The First Legal Slave Owner in What Would Become the United States was a Black Man

anthony-johnsonToday I found out the first legal slave owner in the British colonies that would eventually become the United States was a black man.

The man was Anthony Johnson.  Johnson first came over to America as an indentured servant, arriving in 1620 in the Colony of Virginia.  He did not come over willingly, as many did, agreeing to become indentured servants in exchange for passage to the New World. Rather, Johnson was captured in Angola by neighboring tribesmen and eventually sold to a merchant who transported him to Virginia, where he was then sold to a tobacco farmer.

Despite this, Johnson was not technically a slave by the definition of the term in his era.  He was simply required to serve the farmer for a time in exchange for room and board.  However, like slaves, indentured servants could be sold or lent out to someone else, and, for the most part, they could be punished how those that owned their contracts saw fit.

One of the biggest differences between slaves and indentured servants was that once the indentured servant’s contract was up, depending on the agreement made with the person paying for transport, often the former servant would be given some small compensation for their services to help them get their start as free individuals.  This might include some amount of land, food (often a year’s worth), clothing, and tools.

During their time serving, indentured servants also typically learned some trade as they worked, which was significant for many who chose to make the journey to the Americas as indentured servants- often poor, uneducated individuals, lacking a trade, and in search of the promise of a better life.  Because of this, in the early days, most indentured servants in the British colonies in America were actually Irish, English, German, and Scottish, rather than African.

Johnson, of course, didn’t choose to come over. Nevertheless, once in America, he toiled away as a tobacco farmer for the duration of his contract.  During this time, he also met a woman (soon to be his wife) named simply “Mary”, who had been brought over to America about two years after Johnson, with her contract also being purchased by the same man who owned Johnson’s contract.

In 1635, after working on the tobacco farm for about 14 years, Johnson was granted his freedom and acquired land and the necessaries to start his own farm.  Sources are conflicting on whether he purchased the remaining years on his wife’s contract or whether she completed it, but in the end, the two, with their lives now their own, began working for themselves.

They soon prospered and took advantage of the “headright” system in place for encouraging more colonists, where if you paid to bring a new colonist over, whether purchasing them at the docks or arranging it before hand with someone, you’d be awarded 50 acres of land.  Similarly, those who paid their own passage would be given land under this system.

This leads us to 1654. One of Johnson’s servants, John Casor who was brought over from Africa, claimed he was under a “seaven or eight yeares” contract and that he’d completed it. Thus, he asked Johnson for his freedom.

Johnson didn’t see things this way, and denied the request. Despite this, according to Casor, Johnson eventually agreed to allow him to leave, with pressure supposedly coming from Johnson’s family who felt that Casor should be free.  Thus, Casor went to work for a man by the name of Robert Parker.

Either Johnson changed his mind or he never said Casor could go, because he soon filed a lawsuit against Parker claiming that Parker stole his servant, and that Casor was Johnson’s for life and was not an indentured servant.

Johnson ultimately won the case, and not only did he get his servant back, but Casor became Johnson’s slave for life as Johnson had said he was.  This officially made Johnson the first legal slave owner in the British colonies that would eventually become the United States. (There were other slaves before this in the Americas, many actually, just not ones that were legal in the British colonies under common law).

The judge’s decision on the matter was announced as follows:

This daye Anthony Johnson negro made his complaint to the court against Mr. Robert Parker and declared that hee deteyneth his servant John Casor negro under the pretence that said negro was a free man. The court seriously consideringe and maturely weighing the premisses, doe fynde that the saide Mr. Robert Parker most unjustly keepeth the said Negro from Anthony Johnson his master … It is therefore the Judgement of the Court and ordered That the said John Casor Negro forthwith returne unto the service of the said master Anthony Johnson, And that Mr. Robert Parker make payment of all charges in the suit.

About 7 years later, Virginia made this practice legal for everyone, in 1661, by making it state law for any free white, black, or Indian, to be able to own slaves, along with indentured servants, as they’d been able to have before.

While Johnson’s temporarily gain of being granted the services of one of his indentured servants for life no doubt had a positive affect on his thriving business, ultimately the gradual changing of attitudes in the colonies concerning slavery and race came back to hurt Johnson’s family, with slavery slowly becoming less about one’s original financial situation and more about where you or your ancestors were originally from.

When he died in 1670, rather than his thriving plantation going to his children, the court declared that “as a black man, Anthony Johnson was not a citizen of the colony” and awarded the estate to a white settler. Quite a contrast to the declaration in 1654 by the court that Johnson and his wife were “…inhabitants in Virginia (above thirty years) [and respected for] hard labor and known service.”

