Protest: Origins, Resistance, Legacy

Middle Passage and Transatlantic Origins

The trans-Atlantic trade, known as the Middle Passage, is the largest forced migration in human history. Research shows that 12 million Africans were captured and permanently removed from their homeland; 2 million died during the voyage; and 10 million disembarked in the Americas -- North, Central, and South America and the Caribbean. Approximately 500,000 arrived in U.S. North America. Using Voyages: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database and other scholarly source material, 53 arrival locations on the North American mainland have been identified. Specifically, these are the places where captive children, women, and men who survived the ocean voyage first placed their feet after being forcibly removed from Africa. It is at these locations that African American history began.

Not a single one came by choice. The origins of protest began as captives in Africa, continued during the ocean journey, and at the point of arrival as enslaved people. Protest and resistance are embedded in the history of these ancestors and their descendants. The Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project (MPCPMP), founded in 2011, is committed to truth-telling -- acknowledging the history of the Middle Passage and commemorating the lives of these Africans at the 53 documented arrival locations identified on the map (See above). To do this, we encourage local communities to conduct ancestral remembrance ceremonies and install public markers to honor African ancestors. Forty-three of these arrival locations are designated a Site of Memory of the UNESCO Routes of Enslaved Peoples: Resistance, Liberty and Heritage project. The years reflect ships coming directly from Africa to the US mainland.

For more information on the Middle Passage Project visit
www.middlepassageproject.org

Marker Installed: December 2019

Cooper Riverside Park

101 S. Water Street

Mobile, AL

African Presence in Alabama

This colony/state, originally claimed by the Spanish and French, was part of the western expansion from the Atlantic European settlements. From the territorial period in the early 19th century, Africans and their descendants were constant, primary suppliers of labor and skills and were instrumental to the development and growth of plantation agriculture. “By the antebellum period, Alabama had evolved into a slave society, which is characterized by the proliferation and defense of the institution that shaped much of the state’s economy, politics, and culture.”

In 2019, a Middle Passage/UNESCO marker was installed in Mobile to honor the lives of Africans and their descendants whose unpaid labor played a significant role in developing the colony/state. Africatown, AL, is planning to install its marker in August 2020. Please follow this link to read more about Alabama and slavery and find resources for additional information: http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-2369

Marker Installed: September 2019 at Harbor Park

African Presence in Connecticut

While exact dates are unknown, Africans came to Connecticut soon after the first European settlements were founded. There is mention of African presence in Hartford from 1639 and in New Haven from 1644. The colony’s growing agricultural industry along with its established towns and small ports fostered the expansion of slavery. On the eve of the American Revolution, it had the largest number of enslaved people (6,464) in New England, with the largest increase coming during the period 1749-1774. Connecticut was principally involved with slavery by supplying food, animals, and materials to sugar plantations in the West Indies. In the 19th century, another African resource, ivory, became the basis for wealth in the town of Deep River.

In the 1700s, two vessels sailed into Middletown’s riverfront with their human cargo stolen from the African continent. New London disembarked 74 captive Africans, and six ships left from there to engage in the trans-Atlantic trade. It is probably best known for its connection to the Amistad in 1839.  There is a record of the Polly departing from New Haven for Africa in 1791, although the outcome of the voyage is unknown.

On September 28, 2019, Middletown dedicated its historic marker to remember and honor these and other enslaved Africans and their descendants who played a crucial role in the building of Middletown and the state.

Please follow this link to read more about Connecticut and slavery and find resources for additional information: http://slavenorth.com/connecticut.htm

Birth Document of Enslaved Children
Birth Document of Enslaved Children c/o delaware.archives.gov

African Presence in Delaware

Named after its first known inhabitants, the Delaware Lenape of the Algonquin nation, the territory was later claimed by Sweden (c.1638), the Dutch (c.1655), and Great Britain (c. 1682). As the northern portion of the Delmarva peninsula, much of its history and commerce reflect the culture of the Eastern Shore and Chesapeake region. The first record of an enslaved African, Anthony Swart, was in 1639. He was described as a person in service to the governor of New Sweden. The southern counties of New Castle, Kent, and Sussex contained the largest numbers of Africans who labored primarily growing tobacco, corn, and wheat on farms and plantations along the Delaware River and its waterways. Immediately before the Revolutionary War, one quarter of the colony’s residents were enslaved. Sustained by the arrival and transfer of people between Maryland and Delaware, the 1790 census reported 70 percent of Black people in the state were enslaved. The state was a primary route on the Underground Railroad used by Harriet Tubman, William Garrett of Wilmington, and many others traveling up the peninsula to the north.

Although proportionally Delaware had the largest free Black population of any state (1850), as a border state that remained within the Union during the Civil War, slavery was not abolished until December 6, 1865, when the 13th Amendment became national law without Delaware’s concurrence. Not until 1901 did its state General Assembly pass a joint resolution ratifying the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments.

For more information follow these links:
http://slavenorth.com. “Slavery in Delaware”
“Black Americans in Delaware: An Overview,” James E. Newton www.udel.edu

Whipping a Slave, Delaware, 1858
"Whipping a Slave, Delaware, 1858," Slavery Images: A Visual Record of the African Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Early African Diaspora, accessed December 30, 2022, http://www.slaveryimages.org/s/slaveryimages/item/1259
The historic marker commemorating the contributions of enslaved Africans is located in the Capitol Visitors Center, towards the western end of the northern wall of Emancipation Hall. It features a single block of Aquia Creek sandstone quarried by Africans in bondage.

African Presence in District of Columbia

Carved out of Maryland and Virginia, both “slave societies,” the city was named in honor of George Washington, the nation’s first president and a person who held more than one hundred people in bondage. Before it became the capital of the United States, this area was originally a Native American trading center. When John Cabot arrived in 1608, many tribes had settled here, in what is now Georgetown. Congress approved the creation of a national capital on the Potomac River in 1790, incorporating two pre-existing settlements: the port of Georgetown, MD [founded in 1751], and the city of Alexandria, VA [founded in 1749]. As one of the first points of disembarkation for the enslaved, the port of Georgetown “ensured that slavery was ingrained into every aspect of life, including the buildings, institutions, and social fabric” of Washington, D.C. There were several holding pens and auction sites within the boundaries of the nation’s capital, and the District’s first official federal buildings – the Capitol and President’s House/White House – were built by enslaved Black people. Georgetown and its port remained a separate municipality within the federal District of Columbia until 1871. The demand in Europe and the colonies for tobacco grown in Maryland and Virginia established this location as one of the largest tobacco ports in the new nation, with enslaved Africans and their descendants providing the labor both in the fields and in the homes of tobacco merchants. On February 28, 2012, Congress unveiled a marker in the Capitol building to commemorate the central role played by enslaved Africans in its construction. Please follow these links to read more about Washington, D.C., and slavery and find resources for additional information: http://www.gaahlp.org/about/introduction/ https://www.whitehousehistory.org/the-complexities-of-slave…

Washington, DC wreath
August 25, 2019: To honor African ancestors, Secretary of the District of Columbia Kimberly Bassett and Frank Young of the National Park Service place the commemorative wreath at the river’s edge at Georgetown Waterfront Park. Photo by Robert Devaney/The Georgetowner
Marker installed March 2020 at Amelia Island/Fernandina, FL.

