Food was in short supply because there were not many farmers among them.
The first settlers were also under orders from the British crown to prioritize the search for precious metals and to obtain food by trading with the local natives. Persistent hunger and discomfort led to strife and distrust between the colony’s leaders, while mosquitoes and famine killed thousands.
Historical accounts say things got so bad that some turned to cannibalism to survive.
It was during this time that the first 20 or so indentured servants from Africa arrived in the British colonies for the first time at Point Comfort, Virginia, near Jamestown in 1619.
It was 127 years after Spanish explorer Christopher Columbus landed in the Bahamas in 1492 and 157 years before Thomas Jefferson penned the iconic words of the 1776 American Revolution that declared “all men are created equal.”
When Jamestown was established in 1607, slave labor was already in full swing throughout the Caribbean and on North American soil in present-day South Carolina and in Spanish colonial Florida, especially around St. Augustine.
In the Chesapeake Bay region, native Africans brought to America became indentured servants and were able to earn their freedom after a prescribed period of time. Some of them went on to become slave owners themselves, proponents to a system of oppression that gradually evolved into chattel slavery — the cornerstone of a fledgling economy that put the country on a collision course with the Civil War.
By 1640, the first slave law appeared on the books in Virginia, which condemned a Black man to lifelong servitude after trying to escape, marking the first legal sanctioning of slavery in the English colonies.
400 years later
Four hundred years later, an ambitious and ever-expanding historical initiative called The 1619 Project is reexamining the early American experience through the lens of this period in an effort to reassess slavery’s lasting legacy and as a way to highlight Black history, which has been mostly left out of American history books.
Conservatives around the country, including prominent members of the Trump administration and several Republican senators, have adamantly condemned the project in recent weeks.
The relevance of the initiative seems more pronounced now in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death — the horrors of the slave trade and the continued public visibility of its relics are now fueling widespread calls against systemic racism. Around the country, numerous Confederate monuments viewed as painful symbols of the country’s brutal past have also been toppled.