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Bonus Facts:

  • While most of the land in Johnson’s estate was taken away, his children were allowed a small portion of Johnson’s former property to use to provide for themselves, but even that 40 acres was lost by Johnson’s grandson, John Jr., when he was unable to pay his taxes one year.
  • While Johnson is generally considered by most historians to be the first legal slave owner in the British colonies that would become the United States, there was one person who preceded him in 1640 who owned a slave in all but name.  The virtual slave was John Punch, ordered to be an indentured servant for life, though by law was still considered an indentured servant with all the rights that went with that.  In Punch’s case, he was made a lifelong indentured servant owing to the fact that he tried to leave before his contract was up.  When he was captured and brought back, the judge in the matter decided a suitable punishment was to have Punch’s contract continue for the rest of his life.
  • What makes Punch’s case even more interesting (and unfair) is that when he ran away, he ran away with two white indentured servants who were also seeking to get out of their contract.  The punishment for the white indentured servants was not a lifetime of servitude, though.  Rather, they were given 30 lashes with a whip and a mere additional 4 years on their contracts.
  • The average price for bringing an indentured servant over to America in the 17th century was just £6.  Meaning that under the headright system, as long as you could afford to feed, clothe, and house them, you could acquire 50 acres of land for just over £1 per 10 acres.
  • The first Africans to be imported to the Americas were brought over in the 1560s, primarily in areas controlled by Spain.  The English colonies didn’t start importing Africans until much later, around 1619, just a couple years before Anthony Johnson was brought over. The first group to the British colonies were imported to Jamestown and comprised of 20 Africans who had been aboard a Spanish ship that was attacked by a Dutch vessel.  After the Dutch crew successfully took over the Spanish ship, they were left with 20 Africans who they took to Jamestown and declared were indentured servants, trading them for supplies.
  • In Virginia, in 1662, legislatures enacted a law stating that if you owned a slave, not only were they yours for life, but any children of a slave mother would also be a slave, regardless of whether the father was a slave or not.  Before this, the father’s status was typically what was used to determine the child’s status, regardless of race or the mother.
  • A further change of the laws came in 1670 when a law was passed forbidding those of African or Indian descent from owning any “Christian” slaves.  In this case, this did not necessarily mean literal Christian slaves; if you had a black or Indian slave who was a Christian, that was fine, as they were black or Indian, and thus “heathen”, regardless of what they said or believed or even if they were baptized.
  • A further hardening of the laws came in 1699. In an attempt to get rid of all the prominent free black people, Virginia enacted a law requiring all free black people to leave the colony, to further cement the majority of free people in the colonies as non-black, and allow the tyranny of the majority with respect to those of African descent to progress unhindered.  Many did not have the funds to actually leave, and some chose to ignore the decree, as relationships between whites and free blacks tended to be as you’d expect humans to act towards one another, namely somewhat friendly in many cases; this included some intermarrying, despite the fact that to some extent this was discouraged even then, primarily because Africans were considered “heathens”.  Obviously those either from Africa or of African descent who had married someone of European descent weren’t inclined to leave their spouses and homes. In fact, it’s estimated that about 80% of all those non-slaves of African descent in the United States between 1790 and 1810 were a product of this intermarrying in the Virginia colony.
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93 comments

  • but this is black-on-black slavery, and thus, is not to be commented on.

    • Daven Hiskey

      @daryl: The progression from the point where slavery / indentured servitude was more to do with class distinction, rather than race or color of skin or the like is the part I think is incredibly fascinating. Had those from various African nations been the majority of the populace in the Americas very early on, and able to easily defend their borders from the European powers as well as capture various Europeans to bring over, it would seem somewhat likely that it may have gone the other way with the whites ending up the slaves, as it was a case where there was a HUGE shortage of labor yet people became uncomfortable with their fellow countrymen being slaves. The captured and imported Africans provided an easy solution and color of skin provided a simple identifying dividing line.

      To get around the fact that it was morally reprehensible, the whole “heathen” thing was pushed, even though early on European missionaries were trying to convert the Africans. But then it became the general attitude that they couldn’t be Christians in some circles. Eventually additional de-humanizing tactics were gradually incorporated more and more. So, in the end, the tyranny of the majority ruled the day. But it’s just fascinating because the history books in the U.S. education system tend to paint it slightly differently, with the malice you see during the Civil War in the South particularly, being the way people acted all the time previous to that towards Africans. While there was certainly some of that, particularly with upper class attitudes towards them, among the lower classes, this wasn’t generally the case, with much socializing and intermarrying in the colonies as noted. (They were all just struggling for survival in the early days, so were more close knit.) It took about a century to gradually shift popular attitude to the sickening depth it eventually became, with the push being pretty much just about the fact that cheap labor was needed.

