We’ve all heard how John Rolfe was the first to announce the arrival of Africans to Virginia. In a letter to Sir Edwin Sandys in January 1620, Rolfe tells of how “a Dutch man of Warr” landed at Point Comfort bearing “not any thing but 20. and odd Negroes.” Well, it turns out that ship might not have been Dutch, after all.
There were two ships actually: the White Lion and the Treasurer, both sailing out of Flushing, Holland, and bearing letters of marque, paperwork that allowed their civilian captains to attack and plunder Spanish ships. The White Lion‘s marque was Dutch, while the Treasurer‘s was issued by the duke of Savoy. Both ships, however, were English, a fact made clear in Central Africans, Atlantic Creoles, and the Foundation of the Americas, 1585–1660 (2007), an excellent history by Linda M. Heywood and John K. Thornton. As you can see by the book’s publication date, this is not exactly breaking news, but it managed to fly under our radar until now. Our entry has been updated.
IMAGE: An illustration of a slave coffle by Frederic Shoberl, published in The World in Miniature: Africa (1821) (Library of Virginia)