“Angelo,” a black woman who arrived off the Treasurer, is listed in the 1625 Virginia Muster of the Inhabitants of Virginia as living and working in the household of Captain William Pierce at Jamestown. The name “Angelo” is likely a misprint or misunderstanding of the Spanish or Portuguese female name of “Angela.” What is not clear is if “Angela” was this woman’s birth name in Africa or was assigned to her during her enslavement. She does not appear in any documentary records after 1625.
Angela and the other first Africans who arrived in Virginia in August 1619 came from what is now Angola. In 1619, the Portuguese, who had established a colony in coastal Angola, launched a major war against the Ndongo people. The Portuguese, alongside their African allies, sacked the capital city of Kabasa and took thousands of people captive. Therefore Angela was likely a Kimbundu speaker and would have faced the horror of being forced-marched hundreds of miles to await the further horror of being transported as cargo across the Atlantic Ocean.
Angela was placed aboard the San Juan Bautista, a ship with a contract to sell enslaved Africans in Veracruz, Mexico. After several weeks and the loss of dozens of Africans to sickness, the San Juan Bautista was attacked by two English privateers, the White Lion and the Treasurer, off the Yucatan peninsula. The English took 60 of the Africans off the San Juan Bautista and then headed to Virginia.
John Rolfe reported that the White Lion arrived off Point Comfort (modern Hampton, Virginia) in August 1619, noting “20. and odd Negroes” that were “bought for victuals.” A few days later, two or three additional Africans on the Treasurer were purchased in Virginia before the ship departed for Bermuda where the remainder would be sold. As England had no official laws on slavery and the Virginia Company indicated disapproval of the practice, some colonists at Jamestown may have been careful with their later testimony regarding these events.
Angela was purchased by William Pierce, Rolfe’s new father-in-law. (Rolfe had married Jane Pierce after his second wife Pocahontas died in England in 1617.) Pierce was a prominent planter and Jamestown official who had recently built a new home in Jamestown’s “New Towne.” Angela likely lived and worked in the Pierce household, tending the house and garden or helping to pick figs. Whatever the nature of her work, she was enslaved and one of nine Africans living at Jamestown at the time of the muster.
As further records remain silent about Angela’s fate, it became the work of archaeologists to learn more. From 2017 to 2019, a partnership between the National Park Service and Jamestown Rediscovery uncovered the archaeological remnants of the Pierce property, including artifacts that Angela and her contemporaries may have used on a daily basis. Analysis of the site and finds is still ongoing.
Jamestown Rediscovery. The First Africans in Virginia virtual tour series. Available on the Jamestown Rediscovery Education Youtube channel.
Smith, Nichelle. (2019) Meet Angela, the first named African woman at Jamestown. USA Today.