In 1619, 20 Angolans arrived in Virginia, forever changing the course of American history and creating a profound and enduring impact on the Virginia Colony. A Dutch ship named the White Lion made its landing at Point Comfort on the James River (today’s Hampton, Virginia) in August 1619 with stolen Angolan slaves, who were traded for food. This is the moment in history when African culture became an integral part of American culture.
Unfortunately, history books don’t teach us more about the remarkable backstory of the Africans who arrived in Virginia on that late-August day. These 20 Africans hailed from a sophisticated Angolan kingdom whose rulers regularly interacted with the highest levels of European governments, residents lived in major urban cities comprised of 20,000 to 30,000 residents and the kingdom’s rich culture maintained a strict social hierarchy. The survival of these first Africans among Jamestown’s English settlers is often credited to their intimate familiarity with European customs, governance systems and military tactics – which were part of everyday life for 17th century Angolans. The Portuguese were deeply entrenched in central Africa as they aggressively worked to colonize the region and cultivate a robust slave trade that fueled the growth of their imperialistic endeavors. It may come as a surprise that many Angolans spoke Portuguese in addition to their own Kimbundu or Kikongo language. Many of the Angolans who arrived in Virginia were Christian and had regularly attended Catholic Mass held by Jesuit missionaries living in Angola.
Queen Njinga of Angola established her kingdom’s prominent position in 17th century world politics. Fearlessly protecting the influence and freedom of her kingdom against the Portuguese colonizing forces, Queen Njinga (1583-1663) was a cunning and worldly ruler. She kept her enemies close and consequently, Angola gained great benefit from its mercurial relationship with Portugal. An under-represented figure in American history books, Njinga rivals Elizabeth I and Catherine the Great in her political acumen and military prowess. With influence that extended into Europe and across the Atlantic, Queen Njinga was a power player in the 17th century’s robust slave trade, which was the “cash crop” of the day, providing the labor force for colonizing countries such as Portugal, Spain and England.
It is intentional that on the cusp of Black History Month and Women’s History Month I have released, Njinga of Angola: Africa’s Warrior Queen, the first full-length English language study of Queen Njinga’s remarkable life. Over the course of her eight decades, Queen Njinga skillfully navigated, and ultimately transcended, the ruthless, male-dominated power struggles of her time. It is important that her story is told, as she provides a powerful role model for African Americans and women today. There are myriad direct correlations between the issues Queen Njinga overcame and today’s race and gender challenges in leadership and politics.
I am proud to be able to share the marvelous untold history of Angola’s Queen Njinga who had a profound influence on the lives and destiny of the Angolans who traversed the Atlantic and arrived in Virginia in 1619. It is important that we understand and honor the enduring influence that these individuals have on the landscape of modern day America. Through my work with Virginia’s 2019 Commemoration, I have the privilege of elucidating one of the pivotal 1619 events that set Virginia on a course towards the American ideals of Democracy, Diversity and Opportunity. Over the coming months and years, Virginia’s 2019 Commemoration will showcase new scholastic and scientific discoveries that facilitate a deeper and richer understanding of America’s history and our AMERICAN EVOLUTION, which began with seminal events that occurred in 1619 and their enduring influence over a 400-year arc of history that continues to influence America’s future. Please visit www.AmericanEvolution2019.com to learn more about Angola’s Queen Njinga and Virginia’s 2019 Commemoration.