Saturday, March 13, 2010


ROOTS: DISCOVERING YOUR AFRICAN ORIGINS is intended as an introduction for St. Louisans who are attempting to discover more detailed information about their African roots, and for persons who assist others in such research.

Likelihood of a current-day black American being descended from a particular African tribe depends on a number of factors, which include but are not limited to:

1) sheer numbers of that tribe in slave trading times;
2) the popularity of that tribe's home region with slave traders and American slaveholders; and
3) the area in the United States/British North America to which the black American’s ancestors were originally transported.

Note: No firm conclusions about personal African ancestry can validly be drawn using only the information in this report-- you've still got to do your genealogical homework (and hope for more than just a bit of luck). You also may derive some benefit from genetic testing, which can sometimes help to determine a likely geographic region of ultimate origin.

Need help starting your genealogical research? Call us at 314-539-0385, or e-mail us at

I. Chronology of Persons of African Descent in British North America and the United States, 1619-1870

1619- Approximately 20 blacks are sold as bound servants at Jamestown, Virginia.

1624- Slavery is introduced in New Netherlands (which included parts of what are now Connecticut, Delaware, New York, and New Jersey).

1641- Massachusetts becomes first colony to authorize slavery by statute.

1661- Lifetime slavery legally sanctioned in Virginia.

1682- Lifetime slavery legally sanctioned in South Carolina.

1705- Virginia defines slaves by statute as real property subject to the same laws of inheritance as real estate.

1712- Slave revolt in New York.

1749- Georgia repeals prohibition on import of slaves.

1775-1783- American Revolution. In December 1775, General George Washington allows recruitment of free blacks into the Continental Army.

1777- Vermont abolishes slavery.

1790- U.S. population includes 750,000 blacks- 60,000 are free persons.

1793- First Fugitive Slave Law requires law enforcement officials in all states and territories to aid in the return of fugitive slaves to their owners. Penalties are not stiff enough to ensure obedience to its mandates, however.

1800- Slave revolt led by Gabriel Prosser in VA.

1807- Congress passed law prohibiting import of slaves as of January 1, 1808.

1812-1815- War of 1812.

1822- Denmark Vesey's slave rebellion plot discovered in Charleston, S.C.

1829- Slavery abolished in Mexico.

1830- U.S. population includes 2,000,000 blacks-- 319,000 of these are free persons.

1833- Nat Turner leads slave rebellion in VA.

1834- Slavery abolished in British Empire.

1846- Mexican-American War.

1850- Second Fugitive Slave Law is passed which imposes stiff penalties for failure to aid in the return of fugitive slaves to their rightful owners.

1854- Kansas-Nebraska Act allows territories to decide to be free or slave according to popular vote.

1857- Dred Scott decision is handed down by U.S. Supreme Court. Blacks are found to not be citizens, and therefore have no standing in federal court. Supreme Court further rules that slaves are property, and that slaveholders cannot be denied the right to take slaves into the territories.

1859- John Brown leads assault on U.S. Arsenal at Harper's Ferry, VA (now W. VA). He is captured by troops commanded by Col. Robert E. Lee, and is hanged after trial. John Wilkes Booth is a spectator at the hanging.

1860- U.S. population includes 4,441,830 blacks; 500,000 of these are free persons.

1861-1865- The American Civil War.

1863- The Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Lincoln frees slaves in those areas of the U.S. currently rebelling against the United States.

1865- The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is ratified. It abolishes slavery and involuntary servitude, except for those convicted of crimes.

1868- The 14th Amendment is ratified. It declares all persons born or naturalized in the U.S. to be U.S. citizens who cannot be denied by the states any rights due a citizen of that state.

1870- The 15th Amendment is ratified. It states that the right to vote cannot be denied due to race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

Compiled by Thomas A. Pearson, Reference Librarian
Special Collections Department
St. Louis Public Library

You will find our other bibliographies and indexes here.

Copyright © 2004 by St. Louis Public Library. All rights reserved.

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