First Documented Africans in English North America


Ric Murphy, National Vice President for History*
Dr. Marion Lane, Dr. Evelyn McDowell
400th Commemoration Committee History Co-Chairs 

September 2018


Kingdom of Kongo founded


Portuguese navigator Diogo Cão discovers Kongo Kingdom.


Portugal becomes world power, establishes relations with Angola


King Njinga Nkuwu of Kongo, baptized and rules as King João. I


King Afonso I attacks rebel Ndongo Kingdom.


Ndongo Kingdom requests independence from Kongo.


King Afonso I of Kondo establishes Christianity as national religion.


Portuguese missionaries sent to Ndongo to set up independence mission, unsuccessful.


King Afonso I writes to Portugal’s King complaining about African slave trade.


King Diogo I crowned as new King of Kondo Kingdom.


Independent Ndongo Kingdom founded.


Portuguese explorer Dias de Novais secured a grant allowing him to colonize Angola (Ndongo).


Dias de Novais founded São Paulo de Loanda, capital of Angola.


Portugal colony of Angola is founded


Portugal and Spain were united, with the union lasting until 1640.


Paulo Dias de Novais, supported by King Álvaro I of Kongo, sends a large army to attack Angola. Portuguese/Kongoese army defeated at the Battle of Lukala.


The Pope declares Portuguese colony of Kongo to be an “episcopal see,” the seat of the Catholic Bishop, with jurisdiction over both Kongo and Angola.


Portugal and Ndongo sign a peace treaty and formalize relationships


England’s King James I granted Virginia Company Charter, to establish a settlement in the Chesapeake region of North America. 


John Rolfe imports tobacco seeds from Trinidad


John Rolfe makes first shipment of Virginia West Indian tobacco grown to England


Governor Luis Mendes de Vasconcelos wages successful war on Ndongo, against the Kimbundu-speaking people, capturing thousands








  • Early Spring: Slave ship San Juan Bautista leaves the port of São Paulo de Loanda and sets sail from Angola to Vera Cruz, New Spain (Mexico) with 350 captured Angolans
  • July: San Juan Bautista is pirated by the English ships by the White Lion and the Treasurer
  • August 25:  First Africans arrive at Point Comfort in the colony of Virginia
  • August: Arrival of Africans from the White Lion who were originally on the San Juan Batista.
  • Remaining African captives were taken to Bermuda 
  • August 30: Portuguese slaver San Juan Bautista, arrives in Vera Cruz, New Spain, with a cargo of only 147 slaves from the original 350 Africans who left Luanda, Angola.


  • Virginia’s first known census compiled, includes 892 Europeans, 4 Indians and 32 Africans (15 males and 17 females).
  • Plymouth Colony founded


William Tucker first African child born in America


Virginia’s census compiled, includes 906 Europeans, 21 Africans. Twelve of the Africans are identified by name, suggesting they have been baptized.


Massachusetts was the first slave-holding colony in the "New World"


All people except Africans are to be provided with firearms and ammunition


Virginia passes fugitive Slave Order


Virginia sets tax rate for all tithable persons, to include all males who were 16 or over and all African women at the age of sixteen years or over to be deemed taxable


For tax purposes, all black men and women and all other men between 16 and 60 were to be considered tithes


Warwick County man mortgaged three people, an English boy, an Indian woman, and a black male to another person.


All male servants imported into Virginia and all blacks of both sexes be considered tithes


If a white servant ran away with a black person who was considered a servant for life, the white servant had to make satisfaction for his own time and that of the black servant.


Indians and English servants were to serve the same length of time


Virginia decided that “all children born in this country shall be held bond or free only according to the condition of the mother.” 


Baptism does not alter the condition of the person as to his bondage or freedom


African women, though permitted to enjoy their freedom, are still to be considered tithables and liable for the payment of taxes.


A servant could be punished for resisting his/her owner or master by extending his/her term of service. If a slave resist his master . . . and by the extremity of the correction should die, that death was not to be counted as a felony.



  • Virginia law states that all non-Christian servants imported into the colony by shipping shall be slaves for their lives but what shall come by land shall serve, if boys or girls, until thirty years of age, if men or women twelve years and no longer”
  • Massachusetts law states that the status of the mother determines if their child is free or enslaved


County courts to decide whether blacks, who had descended to an intestate person’s orphan and their monetary value had been determined, should be sold at auction or kept by the guardian until the orphan came of age. 


Permissible to kill or wound any runaway who was black, racially mixed, an Indian slave, or a servant for life. The owner of that person is eligible for compensation from the government if the runaway’s life was lost (4,500 lbs. of tobacco per black person and 3,000 lbs. of tobacco per Indian).


The assembly decided that children should not be counted as tithes until they’re capable of working. For Christian servants, they’re counted at 14 but black children are counted as tithes at age 12


  • All servants except Turks and Moors, and blacks, racially mixed people, or Indians whose parents and native country are not Christian are to be treated as slaves
  • No owner or master should let any black or slave that doesn’t belong to him to remain on his plantation for more than 4 hours at a time




  • County justices were authorized to send out armed men to apprehend “such [blacks], mulattoes or other slaves” who were runaways and if they were killed, their owner would be compensated
  • If a white person were to marry a person who was black, racially mixed, or Indian, the couple had to leave Virginia within three months; fines for a free white woman producing a racially mixed child and servitude for the woman if the fine is not paid
  • If the owner of a black person sets him or her free, the newly freed person has to leave Virginia within 6 months
  • Virginia law bans interracial marriages
  • Virginia law prohibits whites from freeing blacks or mulattoes without paying to have them removed from the colony.


  • Blacks and other slaves are to be denied the right to a jury trial 
  • The ownership of all horses, cattle, and hogs kept by blacks or other slaves is to be transferred to the person’s owner or be forfeited to the parish


The council and assembly disallowed the use of Africans as headrights



  • Prohibition of any black, mulatto or Indian from holding any office, whether civil, ecclesiastical, or military, or any place of public trust
  • The child of an Indian and the child, grandchild or great grandchild of a black shall be held and taken to be a mulatto
  • Reiteration that all blacks of both sexes and Indian women who are not free will be considered tithes
  • Masters of sailing vessels are not to transport servants or slaves out of the colony without a license or pass
  • Blacks and others are denied the right to testify as witnesses in court
  • African, Mulatto, and Indian slaves within Virginia are to be considered real estate under the law and can be passed through inheritance
  • All non-Christian servants that are imported should be considered slaves and no one is to purchase anything from a slave without the owner’s permission.


Lord Mansfield's decision led to the end of slavery in England. The decision indicated slavery was unsupported by Statute and unsupported by English Common Law. The Somerset Decision was left ambiguous in Virginia and other colonies.

* Timeline adapted from Ric Murphy's upcoming book, 1619: The Story of America’s First Africans