African Presence in Florida

Florida has two coasts – Atlantic and Gulf – where two of the earliest European settlements, Pensacola (1559) and St. Augustine (1565), were established by the Spanish. Africans were on board with the arrival of Ponce de Leon (1513) who claimed the entire continent for Spain. Archeological and archival research provide evidence that the earliest, sustained presence of Africans in the U.S., both free and enslaved, occurred in this state. The first recorded birth of a child of African descent was 1606 in St. Augustine. The Paris Peace Treaty of 1783 that ended the Revolutionary War and granted U.S. independence also returned control of Florida to Spain. No longer under any legal or tariff restrictions, great numbers of captives were imported here directly from Africa to work on rice and indigo plantations. During the late 1700s, these people comprised the predominant work force in East Florida. In the early 19th century, particularly after the 1808 U.S. constitutional ban on the importation of Africans, Florida became a human trade and smuggling region on the St. Johns and St. Marys Rivers.

To date, Middle Passage and/or UNESCO Site of Memory markers have been installed at St. Augustine* (Mission Nombre de Dios), Amelia Island/Fernandina Beach* (Fernandina Plaza Historic State Park), Key West (African American Cemetery at Higgs Beach), and Mosquito Inlet* (Greek Memorial, New Smyrna). A marker has been approved for Pensacola, the installation date TBA.

To read more about Florida and slavery and to find additional resources, please follow these links: https://floridahumanities.org/floridas-culture-of-slavery/https://aaregistry.org/story/st-augustine-florida-founded/https://www.tampabay.com/…/before-1619-africans-and-the-ea…/

This lighthouse is located at Tybee Island, GA, a deep water port where captive Africans were brought and held in confinement to be sold at auction in Savannah, GA. This island also served as a Middle Passage quarantine location.

African Presence in Georgia

In 1526, prior to English colonization, the Spanish with more than 100 enslaved Africans made a brief, unsuccessful attempt at settlement in the Sapelo Bay area. The colony of Georgia was founded by England in 1733 as a planned buffer between British South Carolina and Spanish Florida. It was designed as a colony for Great Britain’s convicted debtors and her poor. Slavery and Africans were banned. By 1751, however, the ban was rescinded and slavery, although practiced for decades before in the colony, was legalized. The state rivaled Virginia and South Carolina in the number of captive African arrivals. The city of Savannah became a major trading and export center, especially as the cotton industry – totally dependent on enslaved labor in the U.S. – expanded in England and New England. Igbo Landing, located on St. Simons Island, is where Africans, in an ultimate act of resistance (1803), drowned themselves after surviving the Middle Passage rather than be held in bondage. Enslaved Africans on the Butler rice plantation near Darien were sold in the largest single auction of Black people in this country; it extended over several days with heavy rain and is known as “The Weeping Time.” Please follow this link to read more about Georgia and slavery and to find resources for additional information: https://southernspaces.org/…/georgia-slavery-georgia-freed…/

Middle Passage marker Installed November 2014 at Historic Sotterley Plantation.

African Presence in Maryland

Known as the “Free State,” Maryland has a long history of forced servitude that began when the first documented Africans arrived in bondage in 1642 at St. Mary’s City, the first English settlement in the province. Africans and their descendants played a major role in shaping the state, laboring on “the tobacco plantations that fueled the colony’s economic growth during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The fortunes amassed from the unpaid labor of enslaved workers allowed Maryland’s gentry to dominate colonial politics” and filled the coffers of the colony’s wealthy, white, planter class while leaving an impoverished, black population in its wake. Between 1662-1774, there were 56 ships delivering 10,185 captive children, women, and men from West Africa (Ghana, Senegal, Gambia, Nigeria, Angola), East Africa (Madagascar) and other unspecified areas to often unidentified locations in the colony/state. It was the home of the largest population of free Blacks in the United States prior to the Civil War and the birthplace of prominent abolitionists Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman. During the Civil War, it remained part of the Union as a “slave state” and did not abolish the practice until 1864, a few months before the 13th Amendment was approved by the U.S. Congress.

On September 21, 1720, the Generous Jenny, a ship that left London for the Cape Coast Castle on the Gold Coast of Africa with the order to acquire 260 people, arrived at Sotterley Plantation on the Patuxent River with 211 men, women, and children in bondage. In November 2014, the plantation installed a historic marker honoring those Africans and their descendants. Currently, there are plans to install markers in Annapolis, Baltimore, and Historic London Town. on the South River in Edgewater Please follow this link to read more about Maryland and slavery and to find resources at the end of this article for additional information: https://msa.maryland.gov/…/intromsa/pdf/slavery_pamphlet.pdf

Boston, MA

African Presence in Massachusetts

Described as the “Cradle of Liberty,” Massachusetts frequently promotes its colonial, Revolutionary War against England, and early U.S. history with only slight acknowledgement of the long-term presence or contributions of Africans and their descendants. Preferring to emphasize the state’s role in the Abolitionist movement, little is mentioned of enslaved Africans’ continuous arrival beginning in 1638 until the mid-18th century or the fact that it was the first colony to legalize slavery (1641) on the North American mainland.

It is generally accepted that John Winthrop (the founder of Boston) made the first documented reference to the trade of Africans in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in his journal. He writes that on February 26, 1638, the ship Desire returned from the West Indies carrying “some cotton, and tobacco, and negroes, etc., from thence…” They had been exchanged for enslaved Pequot Indians brought from New England. The importation of people in bondage directly from Africa began in 1644, with Boston merchants “selling them in the West Indies, and bringing home sugar to make rum, initiating the so-called triangular trade.” Massachusetts was one of the principal trading colonies in New England, and Boston’s port was a primary point of departure for ships participating in the trade of Africans.

