February 3, 2015
Antonio was one of the first individuals to arrive in the newly formed Colony of Virginia in 1620. Like many of the early Europeans that came to the new land, he worked as an indentured servant. Workers earned their freedom after working an agreed number of years. Not having the funds to travel to America themselves, thousands of Europeans agreed to pay for their travel, room and food expenses by working it off under contract to a farmer or some other skilled businessman in the Virginia Colonies. After their agreed time was up, they were often given some food and supplies. Many got to keep a portion of the land that they worked. Most importantly, they were free and had a skill to begin a new life for themselves.
The first settlers arrived in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607. (see Jamestown: A City Upon A Hill) For a long time the majority of indentured servants were white Europeans. While it started out as a voluntary venture, it did not take long until an industry grew around kidnapping poor children and young adults who were then sold into indentured labor. This included Antonio.
His new life began after he was captured and sold to Arab slave traders. Like others in his situation, although he was brought here against his will, he was still contracted as indentured servant. In 1620, the English colonies did not allow any form of slavery. A merchant brought Antonio to Virginia where he was bought by a tobacco farmer named Johnson.
Although the majority of indentured servants in the colonies at that time were Europeans, the first African servants arrived in the English colony of Jamestown in 1619. Being baptized by their original Spanish captures, per English law, they could not be slaves. They were contracted under the same standards as the 1,000 white English indentured servants already here when they were sold to the colonists by the Dutch for food and supplies. For much of the early life of the new colonies, indentured servants were a simple fact of survival.
The indentured trade system was not only economically driven, but also used for political purposes. King James II used it to rid Britain of its Irish political enemies. Thousands of Irishmen and women were sent to the New World as servants, including the British colonies in the Caribbean. In the beginning African servants were more expensive than the Irish servants. Owners were more harsh and more brutal to the inexpensive white servant than to the expensive black ones. For monetary reasons, some settlers decided it would be cheaper to begin breeding their white female slaves with their black African slaves, producing the mixed “mulatto” individuals seen in the Caribbean today.
While much of the new land welcomed the cheap labor, the Christian Pilgrim and Puritan Colony of Plymouth, Massachusetts did not. Because of their Biblical beliefs, these settlers had a much different view of servants and slavery. (see Thanks Be To God) When an African slave ship landed in their colony they immediately arrested and imprisoned the ship’s officers. They then returned the slaves to their home in Africa at the colonist’s own expense. However, the rest of Massachusetts did not have this same view of servitude and slavery as the early Christian settlers. Like the South, the majority sought the cheap labor provided by indentured servants. By the late 1600’s, the need for cheap labor began paving the way towards slavery in every New World territory.
Twenty years after Antonio arrived in Virginia, John Punch, a Negro, attempted to escape his contract along with two white servants. A Virginia judge extended John’s contract for the rest of his life, but did not legally call it slavery. The other two servants were sentenced to only four additional years along with 30 lashes with a whip. This decision by a single judge marked the beginning of a legal distinction between European and African servants.
Over the next few decades the views of slavery continued to evolve in the eyes of the colonists. (see America's Forgotten Rebellion) Laws were passed refusing Negros the right to own arms and ammunition, declaring children’s free or slave status dependent on the mother’s status, and removing baptism as a means of denying enslavement. Of course, not every state agreed with the practice. Many anti-slave laws were passed before the American Revolution, but they were all vetoed by Great Britain, forcing the continuation of the slave trade in the colonies. It was only after America broke from the ruling hand of King George a hundred years later that citizens were free to start the discussion of ending the practice of slavery in the new world.
Antonio watched all these changes around him. During his contracted time as a servant, Antonio met and fell in love with another servant, Mary. After working 14 years on the tobacco farm, he was granted his freedom in 1635. He was given some land and the essentials to start his own farm. Antonio changed his name to Anthony and adopted his master’s name of Johnson. Anthony and his wife Mary began a life for themselves and had several children.
