In about four weeks, on Aug. 25, it will be exactly 400 years ago to the very day that the first documented “enslaved” Africans arrived in British colonial America.
A massive and historic event will take place here in Philadelphia on Aug. 25, and your children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews can play an important role. More about that later.
Near the end of August 1619, as documented in a letter from English settler John Rolfe, a rich tobacco planter, to Sir Edwin Sandys of the Royal Virginia Colony, “… there came a Dutch man of warre [pirate ship] that sold us twenty and odd Negars” in the Virginia Colony at Old Point Comfort, now Fort Comfort in Hampton.
Following raids in southern Africa by Luis Mendes de Vasconcellos and his Portuguese troops beginning in 1617, two years later he invaded the village of Ndongo in Luanda, Angola, and loaded 350 of those Kimbundu-speaking human beings aboard the slave ship Sao Joao Bautista before ordering it sent to Vera Cruz, Mexico.
After setting sail, that ship, while in the waters of the West Indies, encountered an English pirate ship called the Treasurer, which was accompanied by its enforcer, the White Lion, a ferociously armed Dutch war vessel and pirate ship. Together, they attacked and boarded the Bautista before kidnapping 60 of the 350 Angolans. There is no historical record regarding what happened to the remaining 290. Approximately less than 30 (which is why the archaic “twenty and odd” phrase was used) of the kidnapped 60 were loaded onto the White Lion, which arrived at Old Point Comfort in August 1619. The other approximately 30 were forced onto the Treasurer.
The Treasurer landed a few days after the White Lion’s arrival and its captain attempted to trade those 30 or so. However, the Virginia colonial authorities turned the Treasurer away because they were concerned that militarily powerful Spain — which ultimately owned the Portuguese slave ship — had found out that its ship had been jacked by the Treasurer and therefore might threaten or even declare war on any nation that profited from Spain’s stolen “cargo.” It then sailed to Bermuda to conclude its hellish voyage of brutal enslavement.
The “twenty and odd Negars” who had arrived a few days earlier on Aug. 25 on the White Lion were traded, sold and forced to labor at plantations along the nearby James River in what would become Charles City.
Slavery is fundamental to America and to the 13 colonies that gave rise to America. You want proof? Here’s proof. As many as 41 of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence enslaved Black women, men and children just as 25 of the 55 signers of the Constitution and 12 presidents did.
Although slavery was founded in Virginia, which is in the South, it wasn’t unique to that colony or state or region. It also happened in the North, including right here in Philadelphia. On the southwest corner of Front and High Streets — now Market Street — stood the London Coffee House, which opened in 1754 with funds provided by 200 local merchants. It was where shippers, businessmen and local officials, including the governor, socialized, drank coffee and alcohol, and ate in private booths while making deals. It was where, on the High Street side, auctions were held for carriages, foodstuffs, horses and African girls, boys, women and men who had just been unloaded from ships that docked right across the street at the Delaware River.
In 1991, thanks to the meticulous research and cultural activism of the preeminent historian and author Charles Blockson, a historical marker was installed on the corner of Front and Market streets that reads: “Scene of political and commercial activity in the colonial period, the London Coffee House … served as a place to inspect Black ‘slaves’ recently arrived from Africa and to bid for their purchase at public auctions.”
The biddings happened like this: The captured Black children, women and men, usually about five or six at a time, were placed on a thick wooden board that was about three feet wide and eight feet long and was set atop two heavy barrels on each end. These whipped and shackled human beings were paraded onto the boards, displayed by being forced to slowly turn around and bend over, inspected by having their mouths forced open, their genitals grabbed and their limb muscles flexed, and then they were auctioned to the highest bidder.
Immediately afterward, they were sold off — mother from daughter, father from son, brother from sister, husband from wife. Following these forced separations, they were scattered across the country. And they would never touch or even see one another again.
Slavery was a key component of daily life here in Pennsylvania generally and Philadelphia particularly. In the 1760s, nearly 4,500 enslaved Blacks labored in the colony. About one of every six white households in the city held at least one Black person in bondage. This cruel institution began here in 1684 when the slave ship Isabella from Bristol, England, anchored in Philadelphia with 150 captured Africans.
A year later, William Penn himself held three Black persons in bondage at his Pennsbury manor, 20 miles north of Philly. Even George Washington enslaved Blacks, 316 to be exact. And he held nine of them right here in the so-called City of Brotherly Love at America’s first “White House,” which was known as the President’s House at Sixth and Market (then High) streets.
Based on recently disclosed archival evidence publicized by Project 1619, an “organization whose mission is to promote the arrival of the first Africans in America to be brought ashore on English occupied territory at Point Comfort, today’s Fort Monroe in Hampton,” the public finally knows the precise date of the 1619 birth of what became American slavery.
Many persons, including most historians, had previously been citing Aug. 20 based on the only records available at that time. But as recently written by Calvin Pearson, founder and president of Project 1619, “On August 25, 1619, the White Lion [pirate and slave ship] entered from the Chesapeake Bay and arrived at Point Comfort, an English settlement ... at the mouth of the harbor, 20 nautical miles downstream from Jamestown.” For more information about his organization’s scholarly research concerning slavery, log onto Project1619.org.
By the way, that Aug. 25, 1619, date is confirmed by primary source documents in “Voyages: The Transatlantic Slave Trade Database,” compiled from 40 years of archival records by the National Endowment for Humanities as well as by other similar documents in the inimitable Archivo General de Indias in Seville, Andalusia, Spain.
Accordingly, exactly 400 years later on Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019, at 2:30 p.m., Avenging The Ancestors Coalition (ATAC) will hold a major event, “400 Years of Slavery and Other Official Racism: Never Forget, Always Avenge.” It will take place in Philadelphia at the Slavery Memorial/President’s House at Sixth and Market streets.
The highlight of the event will be 400 Black children who will identify and condemn each of the 400 years of slavery as well as its residue, which includes the reactionary Redemption Era, Black Codes, sharecropping, convict leasing, peonage labor, mass lynchings, de jure segregation (known as Jim Crow), de facto segregation, stop-and-frisk, police brutality, mass incarceration, disenfranchising voter ID legislation, court-sanctioned gerrymandering, and other forms of official racial injustice up to and including 2019.
Of the 12.5 million Africans stolen from the Motherland, 26 percent, meaning 3.25 million, were children. And 13 percent of those children, meaning 420,000, died during the more than 60-day Middle Passage voyage in the bottom of feces-filled, urine-soaked, vomit-drenched, rat-infested, disease-ridden “slave” ships. By 1860, shortly before the Civil War, about 33 percent of the nearly 4 million enslaved Black population, meaning 1.32 million, were children. Think about that for a minute.
If you want to volunteer your children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and other youngsters from approximately age 4 to 14 to avenge their enslaved ancestors by participating on Sunday, Aug. 25, here’s what you need to know:
On or before the Friday, Aug. 9, participation sign-up deadline, call ATAC at 215-552-8751 or email us at ATAC@AvengingTheAncestors.com and leave a message stating your name, phone number, email address, and the children’s names and ages.
Show up at the event on Aug. 25 at Sixth and Market streets no later than one hour early at 1:30 with the children wearing a white T-shirt and any color and style of pants or skirts they prefer.
A few of the children, who we have already rehearsed with, will have brief speaking roles, but all the others will simply and silently walk across the outdoor stage holding an anti-slavery or anti-racism poster board that ATAC will provide.