BLACK GENESIS - HAMPTON ROADS
Native American tribes, including the Powhattan Tribe of Pocahantas, ranged widely in this region for centuries before English settlers arrived. In 1607, sailing aboard the Susan Constant, Godspeed and Discovery under Captain Christopher Newport, one hundred English colonists were sent by the Virginia Company in search of gold, other goods for commercial trade in Europe and for colonization purposes. On a site near the junction of the Atlantic and a huge bay, the settlers erected a granite cross and named the first landing, Cape Henry. Today the cape is part of Fort Story (map). Native Americans called the huge bay, Chesapeake, a name the settlers readily adopted. BTW, when Admiral Christopher Newport organized 30 or so men to go ashore, John Smith was under arrest for taking part in mutinous disturbances en route to America.
Soon, Cape Henry was deemed too vulnerable to Spanish and Indian attack, so the colonists moved farther inland to establish a permanent settlement and begin a series of events that established the cities of Hampton, Norfolk, Newport News, Portsmouth, Suffolk, Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Williamsburg and Jamestown, known today as Hampton Roads metro area (map). Somehow in 1607, John Smith regained favor with the Virginia Company and led the same three ships to the extreme tip of the Virginia Peninsula at a second landing they named Point Comfort. Today, that landing area has become part of Fort Monroe and opens to Hampton Roads Bay and the Chesapeake Bay (map). Jamestown, located several miles up the James River, was also founded in 1607.
Despite Pocahantas' valiant peace-keeping efforts and skirmishes with the new arrivals who would usurp their land, indigenous Powhatan Confederacy of tribes had little chance against new diseases and guns brought by the British. Hence, they slowly ceded control of the region to British colonists. Initial colonists were followed by more settlers, sailors, pirates and merchants along the region's inland waterfront.
John Rolfe of Britain, who married Pocahontas in 1614, recorded in his journal on August 1619, the vessel Treasurer arrived at Point Comfort with "twenty and odd Africans." The ship was believed to have left one African at Point Comfort, a woman named Angela. Based on data from trade routes of the time, these first Africans were believed to have been from Angola on Africa’s West Coast, and brought with them a knowledge of agriculture. It is further believed that the captain of the Treasurer attempted to barter his human cargo for food at the small Kecoughtan settlement near Point Comfort. Having no success, he proceeded several miles up the James River where he sold the first 20 or so Africans at Jamestown (map) where they founded the first permanent British colony in North America. That sale shaped our continent’s race relations, economy and destiny. For this historic reason, Jamestown is the starting point of America's Holocaust - Slavery.
From Treasurer's arrival, a man named Anthony was taken to serve on the plantation of Captain William Tucker of Kecoughtan in Elizabeth City, which would later become Hampton (map). Anthony married a fellow captive, Isabella, in a Christian ceremony. Isabella gave birth to their child, named for the plantation owner, William Tucker. The baby was taken to Jamestown to be baptized in 1624. It is believed that Anthony’s and Isabella’s son William, was the first child of African descent born in America.
In 1621, the first permanent settlement of Virginia Beach was Lynnhaven Bay (map). By 1635, Captain Thoroughgood built a brick home on the western branch of the Lynnhaven River. This house, now fully restored, is believed to be the oldest brick home in the USA.
Many colonial planters sought to teach their black servants Christianity. Once they became Christianized, the prevailing practice was to make them a free man or woman. In 1667, the addictive economics of slavery led to a change that custom when the Virginia General Assembly, dominated by rich colonists, ruled that baptism did not alter the condition of a person. As one writer describes, "baptism freed the soul, not the body."
In 1680, the King of England decreed that the Towne of Lower Norfolk County be established at the mouth of Elizabeth River. The economic activity of enslaved human cargo and the cash crops they produced became so valuable, that more and larger ships from Europe and the West Indies sailed to the region. Norfolk, at Elizabeth River, had the ONLY deep-water harbor sufficient to dock large ships and was better sheltered from seasonal hurricanes than Virginia Beach. Thus, Norfolk's growth blew past Hampton and Jamestown.
In 1682, sanctions by the State of Virginia and the church declared lifetime servitude the “proper” status of Africans.
By 1750, British colonist records indicate that there were 236,000 slaves, with more than 206,000 of them living in states south of Pennsylvania. Virginia had more than any state. Leading colonists, such as Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson constructed the hypocritical moral ground of “freedom from taxation without representation”, sparking the Revolutionary War against Great Britain in 1770.
