r The Ancestry of Inferiority
I Last among Equal s i When the firsL A.fricans arrived at 1v'i rgin ia in ;\ugust 1 619,1 t· they "·ere ini tially accorded n inden tured st>rYan t stat us sim ilar to that of
' n1ost \'irginia colonisls. ln t\'/o leucrs. John Rolfe, Secretar · an d Rccordt:'r of the \ririnia colony, reported on the arrival of the .Africans. On e- letter stated that a Dntch rnan-of-v.,1ar "brought not any thing but 20. and odd Ne
groes, \\'hich Lhc Governor and (ape l\1larchant bought for victual\es. "
The oLhcr letter- rlc':icribing the sa1ne e\'cnt, statt''ashed clean by the grace of his Christian religion. In a jurisdiction such as \Tirginia, however, \\.'here black \Vas already the stig1na of inferiority, Phillip's race and religion were material to the determination of whether his testimony was to be admitted, because in a real sense, his race \Vas a sin for v..·hich he could obtain forgiveness only by becoming a Christian.
By explicitly describing Phillip's race and religion, the court implicitly revealed that, in 1624 \1irginia, the legal process v-•as ready to pe-rceivc and to treat blacks, by reason of the color of their skin, as different frotn \ ·hite colonists. Gran ted, at first, the consequences of that difference \\•ere not immuta ble. If blackness v-.ras a sin, at least it could be absolved by Christian ity. Bur the si n ner ,\·ho obtains Christian forgiveness for his sin ah..·ays pays a price for that forgiveness. The price is that he has to admit that his sin caused him to be, in some v.·ay, a less perfect or inferior lmage of God. For the African, the sin that caused him…