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17th Century

de Souza, Matthias ( ? -- ? )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Mathias de Sousa Marker, St. Mary's City, Maryland
Image Courtesy of Tom Fuchs of Greenbelt Maryland

Matthias de Souza, an indentured servant, was the only black person to serve in the colonial Maryland legislature.  As such he is the first African American to sit in any legislative body in what would become the United States.

Matthias de Souza, one of nine indentured servants working for Father Andrew White, a Catholic priest, arrived at St Mary’s City, St Clements Island, Maryland, in 1634 on the ship The Ark along with White and other European settlers. De Souza was probably of mixed African and European (possibly Portuguese) descent judging by land records that record him being called a ‘Molato’ (Mulatto) by a priest in the colony.

For the first few years he lived in Maryland, de Souza worked for Jesuit priests although the exact details of his activities are not know.  Generally such servants built and maintained churches and houses for the Jesuits.  

Sources: 

Historic St. Mary’s City History, “Matthias de Souza” https://www.hsmcdigshistory.org/research/history/mathias-de-sousa/; Maryland State Archives and Maria A. Day ‘Exploring Maryland’s Roots: Library: Case Studies’  “Matthias de Souza” http://mdroots.thinkport.org/library/mathiasdesousa.asp.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Sussex (England)

Royal African Company

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Royal African Company Slave Voyage Account
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Chartered in 1672, the Royal African Company was a royally chartered company which had a legally based monopoly on English trade to West Africa until 1698. The monopoly specifically extended through five thousand miles of the western coast from Cape Sallee (in contemporary Morocco) to the Cape of Good Hope (in what is now South Africa).

The Royal African Company traded mainly for gold and slaves (the majority of whom were sent to English colonies in the Americas). Headquarters were located at the Cape Coast Castle (located in modern-day Ghana). The Royal African Company also maintained many forts and factories in other locations such as Sierra Leone, the Slave Coast, the River Gambia, and additional areas on the Gold Coast.

Sources: 

Alexander M. Zukas, “Chartered Companies,” in Encyclopedia of Western
Colonialism since 1450
ed. Thomas Benjamin (Detroit: Macmillan
Reference USA, 2007); K.G. Davis, Royal African Company (London:
Longmans, Green and Co., 1957); Robert Law, ed., The English in West
Africa 1691-1699: The Local Correspondence of the Royal African Company
of England 1681-1699
(New York: Oxford University Press, 2006).

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

The Garifuna People

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
In 1635, two Spanish ships were wrecked near what is now St. Vincent in the West Indies. The ships held West Africans who were to be sold as slaves in the West Indies. The West Africans escaped from the Spaniards, and hid themselves among the indigenous Amerindian group, the Carib people on the island. The Africans eagerly adapted to the new environment in hopes of avoiding slavery and remaining under the protection of the Carib community. Likewise, the Caribs protected their new African neighbors because they resisted European encroachment on their lands.  Eventually the Caribs and West Africans began intermarrying, and ultimately, created the Garifuna people.
Sources: 
http://www.garifuna.com, the Official Garifuna site; Susie Post Rust, "The Garifuna: Weaving a Future From a Tangled Past," National Geographic, http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/data/2001/09/01/html/ft_20010901.6.html.
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Queen Nzinga (1583-1663)

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Nzinga Meeting with Portuguese Governor Joao Corria de Sousa, 1622
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Sources: 
Inge Tvedten, Angola: Struggle for Peace and Reconstruction (Boulder: Westview Press, 1997); Gary Y. Okihiro, In Resistance: Studies in African, Carribbean and Afro American History (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1986).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Cape Coast Castle

Entry Type: 
Places
History Type: 
Global African History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Cape Coast Castle is a European-built fortress situated on the central coastline of Ghana. Since its initial construction in 1652, the Castle served as a trading post for European nations and as the headquarters of British colonial administration for the Gold Coast Colony.  Today the Castle is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.  

In 1652, the African, Asiatic, and American Company of Sweden employed Henrik Carlof, a Polish merchant, to negotiate a land agreement with the authorities of Efutu, the small African kingdom that controlled the Gold Coast. Successfully gaining permission to construct trading facilities along the coastline, the Swedes established Carlusborg Fort, named in honor of the Swedish king. The fort had high, thin, mud brick walls and became the structural base for the Cape Coast Castle.

