African American Heritage & Ethnography African Nation Founders: Overview


This module examines the cultural heritage of Africans in North America associated with their role in the growth of the Spanish, Dutch, English, and French Colonies. It explores the participation of Africans and their African American descendants in the revolutionary events that led to the founding of the United States, and their social and cultural contributions to early development of the new republic.

Beginning with the arrival of the Spaniards and continuing throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, Africans were among the earliest explorers and colonial settlers arriving in North America. African conquistadors helped establish the Spanish presence throughout the Americas and the Caribbean. Over the next two hundred years and well into the third century of European colonial expansion in North America, African indentured and enslaved laborers cleared the land, erected shelters, and constructed forts for the English, Dutch, and French. They raised subsistence crops and felled the lumber, harvested the tar, pitch, and turpentine, raised the cattle and hogs, rice, and indigo that became the exports supporting the colonial economies. People of African descent, free and bound, help defend the colonies against Indians and against other European colonial powers attempts at territorial expansion. After the British colonies established territorial dominance along the Atlantic coast, people of African descent, many second and third generation Americans, some free or near free indentured servants, and some bound in slavery, involved themselves in the politics of revolution. They fought in the wars of rebellion and participated in the birth of the United States.

Fourth Grader dressed as Coronado in educational project of Coronado National Monument funded by the National Park Foundation.

Contemporary African Americans commemorate their ancestors’ contributions to the founding of America. Where those contributions are associated with national park sites and landscapes, for example, Coronado National Memorial, Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, Independence National Historic Park, and Valley Forge National Historic Site, African Americans value the park cultural and natural resources as elements of their ethnic history and group identity. The Park Service refers to such elements as ethnographic resources.

Module I content is important to parks as a basis for fulfilling the requirements of National Park Service management policies and guidelines and mandates of the National Historic Preservation Act (NPS 2001; NPS 1997) for:

The module content is designed to help Park Service personnel broaden the scope and depth of their knowledge and understanding about founders of our nation who were of African origins.
For the public, the content module unit will contribute to their appreciation of African American heritage as part of the shared national heritage. The need for recognition by other Americans of the African American presence and their contribution to the early exploration, settlement, and political founding of our nation are an important aspect of an African American perspective on heritage preservation.

Historic Contexts, the first section of Module I answers such questions as: Who were the African people who migrated to the Americas, voluntarily and involuntarily? What regions of Africa did they come from? What were their African societies like? What were their cultural patterns and everyday lives like before they came? How did these and other factors influence their coming to the Americas? Where did different ethnic groups land in the Americas? How did the formation of different colonies affect African importation in terms of the numbers of people, when they came and where they came from? Cultural Heritage, the second section in Module I, describes and explains African and African American people’s cultural patterns and everyday lives after they came to the New World and their contributions to the development of the Americas in Spanish and French American, and particularly the British North American colonies in the South. Module II currently in progress will explore there parameters in these Northern colonies.