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Did John Rolfe Witness the First African Slaves Arrival to North America?
John Rolfe was an Englishman born in Heacham, Norfolk in 1585. During his early years Spain had a near world monopoly of the highly lucrative tobacco trade, in which he had a special interest.
Spanish crops were mostly grown in their southern New World colonies where the climate was ideal for growing tobacco, with England being a particularly prominent customer of their product.
In his formative years, Rolfe studied the tobacco trade in detail and managed to “acquire” some unique Spanish tobacco seeds, which was remarkable because selling them was a crime punishable by death in Spain.
This Spanish strain of tobacco had a number of customer satisfaction advantages over crops in other countries, firstly it was sweeter, but above all it was much stronger in nicotine, a narcotic whose stimulant value and addictive properties were not understood for many years. comes, users only felt the urge to want more.
In order to successfully compete with the Spanish planters, Rolfe recognized the need to move to a more favorable climate than that of England, so he set sail for the New World.
The English colony of Jamestown, Virginia, in North America. This colony was formed in May 1607, although Rolfe was unaware that it was still struggling to survive.
In 1609 Rolfe boarded the ‘Sea Venture’ bound for Jamestown, but as they neared Bermuda a hurricane struck and the ship was wrecked, some of the travelers were saved, but Rolfe’s wife and infant daughter were among the dead.
Rolfe himself survived and left Bermuda in May 1610, completing his voyage in a repaired ship that was part of a small convoy whose flagship was the Sea Venture.
After Rolfe’s arrival, the British colonies in Virginia were already producing inferior tobacco, but finding markets to buy their low-quality products proved to be a problem. But when Rolfe’s Spanish seed crop succeeded and became available for sale, demand in local and export markets skyrocketed.
John Rolfe named his brand ‘Orinoco Tobacco’, paying tribute to one of tobacco’s greatest advocates, Sir Walter Raleigh, with the Orinoco being the flagship of his exploration of the fabled city of El Dorado.
Rolfe’s plantations were well situated along the St James River outside of Jamestown for the advantages of irrigation, these lands were originally uncultivated and thus allowed for inexpensive expansion when trade and profits allowed, he named his plantations under the group banner ‘Varina Farms’. .
In 1615 he married again, but this time to the daughter of a native Indian chief, named “Pocahontas,” who would later become famous in her own right as a heathen squaw who was transformed into a refined Christian bride. well known to have been invited to visit England to meet the royal family.
Thus, until August 1619, the English colonies in Virginia used only native Indian labor or Europeans who were lured to migrate to the New World to find a better life than to live in squalor in their own country.
Then later that month an English “privateer” ship called the “White Lion” sailed into the St James River to anchor in view of Rolf from his properties.
John Rolfe was certainly not the only witness to the unusual cargo standing on board the ship, but he was the author of very detailed and accurate journals of the events that are still used today as credible educational materials of the time.
His writings describe “Twenty-odd” dark-skinned natives who he assumed were of African origin. They were immediately landed and offered for sale on the market to the highest bidder.
Rolfe also went further to note that the purchasers of African slaves were Jamestown’s governor, Sir George Yeardley, and one of the town’s principal merchants, both of whom kept their new purchases to work on their own substantial plantations.
These Africans were later found to be from the Kingdom of Ndongo (now Angola) and could only speak the “Kimbundu” language, making them completely incapable of pleading their case for help or release.
Needless to say, they were brutally kidnapped by slave traders who were themselves of African descent and then force-marched to the coast to be sold to one of the thirty-six Portuguese or Spanish transatlantic slave ships.
In this case it was the Spanish ship “San Juan Bautista” that stopped at Veracruz, Mexico to take on water when the English “privateer” White Lion and her sister ship Treasurer attacked.
Finding the Spanish ship in poor condition and not worth the price, the victors searched for valuables but found none, in desperation for profit, the privateers divided the best slaves and then headed for the North American coast to Virginia to hopefully make a sale worthy of resupplying their ship with essential provisions and supplies.
Although the journals of John Rolfe from 1619 are now commonly used to describe the origins of slavery in North America, there are other less prominent stories that infer that African slaves may have been present in other parts of the Americas as early as the 14th century.
It is therefore not unreasonable to assume that John Rolfe may have actually witnessed the arrival of the first slaves in the thirteen Virginia colonies in North America, but the Transatlantic Slave Trade, while still in its infancy, became significant. delivery of its African cargo elsewhere.
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