In 1619 the first Africans arrived at Jamestown aboard a Dutch ship, which had taken them from a Spanish one. They had likely originated from Congo, Madagascar and the coastal and inland states of West Africa via the Caribbean (Emerson 1994: 38). By 1623, at least 23 Africans lived in the colony, 11-15 of which at Flowerdew (Deetz 1993: 23, 90; Lee 2008: 2). By 1649, 300 are recorded as present in Virginia, about 3-5% of the population. It appears that in the earlier 17th c., Africans and whites interacted more fluidly than in the later 17th and the 18th c. Before 1660, some African servants could earn wages and use money to buy their freedom and could testify in court. Others were free and traveled to plantations to make wages; these individuals could own small property and livestock. Some servants or slaves were allowed to make goods for their own use, including hemp and flax textiles for clothes, shoes and other leather goods, pipes, candles, cider and beer, although these products also may have been sold by their masters for profit (Morgan 2003; Emerson 1994: 44-45). Craft production combining European tastes with an African aesthetic is attested in this phase. For instance, beginning in the 1640s smoking pipes made of local clay, exclusive to the Chesapeake, made their appearance at Flowerdew. These technologically sophisticated and artistic pipes amalgamate European and Native American designs (cf. Luckenbach & Kiser 2006), with naturalistic and geometric motifs originating from West African places, such as Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria, Togo, Mali and Burkina Faso (Emerson 1994: 38, 43-44; Deetz 1993: 101).

While the earliest Africans were likely indentured servants, by the late 1600s and early 1700s most were certainly formally enslaved. From the 1660s increasing economic depression in the tobacco market, white servant immigration to other colonies and increasing social distance between masters and servants/slaves is reflected in new living arrangements and the creation of separate buildings further away from the main houses ( Upton 1982; Deetz 1993: 76-77; Emerson 1994: 46). Flowerdew sites PG66 and PG80 offer additional insight into the lives of enslaved Africans, by bringing to light the pottery that they made for their own use. This pottery, dubbed Colonoware and dating from 1680 through the last quarter of the 18th c., is found throughout the South, including Flowerdew. It is handmade and sometimes burnished, with a form repertoire inspired by West African wares and relating to the consumption of starchy foods (Deetz 1993: 84). While recent work on Colonoware suggests variability and a complex blending of traditions that complicates its production (cf. Chodoronek 2013), it continues to suggest ongoing creolization of the crafts by slaves. Further evidence of the daily lives of slaves in Flowerdew is catered by site PG114. Excavations at that site have brought to light one of four slave cabins associated with the Willcox house (19th c.), including substantial archaeological evidence on living arrangements and diet (Deetz 1993: 142-143). Conditions of living worsened after the enactment of the Virginia fugitive slave law (1657), the legalization of slavery (1661), the imposition of manumission and intermarriage restrictions (1691), and the Virginia Slave Codes (1705). By 1671, an estimated 2,000 African slaves lived in Virginia. Their number had jumped to 12,000 by 1708.

Flowerdew Hundred archaeology helps give voice to the African and African American slaves of the colony. The artistic ancestry of their crafts nuances our understanding of the impact and assimilation of African culture in Virginia.

A Chesapeake pipe with a naturalistic motif