Overlaying the commemoration in 2019 of the inaugural session of English North America’s original representative democratic body is the grim remembrance that it was also the dawn of American slavery.
In Jamestown, Va., the focus of the initial episode of NCSL's six-part podcast, "Building Democracy: The Story of Legislatures," a team is endeavoring to discover more about the first Africans to arrive in English America.
"They were from what we would now call Angola, and they were caught up in wars against Portuguese mercenaries who were trying to carve out a colony of their own," said Jim Horn, president of the Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation, who was interviewed on the initial episode of the series, part of NCSL's "Our American States."
About three dozen enslaved Angolans arrived in Virginia in the early fall of 1619.
"The information is pretty scarce about what happens to them when they arrived, but through archaeology and more historical research we are beginning to pierce together something of a picture," he said.
The archaeological research is personified by Angela, the first named African woman in Jamestown.
"The story about her arrival and her background in Angola I think is fascinating," Horn said. "We should not see Jamestown as purely English. There's an Indian presence and, by 1619, a small but significant African presence as well. These tell us about the evolution of an American society."