      So I’m not sure if that’s a testament to the fact that while people tend to look down on cultures not their own, people are basically good, but need to be taught to hate, or if it’s even more disturbing that people’s attitudes were manipulated so easily and on such arbitrary lines like what continent you are from and skin color, to do things that they normally would have thought extremely immoral. Whatever the case, the whole thing is a fascinating look at human psychology and the progression of American history.

      • A very fascinating article Daven, obviously very, very well researched. How many other facts about this abhorrent part of human history are we unaware of I wonder?

        • Daven Hiskey

          @Mod: Many, and others just as abhorrent, even more recently. For instance, when the U.S. government intentionally killed over 10,000 U.S. citizens simply because they liked to drink alcohol. And it should be noted that it wasn’t even illegal to drink alcohol at that time, just to sell, transport, or manufacture it. There are even Congressional records where many thought the program should be ramped up. This wasn’t even that long ago, relatively speaking. I find it incredibly fascinating how quickly we as humans forget such things. Although, I’m not complaining. I make my living off researching and writing about things like this. If everyone was well versed in these things, I’d be out of a job. :-)

      • For once slavery should be put into perspective. Slavery existed throughout human history in all parts of the world. It still exists in the “undeveloped world”. It was western civilization in the 18th century that banned slavery. Keep in mind that even most American Indian tribes kept slaves, some white. So if you want to agonize about slavery, fine. But quit acting like it was solely an American practice.

        • no!! slavery in American was a lot different from other race that had slave so don’t get that twisted. we as black people went through soooooo much because we were BLACK!! and you know that is true, no other race went through what we went through and still we face racist whites people everyday.

          • The jews were in bondage way before the blacks or any indentured servants. As well suffered way more than any other people

          • Tee, blacks owned slaves too. And free blacks were able to use slaves to be quite successful in the “white economy” right up to the civil war.

          • Take a look at the middle east at what ISIS is doing to tiny Christian girls of 5 and 6 years old being sold into slavery.
            To grant yourself the biggest victim in the history of mankind is really a stretch.
            The Indians made slaves out of each others defeated tribes.
            That is what tribal warfare does. It is seen as more humane than slaughtering everyone and very practical.
            Africa is still selling slave to the middle east.
            The Muslims took more that a million slaves from Europe.
            Pick up a book and read about it.
            Oh and the Irish were slaves into the colonies before blacks were for the crime of being Catholic.
            Google Irish slave trade.
            http://www.amazon.com/White-Gold-Forgotten-Africas-European/dp/0340895098

      • Sorry to burst your little bubble but long before there was a United States, the Dutch imported slaves into New Amsterdam.

      • Mr. Daven I tip my hat to you. Your response has been enlightening. My perspective on American history has shifted. Your response puts a face on the mysterious monstrosity of hate in this country.

    • Bull, it is still slavery. It shows that blacks have been involved in slavery themselves as the masters. But, guess that is ok.

    • …but these were not slave just cousins that were working for him and living in his outside houses

  • I hope the facts in the article are more authentic than the illustration. The man in the picture, who is wearing 19th century costume, cannot be Anthony Johnson, who lived 200 years earlier.

  • I’m not even going to read this. It cannot possibly be true. How did he come upon the whiteman’s name, being from Angola?

    • Daven Hiskey

      @Latifah Allah: Because upon arriving in America they were typically given new names, as also became common among voluntary immigrants later. As for his original name, that isn’t known. The first record of his name was simply “Antonio not given” in a census.

    • Latifah Allah. when slaves was finally freed they had no last name. they took the last names of their slave owners. many slaves refused to leave because they had no where to go.

    • Its very true that when a person arrived in the know land of what is now America, if they could not spell his name they gave him a new one that they could spell. It depended on where he would land when he came here. Even as late at 1550 when my great grandfather 8 times removed landed in Delaware, his name was changed from what ever it was to Stedman, Steadman, Stidham? I have never gotten his correct given name in research about him, not even from Ancestry.com

    • Latifah Allah…and it would be narrowed mindedness such as yours that has kept blacks in the ghettos of the world. You only want to read and remember the “bad” things that happened to “Africans”. If you opened up long enough to read, you would see that there were many more white slaves of that period than black!

      • My Great Grand father was “indentured” from Ireland … after being “extended” 3 times … he changed his name … ran away to join the army (Union) and fight for freedom for all. So, yes … their were white slaves … many more … don’t know …

  • How long are we going to accept black history being written by white men. They are even going as far as take slavery out of text books taught in school, so that we may forget.

    • Jesse Jackson XXX

      Not only was Anthony Johnson the first legal slave master in the Colonies,, he also was a rich plantation owner in the Tide Water area of Virginia and owned a total of 5 human chattel-….– 4 of 5 being WHITE

    • I agree that Black History should be taught along with US and World History, if not, we are leaving out a very important part of our past. I want to know about this history and what happened and where, when and how.

