Inclusion: From Many, One

The Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project (MPCPMP) was formed in 2011 to advocate for the commemoration of the lives of enslaved Africans at U.S. locations where they first arrived after surviving the ocean voyage called the Middle Passage.  This is a history that begins in 1526, when the first shipment of captive Africans disembarked in the Sapelo Bay region of Georgia on the Atlantic coast.  MPCPMP highlights that year as the starting point of Middle Passage history and African slavery on the North American mainland.

Over the years, we have learned that there is no cookie cutter version to describe centuries of forced migration and slavery—no simple way to tell this narrative of place.  It is the story of a nation shaped and grounded within a racially defined caste system. 

Along the way, this initiative has been embraced by many but has also encountered resistance, for example those advocating for ownership of the story and determining who should be included and how. That is a constant challenge. The simplest way to tackle this is by researching facts going as far back as possible in the story of place. We must acknowledge those who have lived before and those living now so that the focus is on “place as a community of people.” Then, the next step is to share what has happened in this place, this nation, over time.

At those arrival sites where Middle Passage history and slavery occurred, all is not cut and dried. After all, this is the United States of America, where the motto on our currency proclaims “From many, one.” 

Until well into the early and mid-19th century, not only Africans but also non-Europeans comprised the bulk of the population. In fact, the first law establishing slavery, instituted by the Massachusetts colony in 1641, targeted First Nation people. The other English colonies followed and expanded those under the yoke of slavery to include non-Christians, Africans, and those with African mothers. As the Native population resisted European invasion and territorial encroachment, their subsequent attacks and conflicts ultimately created prisoners of war.  Many were enslaved; others were transported to British-controlled Caribbean islands; a small number were even sent to Europe.

The Project strongly recommends that the local First Nation community, as the original inhabitants, be a key component of the ancestral commemorations and marker installations. We suggest that they be asked to grant permission for the event as an acknowledgement of their connection to the history of place and, according to their traditions, that they cleanse the designated area before the ceremony or marker dedication as well as share their history and culture.

No matter our individual perceptions, there are few ethnically pure persons on this land. Most of us have ancestors who took part in this history – some as victims and others as perpetrators. This is an acceptance of reality, not a means of dilution. We are so conditioned by a racial caste system – “the one drop rule” – that we frequently fail to envision ourselves as people with a mixed and shared heritage spanning centuries.

Specifically among First Nation people, not only were both Europeans and Africans accepted into their communities, but entirely new tribes were formed that reflected this “mixed” heritage such as the Seminoles in Florida and the Yamasee of South Carolina and Georgia.

At one time, Huey Long, governor of Louisiana from 1928-1932, jokingly said that a nickel’s worth of red beans and a dime’s worth of rice would feed all of the pure whites in his state. That is applicable today to the entire nation. To reinforce and maintain white supremacy, dominance, and power, laws have been established defining race and placing people in categories that do not reflect complete ancestry. Over time, any nuances of color and heritage have been reduced to simple white, black, red, and yellow.  This makes discrimination and segregation much easier to manage.

One ancestral group does not have to be selected over another to define ourselves. We can highlight individual and group presence and contributions, but the spotlight has to be across the board, not exclusive or restricted.

Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project promotes the inclusion of a portion of this nation’s history – the Middle Passage – that has been omitted from the narrative.  We will not engage in any effort that enables or encourages the exclusion of any people who share this history of place, no matter their ethnicity or heritage. It will take radical imagination, rethinking, and work to evolve into an anti-racist America. MPCPMP is one step in the process of reconciling, healing, and redefining the history of place and the people who build community. 

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MPCPMP 2020 End-of-Year Fundraiser

For this year’s November-December fundraising period, MPCPMP has set a goal of $5000. In spite of the COVID pandemic, the economy, demonstrations, and all the activity surrounding elections, three documented arrival locations have installed historic Middle Passage markers in 2020: Amelia Island, FL (March); Camden, NJ (June); Boston, MA (October). A fourth marker for Pensacola, FL, has been fabricated, with an installation date to be determined. There are now 21 remaining arrival sites without markers, and several are forging ahead: Newport, RI; Charleston and Beaufort, SC; Annapolis and Baltimore, MD; and five documented locations in NC.

Ann Chinn, Executive Director

MPCPMP asks each of you to consider making a contribution to help us fulfill our mission. With your financial support, we can complete the work of installing Middle Passage markers in time for the observance in 2026 of the nation’s 250 years of independence. Who better to tell you about this project than the people who actually do the work in their communities to commemorate the ancestors, to acknowledge the local presence and contributions of Africans and their descendants in establishing this nation, and to provide a means of healing from the inhumane legacy of the Middle Passage?

We’ve invited our volunteers, facilitators, and board to share what this project means to them. You can watch over 15 testimonials via our campaign page at:

Please give generously, and for a contribution of $40.00 or more you can select a face mask or t-shirt as a thank you gift from us.

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MPCPMP Newsletter, October 2020

In spite of the Covid-19 pandemic and elections affecting all of us, the Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project (MPCPMP)has accomplished a great deal in the last quarter.

I. Four markers were successfully installed/fabricated;

• Fernandina/Amelia Island, FL, in March
• Camden, NJ, in September (the last of the city’s three)
• Boston, MA, at Long Wharf in October
• Pensacola, FL, installation to be determined after hurricane clean up

II. There is current planning for markers at the following arrival locations:  Africatown, AL; Annapolis and Baltimore, MD; Perth Amboy, NJ; Bristol and Newport, RI; and Beaufort and Charleston, SC.

