The Arrival of Africans to Virginia in 1619 (PDF)




Who were the first Africans who came to Virginia in 1619?


SOL: VS.3e

Analyzing and interpreting primary and secondary sources; applying geographic skills; recognizing points of view and historical perspectives


In August 1619, a privateering vessel flying the flag of the Dutch Republic arrived at Point Comfort, Virginia (in present-day Hampton). According to John Rolfe, the ship held no cargo but “20 and odd” Africans, who were traded to Governor George Yeardley and Cape Merchant Abraham Peirsey in exchange for provisions. These individuals, originally captured by Portuguese slavers in West Central Africa (likely modern-day Angola), were the first recorded Africans to arrive in English North America. In this lesson, students will learn about the lives and cultures of the first Africans to arrive in Virginia, by analyzing primary source images of significant aspects of their culture.


Post around your classroom. Use two copies of the set for a larger class.


Warm up/Staging the Question

  1. Tell students that today they will be exploring the culture and lives of the first Africans who came to Virginia in 1619, but don’t provide any further details.
  2. Give each student 5 sticky notes. Instruct students to visit each of the five primary sources related to the first Africans, and to record one observation and one question they have about the source on their sticky note. When they are done, students should place their notes above and around the corresponding primary source. (Depending on the size of your class, you may wish to use two copies of each primary source and divide the class in half, so fewer students are analyzing an image at a time.)
  3. Discuss the students’ questions and observations regarding the first Africans as a class. Then, ask students to share what they already know about the first Africans and/or slavery in Virginia.
  4. Show students “The Arrival of the First Africans to Virginia”, and then discuss what they learned about the arrival of the first Africans to Virginia.

Main Activity

  1. Explain to students that they will revisit the primary sources related to the first Africans, now that they have more knowledge about their journey. Divide students into groups of 2-3 for this activity.
  2. Groups will record their observations of the primary sources on the Primary Source Analysis Worksheet.
  3. When students have returned to their desks, display each image for the class and discuss what the primary source tells them about the life and culture of the first Africans who came to Virginia. Refer to the background information on the primary sources if needed.
  4. To close, have students write a paragraph reflection on the compelling question, “Who were the first Africans who came to Virginia?,” drawing on what they learned from the primary sources they analyzed.

Extension Activity

Have students create a digital poster using Canva, Padlet, or ThingLink on the significance of 1619, including the arrival of the first Africans, the first meeting of the General Assembly, and the growing population of women in the Virginia colony. Students could also include what they have learned about the Powhatan Indians in their poster.

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