    • It is recorded in the archives in Virginia, which are in a museum, for anyone to see, so the court records speak themselves.

  • So John Punch was the first legal slave by practice and law.

    • July 9, 1640-Punishment for Runaway Servants

      [On July 9, 1640, members of the General Court decided the punishment for three servants-a Dutchman, a Scotsman, and an African-who ran away from their master as a group. The proceedings reveal an example of interracial cooperation among servants at a time when the colony’s leaders were starting to create legal differences between Europeans and Africans. John Punch became the first African to be a slave for life by law in Virginia.]

      Whereas Hugh Gwyn hath by order from this Board Brought back from Maryland three servants formerly run away from the said Gwyn, the court doth therefore order that the said three servants shall receive the punishment of whipping and to have thirty stripes apiece one called Victor, a dutchman, the other a Scotchman called James Gregory, shall first serve out their times with their master according to their Indentures, and one whole year apiece after the time of their service is Expired. By their said Indentures in recompense of his Loss sustained by their absence and after that service to their said master is Expired to serve the colony for three whole years apiece, and that the third being a negro named John Punch shall serve his said master or his assigns for the time of his natural Life here or elsewhere.

      Source: McIlwaine, ed., Minutes of the Council and General Court of Colonial Virginia, p. 466.

  • GTFOHWTBS, who cares? when i was in school i was never taught about white slaves. so why should all that be in the books. all it does sis teach blacks how to hate and use the race card.

    • jane: it does not matter whether or not you were taught about white slaves. It is important to have all this history about slavery in the books because it tells the story of the many slaves- both white and black- who had never had a voice or a chance to tell their stories. It shows the people of today that it shouldnt be repeated and that all men are created equal. and about your comment “all it does sis teach blacks to hate and use the race card.”- you are completely wrong. Most blacks dont pull out the racial card at all unless they do meet “racists”. Sure back when slavery was legal they had a good damn reason to feel hate and anger towards white men. I totally agree with you GTFOHWTBS. Why do white men take slavery out of textbooks now? Because their ashamed and trying to forget about the events that occured. That is not the way to go. We need to move on and accept slavery as a terrible past incident that still occassionally happens today. We need to teach people now that everyone is created equal.

  • Good read, but would be nic e if you added links. This is a factual part of history that is unknown to most. Most people are not even aware of where the term “slave” derives from,…. from white slaves. Both races were slaves, and whites were treated more harsh, then why do we have affirmative action? How many whites today are the decendents of slaves? Why are all movies only about black slaves, are they afraid of the repercussions of basing it on accurate history? I also read a while back that black and indians owned and sold many white slaves?? Why are liberals so afraid of this part of history? White libs think they are above it??

  • Are we not all economic slaves at this instant? We all have to work, give a large portion away to the owner (government). If you think you are free, try going somewhere without any money.

    • Jason, Me and my friends have gone on several cash-free vacations as I like to call them. We have gotten free travel (hitchiking), free food (from genuinely nice people or churches that feed the hungry) and free lodging (from nice people or YMCA’s). It’s not that hard, all you have to do is be humble and polite. People never cease to amaze me by their kindness.

  • I’m black and have never heard this….Why? I recently learned about Africans involvement in the slave trade and the Irish slaves…We need to teach it all otherwise we will have a bunch of ignorant adults in society. I certainly look at slavery from a different perspective now.

    • Niki, please don’t be mislead by this story. It’s intent is to once again, deflect from the truth, and crucify black people. Anthony J [Hanson was a slave humself, kidnapped from Angola and sold to a tobacco farmer. They misconstrue the story by referring to him as an indentured servant, which we know is a softened word for slavery. His name is that of his master. Servants don’t change their names. His owner changed it because he was his property. I could go on and on, but please, take the initiative to research your own history. Don’t depend on what others try to manipulate you with.

      • You got to look at all facts, rather than cherry pick. I suggest research this on Wikipedia on your own. Indentured servants were a huge labor force at the time and he in fact was such a servant who did his time and then himself, as a free man, had servants and sued to keep a get a black servant to be his for life. Your conjecture of why he did it is hyperbole made up out of thin air, not found anywhere in research. How ridiculous is that? If you have the research go add to the wiki. All races are represented in this new medium going after the truth of any subject. You’re way too emotional and conspiratorial to be mentally balanced. Cognitive dissonance.

