African-American Cultural Heritage
Exhibits & Films at Jamestown Settlement & American Revolution Museum at Yorktown
Throughout the year and in honor of Black History Month in February, visitors to Jamestown Settlement and the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown can explore gallery exhibits, films and educational programs that recount the experiences of Africans and African Americans in early America, from the first known Africans in Virginia in 1619 to the role of African Americans in the Revolutionary War.
Jamestown Settlement’s permanent exhibition galleries feature one of the most varied collections of objects relating to the nation’s beginnings in 17th-century Virginia, including more than 500 objects representative of the Powhatan Indian, European and West Central African cultures. The documentary film, “1607: A Nation Takes Root,” shown every 30 minutes in the museum theater, traces the evolution of the Virginia Company that sponsored the Jamestown colony, examines the relationship between the English colonists and the Powhatan Indians, and chronicles the arrival of the first recorded Africans in 1619.
The skill of West Central African craftsmen as well as African contact with Europeans is reflected in a pair of bronze bracelets from Benin whose decorations include stylized pictures of Portuguese soldiers, and an Owo carved ivory bracelet, an example of an object highly valued by European collectors. In a diorama representing the Ndongan culture of the first known Africans in Virginia, 30 objects from the Ambundu culture of Angola are exhibited courtesy of the Mercer Museum of the Bucks County Historical Society in Doylestown, Pa. The Ambundu were part of the Ndongo kingdom in the 16th and 17th centuries. Collected in the early 20th century by Swedish American scholar Amandus Johnson, the Ambundu artifacts are similar to the weapons, tools and personal items used by 17th-century Ndongans.
A dramatic multimedia presentation, “From Africa to Virginia,” chronicles African encounters with Europeans, the impact on African culture, and the development of the transatlantic slave trade. The story of Angelo, the first African woman mentioned by name in the historical record noted in the 1625 “Muster of the Inhabitants of Virginia,” is told in the newly refreshed permanent galleries. Her legacy and African-American women, from 1619 to today, are honored on February 27 during a special event “After Angelo.”
Museum educational programs on select dates in February will allow visitors to learn about the culture, society and technology of West Central Africa, the first recorded arrival of Africans to Virginia in 1619, and stories of Africans in Virginia and their shift in status as laws changed, developing into the institution of slavery. Educational programs in exhibit galleries feature reproduction African objects, images and documents, exploring aspects of African tools, weaponry, transportation, housing, clothing and ornamentation. Programs will take place at 10 a.m.-12 p.m. and 1-3 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, February 5-7, February 12-14, February 19-21 and February 26 and 28. As part of the “After Angelo” special event on February 27, education programs will be available at 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
American Revolution Museum at Yorktown
From the first shots fired at the Boston Massacre to the final victory at Yorktown and points in between, exhibits and films explore the contributions of both well-known and little-known participants in the Revolutionary War.
Among the iconic artifacts of the Revolution on exhibit is a circa 1733 portrait of Ayuba Suleiman Diallo, one of the two earliest known portraits done from life of an African who had been enslaved in the 13 British colonies that became the United States of America. Also on display is a first edition of the Phillis Wheatley 1773 volume, “Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral,” the first book to be published by an African American. Visitors can learn about diverse Americans – Patriots and Loyalists, women, and enslaved and free African Americans, including Benjamin Banneker, a free African American who became famous in the 1790s as a scientist and writer. An interactive exhibit shares accounts of Billy Flora and James Lafayette, an enslaved African American from New Kent County, Va., who successfully spied on the British for the American forces. Shown every 30 minutes in the museum theater, “Liberty Fever” features the stories of five people who lived during the American Revolution, including Billy Flora, an African-American hero of the Battle of Great Bridge in 1775.
Along the museum’s Grand Corridor, visitors can see representations of a coat worn by formerly enslaved people who joined the British 33rd Regiment of Foot and a hat from the American army’s 1st Rhode Island Regiment, which for a time during the Revolution included several companies of African-American soldiers.
At the re-created Continental Army encampment, historical interpreters discuss life of a Revolutionary War soldier, including the roles of African Americans and the 1775 proclamation by Lord Dunmore, promising freedom to people enslaved by rebellious colonists, if they came to the British side. On the re-created Revolution-era farm, visitors can glimpse of the lives and roles of enslaved people on a small farm and African influence on American foodways.
About the Museums
Jamestown Settlement and the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily year-round, are separated by a 25-minute drive along the Colonial Parkway, a National Scenic Byway. Through February, outdoor interpretive areas are accessible from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Jamestown Settlement is located on Route 31 just southwest of Williamsburg. The American Revolution Museum at Yorktown is located on Route 1020 in Yorktown. Parking is free.
In 2021, a value-priced combination ticket to both museums is $28.90 for adults and $14.45 for ages 6-12. Admission to Jamestown Settlement is $18.00 for adults and $9.00 for ages 6-12 and, to the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, $16.00 for adults and $8.00 for ages 6-12. Children under 6 are admitted free. Residents of James City County, York County and the City of Williamsburg, including William & Mary students, receive complimentary admission with proof of residency. For more information, call (757) 253-4838.