In 2015, Boston held a remembrance ceremony at Faneuil Hall, a building funded in part by profits from the trade in human beings, to honor those African ancestors brought in chains to the colony and their descendants (video). Plans to install a historic marker in Boston are nearly complete. Please follow these links to read more about Massachusetts and slavery and to find resources for additional information: https://historyofmassachusetts.org/slavery-in-massachusetts/ https://www.masshist.org/endofslavery/index.php?id=60

The Bay of Biloxi: Enslaved Africans arrived at the Biloxi area here.

African Presence in Mississippi

Arriving in the early 1540s, the Spanish were the first European expedition into the territory, but it was the French, in 1699, who established the first permanent settlement along the Gulf Coast in the territory that included present-day Mississippi. In 1718, French officials established rules to allow the importation of Africans into the Biloxi area, and by 1719, the first Africans arrived. Most of those early enslaved people were Caribbean Creoles. From 1763 – 1779, British traders brought “large numbers of Jamaican-born African Caribbeans to the Natchez region.”

Most of the enslaved, however, came into the territory by land, many from the “tobacco plantations in the Chesapeake Bay area, where agricultural productivity was declining while the slave population increased.” They were part of the domestic human trade that enabled Whites to benefit from western expansion and claim territory after the forced removal in the early 1830s of Indigenous communities. “The removal of the Choctaws and Chickasaws opened some of the nation’s most fertile farmland to cultivation at a time when soaring cotton prices and a general loosening of the credit markets promised quick profits to enterprising planters and slave traders looking to make their fortunes in the southwest . . . The labor of enslaved Africans and African Americans made the dramatic growth in cotton production possible. During the 1830s, Mississippi’s slave population increased by nearly 200 percent, exploding from 65,659 to 195,211. The increase was even more dramatic in some counties.” Other factors leading to this growth are: the demand for cotton by the textile industry in England as well as in the northern U.S textile mills; the invention of the cotton gin in 1793; and, the advent of the steamboat in 1811, with its capacity to carry large loads and its ability to navigate shallow waterways.

Biloxi is the only documented Middle Passage arrival location in the state. To date, Biloxi has been designated a UNESCO Site of Memory and is in the planning stage for a remembrance ceremony and marker installation. Please follow these links to read more about Mississippi and slavery and to find resources for additional information: http://www.mshistorynow.mdah.ms.gov/…/antebellum-mississippi
http://mshistorynow.mdah.state.ms.us/…/the-forks-of-the-roa…
https://www.behindthebighouse.org/…/08/General_Narrative.pdf

The Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail identifies this as the city’s Middle Passage marker installed at Prescott Park.

Photo credit: Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff-Christian Science Monitor 

African Presence in New Hampshire

African presence in the colony of New Hampshire can be traced back to 1645, with the first documented captive person from the west coast of Africa; he was bought by a Mr. Williams of Piscataqua. Although the number of blacks in the colony was small in the 17th century, records of wills and inventories indicate that the enslaved were included in the estates of several prominent families. Because the colony of New Hampshire did not impose a tariff on the importation of captive Africans, many were transported to the state’s only port at Portsmouth or along the Piscataqua River and smuggled into Massachusetts and other colonies.

Portsmouth, with its history as a New England human trade hub, primarily transported the enslaved between Africa, Portsmouth, Virginia, and the West Indies. Africans who were victims of the trade usually arrived in the state through the port of Portsmouth, and according to Valerie Cunningham, “The town’s slave population grew from a reported 52 in 1727 to about 4% of the total population in 1767 when 187 slaves were reported . . .” with as many as 700 black people here by the American Revolution. By this time, the colony had become a major Atlantic seaport. Most of the enslaved worked in the shipyards, on the waterfront, in tradesmen’s workshops, and in family homes. As a result of a very active abolitionist group, the state became an Underground Railroad route of escape for enslaved people.

In 2015, Portsmouth installed a marker to honor the African ancestors who were brought to the state and their descendants who played key roles in its early history. Please follow these links to read more about New Hampshire and slavery and to find resources for additional information:

http://www.seacoastnh.com/first-blacks-of-portsmouth-part…/…
https://blackheritagetrailnh.org/nh-history/

A child tosses a rose into the vault (before the lid is placed over the coffins) at the African Burying Ground Memorial Park. The vault contains the remains of 13 people found during a construction project.

Photo credit: Suzanne Laurent/Seacoastonline.
Camden marker installed November 17, 2017

African Presence in New Jersey

As early as 1626, the first enslaved Africans were brought by the Dutch to the region of the New Netherlands colony (which later became New York and northern New Jersey).  French privateers also participated in this early trade to the colony, bringing “enslaved men, women, and children from the Portuguese or Spanish ships that they had captured in the Western hemisphere.”  Bergen (now Jersey City), established in 1630 on the west bank of the Hudson River, was the first permanent Dutch settlement.  After taking the colony from the Dutch in 1664, the English continued the practice of chattel slavery, bringing people in bondage directly from Africa or by way of the Caribbean Islands to work the land and grow the crops, primarily wheat and barley. 

Perth Amboy, ideally suited as a bustling maritime port of entry, was the British colonial capital of East Jersey and an arrival location for ships during the transatlantic human trade. Because the colony imposed no tariff on the importation of captive Africans, many traders disembarked their human cargo at this location, avoiding taxation while supplying New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania buyers.

Camden served as one of the primary locations for the purchases of human beings made by surrounding farmers and Delaware plantation owners and by 1766 had sold more than 800 captive Africans at three local ferry terminals owned by the Cooper family. They were often people who were ferried across the Delaware River from Philadelphia to Camden’s auction sites.

According to a 1745 census, a major portion of the enslaved (74%) lived in the more economically developed but labor scarce counties of Bergen, Essex, Middlesex, Hunterdon, Somerset, and Monmouth. In 1786, the colony banned the importation of men, women, and children from Africa, and by 1800, the enslaved African population exceeded 12,000.  In 1804, New Jersey became the last northern state to adopt gradual emancipation; however, the enslaved were not immediatey free: “Every child born of a slave . . . after the fourth of July [1804] . . . shall be free, but shall remain the servant of the owner of his or her mother . . . ”.  In 1866, New Jersey reluctantly became the last northern state to ratify the 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution passed in 1865.