      • Amazing you and people like you live in one state. The state of DENIAL! There were plenty of free black men who owned slaves. The Richard family of Louisiana had a plantation of close to 200 slaves. Free blacks in all of the colonies especially in South carolina owned slaves. How is this information crucifying blacks? If anything it shows that we as blacks have the same mental capacity meaning reason and logic as the white man. Free blacks who owned slaves had the same reasoning as whites for owning them, TO EARN A PROFIT! Why is it so hard for black folks to understand this. Thats a problem with us as a people today. We cant see ourselves in our whole humanity. We have done good as a people and we have done bad. We cant continue to see ourselves as innocent victims we are not INNOCENT and we are not VICTIMS. It does not bother me one bit to know that we were slaveowners. In this case it might not be something to emulate but it is what it is. Is it a coincidence today that too many blacks label capitalism as evil as if it was equal to owning and selling slaves? An idea maybe someone can get Dr Henry Louis Gates of Finding your Roots to do a search on black slaveowners and find the black descedents of the slaves that were owned by blacks and start a reparations case against the black slave owner family. Now that would be somrthing to see!

      • Some here have equated indentured servanthood as another term for slavery. If that’s true, my white ancestors who came from Europe were enslaved as well. True enough none of us had or have money, or owned tobacco plantations, like the Al Gores of the world, so maybe it’s because we too were enslaved.

    • Nikki, please don’t be dissuaded from exploring and learning the truth by being discouraged by people like Amazing. I learned what you have mentioned, and much more, starting as an undergraduate at UCLA thanks to the (then) Afro-American Research Library. The book there that opened my eyes was “Anti-racism in US History” by Herbert Aptheker. You can buy it on Amazon. There is a wealth of information online. It is shocking when you first hear it, there is a LOT to learn, but the truth is out there and thanks to the internet available to everyone.

    • Were you aware, that a black man, is responsible for slavery being made legal in this country.

  • The actual name listed is Antonio, which is not an African name; it is a Portuguese and Italian name of Latin origin. He is said to be from Angola, where at that time a black Queen reigned over that empire. These people were actually what is miscalled today the Roman Empire. The first slaves in the empire were whites. If you research white slaves you will find a long history of white slavery on both sides of the Atlantic and white female prostitution in Australia and American during the 18th and 19th century. The White Slave Trade Act of 1910 was established to combat white female prostitution during the mass immigration, 28 million, from eastern Europe between 1880 and 1920. History is mangled to protect whites’ true past and origin.

  • What I find most fascinating, is the fact that they keep referring to this man as the first slave owner, when it is apparent he was a slave! The play on words like “he didn’t come over willingly” he was captured, like all the rest of the slaves before him! “Indentured servant working to pay his room and board” — he was sold to the man; and forced to be here. It is amazing how people are now trying to deflect from the wrong doings of slavery by trying to put it off as a black man owning the first slave, by throwing the word legal in there. The slave he fought to own was a family member he was fighting to get back from the White man who kidnapped him. He fought to make him his slave for life, to avoid having him sold and abused by a white man! Not his slave to use and abuse as was what slavery typically was. I am amazed!!

    • You’re be to emotional, indentured servitude play a huge part in the growing of early colonies. He was “captured” by his countrymen in Angola and when he got here, even if he desired freedom initially, he soon realized that he would be given land, tools and compensation when his contract was finished and took pride in his work. He became a very successful tobacco farmer and bought five servants (four of them white) to strengthen his business and he and his family lived comfortably until his death.

    • Also, where did you get this from:”The slave he fought to own was a family member he was fighting to get back from the White man who kidnapped him”?

      Where is there any proof of this?

    • No he was an indentured servant. His boss, paid for him to come to this country, and he had to work the cost of his passage, food, while on the ship off over a period of time. Some where from 7 TO 12 years, and this was the standard for all indentured servants.

  • Oh you morons……do you where does term “slave” comes from?

    Slave=Slav=Slavic people. White as my hairless ass.

    In case you don´t know, Slavic people = Ex-Yugoslavia (Croatia/Serbia/Bosnia/Montenegro/Some Russians/Some Ukrainians)

    The orginal term is latin, from the Roman Empire, and the got a lot of slaves from that area back in that time.

    There´s been slavery since the man is man, no matter the color, no matter the harshness or indulgence, no matter what.

    Black/white/yellow whatever color you want to choose, none of them are innocent, since none of them are other than human, thus capable of such a thing.

    Oh, and I forgot…….Morons yet again.

  • You people are so gullible to things you read on the INTERNET of all places . He most definitely was not the first legal slave owner in the US, this notion is utterly insane and can be disproved by a visiting a library or a research based college course . He was ONE OF THE FIRST BLACK PEOPLE TO OWN SLAVES in the colonies, but most definitely not the first slave owner. How is that even possible when he arrived as a slave himself, against his will?

    • Daven Hiskey

      @eddie: “most definitely not the first slave owner” Nobody said first slave owner. First known LEGAL slave owner in the British colonies. Certainly there were other slaves and given Johnson himself was brought against his will to serve as an indentured servant, by modern definitions as you’re using, we’d call him a slave, though they did not consider it such, all as noted in the article.

