Hampton, founded in 1610 and the oldest continuous English-speaking settlement in America, is home to many “firsts.” Among these, Hampton is landing site of the first recorded Africans to be brought to English North America.
“In the latter end of August, a Dutch man of War…arrived at Point Comfort,” wrote Virginia Colony secretary John Rolfe in 1619. Rolfe further noted that the White Lion commander delivered “20 and odd negroes” who were traded for provisions and other supplies. They would become either servants or chattel slaves. Originally from Angola, they had been captured from the Kingdom of Ndongo during the 1618-20 Portuguese war against African kingdoms.
While reflecting on the 1619 landing at Point Comfort—site of Fort Monroe, you will want to explore the entire stone fort built 1819-1834. On May 23, 1861, Major General Benjamin F. Butler accepted three runaway slaves seeking their freedom at Union-held Fort Monroe, declaring them "contraband of war." The men, purported to have been Shepard Mallory, Frank Baker, and James Townsend, were from the plantation of Col. Charles King Mallory of Hampton. Butler argued that since the slaves were being used as chattel property, they fit the definition of contraband and he had the right to seize them.
News of this extraordinary development spread. Hampton's Fort Monroe quickly earned the nickname "Freedom's Fortress." By the end of July 1861, over 900 slaves had escaped to Fort Monroe. Thousands more would follow. This occurrence shaped the community that would become the City of Hampton. On November 1, 2011, President Barack Obama named Fort Monroe a National Monument, recognizing the site’s significance in the beginning and end of American slavery.
There are significant African American heritage sites located throughout Hampton. We encourage you to explore the attractions that welcome visitors, as well as the historic landmarks that bore witness to the city’s development into the modern waterfront city it is today. To fully learn about Hampton’s remarkable heritage, pick up a Family Tree Heritage Sites Guide at the Hampton Visitor Center. Enjoy your explorations, and the inspiration you are sure to experience during your travels!