400 years ago, enslaved Africans arrived in Virginia; today, local historians revisit untold stories

JAMESTOWN, Va. – It’s a story that began along the James River in 1619.

“We think about Jamestown sometimes being this place of beginning and this place of democracy starting,” said Mark Summers with Jamestown Rediscovery.

However, he added it was a very different start for some. This year marks the 400th year since the first enslaved Africans arrived on the Virginia Peninsula during the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

Some were brought to Hampton; others were left in Jamestown.

“Walking into what would now be the homes and the spaces and places that they would now live,” National Park Service Deputy Superintendent Steven Williams said, “stripped of everything that they would have brought. It’s an untold story.”

Local historians said one of those stories involves an enslaved woman named Angela.

Jamestown Rediscovery and the National Park Service have spent recent years digging through the grounds of what’s now called the “Angela site.”

“We’re trying to conceptualize how her life was back in the 1700s so that the American public, we can start learning more about how these enslaved African lived and how they interacted with the English,” Williams explained.

On the property sits the ruins of this building where Angela may have worked or lived.

A stronger reminder of a painful time gone by.

Things were much different in Jamestown 400 years ago. A wharf where ships were docked likely sat close to the James River. Africans forced from the ship down this path into a life of bondage in a new world.

Just up the road in Williamsburg, Trish Thomas leads people through Duke of Gloucester street explaining how the Africans resisted and remained resilient.

“The people who knew farming were the first Angolans to come to this country,” Thomas, who provides tours with Williamsburg Walking Tours, explained. “William Barkley says, in 1648, ‘we will do our planting in the spring on the advice of our Negros.’”

Even though it was tough for many Africans people during this time period, tour guides in Williamsburg say they were vital to the community because they helped feed and keep people alive.

“They are becoming, on the plantation, the doctors. They are fixing the medicines for the people and they are very trusted,” Thomas said.

Though America has changed drastically since 1619, researchers say until we learn the complete history of the past, many of its issues will continue to manifest.

“A lot of the things that were born  in slavery and separation are still with us in our society,” Summers told News 3.

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