The Carlusborg Fort remained in Swedish hands until 1657, when the rival Danish West India Company usurped the establishment. Several more transfers of power occurred between the Danish, Dutch, and Swedes in the early 1660s. In 1664, however, a small English fleet seized the Castle (as it was later called) in a brief battle lead by Captain Robert Holmes. The British would remain in control of Cape Coast Castle until 1957.
Sources: 
William St. Clair, The Door of No Return: The History of Cape Coast Castle and the Atlantic Slave Trade (New York: Blue Bridge, 2007); http://www.capecoastcastlemuseum.com/
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Bluefields, Nicaragua

Entry Type: 
Places
History Type: 
Global African History
Black Students in Private School, Bluefields, Nicaragua
Image Ownership: Public Domain
A city at the mouth of the Escondido River and the Caribbean Sea, Bluefields is home to a large black settlement on the east coast of Nicaragua and is strongly associated with Black Creole culture.  Nicaragua has the largest population of African descent in Central America and approximately two-thirds of that group resides in and around Bluefields.  The black presence in the region goes back to the 17th century as Puritans from the English Providence Company began settling in and around Bluefields in the 1630s, bringing with them a population of enslaved Africans to work on plantations. Enslaved Africans from Jamaica later sought freedom in and around Bluefields in the 1700s and after British emancipation in 1834, the area became a destination for free blacks from across the British-controlled Caribbean.
Sources: 
Edmund T. Gordon, Disparate Diasporas: Identity and Politics in an Afro-Nicaraguan Community (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1998); Hugo Sujo Wilson, Historia Oral de Bluefields (Managua, Nicaragua: CIDCA, 1998).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Tacoma

Gondar, Ethopia

Entry Type: 
Places
History Type: 
Global African History

 

Fasiladas Bath, Celebration of Timket,
Ethiopian Orthodox Christian Church Observance in Gondar
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Gondar is the former capital of the emperors of Ethiopia and remains a regional center to this day. Around 1635, Emperor Fasiladas (reign 1632-67) began construction on a castle in the Gondar Valley near the shores of Lake Tana. The fortification was ideally situated along trade routes and had ready access to wood, water and foodstuffs from the agricultural regions along the northern shore of the lake. Because of these factors, Gondar would be able to grow into the first true Imperial Ethiopian capital. This designation was solidified by Fasiladas’ successor Yohannes (reign 1667-82) who was crowned and died in the city. Despite a growing political importance, early Gondar was not a particularly beautiful city. Charles-Jacques Poncet, a French pharmacologist residing in the capital around 1700, was impressed by the majesty of the Imperial court but not by the mud houses that made up the city.

Sources: 
Stuart Munro-Hay, Ethiopia, The Unknown Land: A Cultural and Historical Guide (New York: I. B. Tauris Publishers, 2002); Harold G. Marcus, A History of Ethiopia (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Montana State University

Cape Town, South Africa (1652-- )

Entry Type: 
Places
History Type: 
Global African History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Cape Town is the second largest city in South Africa and one of the nation's cultural and economic centers. Before the arrival of Europeans, the area was inhabited by San and Khoikhoi peoples. In 1652, Jan van Riebeeck established a small colony on the Cape of Good Hope as a refreshment station for the Dutch East India Company. The station soon became a town as Dutch settlers, attracted by the area’s climate that made the cultivation of European crops possible, continued to arrive. As a result, native pastoralists were evicted from their land, often by force. In 1795 Britain occupied the Cape Colony making Cape Town its military headquarters for the region.

By 1806, the resident population of Cape Town had climbed 16,500, of whom 10,000 were slaves. The city’s slave population was primarily imported from other regions of Africa. After the abolition of the slave trade in 1808, the number of slaves in the city steadily declined, and by 1840 Europeans were the majority. The port proved to be the city’s primary economic base, and when diamonds and gold were discovered inland in the second half of the nineteenth century, Cape Town became one of the primary entry points for the new wave of immigrants.

Sources: 
Catherine Besteman, Transforming Cape Town (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008); Christopher Saunders, Nicholas Southey, Historical Dictionary of South Africa (Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2000).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Montana State University

Da Costa, Mathieu (17th Century?)

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Collage Including Mathieu Da Costa
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Mathieu Da Costa, a free black seaman, is believed to be the first person of African ancestry to reach Canada and he is the first recorded black man to visit the region of Port Royal in Nova Scotia.  Although little is known of his background before he reached Canada, Da Costa is said to have had some education and was also baptized.  Even his actual name is in dispute.  He was identified as Mathieu Da Costa in English documents, Mathieu De Coste in French documents, and in Dutch documents he was known as Matheus de Cost.  

