Our American History: Angela

I consider myself reasonably well-read and well educated, yet if you asked me about slavery in the United States, I’d have talked about the Civil War — fought from 1861-1865.

I could never have told you that slavery and democracy were founded together in Jamestown in 1619, when a woman whose Anglicized name was Angela arrived in the colony on a pirate ship and was traded for food. Almost 250 years of brutal subjugation of enslaved Africans followed.

This story, by Washington Post staff write Deneen L. Brown, is powerful and chilling. We know very little about Angela; most of what is written is surmised from conditions at the time. Angela must have been young and relatively healthy to have survived the brutal passage, to have been one of the slaves traded — a young woman of child-bearing age was worth more than an older woman or a child — and to have joined the household of a wealthy planter, Captain William Pierce. All of the settlers faced starvation; the wealthy had a bit more capacity to buy scarce food, and a higher chance of surviving.

White people often consider the story of slavery to be the history of black people. In fact, this is all of our history.

I wish we knew more about Angela.

I’m sitting with the reality that slavery and democracy were founded together — which for me, is a shocking thought. Slavery wasn’t an aberration; slavery was part of our founding DNA.

The persistence of racism in our culture makes more sense in that context.


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