From Where in Africa Were the Slaves Who Landed in Va.?

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Overview of the slave trade out of Africa, 1500-1900
Trans-Alantic Slave Trade Database
Overview of the slave trade out of Africa, 1500-1900
Trans-Alantic Slave Trade Database

Dear Professor Gates:

From which African countries did the slaves brought to Virginia come?

I know from the results of a saliva test I had 20 years ago that my maternal line was traced to western Nigeria—the Hausa tribe. However, I also want to know in which African country my Virginian paternal line originated. —Carolyn Nicholas

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As previously noted on The Root in the column 100 Amazing Facts About the Negro, between 1525 and 1866, according to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, about 388,000 of the 10.7 million Africans who survived the Middle Passage and landed in the New World were sent directly to North America.

In addition, in the seven decades leading up to the Civil War, there was domestic slave trade in the United States. This second mass migration between U.S. states and territories complicates attempts to locate the ports through which a black ancestor first arrived here. Keep in mind that your African forebears may have landed in a port outside of Virginia before they or their descendants were brought to Virginia, although the migration pattern tended to be from plantations in the upper South to cotton-producing regions in the lower South.

Given all of that, take note of the information I received when I reached out to David Eltis, co-editor of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database.

Between 1628 and 1773, 74,015 enslaved people who embarked in Africa disembarked in America with a location in Virginia as the principal landing port. The ports they came through included Hampton, Lower James River, Rappahannock, South Potomac, Upper James River and York River (17,741 came through unspecified ports).

The regions in Africa from which they embarked included the following:

* Bight of Biafra and Gulf of Guinea islands: 29,744
* Senegambia and offshore Atlantic: 11,797
* West-Central Africa and St. Helena: 10,842
* Gold Coast: 5,823
* Windward Coast: 2,821
* Bight of Benin: 2,144
* Southeast Africa and Indian Ocean islands (essentially Madagascar): 2,071
* Sierra Leone: 1,622
* Other places in Africa: 7,121

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Added Eltis, the likely regions where people of Hausa ethnicity embarked included Benin, Ardra and Whydah in the Bight of Benin; Bonny in the Bight of Biafra; and the Gulf of Guinea islands. A map on the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database site will give you a general idea of where these places are.

We also urge you to get your DNA tested again for an updated view of your genetic heritage. Among the companies offering DNA testing of this kind are 23andMe, AncestryDNA and FamilyTreeDNA.

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Good luck!

Henry Louis Gates Jr. is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and founding director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University. He is also chairman of The Root. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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Send your questions about tracing your own roots to TracingYourRoots@theroot.com.

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