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The NYT ran an article about the fascinating geneology of Wanda Sykes, but repeated the incorrect claim that "Africans arrived in the New World in Jamestown in 1619." A slightly expanded version of my email to the author of the piece is below.

A Historical Mistake

In your fascinating article on the history of Sykes' family, the common misconception that "Africans arrived in the New World in Jamestown in 1619" is propounded.

The first documented enslaved African in what we now call the Americas was brought to Hispaniola by Juan de Córdoba of Seville in 1502 (see Dr. Carey's Slavery timeline).

Even if your intention was to describe the first Africans brought to mainland North America, the Ayllon expedition brought 100 captive Africans to the Carolina coast in 1526, and this was also the site of the first known African slave rebellion in North America. This slave rebellion succeeded, and indications are that the Africans joined with local native americans. Wherever there is slavery, indeed wherever there is oppression, there is resistance. It's telling that the first evidence we have of African enslavement on the North American mainland is also evidence of a successful slave revolt.

It's not even clear that the ship of 1619 brought the first Africans to English North America. According to the University of Houston's Digital History site, counteracting the myth of 1619: "Fact: Slaves arrived in Spanish Florida at least a century before 1619 and a recently uncovered census shows that blacks were present in Virginia before 1619." (though the site doesn't, unfortunately, provide a reference for the evidence of enslaved Africans in Florda before 1519 or for this census).

I hope you, and the NYT, can issue a correction.

In Peace,
Sam Diener
Adjunct Professor of Peace Studies
Clark University

Originally posted to samdiener on Wed Mar 21, 2012 at 12:53 PM PDT.

Also republished by History for Kossacks, Invisible People, Black Kos community, and Barriers and Bridges.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Fascinating. Off to read links. Thanks! nt (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teachme2night, Statusquomustgo
  •  They meant in British North America (0+ / 0-)

    and I think you know that too, sam.  Nice takedown, but you just used a rifle gun to bring down a gnat.

    Adjunct Assistant Professor of History here.

    All it takes is security in your own civil rights to make you complacent.

    by Dave in Northridge on Wed Mar 21, 2012 at 03:06:16 PM PDT

    •  ...and the British write our history, right? (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      sayitaintso, samdiener

      A fairer and geographically accurate assessment would include anywhere now inside the boundaries of the U.S.

      The first Thanksgiving was reportedly held in ... New Mexico, rather before the famous one in Massachusetts.  Part of New Spain at the time, but...

      The oldest permanent continuously inhabited place in North America is in New Mexico (Taos pueblo).

      Two coincidentally New Mexico examples, but I submit the NYT has a geographic and English-European origin bias sometimes.

      Torture is Wrong! We live near W so you don't have to. Send love.

      by tom 47 on Wed Mar 21, 2012 at 03:31:15 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  good point (0+ / 0-)

        and it would be even better if our traditions came from New Spain, but they don't.  Nobody questions the Taos pueblo for continuous habitation, but I think San Agustin can still qualify as the first permanent European settlement in the land mass that is now the United States.

        You have to be very very specific with identifiers.  It's life. The NYT screws up fairly often too -- remember Judith Miller?

        All it takes is security in your own civil rights to make you complacent.

        by Dave in Northridge on Wed Mar 21, 2012 at 04:37:21 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  True, all dat (0+ / 0-)

          and the English went half-way around the world to meet the Russians coming half-way around from the other Canada/Washington/Oregon/California!  They chased seals as far south as San Diego.  

          At one point (War of the Pacific), the Peruvian Navy sent ships north to California and put fear into the Franciscan missionaries and their NA "missionized".  In one case, the Franciscans re-located and re-built the San Buenaventura Mission inland several miles to avoid the coast for the duration.

          Lots of stuff goes on we never hear about, or don't remember, or get wrong, or ignore if it doesn't fit the version we've heard.

          More western hemisphere trivia: Where is the largest population of Japanese-origin people outside Japan located?  A: Sao Paolo, Brazil.  Something like 400,000 people claim Japanese ancestry in Brazil, concentrated in S.P.

