Rice U. experts available to discuss 400th anniversary of slavery in America

Rice University
Office of Public Affairs / News & Media Relations


Katharine Shilcutt

Rice U. experts available to discuss 400th anniversary of slavery in America
August 2019 will mark four centuries since the first enslaved Africans arrived in Virginia

HOUSTON – (March 19, 2019) – The first documented African slaves arrived in what would become America 400 years ago, landing in Point Comfort, Virginia, in August 1619. Kidnapped from their villages in what is present-day Angola, these Africans were forced onto a Portuguese slaving vessel and subsequently stolen from that ship by English privateers. An estimated 20 who were taken aboard the English vessel White Lion later landed 30 miles south of Jamestown, ending up in towns and plantations across the Eastern Seaboard.

Daniel Domingues and James Sidbury

Daniel Domingues and James Sidbury

“That’s the foundational moment of the African-American experience,” said Rice University assistant professor of history Daniel Domingues, one of two Rice Africanists and experts available to comment on the significance of this arrival and its anniversary.

Although earlier Spanish expeditions included enslaved Africans – most notably an attempt to establish an outpost in 1526 on the coast of present-day South Carolina, which ended in a rebellion that led to its desertion – the 1619 date is recognized by scholars and historians as important because it marks the first year Africans were sold into bondage in a nascent United States.

“By the beginning of the 18th century, racial slavery had developed into an economic and cultural foundation that would produce many of the nation’s most important Founding Fathers,” said Rice history professor James Sidbury, the Andrew W. Mellon Distinguished Professor of Humanities. “In a sense, that all began with the first group of Africans sold to white Virginians.”

Sidbury is historian of race and slavery in the English-speaking Atlantic world from the 17th to the 19th century with a special interest in the ways non-elites conceived of their histories and their collective identities. He is the author of two books on the history of slavery, “Becoming African in America: Race and Nation in the English Black Atlantic, 1760-1830” and “Ploughshares into Swords: Race, Rebellion, and Identity in Gabriel’s Virginia.”

Along with colleagues at Emory University, Domingues recently relaunched the Voyages website, the largest and most comprehensive slave trade database in the world. His research on both trans-Atlantic and intra-American slaving voyages has spanned almost 20 years.

The U.S. House of Representatives voted in 2017 to establish a commission to examine 400 years of African-American history ahead of the 2019 anniversary. The bill became law in 2018.

Now formalized as the 400 Years of African-American History Commission Act, it has tasked the commission with “educating the public about the arrival of Africans in the United States and the contributions of African-Americans to the United States.” The act also formally acknowledges “the impact that slavery and laws that enforced racial discrimination had on the United States.”


This news release can be found online at news.rice.edu.

Follow Rice News and Media Relations via Twitter @RiceUNews.

Related information:

Voyages: slavevoyages.org

Rice Department of History: history.rice.edu

Rice African Studies: africanstudies.rice.edu

Daniel Domingues (Photo credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)

Photo link: https://cpb-us-e1.wpmucdn.com/news-network.rice.edu/dist/c/2/files/2019/03/190220_TFOA-Fitlow_005-16dh7xt.jpg

James Sidbury (Photo credit: Rice University)

Photo link: https://cpb-us-e1.wpmucdn.com/news-network.rice.edu/dist/c/2/files/2019/03/Sidbury-James-1h94b0y.jpg

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About Katharine Shilcutt

Katharine Shilcutt is a media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.