American Angola

On February 11, 2015 · 1 Comments

I discovered distant relatives during my ongoing family research who lived in Angola, New York about a century ago. That seemed like an odd location for a town to carry such a name. I wondered if it could have been a coincidence, perhaps Angola was a corruption of a Native American word bestowed by the Iroquois who were known to inhabit the area. Certainly it couldn’t pertain to the Angola in Africa, I thought. What possible connection could it have to Africa?

That made me turn to the Geographic Names Information System where I discovered several other places named Angola. Some were located in the southern United States and I suspected those traced back to slavery associations. However that seemed far-fetched for a town on the western extremity of New York just outside of Buffalo (map).

New York

Angola, New York
Angola, New York by Doug Kerr, on Flickr (cc)

The answer came to light soon enough courtesy of the Village of Angola itself (map).

"ANGOLA" …everyone asks where did the "Name" come from… Many years ago when the trains came through this area, it was called Evans Station. The people applied to the Federal Government to put a post office in this area. The Quakers had started a Colony this side of Gowanda in the Collins area and were known to help many in need. The same Quakers also helped people of Angola, Africa. In 1855, when the Angola Post Office located in Taylor Hollow (used by the Quakers) closed, the Federal Government offered it to this area and said "here is your post office" and authorities thought it best to move the post office to this area… hence the name "Angola."

That seemed plausible. The Religious Society of Friends — Quakers — had indeed settled in western New York, including within the vicinity of Gowanda during the very earliest part of the 19th Century in Collins Township. The Quakers were staunch abolitionists by this time so it would seem likely that they selected Angola as a name in solidarity with Africans rather than as an endorsement of enslavement.


The mound in Angola, Indiana

Another noteworthy Angola existed in northeastern Indiana (map), practically on top of the Indiana-Michigan-Ohio tripoint. Information was scant however one source claimed, "In 1838 when the peoples from New York migrated west to the Vermont Settlement they created the town of Angola, named after Angola, New York." If that were the case it must have been named for the original Quaker settlement because the later village of Angola, New York wasn’t named until 1855.

The Local History Department of the Carnegie Library of Steuben County offered another theory, most simply,

Angola received it’s name about the time the place was chosen as the county seat and it is said, before there was no other known place called Angola in this country or anywhere else, save in Africa. The name is supposed to have been chosen simply as being new and uncommon and one that pleased the chooser of it.

Judge Thomas Gale, the man who selected the name, was a known abolitionist. Indiana had banned slavery in its Constitution when it became a state in 1816. Additionally, the town of Angola was firmly entrenched in Northern sentiments during the Civil War and constructed a large monument known locally as "The Mound" to commemorate its Union soldiers from Steuben County. It honored all four military branches that fought in the war (infantry, artillery, cavalry and navy). While the original inspiration for the Angola name may never be understood completely, it seemed highly unlikely to have derived from any pro-slavery sentiment.


Louisiana State Penitentiary – Angola

Angola in Louisiana presented the exact opposite condition. Isaac Franklin made his fortune selling slaves, establishing one of the largest slave trading firms in the nation, Armfield & Franklin. Money in hand, he pivoted from wealthy slave trader to wealthy plantation owner, controlling several hundred slaves and large plantations in Tennessee and Louisiana. His Louisiana holdings, which weren’t even his regular home, consisted of four contiguous plantations that he’d purchased: Panola, Belle View, Killarney and Angola. Franklin died in 1846 and his wife joined the properties and later sold them. The united property assumed the Angola name, inspired originally by the African people who had been subjugated and forced to toil there in the fields. The state of Louisiana acquired the Angola property in 1901 and built a prison on the site, becoming known as Louisiana State Penitentiary or simply Angola.

Twelve Mile Circle featured this Angola in A Prisoner to Geo-Oddities along with its prisoner rodeo and art show.

Museu da escravatura by syrin, on Flickr (cc)

I was under the impression that slaves taken from Angola all went to Brazil because they were both under the colonial domination of Portugal. Most did, however some went elsewhere.

One of the biggest surprises about the history of the slave trade to the United States is the high percentage of our ancestors who were shipped to this country from Angola. African Americans have traditionally thought of Ghana and Senegal as our most common ancestral homes on the African continent, but almost half of all of the slaves arriving in this country were shipped here from two sources: Senegambia, yes, but also, Angola.

It is thought that about a quarter of African-American ancestry came from Angola. Many of those leaving Angola passed through Morro da Cruz near Luanda (map), where they were baptized before they were packed onto ships for the notorious journey through the middle passage. The site has been preserved as the Museu Nacional da Escravatura, the National Museum of Slavery.

Of the three Angola locations large enough to have histories readily available, one was an artifact of slavery nostalgia, one was not, and one might have been named simply because it sounded interesting.

On February 11, 2015 · 1 Comments

One Response to “American Angola”

  1. Peter says:

    In a reversal of the usual migration pattern, Angola the country is getting an influx of thousands of migrants each year from Portugal, its former colonial ruler. Angola’s oil industry needs more skilled workers than the country itself can provide, while unemployment is high in Portugal.

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