III. Adapting to the precautions necessary to safeguard against the pandemic, MPCPMP relied increasingly upon digital media to communicate and promote its mission. On August 23rd, the UN-designated International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition, we live streamed the traditional, annual ancestral libation/commemoration led by Theodore Lush of Montgomery, AL, that included a panel discussion with representatives from Africatown, AL (Joycelyn Davis); Key West, FL (Rhonda Bristol); Historic Sotterley, MD (Jeanne Pirtle); and Jamestown/Yorktown, VA (David Meredith). That event/video can be easily accessed on our Facebook page.

IV. Our website is updated, and in the category bar we added a tab for “Resources.”  This was a recommendation made during the August 23rd panel for sources that provide information and data related to African American history and the transatlantic human trade, particularly for teachers and children.

V. This summer, a weekly series highlighting Middle Passage history by state was posted on our Facebook page. That has now been incorporated into the website blog. MPCPMP is planning to expand the information and publish this series as an e-book.

VI. We are also pleased to announce that the Executive Board of Directors has a new member, Joan Hubert of Houston, TX, who will be the coordinator of the Gulf Coast region. Her focus has been exclusively Texas and will now include Biloxi, MS, as well. Ms. Hubert coordinated the Galveston, TX, marker initiative. Our Advisory Board has also expanded to include Jeanne Pirtle of Historic Sotterley, MD, Edith Heard of Williamsburg, VA, and Regina Hartfield of Cambridge, MD. Our team is strengthening with the addition of experienced on-location coordinators.

VII. On November 22, 2020, MPCPMP will begin its end-of-year fund-raising campaign with the goal of reaching $5,000. We will post on our Facebook page cameo videos of arrival site coordinators, supporters, and board members in order to encourage donations that will enable us to continue this important work of honoring and remembering our ancestors’ arrival, presence, and contributions in developing this nation. By 2026, as the nation observes its 250th year as an independent nation, MPCPMP expects all 52 arrival locations to be marked. We’re more than halfway there – 29 so far.

Once again, we thank you for your interest and continued support.

You can support our project at

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African Presence in Virginia

FYI: This is the last of our Wednesday series that highlights historic Middle Passage/UNESCO Site of Memory markers that have been installed and those locations where a remembrance ceremony was held since MPCPMP incorporated 9 years ago. MPCPMP is/was involved in the planning for the installation of most of these markers (indicated by an * next to the state name), and other organizations are/were responsible for some.


National Park Service research on Virginia explains that, “Thousands of years before the first European colonists arrived in Virginia, an indigenous population inhabited the coastal plain, leaving a faint imprint upon the land” and a history “largely unrecorded.” When the English arrived in the spring of 1607, they established a colony on a peninsular they called Jamestown. This was the first permanent English settlement in North America. Within the first two years, famine, disease and a tenuous relationship with the local Powhatan Indians as well as a harsh winter in 1609-1610, known as “The Starving Time,” during which more than 100 people died, led the remaining colonists to prepare to abandon the settlement. However, in 1610, a fleet arrived bringing more colonists and a stockpile of supplies, and by the fall of 1611, lessons from the indigenous people taught them to harvest corn, insulate their dwellings, and other valuable survival techniques. In 1612, John Rolfe, introduced a new strain of tobacco to the colony, and that cash crop would soon turn the struggling settlement around.

Within its first decade, eighteen or nineteen plantations had been established, mostly along both sides of the James River. In 1619, the first documented Africans arrived. Over decades, many more followed, “brought directly to river plantations on the James, York, and Rappahannock rivers as well as to ports at Yorktown, Jamestown, Richmond, and Fredericksburg.” The entire development of the economy and social structure of the colony/state of Virginia was based on tobacco production requiring extensive and intense labor. By the end of the 17th century, Virginia was committed to slavery as the primary means of obtaining its work force. It had become a “slave society,” rivaling only South Carolina with the number of captive Africans arriving on its shores.

In addition to the Jamestown settlement that was an arrival site and served as the colonial capital for Virginia until 1699 (when Williamsburg became the capital), the following is a list of the six other documented Middle Passage arrival sites in the colony; those are places in Virginia where Africans first placed their feet after leaving the African continent:

1/2. Point Comfort/Hampton – In the summer of 1619, two English privateer vessels sanctioned to operate by their government but, really, not much more than pirate ships, attacked a Spanish vessel on its way to Vera Cruz, Mexico, carrying 350 enslaved Africans from the Kimbundu-speaking region of West Central Africa who had been “crammed into the slaver — men and women — and about a third of them had died on the brutal voyage.” The English stole 50- 60 people, and in late August, 20-30 of these Africans arrived on one of the ships, called the White Lion, at Cape Comfort (later called Point Comfort). Established in 1619, and originally named Elizabeth City, Hampton, in which Point Comfort is included, is technically the oldest, continuously occupied English North American settlement. John Rolfe, Secretary for the Virginia Colony, recorded that, “About the last of August came in a dutch man of warre that sold us twenty and odd Negars.” These captive Africans were traded to the English colonists and forced to labor in the English settlement.

