Our DNA has Memory

Our DNA has Memory

In the beginning, I didn’t understand where the desire came. I just knew it was there.  The desire quickly became a passion and consequently an addiction.

Nine years ago, looking for my husband’s ancestors, I came across a woman whose allure was irresistible. As a genealogist, I find many significant people with vital stories throughout history.  Why was this one so overwhelmingly important?

Her name was Margaret Cornish.  She was one of the first Africans to arrive in the English settlement of Virginia in 1619.  The desire to understand where she came from and how she found herself in an English settlement became intoxicating.  Every hour of every day filled with questions overwhelming my senses.  My husband’s 9th generation great-grandmother had captured my mind like she was captured by the marauders of her kingdom almost four-hundred years ago.  Some 20,000 + hours of research turned into a series of novels with the first book winning a national gold medal.  But, the grandest surprise was yet to come.

As my own 97-year-old grandmother’s health began to fail, and with her tireless urging, I collected her DNA.  Then in June of 2014 her spirit passed into the land of our ancestors and I said goodbye to a woman of unwavering faith.  Simultaneously, I received her DNA results and the explanation of my addiction quickly became crystal clear.  Margaret Cornish wasn’t only my husband’s ancestor, but mine as well.  With tears of joy streaming down my face I began to understand. The addiction I felt was a scream from within myself.  A memory from within my own DNA begging to be heard.  Finally, I understood my fate which freed me from the grasping hands of a time long ago.

Join my journey as I take you down the path of Margaret Cornish’s life, one of FATE & FREEDOM.

From Bermuda to Leigh's Priory

Who Were the Three Africans taken from Bermuda to Leighs (Leez) Priory, Felsted, England in 1621

One of the most documented early Africans to arrive in Virginia was Anthony/Antonio. Records show Anthony/Antonio arrived in Virginia on the ship ‘James’ from England in 1621.  Was he one of the first “twenty and odd” sold on the shores of the James River in August of 1619? The short answer is NO. However, its slightly more complicated than that.  Anthony/Antonio was among at least two others who found their way to Virginia from the pirating of the San Juan Bautista in the Bay of Campeche in the summer of 1619.  The San Juan Bautista is the same slave ship the first “twenty and odd” were pirated from.   Anthony/Antonio’s path would be slightly different than the “twenty and odd” who arrived on the White Lion.  From the San Juan Bautista, Anthony/Antonio was put aboard the Treasurer, which arrived at Point Comfort three days after the White Lion.  The Treasurer would be turned away or “warned” off allowing its Captain, Daniel Elfrith, to sail to Bermuda.  Anthony/Antonio would remain in Bermuda until 1621 when Gov. Butler would put him and two other Africans/Angolans aboard the ship “James” sailing for the Port of Southampton, England.  Once in the English port the three Africans/Angolans were taken to Robert Rich / Earl of Warwick’s Felsted estate, Leighs (Leez) Priory.   Before the end of 1621, Anthony/Antonio would be brought back to the south shore of the James River and indentured to Robert Bennett of Bennett’s Plantation also known as Warrosquarak.  There he would survive the great massacre of 1622 and remain in the area for nearly 30 years.  Anthony/Antonio was one of America’s first FREE Africans.

Mary, like Anthony/Antonio, was among the African slaves pirated from the San Juan Bautista in the Bay of Campeche, 500 miles from their destination of Vera Cruz, Mexico.  Mary was put aboard the “Treasurer” which arrived at Old Point Comfort, Virginia three days after the “White Lion.”  Warned of the pirating charges the Captain would face the Treasurer would disappear from the James River and reappear in Bermuda with a cargo of Africans. Mary, like Anthony/Antonio was among them.  In 1621, Mary would be put aboard the ship James, sailing from Bermuda for the port of Southampton, England where she would be taken with Anthony/Antonio and one other African to Robert Rich’s Estate in Felsted, England known as Leighs (Leez) Priory.  In mid 1622, six months after Anthony/Antonio was removed from Leighs/Leez Priory Mary was put aboard the English ship “Margaret & John” sailing to Virginia.  By 1623, Mary would be listed on a muster, like Anthony/Antonio, at Bennett’s plantation on the south side of the James River in the area called Warrasquarak.  Later, Mary would marry Anthony and they would be known as Mr. and Mrs. Anthony Johnson.  By 1644, they would have four children, two boys and two girls.