      • July 9, 1640-Punishment for Runaway Servants

        [On July 9, 1640, members of the General Court decided the punishment for three servants-a Dutchman, a Scotsman, and an African-who ran away from their master as a group. The proceedings reveal an example of interracial cooperation among servants at a time when the colony’s leaders were starting to create legal differences between Europeans and Africans. John Punch became the first African to be a slave for life by law in Virginia.]

        Whereas Hugh Gwyn hath by order from this Board Brought back from Maryland three servants formerly run away from the said Gwyn, the court doth therefore order that the said three servants shall receive the punishment of whipping and to have thirty stripes apiece one called Victor, a dutchman, the other a Scotchman called James Gregory, shall first serve out their times with their master according to their Indentures, and one whole year apiece after the time of their service is Expired. By their said Indentures in recompense of his Loss sustained by their absence and after that service to their said master is Expired to serve the colony for three whole years apiece, and that the third being a negro named John Punch shall serve his said master or his assigns for the time of his natural Life here or elsewhere.

        Source: McIlwaine, ed., Minutes of the Council and General Court of Colonial Virginia, p. 466.

    • Slave implies being owned for life, with no recourse or rights and owed no compensation. All of these are rebutted by the facts of his arrangement and legal contract. It was the post middle-ages equivalent of feudalism, not an ideal working situation but he was nobodies property like slaves were.

    • These facts are in the court records in Virginia, and anyone can research them and see them, so its not just some junk, this is REAL FACTS.

  • Interesting Mathias is making up his own etymology of the word slave – where they heck did you get that history of the word… here try this Old English Wealh “Briton” also began to be used in the sense of “serf, slave” c.850; and Sanskrit dasa-, which can mean “slave,” apparently is connected to dasyu- “pre-Aryan inhabitant of India.” Grose’s dictionary (1785) has under Negroe “A black-a-moor; figuratively used for a slave,” without regard to race. More common Old English words for slave were þeow (related to þeowian “to serve”) and þræl (see thrall). The Slavic words for “slave” (Russian rab, Serbo-Croatian rob, Old Church Slavonic rabu) are from Old Slavic *orbu, from the PIE root *orbh- (also source of orphan), the ground sense of which seems to be “thing that changes allegiance” (in the case of the slave, from himself to his master). The Slavic word is also the source of robot.

    you people are trying to rewrite history – it just does not work that way

    • Augustina harker: Mathias is correct. You are dishonest. You cut and paste information from the online etymology dictionary, but you somehow *didn’t* bother quoting the first paragraphs that explain the derivation of slave from Slav: “slave (n.)
      late 13c., “person who is the chattel or property of another,” from Old French esclave (13c.), from Medieval Latin Sclavus “slave” (source also of Italian schiavo, French esclave, Spanish esclavo), originally “Slav” (see Slav); so used in this secondary sense because of the many Slavs sold into slavery by conquering peoples.
      This sense development arose in the consequence of the wars waged by Otto the Great and his successors against the Slavs, a great number of whom they took captive and sold into slavery. [Klein]
      …there is more, followed by the unattributed quote you cut and paste. Here is the link to the full entry that you selectively borrowed without attribution: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=slave

    • No we actually read documents which, show that these things are true, they have just been left out of black history, so that blacks would keep blaming whites for slavery, when in fact a black, man caused legislation to be passed to allow everyone in the country to own slaves.

  • How is it that we can assume any part of a time we attach to what-we-want-to-see. Slavery is both physical and mental. I would like to think past the idea that one man started a “way of thinking”. Looking into political fixes we find many who stand out as though they were/are in control only to find they are dangling from many strings as a puppet with a master. This great find, as some of you would label it, tells very little of anything. Most major decisions started as simple moments of disclosures of “bright ideas”, which many times entailed future plans for the economy. It is sort of a simple way of looking at history to say- “here’s a guy who……..and was made the first slave owner.” Nothing in history has ever been that easy to dissect. What underlining story is missing here- we may never know. So we take the conduced version and add a photo. History is a passion of mine and I have yet to find a story that has no controversy to how it is being told. Which brings me back to my opening statement: “How is it that we can assume any part of a time we attach to what-we-want-to-see. “

    • Indentured servants were of all races, but mostly Whites at this time period in this countries history, with a few blacks. So, the facts and documents which still exists today in the court archives in Virginia show this facts, so its not made up stuff, these are TRUE facts. Sorry!

  • How can John Punch be sentence to “serve his said master or his assigns for the time of his natural life here or else where” and not be considered a slave? I am confused on how an Indentured Servant, could be that, for life. This is a full 15 years for Johnson-Casar case.