3. Yorktown – Founded in 1691, Yorktown was established by Virginia’s colonial government to regulate trade and to collect taxes on both imports and exports for Great Britain. By the early 1700s, Yorktown had emerged as a major Virginia port and economic center and remained the colony’s principal port city until 1779. Its thriving tobacco industry, that needed more and more Africans to work the land, “provided the historic ground where Virginia’s slave culture took root and blossomed.” The “rich, alluvial soil” in the Yorktown region allowed planters to grow a better quality of tobacco, called the York River Leaf, that could not be grown anywhere else. The result was a tobacco in great demand, therefore, more profitable. Historian Taylor Stoermer says the “Sweet-scented tobacco was worth five times more than the bitter Orinoco strain.” Soon, planters “were producing such bountiful crops of lucrative sweet-scented tobacco that their resulting appetite for black labor created what for 50 years was by far the biggest and busiest slave market in Virginia.” By the mid-1700s, the demand for these crops “had drawn at least 163 ships carrying 31,304 captive Africans to the York River”; most of them were sold at Yorktown “in sales so frequent and large that they consumed more than two-thirds of all the blacks brought to Virginia.”

4. Richmond was established by William Byrd as a major trading center at James River Falls (1737), and when the Virginia colony expanded westward, it became the state capital (1779). Identified in the Voyages database as the Upper James River, this area encompasses Richmond, Henrico County, and places along the James River. Between 1733-1772, fifty-four ship documents reflect that 12,468 captive African children, women, and men were delivered to Richmond and plantations on the upper James River. They embarked from Gambia, Angola, Benin, Nigeria, Ghana, the Bight of Biafra, the Guinea Islands, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast and other African ports.

Richmond’s participation in the trade resulted in a thriving business enterprise with high profits. As a natural conduit, the James River connects Atlantic Ocean seaports with the city. Africans who were forced to journey the triangular trading route from Liverpool-Africa-Richmond had a drop-off point at Manchester Dock and, then, were herded to containment pens and sales locations in the town’s Shockroe Bottom area.

In 1778, after the state implemented its ban on the importation of Africans, Virginia ceased its involvement in the international trade and developed as a principal supplier in the domestic human trade. During this time, the agricultural landscape of the Chesapeake Bay area was changing because of Eli Whitney’s invention of the cotton gin, the growing global demand for machine-made textiles that increased the value of cotton, and Napoleon’s sale of the Louisiana territory that opened up a vast area for U.S. expansion and development. In Maryland and Virginia, growing tobacco had exhausted the soil, and “plantation owners . . . came to realize there was more money to be made in selling human beings . . .” Virginia became more interested in “breeding” human beings as a cash crop and soon began to provide the labor for the new plantations that were being established in the South, especially in Louisiana. In fact, Shockroe Bottom became a “major source for the New Orleans trade, in which slaves destined for the Louisiana sugarcane fields were sold.” In the three decades before the end of the Civil War in 1865, between 300,000 and 350,000 people of African descent were sold out of Virginia, most of them passing through the auction houses of Shockroe Bottom. “In the decade from 1830 to 1840 alone, it is estimated that between 10,000 and 11,000 people were sold each year from Richmond and transported by ship, railroad or by foot, fastened together in ‘coffles’ to the sweltering fields of their new owners.”

5. Fredericksburg is an arrival site that was the principal place of maritime entry on the Rappahannock River. Sixty-four ships delivered 9,341 children, women, and men from the Bight of Biafra, the Guinea Islands, Benin, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Gambia, Ivory Coast, Angola, and other unspecified departure sites in Africa to plantations and locations on the Rappahannock River. Some of these sites may have included Fredericksburg. While historical data specifies that ships arrived on the river, there is limited information as to whether captives were delivered to plantations or to the city port. Only one ship, the Othello (1771), identifies Fredericksburg as its recorded arrival site. Loaded with rum from New England, this ship was sent to Africa. Once there, the captain traded the liquid cargo for human beings who were taken to the West Indies where most were traded for molasses that was taken to Rhode Island to be distilled into more rum. This triangular trade route included stops at river plantations and ports in English colonies. When the Othello arrived at Fredericksburg, it brought 85 enslaved people – 25 men, 31 women, 18 boys, and 11 girls – then returned to Rhode Island with molasses, hemp, flour, and Virginia tobacco.

6. West Point -. The first indigenous inhabitants of the territory at the juncture of the York and Mattaponi Rivers, now known as West Point, called their village Cinquoteck, it was part of the Powhatan Confederation. In 1653, “in appreciation of his services to the colony of Virginia as Governor from 1635 to 1638,” John West was granted 3,000 acres, that included Cinquoteck, and called it the West Point Plantation. In April 1691, West Point was included in an Act for Ports as a British colonial port of entry that served as a tobacco port where taxes could be collected. For hundreds of years, as a port of entry, port of delivery, and port of departure for European settlers, indigenous tribes fought along these shores to retain their ancestral land, and Africans arrived in bondage, resulting in a complex and multicultural history.

Even as enslaved people rebelled in everyday ways (i.e., performing small, daily acts of resistance, such as illness, breaking tools, slowing down work), and larger ways (running away and revolts such as Nat Turner and Gabriel Prosser), slavery thrived in the state. While the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 declared that all the enslaved in Virginia were free, it “could only be enforced in those places controlled by the Union Army” (Fort Monroe, Point Comfort). It was not until February 9, 1865, that the General Assembly of the Restored Government of Virginia ratified the proposed Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. On December 6, 1865, that amendment was ratified by the required two-thirds of state legislatures and slavery ended everywhere in the United States.