Like Antonio/Anthony and Maria/Mary, John Pedro was among the San Juan Bautista survivors brought to Bermuda on the “Treasurer” in 1619.  John Pedro is the third and last African to be put aboard the  “James” in 1621 sailing for the English port of Southampton and delivered to Robert Rich’s estate in Felsted, England known as Leighs (Leez) Priory.  Where the other two Africans (Antonio/Anthony and Maria/Mary) were sent from England to Virginia, John Pedro, a catholic, would take a different route.  In 1622 John Pedro was placed on the “Swan,” one of Robert Rich’s ships, sailing for Cape Cod, New England.  Within the year John Pedro would make his way to Virginia with Captain Francis West.  In 1623, John Pedro is listed on the muster at Captain Francis West’s plantation at the Eastern Shore where he would remain until West’s death in January of 1634.

Interesting fact:  The Angolan kingdom raided by the Portuguese in 1618/1619 where the San Juan Bautista survivors were enslaved was documented as a Catholic community.   John Pedro would be the first openly practicing Catholic in Virginia’s early Anglican settlement.

WHY DID ANTHONY, MARY AND JOHN PEDRO FIND THEMSELVES IN ENGLAND IN 1621?  Antonio/Anthony, Maria/Mary and John Pedro were taken to Leighs (Leez) Priory, the estate of Robert Rich II, Earl of Warwick in Felsted, England in 1621 as an aristocrat’s attempt to cement a political charade.

The Earl of Warwick was fully engaged in a court battle with Count Gondomar, the Spanish Ambassador in King James’ English court, over the Piracy of the San Juan Bautista’s Africans.  As FATE would have it, the Captain of the San Juan Bautista pirated by Rich’s Treasurer in the summer of 1619 was  no less than Count Gondomar’s kin. By 1621, deep within the court case, Gondomar is rabidly demanding his African slaves to be returned to his family’s possession. Believing he could convince Anthony, Mary and John Pedro to twist their testimony in his favor, the Earl of Warwick brings Anthony to testify before the court.  But, Anthony would not falsify his testimony and claims there were two ships at the raid, the White Lion and Rich’s Treasurer.  Instantly Rich/Earl of Warwick declares Anthony’s testimony invalid bringing to light the fact Anthony’s baptismal was unverifiable.  Angry over his testimony and unable to wait, Rich puts Anthony aboard the “James” shipping him to Bennett’s plantation on the south shore of the James River.  Mary and John Pedro follow as soon as the harsh winter months pass.

Interesting facts:  

The Angolan kingdom raided by the Portuguese in 1618/1619 where the San Juan Bautista survivors were captured and enslaved was documented as a Catholic community.   John Pedro would be the first openly practicing Catholic in Virginia’s early Anglican settlement.

Robert Rich was a Puritan leader as was Edward Bennett of Bennett’s Plantation.  Bennett’s plantation is the only puritan plantation in all of the Anglican settlement of Virginia until 1624 when Virginia becomes an English colony.


Coming January 2015

Today in History August 21, 1619

Three hundred ninety-five years (395) ago today “twenty and odd” Africans arrive at Old Pointe Comfort, in Hampton, Virginia. They are the first Africans to arrive in what will become English-North America.
The “twenty and odd” Africans were captives, sold as slaves, during the Portuguese invasion of the Kingdom of Ndongo, in Angola Africa. Sold to the Spanish-Portuguese Captain Acuna some three-hundred captives are placed aboard the San Juan Bautista and shipped seven-thousand miles away to their doom in the silver mines of Mexico. But, before the slaver can reach it’s destination the ship is pirated by two English corsairs and fate is set in motion by the Calvinist Reverend turned Privateer, Captain John Jope. Their new destination becomes a small English settlement which will eventually become known as America. Until recent years the identity of the Captain was simply known as a Dutch Captain, who brought “twenty and odd” Africans to the shores of Virginia. Now, after intense research we know who they were, their fate which brought them to America and the cover-up that took place surrounding their arrival.

