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The Birth of Black America: The First African Americans and the Pursuit of Freedom at Jamestown Hardcover – February 15, 2007

4.9 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Hashaw (Children of Perdition: Melungeons and the Struggle for Mixed America) offers a welcome variation on early America and the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown. Historians have long known that Africans first appeared in the Virginia record in 1619. Hashaw traces those first black Virginians back to Portuguese Angola: they were captives on a Spanish slave ship, which was attacked by two pirate vessels that eventually transported 60 or so Africans to Virginia and Bermuda. Hashaw recreates the lives some of these early African Virginians made for themselves: Benjamin Doll purchased six indentured English servants, became a plantation owner, learned to read and write, and was appointed by a white widow to serve as her attorney. Another eventually purchased African slaves. Perhaps straining to find a partially happy ending to the tragic first scene in the history of American racial slavery, Hashaw notes that Angolan Virginians participated in Bacon's Rebellion, and he suggests that the 1676 revolt was the first expression of a fighting spirit that culminated in abolition. Hashaw offers both an exciting story of crime on the high seas and a fascinating social history of 17th-century black America. Illus., maps. (Feb. 5)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Perhaps the most fateful year in black American history was 1619, when the first recorded shipment of enslaved Africans landed at Jamestown. Hashaw greatly expands on the central facts encountered in textbooks to connect the unwilling arrivals to their homeland, Angola, and to the financial and political affairs of England's Virginia Company. Hashaw also explores the subsequent lives of these Africans and their immediate descendants, many known by name from traces of their legal affairs as semifree traders and farmers; the shackles of outright chattel slavery took several decades to be applied in Virginia, and never without resistance. Following a description of Angola's constellation of powers in the early 1600s--the Portuguese and African allies on the coast versus Bantu kingdoms in the interior--Hashaw details the seizure of the Jamestown Angolans from a Spanish slave ship by English ships. Whether this was piracy or legal privateering provoked conflict in London, which Hashaw contends had ramifications on other English colonizing projects. Notable in itself, Hashaw's history gains traction in this 400th anniversary year of Jamestown's founding. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; 1st Carroll & Graf Ed edition (February 15, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786717181
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786717187
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,206,866 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The real story of what went on before and during seventeenth-century Jamestown (along with correlated events in England, Angola, and Spain) is found in Tim Hashaw's definitive book, THE BIRTH OF BLACK AMERICA: THE FIRST AFRICANS AND THE PURSUIT OF FREEDOM AT JAMESTOWN.

Using his extraordinary gifts as a researcher, combined with a curiosity as wide as it is deep, Hashaw probed every primary source he could find to try to understand and explain the many gaps and suspected falsehoods embedded in what has passed to date as the history of the early Virginia colony of Jamestown.

The author chose to avoid in his book any imaginary dialogue, fictional characters, or fictitious events. But despite these rigid self-imposed standards, he has produced an absorbing and exhaustive chronicle, singularized by being based on TRUTH. Of all writings meant to commemorate the four-hundreth anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, Hashaw's book is likely to remain THE primary reference of all time. Small wonder he has received any number of professional honors for investigative journalism.

Preceding the MAYFLOWER by seventeen years, Jamestown was founded in 1607 by the Virginia Company of London, a private enterprise supported financially and controlled by a group of wealthy venture capitalists. Authorized by King James, this company was initially given CARTE BLANCHE to monopolize virtually all of North America. A primary motivation was to build an empire in America to serve as a bulwark against further Spanish expansion, but the shareholders also hoped to find in the Chesapeake area a river route to the South Seas, along with vast treasure, such as the CONQUISTADORS had confiscated in Mexico and Peru.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is excellent for 1) putting the arrival of Africans at Jamestown in context both in European (English, Spanish and Portuguese) politics of the time, and 2) giving in great detail the political, social and economic situation of the Angolan kingdom whence these Africans originated. The activities of the Spanish ambassador to the court of King James is enjoyable diplomatic intrigue; the relation of James to Africa is convincing and should be part of literary studies of Ben Jonson's work. I was amazed to learn that many of the enslaved Africans had Christian backgrounds of several generations, and familiarity with European languages and customs, resulting from Portuguese colonization and missionary activities for more than a century prior. Hashaw does himself credit in showing the similarities and differences in the political and military activities and alliances of these African and European rulers and aristocracies. In addition, he shows in great detail the identities, activities and onward movements of these Africans and their descendents (who are normally anonymous figures in standard histories), and gives credible evidence on the origin of the Melungeon families of Appalachia, and insight into the contributions of Africans to cattle herding and to agricultural success in the Americas. A real page-turner -- a riveting and enlightening account that makes fresh some once-stale facts from your obligatory American history class.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought this book looking for one of my father's ancestors.

I found a treasure trove of information on:

the slave trade before Cotton (or sugar or even tabacco) was King

the history and sophistication of the central African nations, especially Angola

the tensions between the new Stuart king and his English subjects

how privateers turned into pirates

and how "20 and odd" slaves could cause an international incident that directly affected the growth of the new colony that would become the United States.

I did find my father's ancestor, Immanuel Rodriguez, who became Emanuel Driggus, who became Manuel Driggers - either one of those "20 and odd" slaves or a child of one. And while looking for him, I found one of my MOTHER's ancestors, Marguerite, who became Margaret Cornish, who was almost certainly one of the "20 and odd."

In the interest of disclosure, both of these family lines were considered White before the American Revolution, lived in the South, and fought for the Confederacy.

An excellent book, even if your ancestors aren't involved.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Probably the only book length, in depth, treatment of this fascinating event. Readable and informative. The "John Jope" identified by the author (the clergyman), however, is almost certainly incorrect, having been based upon the genealogical research of the late Hugh Jope, apparently by way of reference to a pedigree of Glanville of Launceston. The John Jope of the 1619 White Lion was very likely the prominent merchant and part-time privateer of Plymouth, Devon, who, according to a maritime survey of 1619, was absent from England at the very time of the slave trading at Jamestown. He and Marmaduke Rayner were both members of the Saint Andrew's parish in Plymouth, Devon, where they each got married, about a year apart, and were very likely good friends and colleagues. John Jope was also a partner and friend of the local Reverend Mathias Nichols, and they were both investors in the Dorchester Company which attempted a settlement in New England. John Jope of Plymouth also took letters of marque on his ship, the Griffin of Plymouth, Devon, 14 August 1628. While it is possible the the "White Lion" in which Jope and Rayner sailed in 1619 was the ship from Sir Francis Drake's 1585 fleet, it is unlikely that the very same ship would have been making transatlantic trips nearly 35 years later, and there are numerous ships by the name of White Lion" in the port books of the time. Nevertheless, an interesting and detailed account.The Birth of Black America: The First African Americans and the Pursuit of Freedom at Jamestown
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