As of 2020, five of these locations have installed commemorative markers that honor the lives of African ancestors – Fredericksburg, Jamestown, Point Comfort, Richmond, and Yorktown. All of them have been designated a Site of Memory by the UNESCO Slave Trade Route Project. Project 1619 is planning a memorial in Hampton, and West Point has organized a marker installation committee. Please follow these links to read more about Virginia and slavery and to find resources for additional information:,English%20settlement%20in%20North%20America.

Historic marker at Point Comfort, VA.
Marker at Historic Jamestown, VA, installed 2013
Historic marker at Yorktown, VA, installed 2013.
“Slave” Trail Marker at Richmond, VA
Historic markers at dockside park in Fredericksburg, VA
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African Presence in Texas

This post continues our Wednesday series that highlights historic Middle Passage/UNESCO Site of Memory markers that have been installed and those locations where a remembrance ceremony was held since MPCPMP incorporated 9 years ago. MPCPMP is/was involved in the planning for the installation of most of these markers (indicated by an * next to the state name), and other organizations are/were responsible for some.


The earliest known person of African descent to arrive in present-day Texas was Estevanico, also called Esteban, a Muslim born in Morocco. At an early age, he was sold into slavery in 1513 by the Portuguese who were on Morocco’s Atlantic Coast, and in 1527 became part of the ill-fated Spanish expedition led by Panfilo de Narvaez, that landed in the Americas in 1528, helping it to “survive nearly eight years of hardship in the Texas wilderness,” serving as scout, translator, and mediator.

Between 1816 and 1821, pirates, privateers, and revolutionaries controlled the Texas Gulf Coast (most infamous the Lafitte brothers and the Bowie family, responsible for providing labor to both Texas and Louisiana for economic development). These experienced seamen traveled the Gulf waters seeking adventure and quick profits by plundering vessels and raiding other smugglers. “This area was close to the shipping lanes in the Gulf of Mexico and to the slaving ports of Cuba. Cuba was a major depot for the African slave trade into Latin America in the early nineteenth century. Since the island was only 800 miles from Galveston. It became the major source of African slaves for the Anglo-American colonists after 1821.” These men hid captive Africans and other contraband at Galveston Island, Galveston Bay, and other locations along the coast.

Although “Mexican governments did not adopt any consistent or effective policy to prevent slavery in Texas” (and there certainly were some enslaved Africans when the territory was under their control), chattel slavery was really established after 1821 with the arrival of settlers, who, for each enslaved person they brought to the colony, were guaranteed eighty acres of land. The land was expansive, and Africans were needed to grow cotton, by then “the most valuable commodity in the Atlantic world.” Stephen Austin, who brought the first 300 families to his settlement, the Austin Colony, made this clear in 1824: “The principal product that will elevate us from poverty is cotton, and we cannot do this without the help of slaves . . . The first census in Austin’s colony in 1825 showed 443 slaves in a total population of 1,800.” Later, he wrote: “Texas must be a slave country. Circumstances and unavoidable necessity compel it. It is the wish of the people there, and it is my duty to do all I can, prudently, in favor of it.”

By 1836, when the Anglo-Americans gained their independence, establishing the Republic of Texas, the “peculiar institution” was entrenched, with approximately 5,000 enslaved Africans. In late December 1845, when Texas joined the United States, the population of enslaved Africans had grown to 30,000. “After statehood, slavery grew even more rapidly. The census of 1850 reported 58,161 slaves, 27.4 percent of the 212,592 people in Texas, and the census of 1860 enumerated 182,566 slaves, 30.2 percent of the total population,” many coming with their owners from other states and many others sold through the domestic trade to work as field hands, house servants, livestock handlers, and skilled craftsmen. Although the U.S. banned the importation of captive Africans in 1808, approximately 2,000 men, women, and children were brought to the colony/state between 1835 and 1865 through the illegal African trade.

Two and a half years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, “freedom” came to Texas, and slavery formally ended after June 19, 1865 (celebrated as Juneteenth today), when Gen. Gordon Granger arrived at Galveston with occupying federal forces and announced emancipation.

Because of its complicated history, information on African arrival for the state of Texas is fragmented and incomplete. To date, only Galveston and Deweyville are documented locations. The Galveston Historical Foundation installed its Middle Passage marker in 2017, and Galveston is a UNESCO-designated Site of Memory. As yet, no local committee has been formed for Deweyville, although Houston resident, descendant of enslaved Africans in Texas, and MPCPMP state coordinator Joan Hubert continues to research the area. To date, there is no documentation of arrival for Corpus Christi, a major port on the Gulf of Mexico. Please follow these links to read more about Texas and slavery and find resources for additional information:

Organizations also involved with this work: Texas Center for African American Living History, Emancipation National Historic Trail, Emancipation Park Conservancy​, Galveston Historical Foundation​, & Joan Hubert

Middle Passage marker installed in 2017 by Galveston Historical Foundation
Photo Credit: John Bloomfield
Image of an auction in Austin, Texas, circa 1850-1860. Photo Credit: F. Lewis/Archive Photos via Getty Images
A 1908 photograph of two women in Texas sitting in a buggy decorated with flowers for the annual Juneteenth Celebration. They are parked in front of Antioch Baptist Church located in Houston’s Fourth Ward.
Photo Credit: MSS0281-PH037, Houston Public Library, African-American Library at the Gregory School
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African Presence in South Carolina

This post continues our Wednesday series that highlights historic Middle Passage/UNESCO Site of Memory markers that have been installed and those locations where a remembrance ceremony was held since MPCPMP incorporated 9 years ago. MPCPMP is/was involved in the planning for the installation of most of these markers (indicated by an * next to the state name), and other organizations are/were responsible for some.