The San Juan Bautista's battle against the two English corsairs, the Treasurer and the White Lion.

Unveiling the First Africans of English America -1619

In order to unveil who they were, we must take a new unbiased look into their arrival. After studying those involved and the activities surrounding the event, a truer picture evolves.
I begin with the three ships that collide in the Bay of Campeche.

The San Juan Bautista's battle against the two English corsairs, the Treasurer and the White Lion.

The San Juan Bautista’s battle against the two English corsairs, the Treasurer and the White Lion.

San Juan Bautista/Sao Joao Bautista/St. John Baptist-

When the Bautista arrived in the port of Luanda it was already blessed or maybe it was cursed. The ship was originally called Date Maru. (伊達丸 in Japanese) Built in 1613 by Date Masamune, in Tsuki-No-Ura harbour, the ship was one of Japan’s first Japanese-built Western-style sailing ships, a Spanish galleon type. Once completed the ship left on October 28, 1613 for Acapulco in Mexico, with around 180 people on board, consisting of 10 samurai of the Shogun (led by the Minister of the Navy Mukai Shooken), 12 samurai from Sendai, 120 Japanese merchants, sailors, and servants, and around 40 Spaniards and Portuguese. The ship arrived in Acapulco on January 25, 1614 after three months at sea. After a year in Acapulco, the ship returned to Japan on April 28, 1615. It seems that around 50 specialists in mining and silver-refining were invited to Japan on this occasion, so that they could help develop the mining industry in the Sendai area. A group of Franciscans led by Father Diego de Santa Catalina, sent as a religious embassy to Tokugawa Ieyasu also sailed on the ship. The San Juan Bautista arrived in Uraga on August 15, 1615.
In September 1616, the San Juan Batista once again headed to Acapulco, at the request of Luis Sotelo. But the trip went terribly wrong and around 100 sailors died en route. San Juan Bautista finally arrived in Acapulco in May 1617. By April 1618 the San Juan Bautista arrived in the Philippines and the Bautista was sold to the Spanish government.
In late 1618 the Bautista would be awarded to Diego Sarmiento de Acuna, the 1st Count of Gondomar who was the Spanish Ambassador to the English King James IV’s court for services rendered.  From this transfer the Bautista would have one more mission. Captained by Manuel Mendes De Acuna, kin of Gondomar, the ship would sail to the Port of Luanda where Captain Acuna would purchase 350 enslaved Africans to transport and sell in Vera Cruz, New Spain, now Mexico. The enslaved were captured by the Imbangala during the Portuguese invasion of the Kingdom of Ndongo and were now headed to the silver mines of Vera Cruz. (We will re-visit their origin again soon)

The White Lion
This WHITE LION was built in the Villa-Villa Franca shipyard near Lisbon,
Portugal in 1570. It was originally called the LEONA BLANCA (White Lion).
180-200 tonnage, it was designed the same as the PELECANO (Pelican) which eventually would be owned by Drake. Provisions for both were for 10 cannons. Both ships sailed for the Marque of Portugal one year before being seized by the Spanish Armada in 1571. Drake captured the Pelecano and changed the name to the PELICAN. He later reworked her and re-christened her the GOLDEN HIND.

