Anthony Johnson (colonist)

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Anthony Johnson
Born c. 1600
Angola
Died 1670
Colony of Virginia
Other names Antonio
Occupation Farmer
Known for The most prominent black former indentured servant to acquire freedom, wealth, and slaves.

Anthony Johnson (c1600–1670) was an Angolan who achieved freedom in the early 17th century Colony of Virginia, where he became one of the first black property owners and slaveholders. Held as an indentured servant in 1621, he earned his freedom after several years, which was accompanied by a grant of land. He later became a successful tobacco farmer. Notably, he is recognized for attaining great wealth after having been an indentured servant.

Biography[edit]

Early life[edit]

Johnson was captured in his native Angola by an enemy tribe and sold to Arab slave traders. He was eventually sold as an indentured servant to a merchant working for the Virginia Company.[1]

He arrived in Virginia in 1621 aboard the James. The Virginia Muster (census) of 1624 lists his name as "Antonio not given," recorded as "a Negro" in the "notes" column.[2] There is some dispute among historians as to whether this was the Antonio later known as Anthony Johnson, as the census lists several "Antonios." This one is considered the most likely.[3]

Johnson was sold to a white planter named Bennet as an indentured servant to work on his Virginia tobacco farm. Servants typically worked under an indenture contract for four to seven years to pay off their passage, room, board, lodging and freedom dues. In the early colonial years, most Africans in the Thirteen Colonies were held under such contracts of indentured servitude. With the exception of those indentured for life, they were released after a contracted period with many of the indentured receiving land and equipment after their contracts expired or were bought out.[4]

Antonio almost lost his life in the Indian massacre of 1622 when his master's plantation was attacked. The Powhatan, who were the Native Americans dominant in the Tidewater of Virginia, were upset at the encroachment of the colonists into their land. They attacked the settlement on Good Friday and killed 52 of the 57 men where Johnson worked.

The following year (1623) "Mary, a Negro" arrived from England aboard the ship Margaret. She was brought to work on the same plantation as Antonio, where she was the only woman. Antonio and Mary married and lived together for over forty years.[5]

Freedom[edit]

Sometime after 1635, Antonio and Mary gained their freedom from indenture. Antonio changed his name to Anthony Johnson.[5] Johnson first enters the legal record as a free man when he purchased a calf in 1647.

Johnson took ownership of a large plot of farmland after he paid off his indentured contract by his labor.[6] On 24 July 1651, he acquired 250 acres (100 ha) of land under the headright system by buying the contracts of five indentured servants, one of whom was his son Richard Johnson. The land was located on the Great Naswattock Creek which flowed into the Pungoteague River in Northampton County, Virginia.:[7]

In 1652 "an unfortunate fire" caused "great losses" for the family, and Johnson applied to the courts for tax relief. The court not only reduced the family's taxes but on 28 February 1652, exempted his wife Mary and their two daughters from paying taxes at all "during their natural lives." At that time taxes were levied on people not property, and under the 1645 Virginia taxation act, "all negro men and women and all other men from the age of 16 to 60 shall be judged tithable."[7][8] It is unclear from the records why the Johnson women were exempted, but the change gave them the same social standing as white women, who were not taxed.[8] During the case, the justices noted that Anthony and Mary "have lived Inhabitants in Virginia (above thirty years)" and had been respected for their "hard labor and known service".[5]

Casor suit[edit]

When Johnson was released from servitude, he was legally recognized as a "free Negro." He developed a successful farm. In 1651 he owned 250 acres, and the services of four white and one black indentured servants. In 1653, John Casor, a black indentured servant whose contract Johnson appeared to have bought in the early 1640s, approached Captain Goldsmith, claiming his indenture had expired seven years earlier and that he was being held illegally by Johnson. A neighbor, Robert Parker, intervened and persuaded Johnson to free Casor.

Parker offered Casor work, and he signed a term of indenture to the planter. Johnson sued Parker in the Northampton Court in 1654 for the return of Casor. The court initially found in favor of Parker, but Johnson appealed. In 1655, the court reversed its ruling.[9] Finding that Anthony Johnson still "owned" John Casor, the court ordered that he be returned with the court dues paid by Robert Parker.[10]

This was the first instance of a judicial determination in the Thirteen Colonies holding that a person who had committed no crime could be held in servitude for life.[11][12][13][14][15]

Though Casor was the first person declared a slave in a civil case, there were both black and white indentured servants sentenced to lifetime servitude before him. Many historians describe indentured servant John Punch as the first documented slave in America, as he was sentenced to life in servitude as punishment for escaping in 1640.[16][17] The Punch case was significant because it established the disparity between his sentence as a negro and that of the two European indentured servants who escaped with him (one described as Dutch and one as a Scotchman). It is the first documented case in Virginia of an African sentenced to lifetime servitude. It is considered one of the first legal cases to make a racial distinction between black and white indentured servants.[18][19]

Significance of Casor suit[edit]

The Casor suit demonstrates the culture and mentality of planters in the mid-17th century. The individuals made assumptions about the society of Northampton County and their place in it. According to historians T.R. Breen and Stephen Innes, Casor believed that he could form a stronger relationship with his patron Robert Parker than Anthony Johnson had formed over the years with his patrons. Casor considered the dispute to be a matter of patron-client relationship, and this wrongful assumption ultimately lost him the court and the decision. Johnson knew that the local justices shared his basic belief in the sanctity of property. The judge sided with Johnson, although in future legal issues, race played a larger role.[20]

The Casor suit was an example of how difficult it was for Africans who were indentured servants to keep from being reduced to slavery. Most African immigrants could not read and had no knowledge of the English language. Planters found it easy to force them into slavery by refusing to acknowledge the completion of their indentured contracts.[21] This is what happened in Johnson v. Parker. Although Casor had two white planters who confirmed that he had completed his indentured contract with Johnson, the court still ruled in Johnson's favor.[22]

