The People of Jamestown: The Africans
Using the Five Themes of Geography
Students will describe the culture of the Africans who came to
Jamestown in 1619 and the interactions that occurred in Africa
between the local cultures and the Portuguese.
Standards of Learning:
Virginia SOL: VS1b, d, e, i; VS2b, c; VS4a; USI. 1b, d; 2a; 4a, c;
5a, c, d
National Standards of History: Historical Analysis and
National Geography Standards: Spatial Relationships, Places and
Regions, Physical and Human Systems; Environment and Society
Materials Needed for Activity:
Classroom world map
Video: Discovering Jamestown: The West Central Africans (Windows Media Player required. Click here to
Other Helpful Resources:
See the lesson plan entitled Looking at Jamestown with a
Geographic Perspective- Making a Bulletin Board located in the
Cultures at Jamestown section under Curriculum Materials
Kongo – an African kingdom which was
located in West Central Africa in the area of present-day
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Ndongo – an African kingdom which was located in West
Central Africa in the area of present-day Angola
sobas – powerful local leaders in the kingdom of Ndongo
ngangas – priests who were part of local religious
practices in the kingdoms of Ndongo and Kongo
manillas – copper bracelets found in the early African
kingdoms which were used as money
serf – a person in feudal European society or in West
Central African society who was attached to the land and could be
sold when the land was sold from one owner to another
slave – a person acquired by war or purchase and in a lower
class than a serf
Five Themes of Geography
In 1984, Guidelines for Geographic Education were published by the
National Council for Geographic Education and were incorporated
into the national geography standards in 1994. These guidelines
became known popularly as the Five Themes of Geography and serve
as a framework for looking at history and world events through a
1. Location: Position on the Earth’s Surface
Absolute location and relative location are two ways of describing
the positions of people and places on the earth’s surface. Using
absolute location, one might say that the city is located at 48
degrees North latitude and 2 degrees East longitude, or the house
is located at 115 Main Street. Using relative location, the school
is located across the street from City Park, or it is 10 minutes
from the beach.
2. Place: Physical and Human Characteristics
Place is a description of what a location is like. Physical
characteristics include such things as landforms, bodies of water,
climate, soils, natural vegetation and animal life. Human
characteristics refer to human actions or ideas that shape the
character of a place, such as buildings, roads, lifestyles or
3. Relationships within Places: Human-Environment Interactions:
Humans will modify or adapt to their environments in many ways.
Cutting down trees or polluting rivers are examples of ways the
people change their environment. How have people been changed by
or adapted to their environment? Types of housing or clothing
represent ways that people are affected by their environment..
4. Movement: Humans Interacting on the Earth
Movement includes the movement of people, things and ideas. People
interact with each other in many different ways through
communication and transportation of goods and ideas. Examples of
ways that people, goods or ideas are transported from place to
place include by foot, ship, wagon, bicycle, airplane, train, etc.
People communicate with one another and with other groups of
people through conversations, public gatherings, letters,
newspapers, music, television, etc.
5. Regions: How They Form and Change
Some areas on the earth’s surface have similar characteristics but
differ from other areas around them. These characteristics may be
human or physical. In a human region, people may have the same
government, which is different from those in the areas around
them. People within a region may speak the same language, but that
language may be different from that spoken by the people around
them. Religion may be another characteristic of a region. On the
other hand, the region may be a physical region and have the same
physical characteristics, such as a rainforest or dessert.
In 1619 the first documented Africans arrived in Virginia aboard
an English privateer, the White Lion. These 20 or so individuals
were part of a large shipment of slaves enroute to the Spanish
colony of Mexico when they were captured by two privateer ships,
the White Lion and the Treasurer. Traded for supplies at Point
Comfort, modern day Hampton, they became part of the workforce for
the new Jamestown colony. According to Portuguese and Spanish
records, these Africans probably came from the West Central
African kingdom of Ngongo in Angola. Over time, people from
various areas of Africa would become part of a legalized system of
The civilization the Africans left behind was highly developed and
included rural villages, small towns and large urban centers. This
area was rich in natural resources including a variety of tropical
trees, wild game and fish, and assorted minerals such as silver
and copper. The kingdom of Ndongo and the neighboring kingdom of
Kongo were ruled by kings, but the villages were self-governing
following local customs and legal traditions. The Portuguese were
the first Europeans to explore and trade with the native
populations. Because warfare within the Kingdom of Ndongo led to
the capture of thousands of people, there was a ready supply of
slaves for the Portuguese to export to the Spanish colonies in the
Caribbean and South America.
For this reason, the Africans who landed at Jamestown in 1619 may
have been familiar with European languages and customs. They may
also have been introduced to Christianity since the Portuguese
felt that all slaves should be baptized before arriving in
America. Whatever their background knowledge may have been, they
were forcefully taken from their natural environment, with only
the clothes on their backs, and forced to adapt to new
surroundings, customs, and language. Africans eventually became
the main labor force for the English in the tobacco fields.
Step 1: Review with students the meaning of
“culture” (way of life). Remind students that all cultures have
basic needs which different cultures meet in different ways.
Cultures also have different ways of organizing themselves as
societies. Discuss with the class what may happen when cultures
interact. For example, one culture may dominate the other or adopt
some characteristics of the other group. Have students refer to
the classroom world map and locate Portugal and West Central
Africa, where the present day countries of Angola and the
Democratic Republic of the Congo are found.
Step 2: Students should be assigned to one of five groups
representing each of the Five Themes of Geography listed above.
Discuss briefly each theme, using local examples so students can
relate more easily. Share with students that they will be viewing
a video, and should watch and listen carefully for examples of the
particular theme to which they have been assigned.
Step 3: View the video, Discovering Jamestown: The West Central
Africans. Ask students to write down everything they remember
about their particular theme from the video. Have students discuss
in their group what they learned in order to come up with a
Summary Activities: Ask a student
spokesperson from each group to share their theme with the class
and what they learned about West Central African people and
geography as it relates to their theme. Use the following
questions to encourage discussion:
Location: Position on the Earth’s Surface
Using both relative and absolute descriptions, explain the
location of the following:
Place: Physical and Human Characteristics
Relationships within Places: Human-Environment Interactions:
Movement: Humans Interacting on the Earth
Give some examples of how people of West Central
Africa communicated with one another.
How did they move from place to place?
What were some examples of the movement of people,
goods, and/or ideas between Africa and Portugal?
What was the impact on the Africans of their
interaction with the Portuguese?
Regions: How They Form and Change
Now ask students what they found that was similar
to the Powhatan culture and environment. What was different?
Have students produce a poster or create visual images of the
Africans using the Five Themes of Geography as organizers. The
images could be comprised of student drawings, computer images,
pictures from magazines, photographs, maps, etc.
As a result of this activity, students should have a fairly clear
picture in their minds of the cultures from which the Africans
came, so they can better understand the severe changes they
experienced when they were taken by force from their homes to a
completely new environment and society.
The “Discovering Jamestown” electronic classroom was made possible
by Dominion & Dominion Foundation and John and Dorothy Estes.
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