About the event
Slavery inside Africa was rampant long before Europeans began their infamous slave trade routes. Huge numbers of Africans were enslaved by Africans and when the slave went astray from his Black master’s wishes, the punishment was often harsh. Islam bought and sold/provided slaves under the rule of Islamic law. No one in the early known histories of the planet is void of slavery of one type or the other. In the American colonies of the 1600s, the first slave-for-life as ruled by a court, was owned by a former Black indentured servant, brought here from Angola. Slavery has been rife throughout all of ancient history. Most, if not all, ancient civilizations practiced this institution and it is described (and defended) in early writings of the Sumerians, Babylonians, and Egyptians. It was also practiced by early societies in central America and Africa. (See Bernard Lewis’s work Race and Slavery in the Middle East1 for a detailed chapter of the origins and practices of slavery.)
The Qur’an prescribes a humanitarian approach to slavery — free men could not be enslaved, and those faithful to foreign religions could live as protected persons, dhimmis, under Muslim rule (as long as they maintained payment of taxes called Kharaj and Jizya). However, the spread of the Islamic Empire resulted in a much harsher interpretation of the law. For example, if a dhimmis was unable to pay the taxes they could be enslaved, and people from outside the borders of the Islamic Empire were considered an acceptable source of slaves. Anthony Johnson was captured by slave traders in Angola. We do not know the color of the slave traders. He was sold as a slave to a White businessman in Virginia and worked in tobacco fields.
At this time in the history of the American/British colonies, slavery was considered “indentured servitude.” There was a contract, and after a period of time, the indentured servant was freed. That’s what happened with Anthony (Antonio) Johnson. Johnson’s owner released him, gave him a plot of land to farm, but before that happened, he married female slave, Mary, who worked on the same plantation. After about 14 years, both were freed and about 15 years later moved to Northhampton County, Virginia where Anthony Johnson became a successful businessman, eventually owning 500 acres and 5 “indentured servants.” Two-hundred and fifty of his 500 acres came from a “headright” claim.
Johnson was sued by one of his indentured servants, John Casor, for being held in servitude beyond his contracted period. Casor lost the case and is documented as the first person in the colonies to be declared a “slave” by a court. In the lawsuit resolution, Johnson received Casor’s servitude as a “servant for life (1653).Johnson’s life took many twists and turns but by 1665 he was living in Somerset County, Maryland where he started his tobacco farming business – named TORIES VINEYARDS.
Upon Johnson’s death, his property was seized with a court allowing the seizure by determining that a freed Black man could not be a “citizen of the colony.” His surviving family was allowed to keep some land. Eventually, his grandson lost it all by not paying taxes. Lesson: just because you have been a slave, doesn’t mean you don’t want a slave for yourself.
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