The LEONA BLANCA (White Lion) kept her name under the Spanish Cross. The name was changed to WITTE LEEUW (White Lion) when she was captured by the Flemish Second Squadron in 1579. In 1584, with the death of Prince William of Orange, the Sea Beggars of the Netherland sold the WHITE LION to Admiral Howard of the English Privateers. In 1585 Drake and Howard began privateering against the Spaniards. The White Lion’s captain, Erizo (Erisey) got the loan from Drake to begin outfitting her. Erizo commanded the White Lion in the years of 1587 and 1588 in the war on the Armada. The WHITE LION usually traveled with one of Drake’s Squadrons.
After Erizo’s default, the ship went to Drake although Erizo still captained
her. Drake died in 1596 and in 1597 Drake’s will was probated and the WHITE LION went to Captain James Erizo who privateered the ship for the next eleven years. In 1609 Capt Erizo sold the WHITE LION to his minister, the Reverend John Colyn Jope. After a ten (10) year overhaul the White Lion’s first refurbished voyage, Captain Jope would find himself in consort with the Treasurer’s Captain, Daniel Elfrith.


The Treasurer was owned by Robert Rich, II Earl of Warwick, one of the most wealthy and powerful aristicrats in all of England, as well as one of the most influential members of the Virginia Company of London. The Virginia Company of London controlled the Colonial settlement of Virginia. By 1617, Samuel Argall, who captained the Treasurer, had been appointed the acting Governor of Virginia. Daniel Elfrith would become the new captain of the Treasurer, appointed by Robert Rich.
After the review of later court proceedings between Robert Rich, II Earl of Warwick and Lady Cecily Shirley West, records disclose the fact that Elfrith arrived in Jamestown on the Treasurer either the end of May / first of June, 1618. Within days, the Neptune would also arrive under the command of Brewster, the pilot who claims the Treasurer intercepted the Neptune some days earlier and poisoned Lord De La Warre, (Sir Thomas West), who was being sent to bring the acting Governor, Samuel Argall back to England for questioning by the King’s Privy Council. Lord De La Warre was buried in Jamestown June 7, 1618. Argall, still the acting Governor of Virginia, would send Captain Elfrith and the Treasurer to the West Indies to continue on with what was said to be a fishing expedition. The court case was settled out of court with the Earl of Warwick paying West’s widow a substantial amount.
Interesting fact: On September 17, 1612, Samuel Argall commanded Sir Robert Rich’s 130-ton ship, Treasurer, which reached Virginia on September 17 after a fifty-seven-day voyage that was the fastest then recorded. Rich and Argall had much history between them.
Almost one year later in the West Indies, off the shores of Cuba, two of these ships would intersect. Captain Daniel Elfrith, of the Treasurer and Captain John Jope, of the White Lion were childhood companions from their early days in Cornwall, England. They would sail in consort finding themselves on a direct collision course with the San Juan Bautista.
The two English corsairs were not looking for a slaver, as the Bautista was being used for. They were looking for Spanish gold, usually carried by a Spanish Galleon that could protect its cargo. A Spanish Galleon like the Bautista appeared to be when the two corsairs fired upon the slaver.
After seeing the horrific scene of the foundering San Juan Bautista’s cargo, the two Captains took some fifty or so Africans (split between the two ships) and sail for Virginia, the closest English port that Elfrith believes will welcome the two ships, turning a blind eye to their antics of piracy. During the journey to Virginia, the two ships sail through a storm, causing one to lose the other. When the White Lion and the Africans arrive at Point Comfort, Virginia, without the Treasurer, Captain Jope finds Virginia under a very cautious new government, noticeably alarmed when Jope reports he took the Africans from a Spanish galleon.
The number of Africans is only reported as “twenty and odd”. The twenty and odd were enslaved on the Bautista, but when they arrive in the settlement of Virginia, under the laws of England, they became indentured servants. Slavery was not yet acceptable under the laws of England. Some say indentured servitude is just another name for slavery, but it is contractual. The average colonial contract was for a period of 4-7 years.
After completing many years of research through Genealogy, I have found that the original twenty and odd and their descendants are documented as free residents of Virginia.

The San Juan Bautista's battle against the two English corsairs, the Treasurer and the White Lion.

Fate & Freedom

Discovering Margaret…..