In November 27, 2017, Camden, a UNESCO Site of Memory, installed its first marker honoring the lives of African ancestors and their descendants who were enslaved in the state.  A second marker was dedicated on June 17, 2019, and the city is planning a third marker.  Perth Amboy is also a UNESCO Site of Memory, and MPCPMP has discussed the installation of a marker with city officials.  Please follow these links to read more about New Jersey and slavery and to find resources for additional information:

https://www.durandhedden.org/docs/juneteenth-exhibit.pdf

https://www.newnetherlandinstitute.org/history-and-heritage/digital-exhibitions/slavery-exhibit/slave-trade/

https://www.njtvonline.org/news/video/revisiting-camdens-dark-past-slave-trade/

Memorial at African Burial Ground

Photo credit: Larry Gertner, February 15, 2015

African Presence in New York

In the early 1600s, the Dutch claimed parts of present-day New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut and Delaware to establish the colony of New Netherland. In 1626, the first major group of settlers to the region “founded New Amsterdam on the southern tip of nearby Manhattan Island.” New Amsterdam, the capital of New Netherland, became a major British colonial settlement and would later become New York.

Along with the European settlers’ arrival in 1626, 11 enslaved Africans from Congo, Angola, and the island of Sao Tome were transported to the small town, beginning the systematic and increasing use of captive Africans in New Netherland. “From about 2,000 in 1698, the number of the colony’s black slaves swelled to more than 9,000 adults by 1746 and 13,000 by 1756. Between 1732 and 1754, black slaves accounted for more than 35 percent of the total immigration through the port of New York. And that doesn’t count the many illegal cargoes of Africans unloaded all along the convoluted coast of Long Island to avoid the tariff duties on slaves.” It was the forced labor of these men, women, and children in bondage that built the infrastructure of the colonial city by: clearing forests; dredging harbors; building roads, bridges, houses, the first city hall, the first Dutch and English churches, docks, the prison, the hospital, and fortifications (such as the wall built in 1653 to protect Dutch settlers from Indian raids, the wall for which Wall Street is named). From 1665-1775, 63 ships delivered approximately 5,600 captives directly from Africa to the city. In the 18th century, New York had the second highest urban concentration of enslaved Africans on the North American mainland, more than Philadelphia and Boston combined, second only to Charleston, SC.

As a major ocean-centered commercial colony/state, New York’s Middle Passage history extends far beyond shipping captive Africans to the North American mainland. It became a financial center. Although the New York legislature set July 4, 1827, as the date of final emancipation (making New York the first state to pass a law for the total abolition of legal slavery), merchants, investors, and traders continued to enable the transport of agricultural products to U.S. and European industrial manufacturing centers and captive Africans to the West Indies and the Americas well into the mid-19th century, especially Cuba and Brazil, where slavery continued until 1887 and 1888 respectively.

In 1991, the remains of more than 400 Africans were uncovered during excavation for the federal Foley Square Courthouse in Lower Manhattan. They were part of the largest colonial cemetery for Africans in North America (15,000-20,000), a segregated graveyard outside of city limits used to bury Africans and people of African descent. Much of the biological historical research of this location was led by Michael Blakey (College of William & Mary), who is a member of MPCPMP advisory board.

Today, this area (known as the African Burial Ground) encompasses approximately 5 city blocks or 6 acres located north of Wall Street in lower Manhattan. On October 4, 2003, the ancestral remains of those 419 African men, women and children were ceremonially reinterred at the site where they were discovered, and a memorial was dedicated at the site on October 5, 2007, in a ceremony presided over by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and poet Maya Angelou. Please follow these links to read more about New York and slavery and find resources for additional information:

https://www.nypl.org/blog/2015/06/29/slave-market
http://slavenorth.com/newyork.htm
http://www.slaveryinnewyork.org/history.htm

Beaufort, NC

African Presence in North Carolina

The province of Carolina was given to the Lords Proprietors in 1663 and 1665 by England’s King Charles II. By 1670, a plantation economy was initiated, and the trans-Atlantic trade began to bring in captive African laborers to do the arduous work of growing and harvesting the cash crops of tobacco, rice, and indigo. “From the beginning of the existence of the Carolina colony, slavery was encouraged. Four of the eight Lords Proprietors of the colony were members of the slave trading company, the Royal African Company. In 1663, the Lords Proprietors encouraged settlers to have slaves by promising that they would be given 20 acres of land for every black male slave and 10 acres for every black female slave brought to the colony within the first year. This encouragement worked. By 1683, the black population was equal to the white population.”

In 1712, North Carolina and South Carolina became distinct colonies. Until recently, North Carolina’s only recognized Middle Passage arrival location was Wilmington, the state’s southernmost port located on the Cape Fear River. Based on the geography of the colony’s treacherous coast, making navigation difficult, it was believed that most enslaved Africans were transported to this region from the Chesapeake region, Georgia, or South Carolina, not directly from Africa. However, current research has found that, although references in colonial records to the arrival of enslaved persons to the region are scattered and indicate that many of these people in bondage arrived from other colonies, vessels carrying a significant number of captive people to North Carolina ports directly from Africa were recorded at least as far back as the 1680s. Along with Wilmington, documented North Carolina Middle Passage arrival locations now include: Beaufort, Brunswick, Edenton/Roanoke, and New Bern.

Entry after surviving the Middle Passage was through one of five colonial/custom districts established gradually throughout the colony, beginning with Port Roanoke, with the customs collector eventually based at Edenton. The number of captive people imported into the state by sea grew steadily over time. Between 1702-1746 there are records for 319 enslaved persons transported into the colony by sea; 818 between 1749-1767 – of that number, 258 people were transported directly from Africa to North Carolina. Between 1768-1772, 719 more captive Africans arrived at the colony. Additionally, during this same time period, the British Board of Customs and Excise for America indicates that 43 enslaved persons were brought to the colony from Africa. Records of vessels carrying children, women, and men in bondage into the colony document that 567 arrived between 1771-1775, and 993 between 1784-1790. While NC banned the importation of Africans several times before the 1808 ban, each time that resolution was repealed to reestablish economic stability.

By 1800, there were approximately 140,000 black people living in North Carolina, growing to more than 331,000 enslaved in 1860, primarily working in agriculture. Others served as skilled artisans such as carpenters, plasterers, brick-masons, tanners, coopers, and blacksmiths as well as domestic laborers. Slavery continued until the Civil War and the resultant 1865 Emancipation Proclamation that freed more than 360,000 African Americans in the state.

