In August 1619, more than 20 Africans landed at Old Point Comfort, the present-day Fort Monroe in Hampton, Virginia. They were the first to be sold into forced labor in Colonial America, initiating the slave trade for Virginia’s tobacco crop.
With the 400th anniversary of that ignominious day approaching this year, the city of Hampton has launched an “African Landing Day Commemoration” in which local, state and national officials and organizations are expected to participate during an August weekend which will feature a variety of history tours, education programs and special exhibits.
“One of the objectives we want to achieve is to correct history,” said retired Lt. Col. Claude Vann, Hampton 2019 Commission co-chair. “I think history has done the African American a disservice because we have never been told what our real history was. For the folks here at Hampton, particularly we were taught that the first African landed in Jamestown. Well, that’s incorrect.”
The place where the first African landed was Point Comfort, described by PRI as far east as you can get in Virginia — on a peninsula that extends out into the Chesapeake Bay.
To get to it, you have to cross a bridge over a moat. On the other side is the largest stone fort in America — Fort Monroe — enclosing 565 acres.
The Jamestown settlers built the first fort here in 1609. It’s basically a cabin surrounded by cannons and a fence.
There was constant risk of attack by sea, particularly from the Spanish, who had colonies to the south.
“The city saw the importance of this commemoration early on and they created a commission within the city for it,” said Luci Cochran, the executive director of the Hampton History Museum. “This is a history that so many people are not aware of and we want people to understand that the landing of the first African is a thread that shaped everything.
“It shaped our country and it continues to affect our country today,” she said.
The Hampton History Museum is exploring the lives of the first Africans in the colonies in its exhibition “1619: Arrival of the First Africans” as part of the citywide year of commemoration.
The 2019 Commemoration is a series of programs, events and exhibits taking place throughout the calendar year to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the first African landing at Point Comfort. The commission’s role is to implement a plan to commemorate the 1619 landing of Africans in English North America, seeking international recognition of enslaved Africans’ and their point of entry at Point Comfort in English-occupied North America, and realizing this vision through discourse, planning and promotion of activities that broadly engage local, national and international audiences.
Colleagues of commission members are expected to visit New York from Feb. 5-7 as part of the yearlong activities to commemorate the landmark event.
The culmination is a weekend of acknowledgement and remembrance from Aug. 23-25, when Vann and others said the real story will be told.
As witnessed and recorded by John Rolfe, the first tobacco planter in the Virginia colony, on August 20, 1619, the White Lion entered the Chesapeake Bay, docked at Point Comfort (present day Hampton) with Africans from the country Angola, of the Bantu culture.
According to “Landing Day” historians, the Africans spoke the languages of the Kimbundu and Kikongo. Contrary to popular belief, many were literate and hailed from highly organized societies.
Two of those Africans, named Antoney and Isabell, became servants of Captain William Tucker, Commander of the fort at Point Comfort. About 1623 or 1624, the union of Isabell and Antoney birthed the first African child in English North America, named William Tucker.
The other arriving Africans were interspersed within the Virginia colony, from Elizabeth City County to Jamestown.
“From a historian’s perspective, we hope people will take away that all of this wasn’t an accident,” said Beth Austin of the Hampton History Museum, who conducted much of the research. “It happened in a global context both in terms of the wider Atlantic world in 1619 and it had the enormous global impact. The slave trade and the practice of slavery in America impacted the New World and Africa and it’s had a very long-term and profound legacy.”