South Carolina*

Although people often date the first arrival of enslaved Africans in the U.S. to 1619, when “20 and odd Negroes” arrived in the British colony of Virginia, actually enslaved Africans arrived almost 100 years earlier, in 1526, as part of a “Spanish expedition to establish an outpost on the North American coast in present-day South Carolina”. The leader of that expedition, Lucas Vasquez de Ayllon, a wealthy Spanish trader, died a month later, and in November of that same year, “ . . . Africans launched a rebellion . . . and effectively destroyed the Spanish settlers’ ability to sustain the settlement, which they abandoned a year later.”

After the Spanish then the French failed to successfully settle the region, originally called Carolana colony, King Charles granted a charter in 1665 to eight members of British nobilty, called the Lords Proprietor, who in 1670 established the first permanent settlement at Albemarle Point (moving the colony in 1680 to Charles Towne, now Charleston). After sending agents to Barbados to study the success of the sugar plantation system on the island, the Lords Proprietors recruited Europeans from that colony to establish the same system in Carolina. From the beginning, the English “launched a plantation economy that increasingly relied on enslaved African labor acquired through the trans-Atlantic slave trade.”

Because of limited land space and an opportunity to obtain wealth, other whites immigrating from Barbados settled the Charleston area in 1670, transporting captive Africans with them. According to Voyages: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, from 1710 until 1808, eighty-one ocean crossings brought 132,267 captive African children, women, and men to Charleston. That number has been projected upward to at least 200,000. Eventually Africans in bondage and their descendants outnumbered the European-descended population. To manage the enslaved, “Black Codes,” which regulated all phases of Black life – assembly, worship, movement, inter-personal relations, punishment, and redress – were adopted. This prescribed system of laws supported a “slave society” and served as the national model. (It is important to note that in 1739, the Stono Rebellion near Charles Town, one of the earliest and largest rebellions in English North America, resulted in even more oppressive laws to control the enslaved.).

Between 1803 and 1807, historian Nicholas Butler, Ph.D., reports that “As many as 45,000 Africans arrived” in Charleston harbor; this increased number of captives was the direct result of the anticipated 1808 U.S. Constitutional ban on the importation of Africans. It is estimated that 40% of all captive Africans entered the U.S. mainland through Charleston harbor, making it the largest arrival port in the United States, and their introduction to the New World was a “brutal and traumatic experience. After surviving the Middle Passage, many then spent weeks in pest houses [pestilence houses] for disease quarantine, followed by sale at the hands of traders” from holding pens, “yards behind homes or stores,” and later at markets. The city of Charleston was built on that forced labor, and for nearly 200 years, it thrived under the growing economy that was a result of that labor. Those who did not remain in the area were sold to plantations in the South Carolina Low Country, the geographic southern region on the South Carolina Atlantic coast, to cultivate “rice or other cash crops such as indigo, and Sea Island cotton” or became part of the domestic trade, mostly sent to Georgia and East Florida. Other arrival ports in the colony were Beaufort, where African captives who disembarked there were distributed to plantations on nearby sea islands and coastal farms, as well as Sullivan’s Island, James Island, and Morris Island that served as Middle Passage quarantine locations.

South Carolina is recognized as instrumental in major efforts to maintain slavery by advocating for its protection in the creation of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, by promoting political compromises and national laws as territory expanded westward, and by initiating secession as the first state to leave the Union to form the Confederacy at the start of the Civil War. For the enslaved, freedom first came to Charleston in February of 1865, as a result of the Union invasion and occupation of the city then spread throughout the state.

Today, South Carolina has installed a marker at Sullivan’s Island. Beaufort, Charleston, James and Morris Islands are in discussion. Both Beaufort and Charleston have been designated a “Site of Memory” associated with the UNESCO Slave Route Project. Please follow this link to read more about South Carolina and slavery and find resources for additional information:…/section…/africans_in_carolina…/sectionii…/barbados_influence – The Stono Rebellion

Erected in 1999 at Fort Moultrie, this historical marker acknowledges Sullivan’s Island as the arrival point for tens of thousands of Africans taken from West Africa and sold into slavery between 1700 and 1775
Photo credit: Stanley and Terrie Howard
In 2008, Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winning author Toni Morrison dedicated a bench to commemorate the lives of the enslaved people at Sullivan’s Island. Toni Morrison (second from right), friends and family, and members of The Toni Morrison Society helped dedicate the Bench by the Road on Sullivan’s Island.
Photo Credit: Charleston: The City Magazine 
In July 2008, Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winning author Toni Morrison Morrison sits on the Bench by the Road at Sullivan’s Island dedicated to enslaved Africans. Photo Credit: The Post and Courier
This engraving in Scribner’s is derived from a stereograph taken in 1860 of the quarters of the enslaved on a South Carolina plantation, near Charleston.
Photo Credit: Slavery Images –
Auction marker in Charleston, SC
Photo Credit: Charleston Currents/Photo by Marshall Willis 
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African Presence in Rhode Island

MPCPMP continues the Wednesday series that highlights historic Middle Passage/UNESCO Site of Memory markers that have been installed and those locations where a remembrance ceremony was held since MPCPMP incorporated 9 years ago. MPCPMP is/was involved in the planning for the installation of most of these markers (indicated by an * next to the state name), and other organizations are/were responsible for some.