Today, every Middle Passage location in the state is designated a “Site of Memory” associated with the UNESCO Slave Trade Route Project. The North Carolina African American Heritage Commission is leading the effort to install markers at these sites. Please follow these links to read more about North Carolina and slavery and find resources for additional information:

http://poplargrove.org/discover/gullah-geechee-2/slavery/

Philadelphia Middle Passage marker, dedicated August 5, 2016

Photo Credit: Denise Valentine

African Presence in Pennsylvania

Africans first arrived in Pennsylvania with the Dutch and Swedish settlers who colonized the area in 1639. In 1667, the English took control of the colony, and in 1681, Charles II of England granted the Province of Pennsylvania to William Penn to settle a debt the king owed to Penn’s father. Penn, a Quaker, established the colony as a place of religious freedom for members of the sect, a refuge for those facing persecution in England. Although Quakers opposed the institution of slavery, Penn himself held Africans in bondage, referring to them in his letters and his will.

Research shows that in 1684 the first ship arrived at Philadelphia (established in 1682 as the capital of the Pennsylvania colony). By the early 1700s, “race-based slavery had developed and European colonists rationalized slavery by seeing Africans as barbaric, heathen, and therefore eligible for enslavement.” At that time, Africans in bondage made up almost twenty percent of the city’s population. Serving as a major mid-Atlantic commercial and shipping center, the city of “Brotherly Love” supplied enslaved Africans locally and to neighboring states – Delaware and New Jersey. By 1730 “about 4,000 slaves had been brought to Pennsylvania . . . most of them owned by English, Welsh, and Scotch-Irish colonists.” Like all the other colonies, the enslaved in Pennsylvania faced physical force, harsh punishment, violence, and strict regulations that limited their movement.

Although opposition to government-sanctioned servitude grew in the colony (by Quakers and non-Quakers allies), so did the institution of slavery. Even the Quakers “continued to hold slaves throughout the colonial period as few believed the practice immoral as long as owners treated their slaves fairly and without violence.” It was not until 1776, at the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, that members were banned from holding people in bondage; those who refused faced exclusion from the Society of Friends.

During the American Revolution, as the nation’s founders formally agreed upon and adopted national ideals (1776) at Independence Hall, discussions about abolition continued, and the very language used to support the war for freedom from the tyranny of England was used to protest the institution of slavery, highlighting “the hypocrisy of owning slaves amidst a crusade for freedom,” comparing the denial of human rights and brutality against the enslaved to the efforts by the British to subjugate the colonies. This resulted in the Gradual Abolition Act of 1780 that, in actuality, did not make slavery illegal immediately but instead endorsed the eventual freedom of those born into slavery, stating that “even though the children born were not ‘slaves’, they are required to remain in the service of their owners as a type of indentured servant or apprentice until that child is 28 years old.” Although Pennsylvania was the first of the states to abolish slavery, the practice of slavery was not completely eliminated from Pennsylvania until 1847.

On August 5, 2016, the Philadelphia Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project, led by Denise Valentine (now deceased) installed a marker to honor African ancestors and their descendants whose unpaid labor was integral to building the colony/state. Please follow these links to read more about Pennsylvania and slavery and find resources for additional information: http://www.phmc.state.pa.us/…/pa-histo…/index.html:1681-1776: The Quaker Province https://philadelphiaencyclopedia.org/ Slavery and the Slave Trade https://revolutionary-war.net/the-act-for-the-gradual-abol…/

Denise Valentine, representative of MPCPMP in Philadelphia, speaking in front of the Independence Seaport Museum at the dedication of the Middle Passage marker, August 5, 2016.



Denise passed away in March 2020. She was Philadelphia. Her dedication, enthusiasm, activism, and talent focused on caring for her family, promoting an accurate inclusive history of Philadelphia, storytelling, and community organizing. She worked almost single-handedly for many years to install the Middle Passage marker dedicated in 2016. Coordinating an annual commemoration for African ancestors each June at Penn’s Landing on the pier adjacent to Independence Seaport Museum was a trademark that reflected her spirit and pride in African American culture. 
Historic Middle Passage marker, located at the Warren Town Wharf, dedicated June 20, 2019,
Photo Credit: Warren Preservation Society 

African Presence in Rhode Island

Slavery in the colony of Rhode Island began at the time of settlement (1636) with Native American prisoners of war captured in the two major 17th century conflicts in southern New England, the Pequot War (1636-37) and King Philip’s War (1675-76). After 1638, the first enslaved Africans began arriving, forced to work the land, tend the livestock, and serve the white settlers. The numbers continued to grow. The largest increase in the Black population occurred from 1715 to 1755, a growth that “coincided with the industrial development of the colony and its emergence into the slave trade.”

With ports on the Atlantic Ocean, the newly established settlement soon became a major participant in the Triangular Trade. Rhode Island exported lumber, food staples, and horses and imported cotton, spices, clothing, and iron, but it was the production of rum that drove the trade. The sugar and molasses they imported from plantations in the Caribbean to produce rum in the Rhode Island colony was exported to West Africa in barrels and exchanged for African captives needed to produce more sugar, more rum. In 1652, Rhode Island passed a law that abolished African slavery, but it was never enforced because of the demand for cheap labor and the financial reward of the sugar market and “its related product, rum.” From 1732 to 1764, each year the Colony sent 18 ships bearing 1,800 hogsheads [casks] of rum to Africa to trade for slaves.” It was one of the “most active Northern colonies in importing slaves. Between 1709 and 1807, Rhode Island merchants sponsored at least 934 slaving voyages to the coast of Africa and carried an estimated 106,544 slaves to the New World.”

Prior to the American Revolution, Newport was the colony’s principal arrival port, importing approximately 59,070 Africans in bondage. Bristol and Providence were also very active ports. The town of Warren was involved in shipbuilding and the transatlantic human trade as well, but unlike other Rhode Island ports, there is no record that captive Africans disembarked there.

Following the Revolution, merchants from the smallest colony in the Union “controlled between 60 and 90 percent of the American trade in African slaves.” Research has determined that “by 1774, Rhode Island’s 3,761 Blacks were the third highest total in New England. The white population had grown since mid-century, but the colony’s slaves still made up 6.3% percent [sic] of the total population, almost twice as high as any other New England colony.” Because Rhode Island had the highest ratio of enslaved to white, it established very harsh laws to control their movement and activity.

A dominant player in the global system of human trade, Rhode Island was responsible for the largest number of ships that originated from the U.S. mainland and transported enslaved Africans during centuries of the transatlantic human trade. According to research from Brown University, while “North American ships represented a relatively small portion of the global slave trade, Rhode Island was the epicenter of the North American slave trade. At least two-thirds of North American slave-trading voyages each year were from the colony.” Its status as the foremost participant in the trade of men, women, and children continued until 1774, when the Rhode Island General Assembly passed a partial ban on the importation of captured Africans. In part, it stated that: “No Negro or mulatto slave shall be brought in to this colony, and in case any slave shall be brought in, he or she shall be . . . immediately free, so far as respects personal freedom, and the enjoyment of private property.”

