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Lesson Plan
The People of Jamestown: The Africans
Using the Five Themes of Geography

Elementary, Middle

Students will describe the culture of the Africans who came to Jamestown in 1619 and the interactions that occurred in Africa between the local cultures and the Portuguese.

Standards of Learning:
Virginia SOL: VS1b, d, e, i; VS2b, c; VS4a; USI. 1b, d; 2a; 4a, c; 5a, c, d
National Standards of History: Historical Analysis and Interpretation
National Geography Standards: Spatial Relationships, Places and Regions, Physical and Human Systems; Environment and Society

Materials Needed for Activity:
Classroom world map
Alternate Link: http://content.jwplatform.com/players/kZpgCtLY-FaSAPBTu.html

Other Helpful Resources:
See the lesson plan entitled Looking at Jamestown with a Geographic Perspective- Making a Bulletin Board located in the Cultures at Jamestown section under Curriculum Materials

Teacher Background:

Vocabulary Words:

Kongo – an African kingdom which was located in West Central Africa in the area of present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo

Ndongo – an African kingdom which was located in West Central Africa in the area of present-day Angola

sobas – powerful local leaders in the kingdom of Ndongo

ngangas – priests who were part of local religious practices in the kingdoms of Ndongo and Kongo

manillas – copper bracelets found in the early African kingdoms which were used as money

serf – a person in feudal European society or in West Central African society who was attached to the land and could be sold when the land was sold from one owner to another

slave – a person acquired by war or purchase and in a lower class than a serf

Five Themes of Geography
In 1984, Guidelines for Geographic Education were published by the National Council for Geographic Education and were incorporated into the national geography standards in 1994. These guidelines became known popularly as the Five Themes of Geography and serve as a framework for looking at history and world events through a geographic perspective.

1. Location: Position on the Earth’s Surface
Absolute location and relative location are two ways of describing the positions of people and places on the earth’s surface. Using absolute location, one might say that the city is located at 48 degrees North latitude and 2 degrees East longitude, or the house is located at 115 Main Street. Using relative location, the school is located across the street from City Park, or it is 10 minutes from the beach.

2. Place: Physical and Human Characteristics
Place is a description of what a location is like. Physical characteristics include such things as landforms, bodies of water, climate, soils, natural vegetation and animal life. Human characteristics refer to human actions or ideas that shape the character of a place, such as buildings, roads, lifestyles or cultures.

3. Relationships within Places: Human-Environment Interactions:
Humans will modify or adapt to their environments in many ways. Cutting down trees or polluting rivers are examples of ways the people change their environment. How have people been changed by or adapted to their environment? Types of housing or clothing represent ways that people are affected by their environment..

4. Movement: Humans Interacting on the Earth
Movement includes the movement of people, things and ideas. People interact with each other in many different ways through communication and transportation of goods and ideas. Examples of ways that people, goods or ideas are transported from place to place include by foot, ship, wagon, bicycle, airplane, train, etc. People communicate with one another and with other groups of people through conversations, public gatherings, letters, newspapers, music, television, etc.

5. Regions: How They Form and Change
Some areas on the earth’s surface have similar characteristics but differ from other areas around them. These characteristics may be human or physical. In a human region, people may have the same government, which is different from those in the areas around them. People within a region may speak the same language, but that language may be different from that spoken by the people around them. Religion may be another characteristic of a region. On the other hand, the region may be a physical region and have the same physical characteristics, such as a rainforest or dessert.

Historical Background
In 1619 the first documented Africans arrived in Virginia aboard an English privateer, the White Lion. These 20 or so individuals were part of a large shipment of slaves enroute to the Spanish colony of Mexico when they were captured by two privateer ships, the White Lion and the Treasurer. Traded for supplies at Point Comfort, modern day Hampton, they became part of the workforce for the new Jamestown colony. According to Portuguese and Spanish records, these Africans probably came from the West Central African kingdom of Ngongo in Angola. Over time, people from various areas of Africa would become part of a legalized system of slavery.

The civilization the Africans left behind was highly developed and included rural villages, small towns and large urban centers. This area was rich in natural resources including a variety of tropical trees, wild game and fish, and assorted minerals such as silver and copper. The kingdom of Ndongo and the neighboring kingdom of Kongo were ruled by kings, but the villages were self-governing following local customs and legal traditions. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to explore and trade with the native populations. Because warfare within the Kingdom of Ndongo led to the capture of thousands of people, there was a ready supply of slaves for the Portuguese to export to the Spanish colonies in the Caribbean and South America.

For this reason, the Africans who landed at Jamestown in 1619 may have been familiar with European languages and customs. They may also have been introduced to Christianity since the Portuguese felt that all slaves should be baptized before arriving in America. Whatever their background knowledge may have been, they were forcefully taken from their natural environment, with only the clothes on their backs, and forced to adapt to new surroundings, customs, and language. Africans eventually became the main labor force for the English in the tobacco fields.


Step 1: Review with students the meaning of “culture” (way of life). Remind students that all cultures have basic needs which different cultures meet in different ways. Cultures also have different ways of organizing themselves as societies. Discuss with the class what may happen when cultures interact. For example, one culture may dominate the other or adopt some characteristics of the other group. Have students refer to the classroom world map and locate Portugal and West Central Africa, where the present day countries of Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are found.

Step 2: Students should be assigned to one of five groups representing each of the Five Themes of Geography listed above. Discuss briefly each theme, using local examples so students can relate more easily. Share with students that they will be viewing a video, and should watch and listen carefully for examples of the particular theme to which they have been assigned.

Step 3: View the video, Discovering Jamestown: The West Central Africans. Ask students to write down everything they remember about their particular theme from the video. Have students discuss in their group what they learned in order to come up with a comprehensive listing.

Summary Activities: Ask a student spokesperson from each group to share their theme with the class and what they learned about West Central African people and geography as it relates to their theme. Use the following questions to encourage discussion:

Location: Position on the Earth’s Surface
Using both relative and absolute descriptions, explain the location of the following:

  • Kingdoms of Kongo and Ndongo

  • Portugal

  • Atlantic Ocean

  • Mexico

  • Caribbean Sea

  • Virginia

Place: Physical and Human Characteristics

  • What are some physical characteristics of the kingdoms of Ndongo and Kongo?

  • What are some human characteristics of these kingdoms?

Relationships within Places: Human-Environment Interactions:

  • In what ways did the people of Kongo and Ndongo interact with their environment?

  • How did they adapt to their environment?

  • How did they change it?

Movement: Humans Interacting on the Earth

  • Give some examples of how people of West Central Africa communicated with one another.

  • How did they move from place to place?

  • What were some examples of the movement of people, goods, and/or ideas between Africa and Portugal?

  • What was the impact on the Africans of their interaction with the Portuguese?

Regions: How They Form and Change

  • What physical and/or cultural characteristics did these kingdoms have in common? How were they different?

  • What physical or cultural characteristics set them apart from the Europeans?

Now ask students what they found that was similar to the Powhatan culture and environment. What was different?

Have students produce a poster or create visual images of the Africans using the Five Themes of Geography as organizers. The images could be comprised of student drawings, computer images, pictures from magazines, photographs, maps, etc.

As a result of this activity, students should have a fairly clear picture in their minds of the cultures from which the Africans came, so they can better understand the severe changes they experienced when they were taken by force from their homes to a completely new environment and society.

The “Discovering Jamestown” electronic classroom was made possible
by Dominion & Dominion Foundation and John and Dorothy Estes.


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