Rhode Island*

Slavery in the colony of Rhode Island began at the time of settlement (1636) with Native American prisoners of war captured in the two major 17th century conflicts in southern New England, the Pequot War (1636-37) and King Philip’s War (1675-76). After 1638, the first enslaved Africans began arriving, forced to work the land, tend the livestock, and serve the white settlers. The numbers continued to grow. The largest increase in the Black population occurred from 1715 to 1755, a growth that “coincided with the industrial development of the colony and its emergence into the slave trade.”

With ports on the Atlantic Ocean, the newly established settlement soon became a major participant in the Triangular Trade. Rhode Island exported lumber, food staples, and horses and imported cotton, spices, clothing, and iron, but it was the production of rum that drove the trade. The sugar and molasses they imported from plantations in the Caribbean to produce rum in the Rhode Island colony was exported to West Africa in barrels and exchanged for African captives needed to produce more sugar, more rum. In 1652, Rhode Island passed a law that abolished African slavery, but it was never enforced because of the demand for cheap labor and the financial reward of the sugar market and “its related product, rum.” From 1732 to 1764, each year the Colony sent 18 ships bearing 1,800 hogsheads [casks] of rum to Africa to trade for slaves.” It was one of the “most active Northern colonies in importing slaves. Between 1709 and 1807, Rhode Island merchants sponsored at least 934 slaving voyages to the coast of Africa and carried an estimated 106,544 slaves to the New World.”

Prior to the American Revolution, Newport was the colony’s principal arrival port, importing approximately 59,070 Africans in bondage. Bristol and Providence were also very active ports. The town of Warren was involved in shipbuilding and the transatlantic human trade as well, but unlike other Rhode Island ports, there is no record that captive Africans disembarked there.

Following the Revolution, merchants from the smallest colony in the Union “controlled between 60 and 90 percent of the American trade in African slaves.” Research has determined that “by 1774, Rhode Island’s 3,761 Blacks were the third highest total in New England. The white population had grown since mid-century, but the colony’s slaves still made up 6.3% percent [sic] of the total population, almost twice as high as any other New England colony.” Because Rhode Island had the highest ratio of enslaved to white, it established very harsh laws to control their movement and activity.

A dominant player in the global system of human trade, Rhode Island was responsible for the largest number of ships that originated from the U.S. mainland and transported enslaved Africans during centuries of the transatlantic human trade. According to research from Brown University, while “North American ships represented a relatively small portion of the global slave trade, Rhode Island was the epicenter of the North American slave trade. At least two-thirds of North American slave-trading voyages each year were from the colony.” Its status as the foremost participant in the trade of men, women, and children continued until 1774, when the Rhode Island General Assembly passed a partial ban on the importation of captured Africans. In part, it stated that: “No Negro or mulatto slave shall be brought in to this colony, and in case any slave shall be brought in, he or she shall be . . . immediately free, so far as respects personal freedom, and the enjoyment of private property.”

In 1784, Rhode Island passed the Gradual Emancipation Act that stated: “Children born to slave mothers were to be considered freeborn citizens. However, to compensate owners for their losses, such children were to be bound out as apprentices until age 21, and their wages paid to their mothers’ owners.” Enslaved people born before 1784, however, would not be freed. Although in 1787 the colony made it illegal for Rhode Islanders to be involved with the trade, this law was ignored nor was it enforced, and traders found ways to circumvent the law, “ . . . often by buying whaling ships and transforming them into slave ships” or selling captured Africans to Cuba before they returned to the U.S. In its 1843 constitution, Rhode Island officially banned slavery in the state; however, slavery continued until just before the Civil War.

On June 20, 2019, the city of Warren dedicated a Middle Passage marker at the Warren Town Wharf to honor African ancestors. Newport has begun discussions to organize a memorial, and Bristol has formed a planning committee. The status of Providence is unknown. Both Newport and Bristol have been designated a UNESCO site of memory associated with the Slave Route Project. Please follow these links to read more about Rhode Island and slavery and find resources for additional information:

Historic Middle Passage marker, located at the Warren Town Wharf, dedicated June 20, 2019,
Photo Credit: Warren Preservation Society 
Liberty Square, Newport, Rhode Island, future site of the Newport Middle Passage monument
Photo Credit: Dave Hansen, Staff Photographer,
Map of the Triangular Trade showing the main commodities traded between Africa, Britain, the Caribbean, and North America
Photo Credit:

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African Presence in Pennsylvania

MPCPMP continues the Wednesday series that highlights historic Middle Passage/UNESCO Site of Memory markers that have been installed and those locations where a remembrance ceremony was held since MPCPMP incorporated 9 years ago. MPCPMP is/was involved in the planning for the installation of most of these markers (indicated by an * next to the state name); other organizations are/were responsible for some.


Africans first arrived in Pennsylvania with the Dutch and Swedish settlers who colonized the area in 1639. In 1667, the English took control of the colony, and in 1681, Charles II of England granted the Province of Pennsylvania to William Penn to settle a debt the king owed to Penn’s father. Penn, a Quaker, established the colony as a place of religious freedom for members of the sect, a refuge for those facing persecution in England. Although Quakers opposed the institution of slavery, Penn himself held Africans in bondage, referring to them in his letters and his will.

