book Before The Mayflower Lerone Bennett Jr. the late great editor, writer and historian makes it clear Africans not only had great civilizations in ancient times but also had flourishing advanced kingdoms and cultures that were contemporary to Europe when the European nation states and trading companies embarked on their ventures of repine and plunder around the world.
Bennett’s book on the history of Africans in America points out that the “twenty and odd Negars” the Dutch pirates exchanged for food with the Jamestown colonists had been stolen by the Dutch pirates from a Spanish slaving ship. So the start of our sojourn in the North American British colonies was fraught with criminality and collusion between Europeans.
The Jamestown colony was established in 1607 by the Virginia Company that sent three ships: The Susan Constant, Godspeed and Discovery carrying 105 males to the “New World” to establish a productive colony. The location selected to settle was chosen because it was deep enough to drop anchor, it was strategic for “defense” and it was not populated by indigenous people.
The Jamestown colony had a complicated history from its beginning. The men who arrived were not skilled farmers and knew nothing about the topography, climate or the environment they would encounter. The whites met the indigenous inhabitants and their relations with them soured almost immediately. Relations would have ended in disaster if it were not for the marital alliance that was forged when John Rolfe married Pocahontas the kidnapped daughter of Powhatan the tribal federation chief. The original colonists did not fare well. Many died of starvation and even decided to abandon the colony. It would have died completely if new arrivals with food and supplies had not come to their aid.
In August of 1619 the colonists exchanged food for twenty kidnapped Africans who had been stolen from Africa by the Spanish who then set sail for the Caribbean but who were interdicted and stolen again by Dutch pirates. The Africans were stolen from what is now called Angola in Central Africa. The Africans were kidnapped but they were not slaves in Jamestown! Their status was just like that of the European indentured servants, at that time there was no racial caste or stigma. Their sole purpose was as laborers working to make the chartered Virginia Company and after that company collapsed in 1624, its successor, profitable. The arrangement with indentured servants meant that after a set period of working for the Virginia Company they were “free” to pursue on their own endeavors.
The fact of the matter is indentured servants European and African were treated horribly and their living conditions were extremely harsh. White indentured servants in the Caribbean rarely survived their term of indenture. Most whites never gained self sufficiency or freedom. The Jamestown colony in the beginning was no better.
The trading company needed laborers to make a profit especially once tobacco proved to be a lucrative “money crop”. Tobacco was labor intensive, it needed a lot of acreage, so the trading company imported more whites (poor English, Irish and others) and kidnapped Africans (who were brought here for their skills and knowledge). By the 1650’s the colonial administrators began to make distinctions based on ethnicity and class, English being the preferred class. .(Read In The Matter of Color Race and The American Legal Process The Colonial Period by A. Leon Higginbotham Jr.) This arrangement worked until the white and Black indentured servants banded together against the colonial administrators who had ignored their grievances and complaints.
In 1676 Blacks and white indentured servants banded together in armed rebellion led by Nathaniel Bacon. One of their grievances was the Governor was too lenient and protective of the natives refusing to allow the colonists to expand and openly steal their lands. The coalition fought and waged war against the Governor and the indigenous inhabitants.
Once Bacon’s insurrection ended (partially due to his death from fever and body lice) the colonial administrators moved to prevent any such coalition from ever happening again. The colonial planter elites began to fashion laws to distinguish white and Black status and eventually changed all Black indentured servants and bondsmen into permanent hereditary slaves consigned into a color caste system. https://www.facinghistory.org/holocaust-and-human-behavior/chapter-2/inventing-black-and-white
This legacy of economic exploitation, racial subjugation and oppression was codified in the newly created United States following independence from colonial status. Vestiges of this deeply rooted color caste and class system haunt us to this day.
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