• UIU-LA Admin

Igbo Americans and the Slave Trade

Igbo Americans, or Americans of Igbo ancestry, (Igbo: Ṇ́dị́ Ígbò n'Emerịkà) are residents of the United States who identify as having Igbo ancestry from modern day Nigeria. There are primarily two classes of people with Igbo ancestry in the United States, those whose ancestors were taken from Igboland as a result of the transatlantic slave trade before the 20th century and those who immigrated from the 20th century onwards partly as a result of the in the late 1960s and economic instability in Nigeria. Igbo people prior to the American Civil War were brought to the United States by force from their hinterland homes on the Bight of Biafra and shipped by Europeans to North America between the 17th and 19th centuries.



Identified Igbo slaves were often described by the ethnonyms Ibo and Ebo(e), a colonial American rendering of Igbo. Some Igbo slaves were also referred to as 'bites', denoting their Bight of Biafra origin, and other names were used in reference to their home lands in Africa. Their presence in the United States was met with mixed feelings by American plantation owners because of their 'rebellious' attitudes to enslavement. Many of the enslaved Igbo people in the United States were concentrated in Virginia's lower Tidewater region and at some points in the 18th century they constituted over 30% of the enslaved black population. Igbo culture contributed to the creolised African American culture and is perhaps evident in such cultural vestiges as the Jonkonnu parades of North Carolina. Igbo Americans introduced the Igbo word okra into the English language.


Their presence in the United States was met with mixed feelings by American plantation owners because of their 'rebellious' attitudes to enslavement.


In the United States the Igbo were most numerous in the states of Maryland(coincidentally where there is a predominant population of recent Igbo immigrants) and Virginia, so much so that some historians have denominated colonial Virginia as “Igbo land". Virginia was the colony that took in the largest percentage of Igbo slaves. Researchers such as David Eltis estimate between 30—45% of the 'imported' slaves were from the Bight of Biafra, of these slaves 80% were likely Igbo. A so-called conservative estimate of the amount of Igbo taken into Virginia between 1698 and 1778 is placed at 25,000. The Igbo concentration was especially high in the Tidewater and Piedmont regions of the Virginia interior. One of the reasons for this high number of Igbo slaves in Virginia was the domination of the Bight of Biafra region of Africa by Bristol and Liverpool English merchants who frequently brought Bight of Biafra slaves to British colonies, Virginia being one of these colonies. The high concentration of Igbo slaves in Virginia was contributed to further by neighboring states. Planters in South Carolina and Georgia looked down on Igbo slaves because many were rebellious. Because of this the majority of Igbo slaves were taken and sold to Virginian planters. Some suggest that perhaps 60 percent of black Americans have at least one Igbo ancestor.


The Igbo presence in Virginia also brought new practices such as the cultivation of Okra, a plant whose name derives from the Igbo language.

Some possible Igbo names were also found among slave records in Virginia. Names found in records such as Anica, or Anakey, Breechy and Juba may originate respectively from the Igbo names Nneka, meaning the mother is superior, and mburichi, male members of the Kingdom of Nri and Jiugba, meaning yam barn. Some had their ethnicity added to their names such as Eboe Sarah and plain Ebo. These hints of Igbo influence go along with cultural remnants pointing towards the Igbo presence in Virginia, one of which is the use of the Eboe drum in music. The Igbo presence in Virginia also brought new practices such as the cultivation of Okra, a plant whose name derives from the Igbo language. Slaves in Virginia relied on sweet potato which is argued by Douglas Chambers to be an indication of a substitute for yam, the Igbo staple crop.


Igbo landmarks in America

Igbo Village in Virginia

The Frontier Culture Museum of Virginia has completed an Igbo single-family farmers compound to acknowledge the prevalence of the Igbo in 19th century Virginia.

Igbo Landing

Igbo Landing is a historic site in Dunbar Creek of St. Simons Island, Glynn County, Georgia, United States. In 1803 it was the location of a mass suicide by Igbo slaves in resistance to slavery in the United States, and is of symbolic importance in African American folklore and literary history.




©2018 Umu Igbo Unite- Los Angeles

a 501(c)(3) tax exempt non-profit corporation