There are conflicting stories as to where and when Da Costa was at different time periods.  Records show him guiding French explorers through the Lake Champlain region.  Between 1604 and 1607 he was a trader with the Acadians -- French settlers in early Nova Scotia -- when they began commerce with the Micmac Indians along Nova Scotia’s Atlantic coast.  He was described in those accounts as an interpreter of the Micmac and French languages.  Other reports have Mathieu, along with three other men, dying of scurvy during the winter of 1607 in Port Royal, Nova Scotia.  Yet he was also reported to be living in Holland in February 1607.
Sources: 
A.B.J. Johnston, Mathieu Da Costa and Early Canada, Possibilities and Probabilities (Halifax, Parks Canada: The National Parks and National Historic Sites of Canada, n.d.);
Bridglal Pachai and Henry Bishop, Historic Black Nova Scotia (Halifax, N.S.: Nimbus Publishing Limited, 2006); Bridglal Pachai, People of the Maritimes: Blacks (Tantallon, N.S.: Four East Publications, 1987); Donald Clairmont, Bridglal Pachai, Stephen Kimber, and Charles Saunders, The Spirit of Africville (Halifax, N.S.: Formac Publishing Company Limited, 1992).
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Dorcas the blackmore (ca. 1620- ?)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Settled Areas in New England in 1640 around the time
Dorcas joined First Church at Dorchester.
Image Ownership: Public Domain
The brief entry for “Dorcas the blackmore” that appears in the Records of the First Church at Dorchester in New England, 1636-1734 suggests that Dorcas may have been one of the first enslaved persons to be freed in British North America.  

On April 13, 1641, “Dorcas the blackmore” joined the Dorchester, Massachusetts Congregational church.  John Winthrop, Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, commented on the ease with which she was accepted into membership as based on her knowledge of scripture and her godly character.  As Winthrop noted in his journal, “A negro maid, servant to Mr. Stoughton of Dorchester, being well approved by divers years’ experience, for sound knowledge and true godliness, was received into the church and baptized.”  Like many other Congregational churches, Dorchester had a predominantly female congregation; between 1630 when the church was gathered and 1641 when Dorcas joined, for example, only seventy-four men had joined the church as compared with one-hundred and twenty-two women.  Unlike the other women of Dorchester’s congregation, however, Dorcas was enslaved.  
Sources: 
Records of the First Church at Dorchester in New England, 1636-1734 (Boston, Massachusetts: George H. Ellis, 1891); Records of the First Church in Boston, 1630-1868 (Boston: The Colonial Society of Massachusetts, 1961); John Winthrop, Winthrop's JOurnal: History of New England, 1630-1649 vol. I, ed. James Kendall Hosmer (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1908); Winthrop D. Jordan, White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro, 1550-1812 (Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 1968).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Queen Nanny of the Maroons (? - 1733)

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Queen Nanny as Pictured on a Jamaican Bank Note
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Nanny, known as Granny Nanny, Grandy Nanny, and Queen Nanny was a Maroon leader and Obeah woman in Jamaica during the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Maroons were a cultural mix of African slaves and the native Arawak Indian tribes that predated European colonisation. Nanny herself was an escaped slave who had been shipped from Western Africa. It has been widely accepted that she came from the Ashanti tribe of present-day Ghana.

Nanny and her four brothers (all of whom became Maroon leaders) were sold into slavery and later escaped from their plantations into the mountains and jungles that still make up a large proportion of Jamaica. Nanny and one brother, Quao, founded a village in the Blue Mountains, on the Eastern (or Windward) side of Jamaica, which became known as Nanny Town. Nanny has been described as a practitioner of Obeah, a term used in the Caribbean to describe folk magic and religion based on West African influences.
Sources: 
Mavis Campbell, The Maroons of Jamaica, 1655-1796 (Trenton, New Jersey: Africa World Press, 1990); Edward Long, The History of Jamaica, Volume II (T. Lowndes, Fleet Street, London 1774); Karla Gottlieb, The mother of us all: A history of Queen Nanny, leader of the Windward Jamaican Maroons (Trenton, New Jersey: Africa World Press, 2000).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Kingston, Jamaica (1692-- )

Entry Type: 
Places
History Type: 
Global African History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Kingston, the capital of Jamaica, was founded in July 1692 when an earthquake destroyed the nearby city of Port Royal. The most recent census puts its population at 937,700. Today Kingston is the center of trade, manufacturing, and shipping for the entire nation of Jamaica.  

Before the 1692 earthquake, Port Royal, founded in 1518 by the Spanish on a spit of land off what is now Kingston Harbor, and captured by the English in 1655, was the major city in the area. The earthquake and tsunami killed nearly two thousand of the town’s six thousand people.  Most of the survivors moved inland to the other side of the harbor and founded Kingston.  

Kingston was the largest town in Jamaica by 1716, and due to its deepwater harbor it was also the center of trade for the entire British colony.  In 1775 Sir Charles Knowles, the British governor of the Colony, moved all government offices from nearby Spanish Town to Kingston.  Three years later Kingston had a population of 26,478, which included 16,659 enslaved people. Slavery existed in Jamaica until 1833. Kingston was declared the official capital of the Colony of Jamaica in 1872.
Sources: 
David Marley, “Kingston” in Historic Cities of the Americas (Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, 2006); Colin G. Clarke, Kingston, Jamaica: Urban Development and Social Change, 1692-1962 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975); “The Structure and Development of Kingston, Jamaica,” http://www.smartyoung.com/cities/kingston/brief_history.htm.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian
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