In a land that had tried to rob their people of dignity, strip them of their identity and steal their labor, the Tuckers knew they were somebody.
As she grew up, Wanda came to realize that history was an ever-changing story, and it depended on who was telling it.
…Two Angolans named Anthony and Isabella, along with 20 or so others, staggered off a ship into Point Comfort in what is now Hampton, Virginia. They’d been taken from the Ndongo kingdom in the interior of Angola and marched to the coast. They’d endured months packed in the bottom of a ship named the San Juan Bautista. When raiders attacked in the Gulf of Mexico, the captives were rerouted to Virginia aboard the White Lion, changing the course of a nation.
Anthony and Isabella probably weren’t their real names. Their Angolan names were likely subbed out by whichever Catholic priest baptized them for the journey.
The reason they are remembered and other Africans are not is the anomaly that someone bothered to record their names at all. A 1625 census noted that they belonged to the household of Capt. William Tucker and that they had a child named William. Wanda and her family believe they are descended from William, the first named African born in what would become America. An American forefather most history ignores.
…Anthony and Isabella came from the powerful Ndongo kingdom, whose descendants still lived in the Angolan interior near the Lukala and Kwanza rivers. Many from the kingdom were skilled iron workers and farmers.
…Angola was barely mentioned in most histories of the slave trade, but this was where it had begun. Historians had learned fairly recently that the first Africans had been captured here.
…In the time of Anthony and Isabella, Wanda also learned, the slave trade had been dominated by the Portuguese. The Portuguese would stoke tensions between African tribes and reap the captives from those battles. The English were not yet as involved – they were plundering gold and silver from Ghana.
…Father Gabriele Bortolami, an Italian Capuchin priest and professor of anthropology ….took a thick book from a wooden cabinet. The cover barely clung to the binder, but the words – in Italian – were bold against the white pages. “Istorica Descrittione De’ Tre Regni Congo, Matamba Et Angola.”
Historical description of the three kingdoms of Congo, Matamba and Angola.
It was written in 1690.
…Njinga, queen of the Ndongo and Matamba kingdoms, fought to defend her people from Portuguese conquerors in the 1600s.
Njinga, who came to power five years after Anthony and Isabella were captured, is the most awe-inspiring of the Angolan ancestors.
…Njinga demanded the Portuguese treat her as an equal. When they showed up to a meeting with chairs only for themselves, expecting her to sit on the floor, she had a servant kneel on all fours and used his back as a stool. She made the Portuguese look her in the eye.
But even Njinga has seen her legacy questioned. She submitted to baptism by the Portuguese – a political move some saw as weak. She gave up prisoners of war to placate the Portuguese, who betrayed her.
…The elders spoke a mix of Portuguese and Kimbundu, the Bantu language Anthony and Isabella likely spoke. They told of villagers captured and sent away. They told her they had a word for the sea: kalunga – death. No one who crossed those waters ever returned.
“We suffered a lot,’’ said the soba, whose name was Antonio Manuel Domingos. The slave trade devastated communities, and many never recovered.
Wanda asked what she should tell fellow African-Americans back at home.
“You have relatives here,” he replied.