History Timeline 1600s

Picture above: Pocahontas, Source: World Noted Women, D. Appleton and Company, 1883, Wikipedia Commons. Right: Pocahontas Saving the Life of Captain John Smith, New England Chromo. Lithograph Company, 1870. Courtesy Library of Congress.


Pre-Revolution Timeline - The 1600s


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  • Timeline

  • 1619 Detail

    July 30, 1619 - First representative assembly, the House of Burgesses, held in America is elected in Jamestown. The next month, the Dutch land with indentured servants, African slaves, in Jamestown.

    House of Burgesses and first slave ship at Jamestown

    In one year, 1619, within one month of each other, both the best of the American experiment, democracy, and the worst of the first two hundred years and fifty years or so of American history, slavery, would begin at the same location, Jamestown. The Virginia colony had been around for twelve years before they would take either of those two steps. As the first democratically elected body in the British colonies, the House of Burgesses was meant to pass laws and keep order in Jamestown and the other settlements that had grown up around it and throughout Virginia. Of course, you had to be a man, and a landowner, and twenty-one years of age. No women or renters allowed.

    The misnomer about being first. Although it is accurate to state that the House of Burgesses was the first British colonial legislative body, there had been indigenous people with representative governments prior to that. And it was not a true democracy, as the governor could veto any law, and any law the Virginia Company did not like, was not approved.

    How this House of Burgesses Came About?

    The idea was fostered by Sir Edwin Sandys, one of the original investors in the Virginia Company that founded the settlement. He believed in democracy and was an anti-royalist. The first sessions of the assembly dealt with the relationship between the Jamestown colonists and the Native Americans, as well as economic and commercial subjects that could improve the colony. The native issue was a vexing problem as the English were essentially squatting on lands that the Powhatan, and other native tribes, had been using for years.

    The first meeting was held in the choir of the newly built wooden church at Jamestown. Attending were the Governor George Yardley, his four councilors, and twenty-two burgesses representing the various areas of the Virginia Company settlements. The entire session would last from July 30 to August 4, 1619. No, the sessions and the arrival of the Africans in bondage did not overlap. But the discussion about the indentured servant problem, slavery, was about to hit their shore. And most of the men in the assembly seemed okay with it.

    History of Slavery at Jamestown

    Although the debate over 1619 has pitted many in the educational, polical, and reparations groups against each other, there is no doubt that its account began a terrible and difficult problem of how man could treat his fellow man horribly. And that history should be taught, including the history of how black tribes in Africa had sold almost all slaves to the Portuguese, Dutch, and other slave traders.

    The slave trade was not new to the Americas; the Portuguese and Spanish had been engaging in the practice since 1501. As time brought the English, French, and Dutch to settle the New World on the lands of what would become the United States, they would engage in the trade; 12.5 million slaves were brought to the Americas through the end of the Civil War.

    The slaves had been caught in Angola as war between the Portuguese, the Kongo, and Ndongo kingdoms raged and the victors gaining human captives. Three hundred and fifty captives were marched, sometimes hundreds of miles, to the port of Luanda, placed on the ship, San Juan Bautista, and sailed for Vera Cruz, Mexico, i.e. New Spain. In the Gulf of Mexico, two English privateers, White Lion, flying a Dutch flag, and Treasurer, attacked the slave ship and robbed them of fifty to sixty Africans. The White Lion arrived at Point Comfort (Hampton Roads) first, near the end of August. Captain Jope sold twenty slaves to John Rolfe, the eventual husband of Pocahontas, for victuals, i.e., food. When the Treasurer later arrived, it is possible that seven to nine additional bonded servants, were sold. The 1920 census showed thirty-two black citizens living in Virginia.

    And who bought them? The wealthy English planters, including Governor Sir George Yeardley, and the head merchant, Abraham Piersey. Yes, apparently the law that sanctioned slavery, not on the books during their first session, was an accepted practice one month later. Although the technical term used in Virginia at the time was race-based indentured servitude, it was slavery through and through.

    "About the latter end of August, a Dutch man of Warr of the burden of a 160 tunes arriued at Point-Comfort, the Comandor name Capt Jope, his Pilott for the West Indies one Mr Marmaduke an Englishman. They mett wth the Trer in the West Indyes, and determyned to hold consort shipp hetherward, but in their passage lost one the other. He brought not any thing but 20. and odd Negroes, wth the Governor and Cape Marchant bought for vietualle (whereof he was in greate need as he p'tended) at the best and easyest rate they could. He hadd a largge and ample Comyssion from his Excellency to range and to take purchase in the West Indyes," 1619, Records of the Virginia Company.

    Today, some of the history of this terrible transaction is told at Fort Monroe National Monument, which is located near the original Point Comfort site.

    Image above: Montage (left) Interior of the reconstructed church at Jamestown, 2019, Carol M. Highsmith. Courtesy Library of Congress; (right) English man of war, flying a Dutch flag, lands slaves onto the dock at Point Comfort, 1901, Harper's Monthly. Courtesy Library of Congress. Below: Photo of Yehakhin huts inside the recreated Powhatan Indian Village, 2019, Carol M. Highsmith. Courtesy Library of Congress. Info source: historicjamestowne.org; mountvernon.org; worldhistory.org; Wikipedia.

    Reconstructed Powhatan Village Huts

    History Photo Bomb