Late August this year marks the 400th anniversary of English colonist John Rolfe’s letter to Sir Edwin Sandys, the treasurer of the Virginia Company of London. The letter is the first documentation of Africans in Virginia.
The following is an excerpt from that letter, republished as Rolfe wrote it. To read more excerpts from Rolfe’s letter, visit encyclopediavirginia.org.
“About the latter end of August, a Dutch man of Warr of the burden of a 160 tunnes arrived at Point-Comfort, the Comandors name Capt Jope, his Pilott for the West Indies one Mr Marmaduke an Englishman. They mett with the Treasurer in the West Indyes, and determined to hold consort shipp hetherward, but in their passage lost one the other. He brought not any thing but 20. and odd Negroes, which the Governor and Cape Marchant bought for victualls (whereof he was in greate need as he pretended) at the best and easyest rates they could. He hadd a lardge and ample Commyssion from his Excellency to range and to take purchase in the West Indyes.”
Earlier this month, the New York Times Magazine published The 1619 Project, roughly 100 glossy pages (in print) and hundreds of high-resolution graphics (online) of dirty truths about this country that many people would rather stay buried with the bones of African slaves.
Like the African Burial Ground in Manhattan — “the oldest and largest known excavated burial ground in North America for both free and enslaved Africans,” according to the National Park Service — The 1619 Project is an act of excavation.
It is also a dangerous political statement, because it undercuts the lofty, but false, assumptions at the heart of the American Experiment — assumptions that are often wielded by cynics seeking to blunt protest and block any paths to power that Black people have at our disposal.
“Our founding ideals of liberty and equality were false when they were written,” writes Nikole Hannah-Jones, the New York Times journalist who conceptualized the project. “Black Americans fought to make them true. Without this struggle, America would have no democracy at all.”
It’s about time that Black people were centered in a mainstream narrative about America’s founding.
Experience The 1619 Project at: (nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/1619-america-slavery.html).