    • Because he refused to finish out his indentured period of time, which his boss had paid for, and it was a large amount of money, so when he ran off, his boss was out of that money, so the court took this as a break in contract Punch agreed to, so his punishment was severe.

  • Katherine Sommers

    I am interested in knowing more about the political make up of the Virginia State Legislature during the 1600’s. What political arm thought it was a good idea to establish and protect the right to own another person’s life and their children’s lives? Where’s a good place to find this info?

  • Lool post slavery it’s like white people do their best to come up with some sort of justification for what their ancestors did for example “their was slavery in Africa before Europeans came” (which was more arab slave owners than african) or like in this instance “they were doing it themselves” as it that somehow makes if justifiable. I was always under the impression that the first slaves were brought over to America about 1618-1619 so why do we then wait until 1635 until we’re declare someone as the first “slave owner” oh sorry I mean ‘legal’ slave owner… If that even makes sense! Also constantly bringing up the fact that whites enslaved so many whites only further proves the villainous mindset of the European. I’m sorry but I can see absolutely no reason for desperately trying to prove how Africans were slaves owners aswel other than to justify what was to come, I’m open to any replies. @ daven hisky

    • I think it is very significant to synthesize the information that is known and speculate about the unknowns.

      1. African slaves were stolen and or sold for their skills and this may explain why an African servant was more valuable than a non-African. The colonies were suffering from famine and Africans from certain countries were known for crops. The one that comes to mind is Sierra Leone for rice.

      That could explain why Antonio Johnson’s value dwindled and he was disinherited: as soon as the non-Africans learned to plant and tend to the land, they had no use for Africans. If the Africans and non-African indentured servants intermarried, they would overthrow those in power due to their strength in number. They would have the land, money and the power. The bread and circus: appease the non-Africans by giving them a higher social status and equal rights as those in power.

      2. Barbarians had slavery and that brutal form of slavery may have been adopted by the colonies’ practices of the evil institution. Slavery is inherently immoral and African slavery differed from Arab and other forms of slavery. I do believe that American slavery was unique because one was enslaved from cradle to grave (infants to elders). Arabs were known for manumission upon conversion to Islam.

      3. Arabs inherit servants. Tahir Shah, a travel author who moved to Morroco, mentioned how he inherited servants with his newly purchased home. This seems to be in line with persons being bequeathed to another person. This only applied to Africans and their descendants in the US.

      4. Slavery was the official policy of the Federal government and that of several states’. Even though the word slavery is not mentioned in the US Constitution, it is implied in the Articles by “all other persons”, three-fifths, and “migration”. Amistad, Dred Scott, Plessy, and other U.S. Supreme Court cases institutionalized slavery. It was African race-based and perpetuated. The color “black” replaced African because a nationality would humanize chattel and give that particular nation an interest in its people.

      Slavery was not allowed under English Commom Law and that is also what adds value to this post. There is a US court case in which the Africans were freed because English Common Law could not allow slavery. Positive Law under the U.S. Constitution and other states’ codified slavery.

      5. Some freed people of African descent did buy their family and others to free them. Those who adapted to capitalism would have purchased slaves for profit.

      Thanks to the author and those who commented.

    • Just like black people are always blaming white people for anything and everything wrong in their lives, this just shows, that blacks only want to hear the parts of history that makes them the victim, whether that had a hand in what happened to them back the. Anthony Johnson cause legislation to be changed so everyone could own slaves. Before he went to court in 1651, there was only indentured servants, of all races, but after he had John Casor made his life slave, slavery was made legal 7 years later.

    • Simple. Because without including the complicit nature of everyone involved in the history of slavery, we are tethered to demonizing whites in America as the singular reason for slavery and in doing so, become the hypocrites and the racists.

  • actually Johnson was not the first legal slave. The man name was Punch. He came over as an indentured. But he and two other white indentured decided to run away. When caught, the white men received two more years of service, but Punch, he received a lifetime of servitude, which made him the first legal slave.

    • No Punch was punished for running away from his indentured boss, causing him to be out a huge amount of money, he put out to bring Punch to this country, then Punch decided he was not going to work out his indentured time period and ran away, which caused the courts to make his punishment severe, to show other indentured servants, what would happen if anymore of them decided to follow Punch’s example, and what would happen to them.

      • This is another conservative myth. The first slaveowner was Hugh Gwyn, a wealthy white landowner, a justice, and a member of the House of Burgesses, representing Charles River County (which would become York County in 1642). John Punch was his indentured servant who was sentenced to a life of servitude as punishment for running away in 1640. It was the first time anyone had been sentenced to servitude for life. That ruling essentially made him a slave @dktumlinson. Duh.