In 1784, Rhode Island passed the Gradual Emancipation Act that stated: “Children born to slave mothers were to be considered freeborn citizens. However, to compensate owners for their losses, such children were to be bound out as apprentices until age 21, and their wages paid to their mothers’ owners.” Enslaved people born before 1784, however, would not be freed. Although in 1787 the colony made it illegal for Rhode Islanders to be involved with the trade, this law was ignored nor was it enforced, and traders found ways to circumvent the law, “ . . . often by buying whaling ships and transforming them into slave ships” or selling captured Africans to Cuba before they returned to the U.S. In its 1843 constitution, Rhode Island officially banned slavery in the state; however, slavery continued until just before the Civil War.

On June 20, 2019, the city of Warren dedicated a Middle Passage marker at the Warren Town Wharf to honor African ancestors. Newport has begun discussions to organize a memorial, and Bristol has formed a planning committee. The status of Providence is unknown. Both Newport and Bristol have been designated a UNESCO site of memory associated with the Slave Route Project. Please follow these links to read more about Rhode Island and slavery and find resources for additional information: 

https://www.brown.edu/Facilities/John_Carter_Brown_Library/exhibitions/jcbexhibit/Pages/exhibSlavery.html

https://www.womenhistoryblog.com/2008/01/slavery-in-rhode-island.html 

https://smallstatebighistory.com/rhode-island-dominates-north-american-slave-trade-in-18th-century/ 

Erected in 1999 at Fort Moultrie, this historical marker acknowledges Sullivan’s Island as the arrival point for tens of thousands of Africans taken from West Africa and sold into slavery between 1700 and 1775. (Photo credit: Stanley and Terrie Howard)

African Presence in South Carolina

Although people often date the first arrival of enslaved Africans in the U.S. to 1619, when “20 and odd Negroes” arrived in the British colony of Virginia, actually enslaved Africans arrived almost 100 years earlier, in 1526, as part of a “Spanish expedition to establish an outpost on the North American coast in present-day South Carolina”. The leader of that expedition, Lucas Vasquez de Ayllon, a wealthy Spanish trader, died a month later, and in November of that same year, “ . . . Africans launched a rebellion . . . and effectively destroyed the Spanish settlers’ ability to sustain the settlement, which they abandoned a year later.”

After the Spanish then the French failed to successfully settle the region, originally called Carolana colony, King Charles granted a charter in 1665 to eight members of British nobilty, called the Lords Proprietor, who in 1670 established the first permanent settlement at Albemarle Point (moving the colony in 1680 to Charles Towne, now Charleston). After sending agents to Barbados to study the success of the sugar plantation system on the island, the Lords Proprietors recruited Europeans from that colony to establish the same system in Carolina. From the beginning, the English “launched a plantation economy that increasingly relied on enslaved African labor acquired through the trans-Atlantic slave trade.”

Because of limited land space and an opportunity to obtain wealth, other whites immigrating from Barbados settled the Charleston area in 1670, transporting captive Africans with them. According to Voyages: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, from 1710 until 1808, eighty-one ocean crossings brought 132,267 captive African children, women, and men to Charleston. That number has been projected upward to at least 200,000. Eventually Africans in bondage and their descendants outnumbered the European-descended population. To manage the enslaved, “Black Codes,” which regulated all phases of Black life – assembly, worship, movement, inter-personal relations, punishment, and redress – were adopted. This prescribed system of laws supported a “slave society” and served as the national model. (It is important to note that in 1739, the Stono Rebellion near Charles Town, one of the earliest and largest rebellions in English North America, resulted in even more oppressive laws to control the enslaved.).

Between 1803 and 1807, historian Nicholas Butler, Ph.D., reports that “As many as 45,000 Africans arrived” in Charleston harbor; this increased number of captives was the direct result of the anticipated 1808 U.S. Constitutional ban on the importation of Africans. It is estimated that 40% of all captive Africans entered the U.S. mainland through Charleston harbor, making it the largest arrival port in the United States, and their introduction to the New World was a “brutal and traumatic experience. After surviving the Middle Passage, many then spent weeks in pest houses [pestilence houses] for disease quarantine, followed by sale at the hands of traders” from holding pens, “yards behind homes or stores,” and later at markets. The city of Charleston was built on that forced labor, and for nearly 200 years, it thrived under the growing economy that was a result of that labor. Those who did not remain in the area were sold to plantations in the South Carolina Low Country, the geographic southern region on the South Carolina Atlantic coast, to cultivate “rice or other cash crops such as indigo, and Sea Island cotton” or became part of the domestic trade, mostly sent to Georgia and East Florida. Other arrival ports in the colony were Beaufort, where African captives who disembarked there were distributed to plantations on nearby sea islands and coastal farms, as well as Sullivan’s Island, James Island, and Morris Island that served as Middle Passage quarantine locations.

South Carolina is recognized as instrumental in major efforts to maintain slavery by advocating for its protection in the creation of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, by promoting political compromises and national laws as territory expanded westward, and by initiating secession as the first state to leave the Union to form the Confederacy at the start of the Civil War. For the enslaved, freedom first came to Charleston in February of 1865, as a result of the Union invasion and occupation of the city then spread throughout the state.

Today, South Carolina has installed a marker at Sullivan’s Island. Beaufort, Charleston, James and Morris Islands are in discussion. Both Beaufort and Charleston have been designated a “Site of Memory” associated with the UNESCO Slave Route Project. Please follow this link to read more about South Carolina and slavery and find resources for additional information: https://www.sciway.net/afam/slavery/indexs.html

http://ldhi.library.cofc.edu/…/section…/africans_in_carolina

http://ldhi.library.cofc.edu/…/sectionii…/barbados_influence

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part1/1p284.html – The Stono Rebellion

Middle Passage marker installed in 2017 by Galveston Historical Foundation
Photo Credit: John Bloomfield

African Presence in Texas

The earliest known person of African descent to arrive in present-day Texas was Estevanico, also called Esteban, a Muslim born in Morocco. At an early age, he was sold into slavery in 1513 by the Portuguese who were on Morocco’s Atlantic Coast, and in 1527 became part of the ill-fated Spanish expedition led by Panfilo de Narvaez, that landed in the Americas in 1528, helping it to “survive nearly eight years of hardship in the Texas wilderness,” serving as scout, translator, and mediator.

