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25 August 2019

The 35 million or so African-Americans (and the rest of the United States, for that matter) owe their cultural heritage to 20 unfortunate Angolans … and English pirates.  And the King of Spain.  And Christopher Columbus.

Slavery had been an accepted in most of the world in one form or another… usually prisoners of war and their descendants.  It was less “racial” in the modern sense than cultural:  the Irish had English slaves, the English had Irish; in medieval Iberia, the Islamic communities had Christian slaves, the Christians held Islamic slaves.  And both, sometimes had Jewish slaves.  Even into the 19th century, defenders of the “peculiar institution” claimed to be bringing their slaves to the “true religion”, never mind that most slaves had adopted the religion of their owners.

Christopher Colombus not only “discovered” America, he discovered a whole new market opportunity… the wholesale capture of indigenous Americans, under the dubious claim that they were enemies, and shipping them off to the Peninsula to be sold to the highest bidder.  His close acquaintance, Bartolomé de las Casas (who edited Colombus’ logbook for publication, by the way), before his surprising conversion to the cause of the Indigenous people, was himself an enthusiastic slaver.  However, las Casas, in noting the massive death rate among slaves, in convincing Carlos I (Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire, Carlos I of Castile and Aragon) to outlaw indigenous slavery (at least officially… it lingered into the late 20th century in some backwaters of Bolivia and apparently still exists in Brazil) miscalculated in suggesting that Africans might be better workers in the tropics.  With the Portuguese expanding their hold in Africa, the “Colombian excuse” (overrunning communities and claiming the captured people were prisoners of war), coupled with the huge labor shortage in the Americas (also, thanks to Columbus, and the importation of old world pathogens) created a lucrative market for Spanish planters in the Americas.

At Carlos’ abdication in 1556 (one of the few monarch in history to simply decide to retire), he had left his Iberian possessions a single state, Spain.  His son, Felipe II, though his mother, Isabella of Portugal, added Portugal to the family porfolio, although, like Aragon and Castile before Carlos, they remained separate nations.  His son, Felipe II, was double-dipping into human misery … his Portuguese subjects invading Angola and taking “prisoners” to be sold as slaves (there was a Portuguese tax on the export of slaves) for resale in New Spain (where he’d get another cut from the sales tax).

Enter Portugal and Spain’s economic rival, England.  The Virginia slaves were aboard the San Juan Bautista headed for Veracruz when they were attacked by British “privateers”.  Just as the Portuguese and Spanish gave license to rape, plunder, and murder Africans under the guise of empire building, the English gave their seamen similar license to rape, plunder, and murder their fellow imperialists.

The crew of the White Lion, having “taken” the San Juan Bautista (killing the crewmen) sailed for the nearest English settlement in the Americas.  Indigneous slavery was still accepted and legal in English settlements, but… like the more southern parts of North America, where Europeans had been longer settled, and their pathogens had already decimated the local population, the Virginian native peoples were dying off quicker than they could be enslaved.

And so, Royal Governor Sir George Yeardley, among others, purchased stolen people, stolen from their homes, and stolen from yet other thieves.  We know almost everything about the kings, and much about the pirates and the royal governor.  We know nothing of the histories of those stolen Angolans, before or after their voyage, and next to nothing about the 600,000 Africans stolen from their homes bound for English America, let alone the other 1.5 million bound for other parts of the “New World”.  But, they survived… somehow… which is the real story.

It’s said History is written by the winners, but it is also said that the first “history” was that of Adam and Eve… and the original sin.  1619 was the Original Sin of the country some say they want to make great again.  To recover their greatness, would it be so hard to confess their sin?

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