Research shows that in 1684 the first ship arrived at Philadelphia (established in 1682 as the capital of the Pennsylvania colony). By the early 1700s, “race-based slavery had developed and European colonists rationalized slavery by seeing Africans as barbaric, heathen, and therefore eligible for enslavement.” At that time, Africans in bondage made up almost twenty percent of the city’s population. Serving as a major mid-Atlantic commercial and shipping center, the city of “Brotherly Love” supplied enslaved Africans locally and to neighboring states – Delaware and New Jersey. By 1730 “about 4,000 slaves had been brought to Pennsylvania . . . most of them owned by English, Welsh, and Scotch-Irish colonists.” Like all the other colonies, the enslaved in Pennsylvania faced physical force, harsh punishment, violence, and strict regulations that limited their movement.

Although opposition to government-sanctioned servitude grew in the colony (by Quakers and non-Quakers allies), so did the institution of slavery. Even the Quakers “continued to hold slaves throughout the colonial period as few believed the practice immoral as long as owners treated their slaves fairly and without violence.” It was not until 1776, at the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, that members were banned from holding people in bondage; those who refused faced exclusion from the Society of Friends.

During the American Revolution, as the nation’s founders formally agreed upon and adopted national ideals (1776) at Independence Hall, discussions about abolition continued, and the very language used to support the war for freedom from the tyranny of England was used to protest the institution of slavery, highlighting “the hypocrisy of owning slaves amidst a crusade for freedom,” comparing the denial of human rights and brutality against the enslaved to the efforts by the British to subjugate the colonies. This resulted in the Gradual Abolition Act of 1780 that, in actuality, did not make slavery illegal immediately but instead endorsed the eventual freedom of those born into slavery, stating that “even though the children born were not ‘slaves’, they are required to remain in the service of their owners as a type of indentured servant or apprentice until that child is 28 years old.” Although Pennsylvania was the first of the states to abolish slavery, the practice of slavery was not completely eliminated from Pennsylvania until 1847.

On August 5, 2016, the Philadelphia Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project, led by Denise Valentine (now deceased) installed a marker to honor African ancestors and their descendants whose unpaid labor was integral to building the colony/state. Please follow these links to read more about Pennsylvania and slavery and find resources for additional information:…/pa-histo…/index.html:1681-1776: The Quaker Province Slavery and the Slave Trade…/

Philadelphia Middle Passage marker, dedicated August 5, 2016
Photo Credit: Denise Valentine
Denise Valentine, representative of MPCPMP in Philadelphia, speaking in front of the Independence Seaport Museum at the dedication of the Middle Passage marker, August 5, 2016.

Denise passed away in March 2020. She was Philadelphia. Her dedication, enthusiasm, activism, and talent focused on caring for her family, promoting an accurate inclusive history of Philadelphia, storytelling, and community organizing. She worked almost single-handedly for many years to install the Middle Passage marker dedicated in 2016. Coordinating an annual commemoration for African ancestors each June at Penn’s Landing on the pier adjacent to Independence Seaport Museum was a trademark that reflected her spirit and pride in African American culture. 
MPCPMP Board members Ann Chinn and Ann Cobb with Denise Valentine in front of the Philadelphia Middle Passage marker at the dedication on August 5, 2016
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African Presence in North Carolina

This post continues our Wednesday series that highlights historic Middle Passage/UNESCO Site of Memory markers that have been installed and those locations where a remembrance ceremony was held since MPCPMP incorporated 9 years ago. MPCPMP is/was involved in the planning for the installation of most of these markers and/or the coordinating for the UNESCO Site of Memory Slave Trade Route Project designation (indicated by an * next to the state name).

North Carolina*
The province of Carolina was given to the Lords Proprietors in 1663 and 1665 by England’s King Charles II. By 1670, a plantation economy was initiated, and the trans-Atlantic trade began to bring in captive African laborers to do the arduous work of growing and harvesting the cash crops of tobacco, rice, and indigo. “From the beginning of the existence of the Carolina colony, slavery was encouraged. Four of the eight Lords Proprietors of the colony were members of the slave trading company, the Royal African Company. In 1663, the Lords Proprietors encouraged settlers to have slaves by promising that they would be given 20 acres of land for every black male slave and 10 acres for every black female slave brought to the colony within the first year. This encouragement worked. By 1683, the black population was equal to the white population.”

In 1712, North Carolina and South Carolina became distinct colonies. Until recently, North Carolina’s only recognized Middle Passage arrival location was Wilmington, the state’s southernmost port located on the Cape Fear River. Based on the geography of the colony’s treacherous coast, making navigation difficult, it was believed that most enslaved Africans were transported to this region from the Chesapeake region, Georgia, or South Carolina, not directly from Africa. However, current research has found that, although references in colonial records to the arrival of enslaved persons to the region are scattered and indicate that many of these people in bondage arrived from other colonies, vessels carrying a significant number of captive people to North Carolina ports directly from Africa were recorded at least as far back as the 1680s. Along with Wilmington, documented North Carolina Middle Passage arrival locations now include: Beaufort, Brunswick, Edenton/Roanoke, and New Bern.

Entry after surviving the Middle Passage was through one of five colonial/custom districts established gradually throughout the colony, beginning with Port Roanoke, with the customs collector eventually based at Edenton. The number of captive people imported into the state by sea grew steadily over time. Between 1702-1746 there are records for 319 enslaved persons transported into the colony by sea; 818 between 1749-1767 – of that number, 258 people were transported directly from Africa to North Carolina. Between 1768-1772, 719 more captive Africans arrived at the colony. Additionally, during this same time period, the British Board of Customs and Excise for America indicates that 43 enslaved persons were brought to the colony from Africa. Records of vessels carrying children, women, and men in bondage into the colony document that 567 arrived between 1771-1775, and 993 between 1784-1790. While NC banned the importation of Africans several times before the 1808 ban, each time that resolution was repealed to reestablish economic stability.

