Wikimedia Commons
“Slaves working in 17th-century Virginia,” by an unknown artist, 1670.

6 Shocking Facts About Slavery, Natives and African Americans

Vincent Schilling

In the last week of September, the Joseph Jenkins Roberts Center at Norfolk State University (NSU) held a conference called “1619: The Making of America.” That year is historically significant because it was the first year Africans were brought to the colonies and it was the year America’s first legislative body was founded.

In an admirable gesture to honor all of the cultural relations happening in the America’s in 1619, NSU hosted several Native speakers and those familiar with Native history to address many issues not often covered in today’s classrooms. During these sessions, many little known facts about African Americans, Native Americans and slavery were addressed in the years following 1619.

The Term Negro May Have Been Meant For American Indians

During the session “Native Americans at 1619” Dr. Arica Coleman, an assistant professor at the University of Delaware who is of Rappahannock and African American descent, discussed how the term negro might actually be referring to an American Indian.

According to her latest book, That the Blood Stay Pure, the term's origins can be traced to medieval Italy where it was a classification of a skin color, not race. Additionally, Europeans often referred to indigenous populations of their communities as negroes. In the Portuguese colony of Brazil, Indians were called negros da terra meaning negroes of the land.

Coleman pointed out during the conference that the early Virginia legislature identified Moors and negroes separately. There is also documentation in which individuals were described as “Negro African.” Coleman questioned why the two words would be used to describe an African person and suggested the Native meaning as a strong possibility.

1619 Might Not Be the Right Year

Dr. Coleman also asserts the year 1619 isn’t entirely correct regarding the first arrival of blacks to America. She notes “negroes” accompanied Spanish North American expeditions a century before the English arrived in Virginia.

She also cites evidence of cohabitation with aborigines in the early 17th century. She says that in 1603, seven negroes escaped from St. Augustine, maintained their freedom and married Indian women.

1600s Law Said the Closest Indians Were Guilty—of Murder

Chief Lynette Allston, of the Nottoway Indian Tribe of Virginia, discussed “Native America on the Hit List: Traditions, Culture, and Identity” at the conference.

Allston shared that in October of 1665, according to Hening’s Statutes at Large—the laws of Virginia—if an Englishman was murdered, the closest Indian town would be held accountable for the crime.

When authorities in 1680 assumed Nansiatticos had committed a murder, they reenacted Hening’s Statutes and ordered all children under 12 be indentured to the English as servants until the age of 24. The Indians were forbidden to return home, or they “shall be Transported beyond Sea to England or Some of the Islands and there bound or Sold for Seaven Years....”

Chief Lynette Allston, of the Nottoway Indian Tribe of Virginia. (Vincent Schilling)

Natives in Virginia Were Part African, Exported Cotton and Were Valued Members of Society

Vouching for the legitimacy of the Nottoway Tribe, Dr. Buck Woodard, director of the American Indian Initiative for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and Historic Jamestowne, spoke about the “Nottoway Kinship, Marriage and Peoplehood in Southampton County, Virginia.”

Woodard said many Nottoway moved to New York with the Tuscarora in the 18th century, but some stayed in Southampton and intermarried with whites, and “free colored people.” The Nottoway town of Antebellum, he said, “became a series of ‘reservation farms’ in Virginia’s developing agro-industrial society, contributing to cotton, swine and vegetable markets of the region.”

He said some Nottoway owned slaves and traded slave labor with neighboring white and free black farmers.

Native Americans Contributed to Literary History

Dr. Rebecca Hooker, assistant professor of English at Virginia Wesleyan College, who is of African American, English and Creek descent, spoke about how the racial mix of authors entering America affected literary culture. In the midst of contributions of African and European literary voices, a Native author came forward. He was a Tuscarora named David Cusick whose mission was to present the history of Six Nations’ people from their own perspective.

Cusick claimed he wrote his book Sketches of Ancient History of the Six Nations, (1827): An Iroquois Origin Story and A Challenge to the Western Historical Timeline because he “found the history involved with fables.” In his text, Cusick describes historical moments with specific dates that occur before recorded American history.

“Cusick was an author who inserted himself into the literary conversation in order to insist on the authority of Native nations to know their own history, and his writing challenges the idea that events not ‘discovered’ by whites and documented by independent observation or experimentation cannot be true,” Hooker said.

Indians Got Poison Not Peace at 1623 Negotiations

Allston also discussed a poisoning that took place at a meeting convened for the purpose of peace negotiations. The event is considered so historically egregious, it is now marked with a Virginia Department of Historic Resources Highway Marker near West Point.