Between 1816 and 1821, pirates, privateers, and revolutionaries controlled the Texas Gulf Coast (most infamous the Lafitte brothers and the Bowie family, responsible for providing labor to both Texas and Louisiana for economic development). These experienced seamen traveled the Gulf waters seeking adventure and quick profits by plundering vessels and raiding other smugglers. “This area was close to the shipping lanes in the Gulf of Mexico and to the slaving ports of Cuba. Cuba was a major depot for the African slave trade into Latin America in the early nineteenth century. Since the island was only 800 miles from Galveston. It became the major source of African slaves for the Anglo-American colonists after 1821.” These men hid captive Africans and other contraband at Galveston Island, Galveston Bay, and other locations along the coast.

Although “Mexican governments did not adopt any consistent or effective policy to prevent slavery in Texas” (and there certainly were some enslaved Africans when the territory was under their control), chattel slavery was really established after 1821 with the arrival of settlers, who, for each enslaved person they brought to the colony, were guaranteed eighty acres of land. The land was expansive, and Africans were needed to grow cotton, by then “the most valuable commodity in the Atlantic world.” Stephen Austin, who brought the first 300 families to his settlement, the Austin Colony, made this clear in 1824: “The principal product that will elevate us from poverty is cotton, and we cannot do this without the help of slaves . . . The first census in Austin’s colony in 1825 showed 443 slaves in a total population of 1,800.” Later, he wrote: “Texas must be a slave country. Circumstances and unavoidable necessity compel it. It is the wish of the people there, and it is my duty to do all I can, prudently, in favor of it.”

By 1836, when the Anglo-Americans gained their independence, establishing the Republic of Texas, the “peculiar institution” was entrenched, with approximately 5,000 enslaved Africans. In late December 1845, when Texas joined the United States, the population of enslaved Africans had grown to 30,000. “After statehood, slavery grew even more rapidly. The census of 1850 reported 58,161 slaves, 27.4 percent of the 212,592 people in Texas, and the census of 1860 enumerated 182,566 slaves, 30.2 percent of the total population,” many coming with their owners from other states and many others sold through the domestic trade to work as field hands, house servants, livestock handlers, and skilled craftsmen. Although the U.S. banned the importation of captive Africans in 1808, approximately 2,000 men, women, and children were brought to the colony/state between 1835 and 1865 through the illegal African trade.

Two and a half years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, “freedom” came to Texas, and slavery formally ended after June 19, 1865 (celebrated as Juneteenth today), when Gen. Gordon Granger arrived at Galveston with occupying federal forces and announced emancipation.

Because of its complicated history, information on African arrival for the state of Texas is fragmented and incomplete. To date, only Galveston and Deweyville are documented locations. The Galveston Historical Foundation installed its Middle Passage marker in 2017, and Galveston is a UNESCO-designated Site of Memory. As yet, no local committee has been formed for Deweyville, although Houston resident, descendant of enslaved Africans in Texas, and MPCPMP state coordinator Joan Hubert continues to research the area. To date, there is no documentation of arrival for Corpus Christi, a major port on the Gulf of Mexico. Please follow these links to read more about Texas and slavery and find resources for additional information: 

https://www.libraries.rutgers.edu/rul/projects/arachne/vol1_2adorno.html
https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/yps01
https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/72736087.pdf) https://face2faceafrica.com/article/the-abolished-atlantic-slave-trade-was-renewed-in-this-texas-island-by-pirates-in-the-1800s

Organizations also involved with this work: Texas Center for African American Living History, Emancipation National Historic Trail, Emancipation Park Conservancy​, Galveston Historical Foundation​, & Joan Hubert

Historic marker at Point Comfort, VA.

African Presence in Virginia

National Park Service research on Virginia explains that, “Thousands of years before the first European colonists arrived in Virginia, an indigenous population inhabited the coastal plain, leaving a faint imprint upon the land” and a history “largely unrecorded.” When the English arrived in the spring of 1607, they established a colony on a peninsular they called Jamestown. This was the first permanent English settlement in North America. Within the first two years, famine, disease and a tenuous relationship with the local Powhatan Indians as well as a harsh winter in 1609-1610, known as “The Starving Time,” during which more than 100 people died, led the remaining colonists to prepare to abandon the settlement. However, in 1610, a fleet arrived bringing more colonists and a stockpile of supplies, and by the fall of 1611, lessons from the indigenous people taught them to harvest corn, insulate their dwellings, and other valuable survival techniques. In 1612, John Rolfe, introduced a new strain of tobacco to the colony, and that cash crop would soon turn the struggling settlement around.

Within its first decade, eighteen or nineteen plantations had been established, mostly along both sides of the James River. In 1619, the first documented Africans arrived. Over decades, many more followed, “brought directly to river plantations on the James, York, and Rappahannock rivers as well as to ports at Yorktown, Jamestown, Richmond, and Fredericksburg.” The entire development of the economy and social structure of the colony/state of Virginia was based on tobacco production requiring extensive and intense labor. By the end of the 17th century, Virginia was committed to slavery as the primary means of obtaining its work force. It had become a “slave society,” rivaling only South Carolina with the number of captive Africans arriving on its shores.

In addition to the Jamestown settlement that was an arrival site and served as the colonial capital for Virginia until 1699 (when Williamsburg became the capital), the following is a list of the six other documented Middle Passage arrival sites in the colony; those are places in Virginia where Africans first placed their feet after leaving the African continent:

1/2. Point Comfort/Hampton – In the summer of 1619, two English privateer vessels sanctioned to operate by their government but, really, not much more than pirate ships, attacked a Spanish vessel on its way to Vera Cruz, Mexico, carrying 350 enslaved Africans from the Kimbundu-speaking region of West Central Africa who had been “crammed into the slaver — men and women — and about a third of them had died on the brutal voyage.” The English stole 50- 60 people, and in late August, 20-30 of these Africans arrived on one of the ships, called the White Lion, at Cape Comfort (later called Point Comfort). Established in 1619, and originally named Elizabeth City, Hampton, in which Point Comfort is included, is technically the oldest, continuously occupied English North American settlement. John Rolfe, Secretary for the Virginia Colony, recorded that, “About the last of August came in a dutch man of warre that sold us twenty and odd Negars.” These captive Africans were traded to the English colonists and forced to labor in the English settlement.

