This post is gonna be both fun & fundamental for knowing the beginnings of racism in the TAST…
It was the middle of the 17th century. Although there was big money to be made from them, the numbers of enslaved Africans were still miniscule and barely noticeable among the sea of enslaved Europeans (approx 300:11,000). This surprises us, but that’s nothing. It should also be made clear that English weren’t the only slavers. As attested by Prof. Audrey Smedley, there were Africans who owned land and European slaves in this period. No that’s not a typo.
There were Africans who owned European slaves during the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
(Funny enough, White Cargo makes this assertion yet gives no specific examples. Names, dates, nothing. Time to rummage through other sources methinks!)
Back then skin colour made no difference to socioeconomic status. If you had the means and the desire you could own anything or anybody, and people were allowed to rise and fall in status. Nowadays it’s claimed ‘proper’ slavery began when the African war prisoners from the White Lion (see part 5) were bought by Sir George Yeardley & Abraham Piersey, the 2 richest planters at the time. BOLLOCKS! At the time there was no distinction between indentured servant and slave, so Africans were indentured just like the ‘whites’. And as this whole post series shows the TAST was originally a means for England to get rid of its unwanted people.
This also meant there were African planters with African servants too, unfortunately. Anthony/ Antonio Johnson (real name unknown) was an Angolan who’d been enslaved, gained his freedom after his indenture time then went on to become a slaver and tobacco planter. He founded the Angola Company, a colony based in Northampton County, and had been one of only 12 survivors of the Good Friday Massacre 1622 (see part 6).
Thirty years after setting foot on American soil, he got into a heated argument with one of his (African) servants John Casor (sometimes Cazara or Corsala). Casor had run away from Johnson, and when he was found by another planter he claimed he’d been forced to do an extra 7 years. That other planter, a ‘white’ guy called Robert Parker, sympathised with him so much he represented him in court for 2 years against Johnson! In time Johnson’s sons urged him to free Casor. All good until Johnson reneged, then made the courts compensate him for the 2 years AND made Parker pay up for harbouring a runaway! Even worse, Johnson forced the courts to give him the right to keep Casor FOR THE REST OF HIS LIFE!!! Even when Johnson died, Casor was still enslaved to his wife (Mary, herself an African) and 4 children!
Unfortunately this set a precedent: the TAST’s very first instance of lifelong servitude.
The very first documented instance of lifelong enslavement was in 1640. Since the 1620s slavery laws had been tightening up, which increased the number of runaways. The Virginian planter Hugh Gwyn bitched and moaned about his 3 runaways, John Punch (Cameroonian, Gabonese or Ivoirian?), Victor (Dutch) and James Gregory (Scottish). When caught in Maryland, Gwyn wanted to resell them there to save himself the travel cost. However, the Virginia court hated the idea of runaways getting away “scot free” and forced the governor of Maryland to take them back for exemplary punishment! What was the example? All 3 were whipped, Victor & James were ordered to serve the full terms of their indenture plus an extra year, and John was made to serve for the rest of his life.
All the colonies followed suit and allowed for African runaways to be enslaved for life: Massachusetts since 1641, Conecticut since 1650, Virginia from 1661, Maryland from 1663, New Jersey & New York from 1664, and the rest. The presence of lifelong slaves was now becoming commonplace. New laws forbade ‘black’ planters from buying ‘white’ slaves. In 1671 Virginia enforced a law that all newly-arriving ‘non-Christians’ would be enslaved for life, and a colonial assembly in 1673 legalised the enslavement of native Americans. It was at this point that law distinguished servants & slaves, but that’s not all. In total contradiction of English common law, Virginia made all children from a ‘white’ planter father & ‘black’ servant mother inherit the legal status of the mother. Not to mention the colonies switched from predominantly ‘white’ slaves to predominantly* ‘black’ ones.
This was also when our modern understanding of ‘race’ was born. Never before did Hausas, Akans, Oromos, ndi-Igbo, Nuers, Yorubas, Kongos, Ovimbundu, isiZulu or any Africans consider themselves the same on the basis of brown skin or shared continent. Never before did Angles, Saxons, Franks, Scots, Irish, Germans, Normans, Hellenes, Turks or any Europeans consider themselves the same on the basis of pink skin or shared (part of a) continent. Enslaved ones couldn’t afford to, but now they were being given advantages & privileges relative to Africans; it was now forbidden to whip them to death, and slave quarters were starting to be segregated.
* Predominantly being the operative word. This still didn’t mark the end of ‘white’ enslavement, not by a long shot…
Back to Part 10
On to Part 12