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Little is known and even less was written about Africans in the Chesapeake during the 1600s. The few surviving records mention "Negroes" in passing and usually just by first names—if by any name.

The first known Africans in the Chesapeake arrived in 1619. Taken from a Portuguese slave ship by English privateers, some 20 to 30 men and women from Angola were brought to Virginia as servants or slaves.

At first, some Africans gained freedom after a period of servitude, like white indentured servants. But by the 1660s, England's economy had improved, and fewer Europeans were willing to sign contracts (indentures) to work in the colonies. In the Chesapeake, plantation owners began turning to race-based slavery for inexpensive labor and increased profits.

burial of an african male    Finding African Burials in the Chesapeake

Human remains offer compelling proof that men and women of African ancestry lived and died alongside English colonists during the earliest years of colonial settlement in the Chesapeake.

wrought iron shackles    African Origins

The skeletal record traces the Chesapeake African story as no other evidence can. For people whose cultural and personal identity was stripped away in life, the skeletal record can be vital in discovering personal history and ancestral ties.

young woman from Harleigh Knoll    The Young Woman from Harleigh Knoll

Remote-sensing technologies are helping scientists locate forgotten men and women, such as the young African woman found at an old tobacco plantation on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

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