First Africans in Virginia

Historical Highway Marker standing in front of Fort Monroe under cloudy skies against green grass
First Africans in Virginia marker stands in front of Fort Monroe, the "Gibraltar of the Chesapeake."

NPS Photo / Aaron Firth

Quick Facts

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The English held a presence in Virginia since 1607 when the Virginia Company colonists led by Captain John Smith established the first permanent English settlement in North America. They landed at Point Comfort, giving it this name before moving on to make their settlement at Jamestown along the James River. For twelve years colonists struggled to survive as a result of environmental strains and self-inflicted conflict with American Indians. At times the only line of survival was incoming trade and supplies.

In August 1619, English privateer ships  attacked a Spanish slave ship the São João Bautista  they likely expected to carry gold and riches near the Bay of Campeche in the Gulf of Mexico. One of the privateer ships, the White Lion, continued on steering for port at Point Comfort with “20. and odd” Africans they had captured in this battle. These men and women were the first enslaved Africans forcibly taken and traded for provisions in English North America. They were among the 350 souls taken from Ndango, Congo, and Kabosa in the Angola region of Africa bound for a live of slavery and servitude in the Spanish held Mexico. Forcibly taken, these human beings implanted African food production and crop cultivation practices into English North America which helped English colonists survive and thrive in the New World. They also carved out an existence with the New World by continuing cultural practices – music and dance – along with speaking their native dialect and practicing African beliefs.We know the name of two Africans landed at Point Comfort; Isabella and Antoney. From a Virginia census, we know that Isabella, Antoney, and their son William lived in Hampton in the home of Captain William Tucker, the commander of Fort Algernourne (William is the first documented child born of African descent in English North America). Over the next four hundred years, descendants of these first Africans faced enslavement, domestic terrorism, civil unrest, physical attacks, and executions while forcibly building Hampton, Virginia, and the greater United States.

Today, we remember the first “20. and odd” Africans each August with commemorative programs recognizing the generations of enslaved Africans, and their descendants, and how their efforts and presence shaped the course of a nation while fighting for “unalienable Rights…Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Fort Monroe National Monument

Last updated: April 1, 2021