          Yet still more (sub-category, cuisine) trivia: Y'know how you can prepare raw fish or seafood by soaking it in lime or other citrus juice, and adding herbs, onion, or what have you?  We call it ceviche, but where did it come from?  It is NOT indigenous to the New World: the Spanish brought it by way of their trans-Pacific trade, and the Filipino sailors who crewed the ships, from Asia to the West Coast of the Americas.  In Mexico and Central America, they added chiles, and there are varieties of ceviche from Tierra del Fuego at least as far as Vancouver, B.C., maybe Alaska, for all I know.  And look at the fusion that is now sushi.  And those chiles traveled the other direction all the way to Asia, finding their way into Chinese, Thai, Indian, and other cuisines there and elsewhere in the world.

          The world is a very interesting place, and not always what you think or expect.

          Torture is Wrong! We live near W so you don't have to. Send love.

          by tom 47 on Thu Mar 22, 2012 at 01:58:11 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  Anyone who knows anything about history ... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Dave in Northridge

      knows they meant British North America, but a lot of people wouldn't know that.  The Times was sloppy here, and a polite letter is appropriate.

      (history major here)

      The thing about quotes on the internet is you cannot confirm their validity. ~Abraham Lincoln

      by raboof on Wed Mar 21, 2012 at 04:37:08 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  British N. America = the New World? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      that's a lot more than a trivial distinction. It's on the level of saying "the Bible" when you mean the King  James Version.

      And deserves a correction.  

      It's not a fake orgasm; it's a real yawn.

      by sayitaintso on Wed Mar 21, 2012 at 04:42:24 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I don't use guns... (0+ / 0-)

      I'm a pacifist.

    •  Even in British N. America - it's an Open Question (0+ / 0-)

      There's an open question as to whether the shipload of August 1619 was the first to bring enslaved Africans to British North America.

      The folks at the Digital History site kindly wrote me back with this citation:

      Dr. Steven Mintz, who wrote the article you cite on Digital History, has sent me the following reference for the section you mention.

      In a 1995 scholarly article, William Thorndale discussed a census, which he dated to
      March of 1619, which indicated that there were 32 blacks (15 males and 17
      females) in Jamestown at that time.  ("The Virginia Census of 1619," MAGAZINE
      OF VIRGINIA GENEALOGY 33 (1995): 155-171).

      The databases I have access to don't carry this magazine, but I'm trying to track that article down.

      This email indicates that Thorndale was working from a document found by Daphne Gentry.

      In a dialogue on H-NET, a former skeptic about the dating on this census says he was convinced by Thorndale's arguments.

      However, the dating of that census to between March and May of 1619 has been challenged, and it might have been from 1620, according to another article I haven't read yet:

      An Early Virginia Census Reprised by Martha W. McCartney
      Quarterly Bulletin of the Archeological Society of VA.. Dec. 1999
  •  They (Africans) came before Columbus. (0+ / 0-)

    Read Ivan van Sertima's interdisciplinary study, "They Came Before Columbus," and you will  realize that Africans came to the Americas even before 1502.  And the first Africans in the Americas were not enslaved.

    The Republican Party = The American Taliban.

    by pwr2thepeople on Wed Mar 21, 2012 at 06:39:46 PM PDT

    •  It's an Interesting Hypothesis (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Denise Oliver Velez, raboof

      but the Olmec statues are ambiguous at best, and there's a lot of speculation there.

      I have heard that there were some non-enslaved africans who came with the Spanish before 1502, but I haven't seen documentation of this. Some people claim that Pedro Alonso Niño was called "El Negro." This wikipedia entry describes him as a pilot (I've also seen him referred to as as  a translator) on two of Columbus' voyages. But in the article "Columbus and "The Negro"" by Vincent H. deP. Cassidy, The Phylon Quarterly, Vol. 20, No. 3 (3rd Qtr., 1959), pp. 294-296, the author claims the "El Negro" was a printer's error. By the way, that same author also claims there were Africans in Panama before Columbus. I still think the evidence is speculative.

      Do you or anyone else have more information/references regarding non-enslaved Africans on voyages 1492-1502?

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