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The White Lion - How "Pirates with Papers" brought Africans to Point Comfort, Virginia.

Updated: Mar 9, 2022

Learn the story of the privateering ship the White Lion and its importance in American history.

painting of Painting of the arrival of the first Africans arriving in Virginia Sydney King
Painting of the arrival of the first Africans arriving in Virginia Sydney King

The voyage of the Mayflower from England to America is taught in schools, with children reading stories and coloring picture of pilgrims with black hats and buckle shoes. Another ship arrived in the Jamestown area with little mention in history books. The White Lion was an English privateer ship operating under a Dutch "Letter of marque", a license from the Dutch government giving a private person permission to attack and capture ships from countries at war with the Dutch. Privateers were pirates with licenses. Here is a video to learn more about pirates, and privateers.

The White Lion

The White Lion arrived off shore at Point Comfort, Virginia in August 1619 where they traded, "20 and Odd" africans for food and supplies. "These 20 individuals were the first Africans arriving in the new Virginia colony. Their names, given by Portuguese missionaries: Antony, Isabela, William, Angela, Anthony, Frances, Margaret, Anthony, John, Edward, Anthony and others whose names are not yet known." (Hampton History Museum) There are some excellent resources available for you to learn the known facts and history of the White Lion, including an extensive scholarly report by the Hampton History Museum, which includes detailed primary sources. Here is a short video put together by the Hampton History Museum that will give you an excellent introduction. To get further details and view primary sources materials read 1619: Virginia’s First Africans Prepared by Beth Austin Registrar & Historian Hampton History Museum December 2018 Revised December 2019.

For a more detailed video account, 13 News Now an ABC television station in Virginia, has produced a documentary detailing the little known story of how the first Africans arrived in the New World. '20 and Odd:' Africans' Arrival in 1619

Resources to learn more about August 20, 1619, the White Lion and the story of the first Africans to arrive in America.

Research Documents

  • 1619 Research Report by Hampton History Museum

This report aims to provide a clear, comprehensive overview of what facts are available, what scholars believe and why, and what remains unknown. This report brings together surviving documents and the latest scholarly research in one place for everyone to use.


Point Comfort: where slavery in America began 400 years ago The Guardian from August 14, 2012 by David Smith.

How Did We Get Here? 163 years of The Atlantic’s writing on race and racism in America

Class Lesson Plans

Classroom Connections: 1619: The Arrival of the First Africans in Virginia- Funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. This lesson, and the corresponding BackStory episode, provide a retrospective of the origins of the African slave trade in the U.S. The episode raises difficult questions about how we should commemorate the 400-year anniversary of this dark moment in American history. Using modern perspectives, students will form arguments on how to best approach the legacy of slavery in the United States. (AP US History level)

Video and Audio resources

1619: The Arrival of the First Africans in Virginia | BackStory with the American History Guys- Virginia Humanities audio Podcast broken into shorter segments with some teacher resources.

Plan your visit:

Planning a visit to the Point Comfort, Fort Monroe, and Jamestown Virginia area? Here are some helpful links to help plan your visit to locations significant to the the White Lion and August 1619.

1619: African Arrival Exhibit

"Drawing on the latest research, this exhibit tells the story of the Africans' home in Angola, how they came to be enslaved aboard a Spanish slave ship San Juan Bautista, the terrible 10,000 nautical mile voyage that brought them to Virginia, and their lives on the farms and plantations in the new colony."(Hampton History Museum) Virtual Tour

"Fort Monroe National Monument has a diverse history spanning the American story from American Indian presence, Captain John Smith's journeys, first arrival of enslaved Africans in English North America, a safe haven for freedom seekers during the American Civil War, and a bastion of defense for the Chesapeake Bay through the 21st Century. Visit and witness the on-going preservation work in action." (National Park Service)

"The White Lion landed at Point Comfort seeking to trade these “20. and odd” Africans for provisions. This arrival of the first "20. and odd" enslaved Africans was one of the most significant events in United States history, and one that is recently becoming more widely known. " (NPS)

Visit exhibits on African Americans at Jamestown and an archeological dig investigating Angelo, one of the first African women in Jamestown.

"Historic Jamestowne, part of Colonial National Historical Park, is jointly administered by the National Park Service and the Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation (on behalf of Preservation Virginia). Tickets are good for 7 consecutive days and include entrance to the James Fort Site, New Towne, the Archaearium Museum, the Glasshouse, and the Island Loop Drive; all public tours and programs, unless noted; and Yorktown Battlefield (currently open with modified operations)."

Informational links:

Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation

Jamestown Rediscovery Homepage -

National Park Service

Jamestown, A Place of Many Beginnings -

"In 1625, one of the first Africans, a woman named “Angelo” (Angela), was listed in a colony-wide census as living in the household of Captain William Pierce of New Towne, a well-connected and wealthy planter-merchant. Between 2017 and 2019, the Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation, in partnership with the National Park Service, excavated Pierce’s property to learn more about Angela’s world."

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