Anthony and Mary worked hard on their little farm but realized they needed more help and more land. King James I had established an incentive program awarding 50 acres to anyone willing to venture to the New World. These 50 acres were also promised to anyone willing to undertake the expense and responsibility of an indentured servant. Anthony purchased five servants, granting him 250 acres of land. With the acreage and the help of his own servants, his farm became very successful.
In 1654, one of his servants, John Casor, had fulfilled his contract and was demanding his freedom. Anthony refused to release him. Robert Parker, a neighbor, intervened placing pressure on Anthony to do the right thing. Anthony eventually agreed and released John. Unfortunately, the newly freed John chose to work for the neighbor. Anthony then filed a lawsuit against Robert, claiming that he stole John from him. Despite two other servants of Anthony’s testifying that John had served his contract term, the court ruled that he was in fact the property of Anthony. This ruling declared Anthony the first legal slave owner in the British colonies. A single legal decision began the 7-year transformation from indentured servants to lawful slavery in the colonies.
As the acceptance of enslavement grew, so did the ownership of slaves by other blacks. In 1830, over 3,700 black families in the South owned black slaves. According to the 1860 Census, New Orleans alone about 3,000 slaves that were owned by black households. (see The Forgotten Representative)
Slavery is an ugly thing. If you listen to today’s Civil Rights Activists, or the Democratic Party, you would think that America was the only country to ever suffer from the curse of slavery. Professors shoving White Privilege down our throats force students to believe that only white people owned black people. But slavery is not limited to one specific race enslaving another. Slavery has been used by every race and every race has been enslaved. The harsh truth is that slavery has been infecting our world since the fall of man. 3,000 years before Anthony was given legal right to own John, the Israelites were enslaved by the Egyptians in Northern Africa. It is common belief that the pyramids in Egypt are the result of slave labor. Rome was built on the backs of slaves and could not function without them. Slavery existed within African tribes long before the Portuguese started the African slave trade in the 15th century. Even Christopher Columbus witnessed slavery amongst Native American tribes when he landed in 1492, long before the first white settlers in the new world. (see What Is Columbus Day?)
As horrible and disgusting as the sin of slavery is, it is just a taste of the slavery of sin we are all under. We are doomed to a life of tyranny with eternal death as our only ending. But God, our merciful Master, has taken compassion on us. He sent His son, His perfect heir, to pay our ransom and free us from sin, death and the power of the devil. As a result, anyone who believes will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. We are no longer slaves, but the brothers and sisters of the King of Kings.
God tells us how slaves are suppose to act towards their masters. They should do their job faithfully and reliably, with joy and gratitude. He also instructs masters in their duties. They should be honorable and treat their servants with kindness and respect. While His directions apply for our human relationship with others, more importantly it teaches us of our relationship to Him. We are no longer slaves to sin, but we should be grateful servants of Christ. As Jesus washed the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper, we too must be humble and meek. Not because it will earn us sanctification but because we are representatives of our Master. The love and mercy that God has shown for us should be reflected in our actions towards others.
That’s what Anthony forgot. He forgot that he was freed as an indentured servant. Rather than sharing that with his own servant, he decided he had the legal right to own another. In the 1654 court ruling that set the stage for legal slavery, Anthony Johnson and his wife were declared, “inhabitants in Virginia (above thirty years) [and respected for] hard labor and known service.” However, because of the changing views on slavery and the African, when Anthony died in 1670 he was declared a non-citizen of the colony. That’s because Anthony Johnson was a Negro. Instead of going to his children, his vast estate was awarded to a white settler. In less than 20 years, the first man, a black man, who went to court to claim legal rights over another human being was striped of all his rights as a citizen of the colony. His actions not only brought slavery, but his own downfall.
Liberty, to be free you must be humble. We get so caught up in our own pride, our own self-worth that we disregard others and how we have been freed from the power of sin. You must be faithful, forgiving and you must remain a servant of the Lord.
That’s my 2 cents.
THE COLOR-BLINDNESS OF SLAVERY