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Old August 12th, 2017, 01:50 AM   #1

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Samuel Argall - North America's 1st Slaver?


Most of us have been acquainted with the 1619 notation that a Dutch man of war came to Jamestown and "sold us some 20 negroes." The earliest record of slavery in the colonies. However, does your knowledge stop there? What if I told you that this was no accident. The Deputy Governor of Virginia himself was responsible for the importation of America's first African slaves. Here is the short version:

Samuel Argall first sailed to Jamestown in 1610 during the 'starving time'. He quickly gave up his supplies and sailed off to fish for sturgeon and provided even more food. Over the next few years, Argall frequently sailed back and forth while serving as the official adventurer and captain of the colony ship. He opened trade with the Indians, kidnapped Pocahontas, attacked and sacked the French colony in Canada, and mapped the route for prevailing currents across the Atlantic for easier and faster navigation. Argall became a hero. In early 1616 he captained the ship that brought John Rolfe and Pocahontas to England. While there, Samuel was named Deputy Governor of Virginia. He would replace Thomas West as the onsite authority in Jamestown. As he saw it, complete control of the colony.

Once on the ground in May of 1617, Argall found the colony in a state of disrepair. All the colonists had busied themselves with planting tobacco in hopes of quick profits. The Deputy Governor quickly instilled discipline and forced the colonists to work on the Church and other matters ahead of their individual pursuits.

Unfortunately, at the same time Argall brought about repairs to the colony's facilities and agricultural interests, he went about the business of personal corruption and wealth building. Argall behaved aggressively in trading with the Indians and barred anyone else from participation, keeping all the profits for himself. He made free use of the company ships for his personal gain along with their crew. As if that weren't bad enough, Argall was granted a large tract a few miles upriver from Jamestown. He began forcing the ancient planters to work his land and fed them with the colony's corn. Naturally, all this corruption quickly made its way back to London where an investigation was launched. Lord De La Ware himself sailed to Jamestown with orders to 'fetch' Argall home for a hearing on his conduct. He died on the trip but the ship's captain, Edward Brewster, continued his mission even though Argall did all he could to obstruct the situation. Even went so far as to accuse Brewster of treason and condemn him to death, commuted to banishment at the insistence of all the colonists, who were outraged against Argall. It was October 1618 and Argall was in trouble. He left for London to answer the charges against him. After all, Argall had powerful friends, among them was one Earl of Warwick who was also his business partner and part owner of Argall's ship.

About 6 months prior to Brewster's arrival, Argall sent his old ship, The Treasurer on a trip to the Caribbean. Officially, the cruise was for trading of salt and goats. Unofficially, they went to 'ravage the West Indies' privateering against Spanish shipping. This was illegal as no war was ongoing and no lawful commission for such activity could be obtained. The trip lasted over a year before returning to Jamestown. Argall was gone but they arrived with a Dutch man of war, the very ship that 'sold us some 20 negroes'.

However, according to Governor Butler of Bermuda, half the slaves left by the Dutch ship had been stolen by the Treasurer from a Dutchman named Youpe. These slaves belonged to Argall and were imported for use at his new plantation. Unfortunately for Argall, the new plantation was actually for the governor and passed to Sir George Yeardley who succeeded him. That is the likely reason the 1625 Jamestown census shows a total of 25 slaves, 8 of which were owned by Yeardley. In all probability, Samuel Argall was responsible for importing the first African slaves to North America for the purpose of working on his new land grant.

But Argall never made it back to Jamestown. Political influence saved him from conviction on corruption charges or on privateering. (even though there were hard feelings by the Spanish) However, the corruption was evident and he lost his position. Captain Brewster was exonerated. Samuel Argall's service for the Virginia Company ended. He took a parting shot at them later when allowed to vote on whether to disband the company and turn it over to the Crown.

