Monday, July 6, 2009

A Year Before the Mayflower Arrived

It was a Dutch ship of some unknown sort that arrived on a historically significant trading mission to Jamestown, in the colony of Virginia, in 1619.
by Charlie Leck

Slaves from blackest Africa arrived in the American colonies a year before the famous passengers of the Mayflower arrived in New England in 1620. They were brought here on a Dutch sailing ship that had cannons aboard. She didn’t stay long, but put her cargo of black slaves up for trade and quickly loaded the goods in payment that the white settlers of Jamestown provided for the slaves.

You tell me! Considering our nation’s dark history and involvement in the institution of slavery, was this unnamed ship of more historical consequence than the Mayflower?

The questions of history are not easily answered; for history is so much more complex than that pabulum supplied to us as school children.

Just mark the fact that slavery developed into an accepted and acceptable institution of the South very quickly after the arrival of that first boat load of slaves. Keeping slaves and trading them would be seen as legal and socially acceptable in the South for the next 250 years. It is not a proud part of our history about which we will boast.

Believe me (and many historians agree with this), had the colonists been able to enslave the local Native Americans (the Powhatan Confederacy) they would have. This, however, was the land of the Powhatan and they knew it well and used that knowledge to protect themselves. These Natives sensed early on the cruelty of these white Europeans and they took measures to defend themselves.

Those first colonists in America needed a labor force; first, to produce enough food to stay alive; and second to grow tobacco for export. These were people unaccustomed to hard labor and they had a difficult time surviving and many didn’t because they couldn’t take care of themselves and produce enough food for sustenance. It must have frustrated them when they saw how much more superior the Natives were in taking care of themselves.

Agreeing to take black slaves was the answer to a tough problem for the Virginians. The slaves turned around the failing situation in Jamestown and, over the years, the keeping of slaves became more and more profitable.
There are plenty of histories that attempt to tell us these first black people in Virginia were indentured servants; that is, that they sold themselves into service for a period of time and for a certain amount of money after which they would receive their freedom and full citizenship. That is a fairy tale of enormity. They came as slaves. They were forced on to the ship that brought them and they were sold by the shipping company when they arrived. They were treated brutally by their owners and they were kept as prisoners and not as servants.

Black Africans had been forcibly taken to Europe starting sometime in the 1500s. In most cases, however, slavery in Europe was a far different institution than that which grew up in the colonies and in the islands of the West Indies. Blacks in Europe had certain rights of citizenship and they could hold money, own property and marry. They eventually earned their total freedom. The first blacks brought to America may have thought that was the kind of condition into which they were coming; but it was certainly not. The black slaves were reduced to less than human status and they were most often hated and held in contempt based on their color. In Virginia it was very quickly established that the white man was the master and the black person was a slave.

Black slavery would not become common place in the southern colonies until the establishment of the Carolinas in 1670; and from that point the spread of slavery throughout the south happened quickly.

Many black Africans were shipped to other parts of the Americas as early as the late 1500s. Between then and through the 1800s, as many as twelve millions slaves may have been shipped to North and South America. Huge numbers were shipped to Brazil and to the islands of the Caribbean. Though less than a million slaves were sold into the United States and its early colonies, that population would grown to approximately four million by 1860.

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