Old Point Comfort, August 25, 1619. 400 years later location and a date that doesn’t initially conjure feelings of comfort. But it is the place where many gathered together in order to commemorate one of Virginia’s many major events for it was at Old Point Comfort that Englishmen, guilty of privateering, arrived with the infamously ambiguous “Twenty and Odd Negroes.”
I won’t retell the story, as I have covered these historical events in two episodes, which will be linked below. Instead, let me highlight some of the 400th Commemoration ceremony that took place on August 24th, 2019.
Fort Monroe was abuzz hours before the official ceremony began. Local police officers and volunteers steered traffic through the streets, while tour guides and National Park Service personnel polished last minute details in advance of the day’s soon-to-be-arriving spectators.
The program unfolded with a series of short speeches by many of Virginia’s political leaders as well as officials from the rest of the country. The highlight of the day, however, had to be 11 year old Brycen Dildy’s speech that brought the crowd to its feet.
To finish the day, I took a small side adventure of my own. First I visited nearby William Tucker Cemetery. The Cemetery is name for William Tucker, one of the first African’s to be born in Virginia, and it is the final resting place for many Tucker generations.
I ended the day on a poignantly solemn note in visiting one of Virginia’s great freedom symbols – Emancipation Oak at Hampton University. This beautiful, captivating tree witnessed Hampton’s Africans hearing the first reading of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.
Officially no slaves were yet freed, because the famous Proclamation applied to slaves in the Confederate States, though the words certainly encouraged more enslaved blacks to make the almost 3 mile walk to nearby Fort Monroe, where they received asylum by Major General Benjamin Butler. Thus Virginia’s African story returned to her starting point as Africans once again became “Contraband of War” as they realistically were in 1619. This time, however, Old Point Comfort lived up to her name, and comfort in the midst of war came for those escaping slavery’s chains.
- 1619 Women and Angolans Arrive
- K.I. Knight Interview – First Africans and Slavery’s 17th Century Virginia Evolution (Pillars of 17th Century Virginia Society, Part 4)
- C-Span Coverage of the 400th Anniversary Commemoration of First Africans in Virginia
- Commemoration 2019
- NPS Fort Monroe National Monument
- Fort Monroe Authority
- Emancipation Oak at Hampton University
- Project 1619
All photography used on this site is owned and copyrighted by the author unless otherwise noted. The featured image is of a recreated slave cabin at the 400th Commemoration of Virginia’s First Africans.