“John Smith taking the King of Pamunkey prisoner,” is a fanciful image of Opechancanough from Smith’s General History of Virginia (1624). The image of Opechancanough is in fact based on a 1585 painting of another Native warrior by John White. (Wikimedia Commons)The marker reads as follows: “In May 1623, Capt. William Tucker led soldiers from Jamestown to meet with Indian leaders here in Pamunkey Territory. The Indians were returning English prisoners taken in March 1622 during war leader Opechancanough’s orchestrated attacks on encroaching English settlements along the James River. At the meeting, the English called for a toast to seal the agreement, gave the Indians poisoned wine, and then fired upon them, injuring as many as 150, including Opechancanough and the chief of the Kiskiack. The English had hoped to assassinate Opechancanough, who was erroneously reported as having been slain: they succeeded in 1646.”

According to Allston, “When negotiations and more diplomatic methods failed, 17th century methods of control were through—religion, education, advanced weaponry, chemical and biological warfare, servitude and slavery.”

You need to be logged in in order to post comments
Please use the log in option at the bottom of this page



Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
It seems that there was little difference between Europeans and the American colonists who opposed them. They saw Native culture as an exploitable resource. In essence, they were equal-opportunity imperialists.

Rusby Sides's picture
Rusby Sides
Submitted by Rusby Sides on
Sad commentary on the christian europeans who stole from the native peoples, and practiced genocide

Glrioa Jara's picture
Glrioa Jara
Submitted by Glrioa Jara on
We are the Group call Justice and Love we help people with Immigration layers .We are witnessing a campaign on Immunization to Children of Undocumented parents with many excussas such as Prevention cancer, Imfluensa, alarming Wat are they doing to Uninformed weak poor.

Marie-Jean Smith's picture
Marie-Jean Smith
Submitted by Marie-Jean Smith on
The atrocities against the Native Americans and Black Americans is so disturbing to me, espeially in this time og the Government shut-down. The lands should be given back to the Native American, as I am sure if they hadn't been taken away in the first place, America would be a better place for all. Just saying.

Marie-Jean Smith's picture
Marie-Jean Smith
Submitted by Marie-Jean Smith on
The atrocities against the Native Americans and Black Americans is so disturbing to me, espeially in this time og the Government shut-down. The lands should be given back to the Native American, as I am sure if they hadn't been taken away in the first place, America would be a better place for all. Just saying.

Patty McGuane's picture
Patty McGuane
Submitted by Patty McGuane on
No one should be called names .God made us all in his image. He is love there fire we should all be love and everyone treated the same.

MJ's picture
Submitted by MJ on
Also wish that people knew the name and history of the Taino people in the United States. We are rarely written in American history books and were the first slaves in America, as well the the first "discovered" by Columbus. Our history and culture has been eradicated from written history and people's minds in North America, as many recognize Columbus Day. Over 95% of our people were slaughtered by Columbus after we refused slavery, and we were declared extinct.

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on
America needs to pay their dues already, and quit lying to our children about true history.

Betty Weaver's picture
Betty Weaver
Submitted by Betty Weaver on
I read in a book somewhere that these Africans were brought to Virginia in a Dutch Ship and were put ashore and traded for food and water for the ships crew. they arrived in 1619 one year before the Puritans arrived in 1620. they were not slain, but wandered off and made their own "village" in the wilderness.. what is true or not true, It is hard to say... but information sometimes is always forthcoming and help in putting the "puzzle" together... thanks for posting it.

Sandra Talbert's picture
Sandra Talbert
Submitted by Sandra Talbert on
I am so happy to finally see that truth is coming to light about Black Natives and African and Native American relationships.Refreshing!

Jock Casita's picture
Jock Casita
Submitted by Jock Casita on
What has been hidden will be shouted from the house top! Vince, as always a superb written article! These are the things that are needed to be taught in the classes of our schools in Virginia.

Jim Button's picture
Jim Button
Submitted by Jim Button on
The Native Americans have always help people who have come to their country.Teaching them how to grow food and how to store it.Taking hides given by the animals to use as clothes and shelter.Mother Earth takes care of the ones that take care of HER.

