Originally created 08/08/99

Tells 'rest of the story' of slavery



I read with interest the July 28 article entitled "Colonial Williamsburg says slavery program important." The program called "Enslaving Virginia" was also given coverage on the July 29 Today Show. Since they've brought it up, I hope they will eventually tell the whole story.

In August 1619, a ship was forced ashore at Jamestown, Va., by bad weather. John Rolfe noted the captain and crew were a scurvy and disreputable lot and had aboard 20 Africans, stolen from a ship bound for Brazil, that they wished to trade for food and supplies. The Virginians, wanting to get rid of the piratesmugglers, paid the price and the 20 Africans came ashore, not as slaves but as indentured servants.

Many of us in the South can trace our ancestry back to an indentured servant, desperate to get away from the misery in Europe, who allowed someone to pay his or her way to the new world. After a period of servitude the indentured servant was given freedom papers and, according to law, as much as 40 acres of land. This system gave hope to the hopeless.

These 20 Africans probably never knew what a blessing the storm was that blew them ashore at Jamestown. Make no mistake about it, these 20 Africans were not slaves for slavery was not allowed at Jamestown.

One of these Africans, now remembered by the name Anthony Johnson, must have been an industrious, hardworking man because by 1623 (only 4 years after his arrival) he had earned his freedom. He married another of the 20, Isabella. Their son William, the first black child born in the new world, was christened in the Church of England. ...

In 1650, Virginia's population was about 30,000, of whom 300 were blacks. These were no more slaves than the 4,000 white indentured servants who worked off their passage to the new world.

The first judicial approval of "life servitude" (i.e., slavery) in Virginia other than for a crime was in 1654 when Anthony Johnson of Northampton County convinced a court that he was entitled to the lifetime services of John Casor, a black. ...

Glenn Dedmondt, Johnston