Angela and her fellow enslaved Africans aboard the Treasurer likely were Kimbundu-speaking people from a West African polity known as Ndongo. Part of present-day Angola, the region had long been unstable as a result of climate, geopolitics, and the economy of the transatlantic slave trade. In 1575, the Portuguese military had entered a bay near the mouth of the Kwanza River in the hopes of eventually finding silver in the interior. Subsequent Portuguese raids, along with a drought that dispersed communities in search of food, left the people who remained particularly vulnerable. In 1580 Portugal and Spain were united under the same crown, opening Spain’s lucrative Caribbean slave market to the Portuguese. As a result, the Portuguese and their African allies sometimes provoked violence for the purpose of capturing men and women, such as those in Ndongo, and selling them to slave traders.
Angela likely had a rural upbringing in Ndongo, raising crops such as millet and sorghum and tending cattle. It is possible, because of the Portuguese presence in the region, that she had had at least some contact with Christianity. She may even have been baptized, her name being evidence of this fact. The Portuguese required that slaves be baptized before they arrived in America, but it was generally a pro forma gesture. Angelia likely did not practice the religion at the time of her capture. Sometime in 1619 she was one of 350 enslaved Africans sold to Manuel Mendes da Cunha, captain of the the São João Bautista at the port of São Paulo de Luando. The Portuguese ship was bound for Vera Cruz, New Spain (present-day Mexico), where its human cargo would be sold as slaves, with the vast majority going to labor in the sugar plantations of the Caribbean and South America.
Somewhere in the Atlantic, however, the São João Bautista was attacked by two English ships, the Treasurer and White Lion. They were sailing with letters of marque, which provided official sanction from foreign governments to prey on Spanish and Portuguese ships, stealing valuable cargo. When it arrived in Vera Cruz, the São João Bautista carried only 147 slaves, having lost 203 along the way. Many of these people likely died from disease; others may have taken their own lives or been killed in the English ships’ attack. The remainder—between forty-five and fifty enslaved Africans—had been stolen by the Treasurer and White Lion. The two ships promptly sailed for Virginia, with the White Lion arriving at Point Comfort sometime late in August. John Rolfe, the colony’s secretary, noted that it carried “20. and odd Negroes,” who were “bought for victualle [food] … at the best and easyest rate they could.” Some, perhaps all, of the Africans were then transported to Jamestown and resold. The fact that these men and women were “bought” suggests to many historians that they were treated as slaves and not indentured servants.
The Treasurer arrived three or four days later and carried another twenty-five to twenty-nine Africans. The colony’s deputy governor, Sir George Yeardley, sent Rolfe, Captain William Peirce, and another man to meet the ship, but by the time they arrived the Treasurer had fled. Because his letter of marque had expired, the captain feared arrest. He later sold fourteen slaves in Bermuda, suggesting that he had unloaded between eleven and fifteen in Virginia. (These numbers vary somewhat among historians.) It is likely that Peirce purchased at least one of these Africans, the woman Angela.