By 1775, Norfolk was still Great Britain’s most prosperous city to tax, albeit without political representation. During the Revolutionary War, more than 100,000 people escaped slavery. Many were attracted to this region to fight for Great Britain in return for post-war freedom. General George Washington and other southern plantation owners initially resisted the prospect of arming Africans. They feared it would spur slave uprisings. War casualties and Great Britain’s hard fighting “Ethiopian Regiment” caused General George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and others to reverse their earlier position. They soon allowed enslaved Africans to serve for America in return for post-war freedom. Even Virginia colonists, who prospered the most from a slave-driven economy, freed a percentage of enslaved Africans to fight for America.
By 1783 at the Revolutionary War’s end, more than 5,000 Africans comprised of free and enslaved soldiers, helped America win freedom from Great Britain. They became in effect, the first African Americans. Though, colonists set most slaves free who served as soldiers, the siren call of economic exploitation to produce tobacco and other cash crops was still present. Once the cotton gin was invented in 1792, that economic siren call became as persuasive as heroin around a junky.
Northern states could not grow cotton, tobacco, rice or indigo. So they were eager to buy non-slave goods that they could add manufacturing value to for resale purposes. Though it traded slave-based goods, Northern states never developed the same degree of monopolistic dependency on slave-based goods as their siblings to the south. So, it could afford to ban slavery and focus more energy on the shift to industrialization, retail, finance and international trade led by Philadelphia, New York City and Boston. But Southern states continued slavery via the children of freed slaves and more importation. Baltimore, the 4th largest city, had the dual personality of Northern industry and trade in a Southern tobacco-growing state. Meanwhile, both sides debated the morality of the subject in the US Congress. Norfolk, with its deep port for large-scale import and export, and Richmond, a major inland trading post 90 miles west on the James River, led America's ethical morass to continue slavery.
The next 80 years became an alternating tale of slave imports, crop exports, and slave revolts, with the revolt led by Nat Turner as the most famous. In the midst of those activities, Norfolk rebuilt after a great fire, epidemics and a second burning of the town during the Civil War between 1861-1865.
President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, formally abolished slavery. Beneath the branches of an Oak Tree in Hampton, newly freed residents gathered to hear Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation for the first time. Locals believe Mary Peake taught school, against Virginia law, to free blacks and slaves prior to the Civil War in its shade. Today,ninety-eight feet wide Emancipation Oak is a popular site for special services, social gatherings and picnics in the area that became Hampton University (map).
After the Civil War, a nearby settlement of newly freed African Americans founded the first center of higher education for African Americans, at the same area Ms Peake taught at known today as Hampton University. Virginia Beach remained a thinly settled fishing village until the 1880's, when a popular beach resort was also developed. By 1906, it became a somewhat larger town that was a day's carriage ride from Norfolk. African American population, though thick in Norfolk, Suffolk and Portsmouth, remained very thin in Virginia Beach.
In the first 40 years of the 20th century, trade and local industry boomed, solidifying Norfolk's place as a major commercial seaport. But the environment radically changed during World War II, when the US Navy built Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach and Norfolk became home to the US Navy's Eastern fleet of deep-water vessels. Along with the establishment of US Marines Camp Pendleton in Virginia Beach, more Black servicemen and women arrived.
The end of World War II saw encroachment by neighboring Norfolk suburbanites. Rather than be annexed by Norfolk, Virginia Beach merged with Princess Anne County in 1963. The freeway system and Chesapeake Bay Tunnel & Bridge made travel here easier than ever for weekend getaways for summer vacationers from the East Coast. Virginia Beach has been booming ever since.
Seizing a tourism opportunity, local officials were also quick to establish Norfolk Harbor as Mile Zero of the scenic Atlantic Intra-Coastal Waterway. Redevelopment of Norfolk’s waterfront has been kind to this historic port city. Today harbor tours, museums, colleges, historic sites, restaurants, churches and beach life provide attractions for every traveler and African American who lives here.
With its huge military presence, Virginia Beach had a comparatively easier transition from Jim Crow Era segregation than other Southern cities. But the record shows many times as late as the 1980s, when people of color were not as welcome at the main beach and hotels. Today however, Black consumers have become the determinant factor in whether Virginia Beach hotels and restaurants in southern beach cities have a successful annual report. And everyone respects the color of green and good manners.