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From Africa to Virginia

Discover the culture of the first known Africans in Virginia and the experience of people of African descent in colonial and Revolutionary America.
Benin copper alloy plaque, circa 1600.

Copper alloy plaque, Kingdom of Benin, ca. 1600. Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation collection. Gift of the Gladys and Franklin Clark Foundation.

Jamestown Settlement

The Jamestown Settlement galleries chronicle the nation’s 17th-century beginnings in Virginia in the context of its Powhatan Indian, English and African cultures. The parent culture of Africans brought to Virginia in 1619 is portrayed in a diorama that includes a full-scale dwelling and artifacts from the Ambundu culture of Angola. A dramatic multimedia presentation describes African encounters with Europeans, the impact on African culture, and the development of the transatlantic slave trade.

Other exhibits tell about Virginia’s tobacco-cultivation economy and its relationship to the evolution of slavery in the colony. A structure re-created from an archaeological site depicts a late-17th-century slave quarter alongside a planter’s house and Indian cabin, also based on Virginia archaeological sites. Decorative objects of ivory and metal made by west central African craftspeople, and archaeologically found objects made or used by enslaved people in Virginia can be seen in the gallery exhibits.

Yorktown Victory Center

The Yorktown Victory Center’s Witnesses to Revolution Gallery profiles 10 individuals who lived during the Revolutionary period, including two African-Americans – Jehu Grant, who served as a teamster in the Continental Army, and Boston King, who escaped from slavery to the British side.  Documents on exhibit reflect antislavery sentiment in the American colonies prior to the Revolution.  The antislavery movement continued to gain momentum after America won its independence, and a 1795 antislavery medallion also is exhibited in the museum galleries.

“The Legacy of Yorktown: Virginia Beckons” tells the story of people who shaped Virginia society, from the Powhatan Indians to Europeans and Africans who began arriving in the 1600s.  Among those featured in the exhibition are Anthony and Mary Johnson, who arrived in Virginia from Africa in the early 1620s as servants or slaves and became free persons by the 1640s, and Olaudah Equiano, a slave who purchased his freedom in the 1760s.


Educational Resources and Image Gallery

Print out this Family Gallery Guide to enhance your visit.

Jamestown Settlement Family Gallery Guide

Image Gallery – West Central Africans

Video Resources

Discovering Jamestown: The West Central Africans

Background Historical Essays

The Angolan Connection and Slavery in Virginia

The Evolution of the Slave Quarter in Tidewater Virginia

Antislavery Sentiment in Pre-Revolutionary Virginia