Africans in the Chesapeake
Transatlantic Slave Trade
The transatlantic slave trade started in the 1500s, as Portugal and Spain took Africans to South American colonies. European ships loaded with goods, guns, and trinkets headed to West and Central Africa to acquire slaves. By the late 1600s, English and Dutch ships carrying human cargo were crossing to the West Indies, and later the Chesapeake. The traders reloaded with rum and sugar in the Caribbean or tobacco and hemp in Virginia and Maryland, to sail back to Europe.
Large Numbers, Little Known
Little is known and even less was written about Africans in the Chesapeake during the 1600s. The few surviving records mention "Negroes" in passing and usually just by first names — if by any name. The first known Africans in the Chesapeake arrived in 1619. Taken from a Portuguese slave ship by English privateers, some 20 to 30 men and women from Angola were brought to Virginia as servants or slaves.
At first, some Africans gained freedom after a period of servitude, like white indentured servants (see Bondservant's Bargain). But by the 1660s, England's economy had improved, and fewer Europeans were willing to sign contracts (indentures) to work in the colonies. In the Chesapeake, plantation owners began turning to race-based slavery for inexpensive labor and increased profits.
More information about discovering those from that time can be found in the pages below -