3. Yorktown – Founded in 1691, Yorktown was established by Virginia’s colonial government to regulate trade and to collect taxes on both imports and exports for Great Britain. By the early 1700s, Yorktown had emerged as a major Virginia port and economic center and remained the colony’s principal port city until 1779. Its thriving tobacco industry, that needed more and more Africans to work the land, “provided the historic ground where Virginia’s slave culture took root and blossomed.” The “rich, alluvial soil” in the Yorktown region allowed planters to grow a better quality of tobacco, called the York River Leaf, that could not be grown anywhere else. The result was a tobacco in great demand, therefore, more profitable. Historian Taylor Stoermer says the “Sweet-scented tobacco was worth five times more than the bitter Orinoco strain.” Soon, planters “were producing such bountiful crops of lucrative sweet-scented tobacco that their resulting appetite for black labor created what for 50 years was by far the biggest and busiest slave market in Virginia.” By the mid-1700s, the demand for these crops “had drawn at least 163 ships carrying 31,304 captive Africans to the York River”; most of them were sold at Yorktown “in sales so frequent and large that they consumed more than two-thirds of all the blacks brought to Virginia.” 

4. Richmond was established by William Byrd as a major trading center at James River Falls (1737), and when the Virginia colony expanded westward, it became the state capital (1779). Identified in the Voyages database as the Upper James River, this area encompasses Richmond, Henrico County, and places along the James River. Between 1733-1772, fifty-four ship documents reflect that 12,468 captive African children, women, and men were delivered to Richmond and plantations on the upper James River. They embarked from Gambia, Angola, Benin, Nigeria, Ghana, the Bight of Biafra, the Guinea Islands, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast and other African ports.

Richmond’s participation in the trade resulted in a thriving business enterprise with high profits. As a natural conduit, the James River connects Atlantic Ocean seaports with the city. Africans who were forced to journey the triangular trading route from Liverpool-Africa-Richmond had a drop-off point at Manchester Dock and, then, were herded to containment pens and sales locations in the town’s Shockroe Bottom area.

In 1778, after the state implemented its ban on the importation of Africans, Virginia ceased its involvement in the international trade and developed as a principal supplier in the domestic human trade. During this time, the agricultural landscape of the Chesapeake Bay area was changing because of Eli Whitney’s invention of the cotton gin, the growing global demand for machine-made textiles that increased the value of cotton, and Napoleon’s sale of the Louisiana territory that opened up a vast area for U.S. expansion and development. In Maryland and Virginia, growing tobacco had exhausted the soil, and “plantation owners . . . came to realize there was more money to be made in selling human beings . . .” Virginia became more interested in “breeding” human beings as a cash crop and soon began to provide the labor for the new plantations that were being established in the South, especially in Louisiana. In fact, Shockroe Bottom became a “major source for the New Orleans trade, in which slaves destined for the Louisiana sugarcane fields were sold.” In the three decades before the end of the Civil War in 1865, between 300,000 and 350,000 people of African descent were sold out of Virginia, most of them passing through the auction houses of Shockroe Bottom. “In the decade from 1830 to 1840 alone, it is estimated that between 10,000 and 11,000 people were sold each year from Richmond and transported by ship, railroad or by foot, fastened together in ‘coffles’ to the sweltering fields of their new owners.”

5. Fredericksburg is an arrival site that was the principal place of maritime entry on the Rappahannock River. Sixty-four ships delivered 9,341 children, women, and men from the Bight of Biafra, the Guinea Islands, Benin, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Gambia, Ivory Coast, Angola, and other unspecified departure sites in Africa to plantations and locations on the Rappahannock River. Some of these sites may have included Fredericksburg. While historical data specifies that ships arrived on the river, there is limited information as to whether captives were delivered to plantations or to the city port. Only one ship, the Othello (1771), identifies Fredericksburg as its recorded arrival site. Loaded with rum from New England, this ship was sent to Africa. Once there, the captain traded the liquid cargo for human beings who were taken to the West Indies where most were traded for molasses that was taken to Rhode Island to be distilled into more rum. This triangular trade route included stops at river plantations and ports in English colonies. When the Othello arrived at Fredericksburg, it brought 85 enslaved people – 25 men, 31 women, 18 boys, and 11 girls – then returned to Rhode Island with molasses, hemp, flour, and Virginia tobacco. 

6. West Point -. The first indigenous inhabitants of the territory at the juncture of the York and Mattaponi Rivers, now known as West Point, called their village Cinquoteck, it was part of the Powhatan Confederation. In 1653, “in appreciation of his services to the colony of Virginia as Governor from 1635 to 1638,” John West was granted 3,000 acres, that included Cinquoteck, and called it the West Point Plantation. In April 1691, West Point was included in an Act for Ports as a British colonial port of entry that served as a tobacco port where taxes could be collected. For hundreds of years, as a port of entry, port of delivery, and port of departure for European settlers, indigenous tribes fought along these shores to retain their ancestral land, and Africans arrived in bondage, resulting in a complex and multicultural history.

Even as enslaved people rebelled in everyday ways (i.e., performing small, daily acts of resistance, such as illness, breaking tools, slowing down work), and larger ways (running away and revolts such as Nat Turner and Gabriel Prosser), slavery thrived in the state. While the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 declared that all the enslaved in Virginia were free, it “could only be enforced in those places controlled by the Union Army” (Fort Monroe, Point Comfort). It was not until February 9, 1865, that the General Assembly of the Restored Government of Virginia ratified the proposed Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. On December 6, 1865, that amendment was ratified by the required two-thirds of state legislatures and slavery ended everywhere in the United States. 

As of 2020, five of these locations have installed commemorative markers that honor the lives of African ancestors – Fredericksburg, Jamestown, Point Comfort, Richmond, and Yorktown. All of them have been designated a Site of Memory by the UNESCO Slave Trade Route Project. Project 1619 is planning a memorial in Hampton, and West Point has organized a marker installation committee. Please follow these links to read more about Virginia and slavery and to find resources for additional information:

https://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/virginia_s_first_africans

https://www.nps.gov/jame/learn/historyculture/a-short-history-of-jamestown.htm

https://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/jame1/moretti-langholtz/chap4.htm

https://rvanews.com/features/slave-trade-richmond/47183

https://scholarworks.umass.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2236&context=adan

https://www.dailypress.com/tidewater-review/dp-nws-black-history-primer-yorktown-20150222-story.html

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/digging-up-the-past-at-a-richmond-jail-50642859/

http://hswpva.org/West%20Point%20history.pdf

https://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/the_abolition_of_slavery_in_virginia