Submitted by GORDON MITCHELL on

Ginger Alles-Alvitre's picture
Ginger Alles-Alvitre
Submitted by Ginger Alles-Alvitre on
The Mission Indians of California were enslaved by the Spanish padres to build and work for the Missions and were forcefully converted to Catholicism to keep them submissive to the ways of the Church so that they could not practice their own religion or be considered heathens. The padres were often cruel to the Indians. My ancestors are of hte Gabrieleno/Tongva and are from the Mission San Gabriel area near LA. There are still many of us survivors of the Ancestors who keep the heritage alive and try to live down a very unfortunate set of circumstances that our Ancestors endured so that our people could survive and eventually be out of bondage. I respect the hardships that my Ancestors survived and the legacy of their tenacity lives on in us, their descendants.

sweetgrass777's picture
Submitted by sweetgrass777 on
"The actual first Indian/African settlement in America was founded "six decades before Roanoke Island, eight decades before Jamestown, and almost a century before the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock." There was an older settlement here in American older than what we have been taught. It was overlooked and left out of the history books just as many things have been due to the Eurocentric view of history when it comes to Indigenous peoples of the world and their histories. I will include an excerpt from the researcher. This settlement was in the "Pee Dee Region" In South Carolina. I found some interesting information about the Pee Dee River area. According to Katz, the story of the Pee Dee River area is quite unique, and he calls it "the first foreign colony on U. S. soil." It seems that Lucas Vasquez de Ayllon, a wealthy Spanish official who lived in Santo Domingo on Hispaniola, founded a colony in the area in June 1526. The settlement, Katz says, was founded "six decades before Roanoke Island, eight decades before Jamestown, and almost a century before the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock." Katz believes that De Ayllon's effort was perhaps overlooked for two reasons: first, because most historians prefer to believe that life in the new world actually began when Anglo-Saxons who were British citizens and spoke English arrived; secondly, Ayllon's settlement suffered a tragic fate, including death, disease, and a slave revolt. Although the settlement"failed" in Ayllon's eyes, the inhabitants who survived these tragedies were reborn as a different people in the woods to which they escaped, and according to Katz, they were "not considered a part of the white U. S. heritage." The two explorers sent to the New World were Captain Francisco Gordillo, who was charged with locating a suitable landing site and with building friendly relationships with the native inhabitants or local tribesmen, and a slavehunter, Pedro de Quexos. Their efforts during the initial landing included capturing seventy Native Americans, free men and women, and taking them to Santo Domingo to serve as slaves. De Ayllon was not pleased and with the assistance of Diego Columbus, "the Indians were declared free and ordered returned." Spanish records fail to show whether the order was actually carried out. Sometime later, after his explorers landed on the wrong coast and had to return to Santo Domingo, Ayllon formed another crew and sailed with other Spanish citizens who were his followers and settled near a "great river...probably the Pee Dee." Sailing from Puerto de la Plata were a total of "six vessels carrying five hundred Spanish men and women, one hundred enslaved Africans, six or seven dozen horses, and physicians, sailors, and Dominican priests." As the ships arrived, the Native Americans who lived in the area took to the woods to escape the newly-arrived settlers. The Spanish colonists had difficulty coping with the climate, growing the food they needed, and adverse living conditions quickly caused uprisings within the colony. The discord that resulted caused many of the Africans to flee into the woods and live with the Native Americans. De Ayllon became ill and died, but he had named his nephew, John Ramirez to succeed him after death. And thus the Pee Dee Colony, or "San Miguel de Gualdape" grew to be an amalgamation of people, Native Americans, Africans, and those who spoke Spanish as their native language. Another history written out of the books. This is an Excellent post by the way. Thank you Mr. Shilling. Great work.

Kamal Mccune
Kamal Mccune
Submitted by Kamal Mccune on
I was sitting in deep thought when I asked "what did the natives call their country before it was stolen from them". If anyone can answer, please post the answer, for I will be checking from time to time. Thank you.

Historianess's picture
Submitted by Historianess on
Hi! Just a quick correction. The Nanziattico were "convicted" after the murder of John Rowley and his family in Essex County in 1704, not 1680. The adults who were not executed were deported to Antigua in 1705 (I'm still trying to trace them there if I can but the records are sparse) and the children under twelve (including two infants) were distributed by lot to members of the Governor's Council. John Martin, a ship captain, retrieved his bond for the deportation and presented the assurances of the governor of Antigua that the Nanziattico would never return in 1706.

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on

EthnicAssets's picture
Submitted by EthnicAssets on
The 'slavery' narrative in the Americas is ridiculous. The defeated races of Africans and ab-original, native people need to seize the narrative - and defy white dominance - or else be ethnically cleansed. Thats exactly what is happening to you all.