So, some surprising information, albeit imperfectly evidenced. I suppose this means that Captain Argall probably deserves the dubious title of North America's First Slaver. However, and perhaps just as unfortunate, around our house he will continue to be known as Great Uncle Sam.
Attached Images
File Type: jpg Samuel Argall portrait.jpg (5.6 KB, 2 views)
File Type: jpg Samuel Argall - capture of Pocahontas.jpg (92.9 KB, 2 views)
File Type: jpg Samuel Argall burning Port Royal.jpg (96.2 KB, 1 views)
File Type: jpg Samuel Argall Chicahominie .jpg (100.3 KB, 1 views)
File Type: jpg Jamestown replica.jpg (97.9 KB, 2 views)

Last edited by Baltis; August 12th, 2017 at 03:14 AM.
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Old August 12th, 2017, 02:19 AM   #2

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Originally Posted by Baltis View Post
So, some surprising information, albeit imperfectly evidenced. I suppose this means that Captain Argall probably deserves the dubious title of America's First Slaver. However, and perhaps just as unfortunate, around our house he will continue to be known as Great Uncle Sam.
Without wanting to steal such a title to Captain Argall, I think that those dates in the 17th century are quite late, the America's First British Slaver, forgetting the pre-Columbian indigenous, the Castilian, the Portuguese, and even the French, was probably John Hawkins or Francis Drake, that in the 1560’s traded African slaves to America.
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Old August 12th, 2017, 03:10 AM   #3

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Originally Posted by Tulius View Post
Without wanting to steal such a title to Captain Argall, I think that those dates in the 17th century are quite late, the America's First British Slaver, forgetting the pre-Columbian indigenous, the Castilian, the Portuguese, and even the French, was probably John Hawkins or Francis Drake, that in the 1560’s traded African slaves to America.
OK, but that is not a reference to the 13 colonies or territory that became the United States. Which, I suppose, is actually the claim made by the 1619 landing of slaves. Not to be the first British slaver but to be responsible for introducing the first African slaves to land on the North American continent. In any event, that landing of slaves in Jamestown must have been the first something. I went ahead and edited the last line of the OP to read 'North' America in recognition that geographic qualification was necessary. I was unable to modify the thread title.
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Last edited by Baltis; August 12th, 2017 at 03:16 AM.
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Old August 12th, 2017, 05:25 AM   #4
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Originally Posted by Baltis View Post
OK, but that is not a reference to the 13 colonies or territory that became the United States. Which, I suppose, is actually the claim made by the 1619 landing of slaves. Not to be the first British slaver but to be responsible for introducing the first African slaves to land on the North American continent. In any event, that landing of slaves in Jamestown must have been the first something. I went ahead and edited the last line of the OP to read 'North' America in recognition that geographic qualification was necessary. I was unable to modify the thread title.
I'll nitpick, too, and try to salvage a tiny bit of your ancestor's reputation....

Most historians see the 19 Africans in the Chesapeake as indentured servants, not slaves (although they were not indentured by their own choice). Between 1620 and 1650 there are records of many Africans working their way out of servitude. Slavery became legally established in Virginia gradually, beginning with a court case in 1640 (when a court ordered a runaway Black servant to be a "servant for life"), into the 1660s. Massachusetts was the first British colony to outright legally define slavery in 1641. "Slavery" is an unclear term in early 17th century history. So I'd say that the title "first slaver in the original 13 colonies" is still up for grabs.

Nitpicking aside, that was a very interesting post about Argall. Thanks for posting it.
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Old August 12th, 2017, 06:17 AM   #5
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Hashaw, Tim The Birth of Black America: The First African Americans and the Pursuit of Freedom at Jamestown 2007
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Old August 12th, 2017, 06:20 AM   #6

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Originally Posted by Baltis View Post
OK, but that is not a reference to the 13 colonies or territory that became the United States. Which, I suppose, is actually the claim made by the 1619 landing of slaves. Not to be the first British slaver but to be responsible for introducing the first African slaves to land on the North American continent. In any event, that landing of slaves in Jamestown must have been the first something. I went ahead and edited the last line of the OP to read 'North' America in recognition that geographic qualification was necessary. I was unable to modify the thread title.
I am sorry, Baltis, like Jax Historian said, probably I was nitpicking, but that is probably because I was corrected many times from my teachers that North America is not a synonymous of the USA, and because recently in this sub-Forum it emerged the question that Mexico was or wasn’t a part of North America. But in this case you are probably right, at the time of John Hawkins the 13th colonies didn’t exist.

