THE BIRTH OF BLACK AMERICA by Tim Hashaw

THE BIRTH OF BLACK AMERICA

The First African Americans and the Pursuit of Freedom at Jamestown
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KIRKUS REVIEW

A history that will surely temper its readers’ views of early colonial America.

The exploration of the African coast brought the Portuguese into contact with the chiefs of Angola, who used this new alliance to extend their kingdoms and showed their thanks by proffering slaves, rebels called Jagas. These rural Angolans, investigative journalist Hashaw (Children of Perdition, not reviewed) argues, came to colonial America “fully aware of the concepts of independence and autonomy later embraced by American colonialists”; no one had to teach them the value of freedom. It was more or less by accident, Hashaw maintains, that a British raid in the Caribbean landed not just the usual doubloons, but a complement of 60 or so Jagas who had survived capture and imprisonment in Angola, been sold to the Spanish and endured the weeks-long ocean passage “only to be stolen by English pirates in a fierce sea battle.” These slaves were brought to Jamestown, the Virginia Company’s settlement, where they became the subject of a long and violent debate between royalists and parliamentarians over what to do with them, since slavery had not yet been institutionalized in British North America and the good citizens of Jamestown were divided about whether to let them go. The debate was settled, in a fashion, when the British crown broke the power of anti-monarchist settlers; Virginia, originally a merchant state, was made a royal colony at least in part because this “cargo of negroes” forced the issue of who was going to be in charge there. Still, the slaves were freed, and some even came to own whites; collectively, they were “the earliest free black property owners in all of North America,” even as their prosperity and freedom inspired an increasingly rigid slaveholding order, leading to legislation that made it quite impossible, by 1691, for any successors to follow their path.

A solid contribution to the “Atlantic studies” approach taken in Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker’s The Many-Headed Hydra (2000) and other recent revisionist works.

Pub Date: Feb. 5th, 2007
ISBN: 0-7867-1718-1
Page count: 352pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 2006




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