Twenty and Odd Africans arrive in Virginia in 1619.  Most of their names are unknown, or quite possibly they were concealed.  The less known about the incident would be best.  The names we have are from the ‘List of the Living’ compiled after the Indian massacre of 1622.  They were Angela, Anthony, Isabel, Frances, Peter, Anthony, and Margaret.  The others were identified as only male or female as much about the whole incident would be camouflaged to protect the few involved.

Documents show that the Africans arrived at Old Pointe Comfort, Virginia in the later part of August, 1619.   The Captain, a former Calvinist Reverend turned Privateer, reported his only cargo as being “Twenty and Odd” Africans he took (pirated) from a floundering vessel off the coast of Vera Cruz, Mexico.  Under the watchful eye of the crown the incident is quietly reported.   John Pory, the Virginia Company’s newly appointed Secretary, writes in a letter to Sir Dudley Carleton dated September 30, 1619,

The San Juan Bautista's battle against the two English corsairs, the Treasurer and the White Lion.

The San Juan Bautista’s battle against the two English corsairs, the Treasurer and the White Lion.

“Having mett with so fitt a messenger as this man of Warre of Flushing.”   The letter goes on to tell of the arrival of some “twenty and odd” Africans brought by a Dutch Captain.

Was Pory disguising the ship to protect its captain and crew? Probably not.

Oddly, the letter was sent to Sir Dudley Carleton via messenger, Marmaduke Reynor, the English pilot of the White Lion.  This information alone is telling of some sort of an association. 
Was Pory’s loyalty to the company, trying to diminish the association by the cover of a Dutch marque?  Or was his loyalty to the Earl of Warwick?  Possibly it was to the English Crown.  But, clearly Pory’s loyalties didn’t align with the White Lion who was sent back into the English channels with a letter suggesting a Spanish piracy, not to mention, a cargo that would confirm Pory’s words.

Why?  There are several reasons.

Just months before the African’s arrival, Samuel Argall, the acting Governor of Virginia, was ordered to return to England to face questioning from the King’s Privy Council regarding the suggestion Virginia was nothing more than a Pirate’s haven.   The thought of a Spanish Piracy by an English ship so soon might be the last straw to an English King’s already tarnished image with Spain.  Proof of a Spanish piracy would surely condemn the Virginia Company, giving King James good reason to revoke their patent.

Another reason…..there were two ships involved, two English Corsairs.  When the Treasurer arrived at Pointe Comfort carrying Africans just days after the White Lion, oddly the Treasurer was immediately turned away, or was the ship warned off?  The Treasurer, captained by Daniel Elfrith was owned by Robert Rich II, Earl of Warwick, one of the most influential and powerful men in England.  The Treasurer would sail for Bermuda, an island known to be under the Earl of Warwick’s hand, where he could control the secrecy of the situation.

England would be tricky, as the White Lion was a common sight in the Port of Plymouth where the ship sat for years.  Reverend Jope had purchased the decayed White Lion from a member of his congregation, who captained the ship during the Elizabethan War between England and Spain 1585-1604.  In fact, it was the Port of Plymouth where Captain Jope re-launched the White Lion’s sails after the ten (10) years it took to refurbish the old war ship.    The White Lion, it’s captain and it’s crew were English, not Dutch as Pory’s letter would suggest and now their identities would need to be hidden under the association of a “Dutch” marque.

As fate would have it, the San Juan Bautista’s Captain Acuna, who reported the incident upon his arrival in Mexico, was kin to Count Gondomar, the Spanish Ambassador who was in the inner circle of England’s King James.  When the Spanish Captain Acuna makes claim to his kin that two English Corsairs pirated his San Juan Bautista just off the coast of Vera Cruz, Mexico stealing some fifty or sixty African slaves, Virginia becomes the target of Gondomar’s rage and demands retribution. For an English Captain in the year of 1619 the act of Spanish piracy would be a death sentence, for it was less than two years earlier Sir Walter Raleigh was be-headed for Spanish piracy, a result of Gondomar’s insistence under the Maritime Peace Treaty.

Continue to follow this blog as I reveal my findings while discovering Margaret.