Virginia, first Black Population came from Angola: Our book (pages 36 and 42) "The Forgotten Portuguese" speaks of a village of Black and White people living together in 1673 at a time when slavery had not yet been made into law. Our suspicion at the time of the research for the book was that these Black and White people were of Portuguese origin. Recently the Roanoke Times of Roanoke, Virginia has published some revolutionary news. The following is a transcription of these news on January 24, 1999 on B1 of the Metro Edition:
     Evidence suggests that these unwilling immigrants were likely to have been Christians and spoke a common language. In the scant history of forgotten persons, many people are faceless. But few have been swallowed by the dark shadows that obscure the first blacks known to have lived in Virginia.
     Except for a few passing references from Capt. John Smith and members of the Virginia Company, these ''20-odd Negroes'' left virtually no trace after disembarking from a Dutch ship in late summer 1619. And for nearly 400 years that lack of evidence made it hard for anyone, including many determined scholars, to talk about one of early America's most historic moments. A recent survey of Portuguese colonial shipping records, however, may have turned up the very vessel in which these unwilling immigrants came to the New World. New studies of the Portuguese African colony of Angola have shed unexpected light on the subject.
     ''When I gave a talk on the arrival of the first Africans in 1994, I really had very little to say,'' said Jamestown Settlement curator Tom Davidson. ''But in five years the whole story has changed - almost completely. Gradually, we're taking what was the poorest known segment of 17th-century Virginia's population and moving into a realm where we can talk about them as people.'' Davidson gave a lecture recently that focused on several studies, including two pioneering works that appeared in the scholarly journal William & Mary Quarterly over the past two years. The first revolutionized the field, he says, by pinpointing the name, nationality and port of origin of the ship that carried the blacks from Africa to the New World.
     Sifting through Colonial shipping records, California historian Engel Sluiter came across a Portuguese merchant-slaver that lost its human cargo to English and Dutch privateers in the West Indies. The timing and description of the attack almost certainly tie that ship, known as the San Juan Bautista, to the Dutch adventurers who brought the first blacks to Virginia. They also link that human cargo to the Angolan port town of Luanda.
     ''Before this, we knew nothing about the Africans themselves. We didn't know if they were slaves. We didn't even know if they were Africans or Creoles from the West Indies,'' Davidson said. ''Now we have not only a probable origin - the Portuguese ship sailed from Angola - but a specific locale in Angola. And that's enabled us to discover what kind of people these first Africans were.'' Other scholars, including William & Mary Quarterly editor Philip Morgan, an award-winning author in the field, believe Sluiter's careful work leaves little doubt about the identity of the Portuguese vessel. And that crucial missing link has led to a fast-growing chain of information about the first blacks who landed in Virginia, he says. In 1998, the journal published a study by Pennsylvania historian John Thornton that examined the Portuguese colony of Angola during the early 17th century. Thornton's search through the records of the period turned up not only the region in Angola from which the blacks came, but also the military campaign in which they were probably captured. He also turned up evidence suggesting that these Africans were likely to have been Christians, that they had years of experience in trading and dealing with Europeans and that they spoke a common language. Such traits would have made them better able to adapt to their lot in Virginia than the ethnically and linguistically diverse groups of blacks that began to arrive from West Africa later in the 1600s, Davidson says. Continued trading with Portuguese Angola, he adds, may help explain why the first generations of Africans were so much more successful in working their way out of servitude than those that followed.
     It may also help scholars understand why attitudes about race hardened in the late 1600s, when the concept of limited-term indenture began to mutate into the institution of lifelong slavery. "What we're finding out is revolutionary," Davidson said.

Dan Rather of CBS TV Network talks about NASA and Portugal: This well and much credited journalist spoke about NASA and Portugal during a one hour interview with Larry King Live from CNN. He compared the importance of the NASA space program with the of Portugal 500 years ago, when this small European nation pioneered the discovery of the World. He also mention the great work of the Portuguese navigators Vasco da Gama and Magellan and the American astronauts.

Court rules changes from African Black to Portuguese White: Race status changes were allegedly common in the 19th Century in the United States, mostly in the South. It was generally accepted that if a person was not pure White, he or she would be considered Negro. Several Groups were affected this. In particular, reference is made to the Melungeons and the Portuguese.
     This matter was the cause of  many social concerns. The major dilemma was that the individual in question would not be accepted in his or her community as a White, Negro or Indian person. The issue eventually required legal action.
     Of several court cases on the subject, two in particular rose to fame – one defended by Attorney – later to become President – Abraham Lincoln in 1850 (Dungey vs. Spencer), and another by Attorney – later to become Judge – Lewis Sheppard in 1872 (Bolton vs. Williams & Divine).  Because dark-complexioned people were considered Negroes, unfortunately their human rights were considerably curtailed.
     According to information obtained by Evelyn Orr – a member of the Advisory Council on Melungeon studies for the Franklin, North Carolina based Portuguese-American Historical  &   Research Foundation, Inc. – there is the case of  one called John Griffin whose race status was changed from that of African descent Negro to Portuguese descent White. Jolene Morgan Boyerill has made this discovery and Bill Fields from the Melungeon Heritage Association, has passed that information to our Advisory Council Member Evelyn Orr.  On  page 35 of  the Order Book, Volume I (April 24, 1855-January 30, 1869)  of the Clay County Records (Kentucky State Archives, Frankfort)    revelation is made that   "John Griffin was released from being placed on the Negro list, and hereafter he will be listed as a white man,   proof being made to the satisfaction of the court that he was of Portuguese descent instead of African descent." For more on Bill Fields and Melungeons you may visit the following web site: www.geocities.com/BourbonStreet/Square/5018/Page_1x.html
     Although "Griffin" is a popularly accepted spelling, the name is also seen – among others – in the forms of Griffith and Griffie. These name variations are also used by Melungeons.

Portugal and Spain Map in the National Geographic Magazine: The December issue presents a traveler's map of the two countries. It also provides plenty of information about its people.

Portuguese Jews and Sephardic Music: Judy Frankel has traveled to Portugal and Spain in search of the traditional Sephardic music, so dear to the hearts of every Jew with roots in Portugal. The 15 and 16th centuries  has caused many to flee the Inquisition to every corner of the World. Judy also plans to visit Turkey where many Jews settled during that period.

 

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  • Updated:
    November 8, 2012