By now, everyone knows the date 1619, the year when people from Africa first arrived in England's North American colonies on the mainland. The spot, then known as Fort Comfort, is inside the city limits of modern Hampton, Virginia. The “20 odd” children, women and men had been captured and kidnapped during local warfare in the nation of Ndongo (in modern Angola,) sold to Portuguese human traffickers to labor in their New World colonies, and then recaptured in an attack by English pirates flying the Dutch flag. Their terrifying journey finally ended when the privateers landed near Hampton and traded them to the colonists for food.
Today, everyone also recognizes the horrors and injustice inflicted on these innocent children, women, and men, and the crimes against humanity that would occur in subsequent centuries. Yet, if we are honest, our national identity, our wealth as a nation, our music and art, our ever-evolving quest for justice, our resiliency, and our beautiful diversity all owe an incalculable debt to those who endured the terrifying Middle Passage.
Hampton was equally important as a place where the true "first Virginians," Algonquin-speaking First Nations peoples, established a relationship with English immigrants after the founding of Jamestown in 1607. As with African-Americans, Native American peoples have also helped define our shared nation, from the influence of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy on Ben Franklin and the US Constitution, to countless place names across the US including Chesapeake Bay. The genocide and ethnic cleansing of First Nations people is another shameful tragedy in our American story.
In the early days if the Virginia colony, religious intolerance and national rivalries meant Europeans could also be incomprehensibly savage to other Europeans. The English colonizers were predominantly Protestants, and some were fundamentalist Puritan refugees. Spain's monarch sent spies to Jamestown in 1613, part of plan to annihilate the heretic colonists. To make matters worse, the English colonists had little idea of how to survive in an unfamiliar world. In the beginning, they struggled and suffered in Jamestown, even turning to cannibalism to survive during the "starving time" of the winter of 1619-1610.
The process of truth and reconciliation, as practiced in South Africa after apartheid, must begin with truth. even when the truth is brutal and hard to face, and influences of past injustice and denial linger on. To find a path forward, however, we must seek common ground based on the truth and on mutual respect.
ACGA feels there is no better place to begin and further that process than in our community gardens.
The English settlers near Hampton four centuries ago might not have survived at all without First Nations and African agricultural and ecological know-how. Here in Hampton, crops and techniques from First Nations, African, and English growers, women and men alike, merged to create new ways of growing, preparing, and celebrating food. These traditions are still visible in every American garden - the sweet corn, green beans, and pumpkins from Native Americans, the cabbage, carrots, and lettuce from the English, and the blackeyed peas, okra, and watermelon from Africa (and don't forget the coffee.)
As we travel on the path forward, our community gardens are one of the most hopeful place to begin our journey of healing together.
Read more about 1619 and the first landing in this Report on the 1619 Landing from the City of Hampton.
Find out more about First Nations history and gardening here.
The roots of modern community gardens also go back (arguably) to an English movement of the 1600s, which protested the "enclosure" of once common land, so only the wealthy enjoyed access. These were the "Diggers." Read more about them here: