A new exhibit commemorating the arrival of the first Africans in English North America will open at Museum of the Albemarle early next month.

“1619: Arrival of the First Africans” is a traveling exhibit on loan from Hampton History Museum. It will open at MOA on Aug. 2 and close on Aug. 31.

“Drawing on the latest research,” a description of the exhibit by Hampton History Museum states, “the exhibit tells the story of the Africans’ home in Angola, how they came to be enslaved aboard a Spanish slave ship San Juan Bautista, the terrible 10,000 nautical-mile voyage that brought them to Virginia, and their lives on the farms and plantations in the new colony.”

In late August 1619 the privateer White Lion arrived off Point Comfort near present day Fort Monroe. According to John Rolfe in a letter to Sir Edwin Sandys of the Royal Virginia Company, aboard was a captive cargo of “..not any thing but 20 and odd Negroes, which the Governor and Cape Marchant bought for victualls....”

The 20 Africans were the first to arrive in the new Virginia colony. Their names, given by Portuguese missionaries, included Antony, Isabela, William, Angela, Anthony, Frances, Margaret, Anthony, John, Edward, Anthony. The names of the others are not yet known.


The Virginia colony’s first Africans had lived in the Ndongo Kingdom in Angola in West Central Africa on a plateau 150 miles from the Atlantic. The Portuguese and their mercenary allies, the Imbangala, waged war on the Ndongo kingdom, the most powerful state in the Mbundu region, to gain control of the region and provide slaves for the trade.

The Angolans on the White Lion had been taken from the Spanish slave ship San Juan Bautista. The White Lion’s captain, John Jope, traded the captured Angolans to the Virginians represented by Gov. George Yeardley and his Cape Merchant Abraham Piersey. The Africans were in turn taken into servitude in local homes and plantations.

The exhibit details how the Africans came into Jope’s possession and were taken aboard the White Lion. It also details the politics and piracy that put them in the hands of the Englishmen who had taken them from the Spanish slave trader and diverted them from their original destination of Vera Cruz in Mexico to Virginia.

This traveling exhibit is underwritten by a grant from the National Park Service. The exhibit is free and open to the public.