Four-hundred years ago, the first enslaved Africans arrived in the Virginia colony at Point Comfort on the James River. Spanish records suggest that the enslaved Africans were captured in the Portuguese colony of Angola. Although they were placed on board a ship bound for Mexico, they were ultimately stolen by two English Ships: the White Lion and the Treasurer.
Records show that “20 and odd Negroes” were sold in exchange for food; the remaining Africans arrived in Jamestown, Virginia, on August 20, 1619, where they were sold into slavery and dispersed throughout the colony. For the next six decades, white indentured servants–not slaves–were the predominant form of labor on Virginia plantations. In the middle of the 17th century, Virginia became the first of the 13 colonies to legally define slavery, and as the slave population continued to grow, African slave labor became the dominant system on Virginia farms.
By 1861, when the Civil War began, Virginia had the largest population of enslaved black people of any state in the Confederacy.