By 1800, there were approximately 140,000 black people living in North Carolina, growing to more than 331,000 enslaved in 1860, primarily working in agriculture. Others served as skilled artisans such as carpenters, plasterers, brick-masons, tanners, coopers, and blacksmiths as well as domestic laborers. Slavery continued until the Civil War and the resultant 1865 Emancipation Proclamation that freed more than 360,000 African Americans in the state.

Today, every Middle Passage location in the state is designated a “Site of Memory” associated with the UNESCO Slave Trade Route Project. The North Carolina African American Heritage Commission is leading the effort to install markers at these sites. Please follow these links to read more about North Carolina and slavery and find resources for additional information:,slaves%20during%20the%20antebellum%20period.

Angela Thorpe, Acting Director, NC African American Heritage Commission, presents the “Africa to Carolina” initiative in Edenton, NC, to members of the community. 
MPCPMP Executive Director Ann Chinn and Executive Board member Ann Cobb (front row left) join representatives of the NC community to discuss plans to honor African ancestors in Edenton, NC.
Janeen Bryant, Facilitate Movement (NC), leads a local working group discussion after the presentation to consider plans for the installation of a marker.
Posted in African American History, African Diaspora, Middle Passage, Wednesday African History Series | Comments Off on African Presence in North Carolina

African Presence in New York

This post continues our Wednesday series that highlights historic Middle Passage/UNESCO Site of Memory markers that have been installed and those locations where a remembrance ceremony was held since MPCPMP incorporated 9 years ago. MPCPMP is/was involved in the planning for the installation of most of these markers and/or the coordinating for the UNESCO Site of Memory Slave Trade Route Project designation (indicated by an * next to the state name).

New York*

In the early 1600s, the Dutch claimed parts of present-day New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut and Delaware to establish the colony of New Netherland. In 1626, the first major group of settlers to the region “founded New Amsterdam on the southern tip of nearby Manhattan Island.” New Amsterdam, the capital of New Netherland, became a major British colonial settlement and would later become New York.

Along with the European settlers’ arrival in 1626, 11 enslaved Africans from Congo, Angola, and the island of Sao Tome were transported to the small town, beginning the systematic and increasing use of captive Africans in New Netherland. “From about 2,000 in 1698, the number of the colony’s black slaves swelled to more than 9,000 adults by 1746 and 13,000 by 1756. Between 1732 and 1754, black slaves accounted for more than 35 percent of the total immigration through the port of New York. And that doesn’t count the many illegal cargoes of Africans unloaded all along the convoluted coast of Long Island to avoid the tariff duties on slaves.” It was the forced labor of these men, women, and children in bondage that built the infrastructure of the colonial city by: clearing forests; dredging harbors; building roads, bridges, houses, the first city hall, the first Dutch and English churches, docks, the prison, the hospital, and fortifications (such as the wall built in 1653 to protect Dutch settlers from Indian raids, the wall for which Wall Street is named). From 1665-1775, 63 ships delivered approximately 5,600 captives directly from Africa to the city. In the 18th century, New York had the second highest urban concentration of enslaved Africans on the North American mainland, more than Philadelphia and Boston combined, second only to Charleston, SC.

As a major ocean-centered commercial colony/state, New York’s Middle Passage history extends far beyond shipping captive Africans to the North American mainland. It became a financial center. Although the New York legislature set July 4, 1827, as the date of final emancipation (making New York the first state to pass a law for the total abolition of legal slavery), merchants, investors, and traders continued to enable the transport of agricultural products to U.S. and European industrial manufacturing centers and captive Africans to the West Indies and the Americas well into the mid-19th century, especially Cuba and Brazil, where slavery continued until 1887 and 1888 respectively.

In 1991, the remains of more than 400 Africans were uncovered during excavation for the federal Foley Square Courthouse in Lower Manhattan. They were part of the largest colonial cemetery for Africans in North America (15,000-20,000), a segregated graveyard outside of city limits used to bury Africans and people of African descent. Much of the biological historical research of this location was led by Michael Blakey (College of William & Mary), who is a member of MPCPMP advisory board.

Today, this area (known as the African Burial Ground) encompasses approximately 5 city blocks or 6 acres located north of Wall Street in lower Manhattan. On October 4, 2003, the ancestral remains of those 419 African men, women and children were ceremonially reinterred at the site where they were discovered, and a memorial was dedicated at the site on October 5, 2007, in a ceremony presided over by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and poet Maya Angelou. Please follow these links to read more about New York and slavery and find resources for additional information:

Memorial at African Burial Ground
Photo credit: Larry Gertner, February 15, 2015
Historic map of the African Burial Ground
Photo credit: Larry Gertner, taken September 2005
The first market where enslaved Africans were sold in New York, located where Wall Street reaches the East River, between Pearl and Water Streets (established on December 13, 1711).
Photo credit: New York Public Library Digital Collection
This is an aerial view of the African Burial Ground National Monument. One of the panels is inscribed:
For all those who were lost
For all those who were stolen
For all those who were left behind
For all those who were not forgotten
Posted in African American History, captured Africans, Middle Passage, slave ports, Wednesday African History Series | Comments Off on African Presence in New York