October 13, 2014
HIS 109- Prof. Young
Paper 1 Development of Slavery in Virginia It is known that slavery did not just up and start in 1619. The first African Americans that arrived in Jamestown in 1619 on a Dutch trading ship were not slaves or were they free. It was not automatically a sure thing. Slavery slowly developed overtime. It was very clear that they (African Americans) could get out and be indentured servants under the British Common Law. The British Common Law basically allowed them to escape enslavement and move to indentured servitude. Many people in North America in the seventeenth century were not free in some form. The labor was not their own. To be indentured meant that one had signed away your working life for a set number of years. One would work for someone else. In the 1620’s and 1630’s, it was to England itself that Virginia planters turned for labor. The labor was available because of the downturns in the English economy itself. People, especially young people in search of work and opportunity, could be persuaded to board boats for Virginia, which they did, mainly as indentured servants. Being an indentured servant meant that they agreed to serve their Master for a certain number of years, and at the end of time they would be given their freedom and possibly a plot of land, possibly agricultural tools, possibly some money. Most of the time the owners sabotaged the servants they bought from England so they would have to stay longer or die in servitude.
Some blacks were able to achieve. Anthony Johnson, who first arrived in Virginia in 1621 and was referred to as “Antonio a Negro” in early records. He went to work on a tobacco plantation. Whether he was an indentured servant or a slave at the time I really don’t know. But Anthony nearly lost his life in the spring of 1622 by the Powhatan Indians in Virginia. The Indians threatened by the encroachments of tobacco planters, staged a carefully planned attack that took place on Good Friday. By the middle of the day 350 colonist were dead and everyone on Anthony’s plantation except four other men and himself. In some ways he was a lucky man. To be sure, finding yourself in bondage on a Virginia tobacco plantation was not the result of good luck, but Anthony Johnson would rise above his low status and become the envy of many colonists. Several years later he met “Mary a Negro”, who was bought to work on the plantation and they became husband and wife, and they had four children. They eventually bought their way out of bondage. During the 1640”s Anthony and Mary lived at their own place, raising livestock. By the 1650’s their estate had grown to 250 acres. For any ex-servant, black or white to own his own land was uncommon, despite the promise made by the Virginia company to give a tract of land to each servant at the end of service and to own 250 acres was rarer still. In 1655 Anthony and his family sold their land and moved to Maryland where after five years Anthony died. Eventually his land that he owned in Virginia was ruled back to the crown because “he was a negro and by consequence a negro”. It wasn’t until 1661 that a reference to slavery entered into Virginia law, and this law was directed to white servants—at those who ran away with a black servant. The colony went one step further by stating that children born would be bonded or free according to the status of the mother. The transformation had
begun, but it wouldn’t be until the Slave Codes of 1705 that the status of African Americans would be sealed. Africans became enslaved over decisions that were made over time. There are no laws regarding slavery early in Virginia’s history, but by 1640, the Virginia courts had sentenced at least one black servant to slavery. Three servants working for a farmer