Later life[edit]

1666 Marke of Anthony Johnson

In 1657, Johnson’s white neighbor, Edmund Scarborough, forged a letter in which Johnson acknowledged a debt. Johnson did not contest the case. Although Johnson was illiterate and could not have written the letter, the court granted Scarborough 100 acres of Johnson’s land to pay off his "debt".[6]

In this early period, free blacks enjoyed "relative equality" with the white community. Around 20% of free blacks in Virginia at this time owned their own homes. By 1665, racism was becoming more common. The Virginia Colony had passed a law in 1662 that children were born with the status of their mother, according to the Roman principle of partus sequitur ventrem; therefore, all children of slave women were born into slavery, regardless of who their fathers were. This was a reversal of English common law, which held that for English subjects, children took the status of their father. Africans were considered foreigners and not English subjects.

Johnson moved his family to Somerset County, Maryland. He negotiated a lease on a 300-acre (120 ha) plot of land for ninety-nine years. Johnson used this land to start a tobacco farm, which he named Tories Vineyards.[23]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Horton (2002), p. 29.
  2. ^ Breen1980, p. 8.
  3. ^ Walsh, Lorena (2010). Motives of Honor, Pleasure, and Profit: Plantation Management in the Colonial Chesapeake, 1607-1763. Pg 115: UNC Press. ISBN 9780807832349. 
  4. ^ Horton (2002), p. 26
  5. ^ a b c Breen (1980), p. 10.
  6. ^ a b Rodriguez, Junius. Slavery in the United States: A Social, Political, and Historical Encyclopedia, Volume 2. Pg 353: ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9781851095445. 
  7. ^ a b Heinegg, Paul (2005). Free African Americans of North Carolina, Virginia, and South Carolina from the Colonial Period to about 1820, Volume 2. Pg 705: Genealogical Publishing. ISBN 9780806352824. 
  8. ^ a b Breen, T. H. (2004). "Myne Owne Ground" : Race and Freedom on Virginia's Eastern Shore, 1640-1676. Pg 12: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199729050. 
  9. ^ Walker, Juliet (2009). The History of Black Business in America: Capitalism, Race, Entrepreneurship, Volume 1. Pg 49: University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 9780807832417. 
  10. ^ Frank W. Sweet (July 2005). Legal History of the Color Line: The Rise and Triumph of the One-Drop Rule. Backintyme. p. 117. ISBN 978-0-939479-23-8. Retrieved 23 February 2013. 
  11. ^ Federal Writers' Project (1954). Virginia: A Guide to the Old Dominion. Pg 76: US History Publishers. ISBN 9781603540452. 
  12. ^ Danver, Steven (2010). Popular Controversies in World History. Pg 322: ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9781598840780. 
  13. ^ Kozlowski, Darrell (2010). Colonialism: Key Concepts in American History. Pg 78: Infobase Publishing. ISBN 9781604132175. 
  14. ^ Conway, John (2008). A Look at the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments: Slavery Abolished, Equal Protection Established. Pg 5: Enslow Publishers. ISBN 9781598450705. 
  15. ^ Toppin, Edgar (2010). The Black American in United States History. Pg 46: Allyn & Bacon. ISBN 9781475961720. 
  16. ^ Donoghue, John (2010). "Out of the Land of Bondage": The English Revolution and the Atlantic Origins of Abolition". The American Historical Review. 
  17. ^ Russell, 29
  18. ^ Slavery and Indentured Servants Law Library of Congress
  19. ^ "Slave Laws". Virtual Jamestown. Retrieved 2013-11-04. 
  20. ^ Breen and Innes, "Myne Owne Ground," p. 15
  21. ^ Foner, Philip S. (1980). "History of Black Americans: From Africa to the emergence of the cotton kingdom". Oxford University Press. 
  22. ^ Klein, 43-44.
  23. ^ Johnson (1999), Africans in America, p. 44.

Sources[edit]

  • Berlin, Ira.Many Thousands Gone, The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America, Harvard University Press, 1998.
  • Breen, Timothy and Stephen Innes. "Myne Own Ground" Race and Freedom on Virginia's Eastern Shore, 1979/reprint 2004, 25th anniversary edition: Oxford University Press
  • Cox, Ryan Charles. "The Johnson Family: The Migratory Study of an African-American Family on the Eastern Shore", Delmarva Settlers, University of Maryland Salisbury, accessed 16 November 2012.
  • Horton, James Oliver and Lois E. Horton, Hard Road to Freedom: The Story of African America, Rutgers University Press, 2002.
  • Johnson, Charles; Patricia Smith, and the WGBH Research Team, Africans in America: America's Journey Through Slavery, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1999.
  • "Anthony Johnson", Thinkport Library
  • Klein, Herbert S. Slavery in the Americas; A Comparative Study of Virginia and Cuba.
  • Nash, Gary B., Julie R. Jeffrey, John R. Howe, Peter J. Frederick, Allen F. Davis, and Allan M. Winkler. The American People: Creating a Nation and a Society. 6th ed. New York: Pearson, 2004. 74-75.
  • Matthews, Harry Bradshaw, The Family Legacy of Anthony Johnson: From Jamestown, VA to Somerset, MD, 1619-1995, Oneonta, NY: Sondhi Loimthongkul Center for Interdependence, Hartwick College, 1995.
  • Russell, Jack Henderson. The Free Negro in Virginia, 1619-1865, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1913
  • WPA Writers' Program, Virginia, Guide to The Old Dominion, Oxford University Press, NY, 1940 (p. 378)

External links[edit]