A question aside, after arriving to North America, did John Cabot send some Indians to England? They went as slaves or as free men?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jax Historian View Post
I'll nitpick, too, and try to salvage a tiny bit of your ancestor's reputation....

Most historians see the 19 Africans in the Chesapeake as indentured servants, not slaves (although they were not indentured by their own choice). Between 1620 and 1650 there are records of many Africans working their way out of servitude. Slavery became legally established in Virginia gradually, beginning with a court case in 1640 (when a court ordered a runaway Black servant to be a "servant for life"), into the 1660s. Massachusetts was the first British colony to outright legally define slavery in 1641. "Slavery" is an unclear term in early 17th century history. So I'd say that the title "first slaver in the original 13 colonies" is still up for grabs.

Nitpicking aside, that was a very interesting post about Argall. Thanks for posting it.
If the men were negotiated probably the relevance of their legal designation is not as relevant as their de facto condition. And I agree with you the Argall story is an interesting one.
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Old August 12th, 2017, 06:23 AM   #7

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Originally Posted by Jax Historian View Post
I'll nitpick, too, and try to salvage a tiny bit of your ancestor's reputation....

Most historians see the 19 Africans in the Chesapeake as indentured servants, not slaves (although they were not indentured by their own choice). Between 1620 and 1650 there are records of many Africans working their way out of servitude. Slavery became legally established in Virginia gradually, beginning with a court case in 1640 (when a court ordered a runaway Black servant to be a "servant for life"), into the 1660s. Massachusetts was the first British colony to outright legally define slavery in 1641. "Slavery" is an unclear term in early 17th century history. So I'd say that the title "first slaver in the original 13 colonies" is still up for grabs.

Nitpicking aside, that was a very interesting post about Argall. Thanks for posting it.
Thanks Jax and I am sure Uncle Sam appreciates your observations. Great to speak with you, been quite a while now. I have the long version of Argall's time with the VA Company but it needs a little editing before I put it in the Blog area. I'll let you know when I do that. Maybe I will be inspired and knock it out later today. I have been busy lately preparing lectures for a class series in the Fall. Basically a 20 lecture series on the Partisan of the South Carolina Back Country and the Am Rev in that region from May 1780 to June 1781 (and then the final lecture to finish the war). It is a truly low paying position at the Lifetime Learning Institute but I have taken the opportunity to create what I think is a pretty solid lecture series. The first two were done in June as a trial run to see if I could generate interest in the subject. It went very well and I got asked to continue forward in the Fall.
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Old August 12th, 2017, 06:24 AM   #8

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Interesting. What did the author say about Argall?
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Old August 12th, 2017, 06:26 AM   #9

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Originally Posted by Tulius View Post
I am sorry, Baltis, like Jax Historian said, probably I was nitpicking, but that is probably because I was corrected many times from my teachers that North America is not a synonymous of the USA, and because recently in this sub-Forum it emerged the question that Mexico was or wasnít a part of North America. But in this case you are probably right, at the time of John Hawkins the 13th colonies didnít exist.

A question aside, after arriving to North America, did John Cabot send some Indians to England? They went as slaves or as free men?



If the men were negotiated probably the relevance of their legal designation is not as relevant as their de facto condition. And I agree with you the Argall story is an interesting one.
You are actually correct the first time. In the US we tend to forget that America covers a lot of ground other than the United States. A gentle reminder now and then helps keep us humble. Something always in short supply down here in Houston.

I don't know the answer about John Cabot. Maybe someone will join in with some info. Mike mentioned a book that might be a regular fountain of information.
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Old August 12th, 2017, 06:28 AM   #10

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And I agree with you the Argall story is an interesting one.
I love it when I run across very complex characters whose good and bad sides are open to see. It always makes a better story.
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