        But even if it was true, so what??? It doesn’t excuse what white Americans have done to blacks ever since they were brought here. White people enslaved other white people for eons; so did Africans. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

        What happened in the U.S. was different. American slaveowners bred their slaves like animals. They fornicated with their slaves, raping young girls, against their will. For example, in 1850, landowner Robert Newsom of Missouri purchased a fourteen-year-old girl named Celia. Over the next five years, Newsom would force the teenager to have sex on demand. Disgusting freakin’ pedophile. The sexual assaults continued, even when she was pregnant. Celia begged Newsom to leave her alone, at least through her pregnancy, but the slave owner was unreceptive. The last time he tried to rape her, she killed him. https://books.google.com/books?id=dlSpAgAAQBAJ&pg=PA37&lpg=PA37&dq=female+slave+killed+her+owner+after+he+forced+her+to+have+sex&source=bl&ots=WUs1LdUXH5&sig=WSGXnfSkP_V_168BgFfqHvb_WtI&hl=en&sa=X&ei=7jqgVcOvFoznoAT3gpv4BQ&ved=0CCYQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=female%20slave%20killed%20her%20owner%20after%20he%20forced%20her%20to%20have%20sex&f=false

        And a handful of black slave owners doesn’t outweigh this country’s history of racism, empire, and genocide. Or institutional racism, which is alive and well today. You conservatives always use this argument as your excuse. You’re not only wrong – you’re insensitive as hell. And you call yourselves Christian. What a joke.

  • Sorry, not falling for the Okie-Doke here. We’re supposed to believe it just because you write it? No. The last thing I’m going to do is believe this or buy some book written by someone who doesn’t have my best interest at heart. If this article had been written by a respected, reputable African-American History Scholar, eg Dr. Jeffries, Dr. Clark et al, it would be 1. Believable, 2. Worth spending time researching. There’s enough authentic history for me to catch-up on, written by AfricanAmerican History scholars. My wife and I each hold 2 college degrees, have very busy lives/careers and 3 children- 2 play futbol at a high level (one at 2 different clubs, 1 runs track, 1 dances and swims, 2 in orchestra. My time is important and limited. I study and research topics for my field of expertise as well. I decide which historic information to research, which books to read, which videos to watch. So I’m not buying into this one. There’s been enough miseducation from folks outside of my community and others with agendas, to go around the world many times. And you can reply to this with nasty insults if you like, but don’t waste your time because I won’t be logging on to read them.

    • Works from some the great Black historians. Harvard black historian Dr. Henry Louis Gates.
      http://www.theroot.com/articles/history/2013/03/black_slave_owners_did_they_exist.html

      Read the brilliant Black Historian Carter G. Woodson. Born in 1875, the first black Harvard doctorate. Father of Black History Month.
      https://archive.org/stream/freenegroownerso00wood#page/n11/mode/2up

      From the 1830 Census; of 3,776 free Negroes owned 12,907 slaves. 42% of the free black slave owners owned d just one slave. In other words, most black slave owners probably owned family members to protect them, but far too many turned to slavery to exploit the labor of other black people for profit.

      https://archive.org/stream/journalofnegrohi00wood#page/250/mode/2up/search/%2C000
      (There was no court written slavery law mid-1600s, as there were only 2 dozen blacks servants. The 75-100 years prior, 30,000 Irish were the indentured servants. The Brits kidnapped the Irish and imprisoned them; and sold their freedom back to them, after 7 years work in the New Colony.)
      https://archive.org/stream/freenegroownerso00wood#page/n11/mode/2up

      Perhaps the most insidious or desperate attempt to defend the right of black people to own slaves was the statement made on the eve of the Civil War by a group of free people of color in New Orleans, offering their services to the Confederacy. “The Negro slave-holders, like the white ones, fought to keep their chattels in the Civil War.” Rogers also notes that some black men, including those in New Orleans at the outbreak of the War, “fought to perpetuate slavery.”

      In a fascinating essay reviewing this controversy, R. Halliburton shows that free black people have owned slaves “in each of the thirteen original states and later in every state that countenanced slavery,” at least since Anthony Johnson and his wife Mary went to court in Virginia in 1654 to obtain the services of their indentured servant, a black man, John Castor, for life.

      John H. Russell lists specific dates and pages of filed court case records in the early-mid 1600s documenting governing laws for black indentured servants, White indentured servants, free black servants, free black children of indentured servants, free black servants turned black slave owners, and so forth.
      https://books.google.com/books?isbn=1605206539
      According to economic historian Stanley Engerman, “In Charleston, South Carolina about 42 percent of free blacks owned slaves in 1850, and about 64 percent of these slaveholders were women.” Greed, in other words, was gender-blind.

  • Inflector Goldwaters

    This is not true… The first person to be given a life sentence of slavery by a Court order was “John Punch” in 1640 James town Va. John and two other Europeans ran-away from their indentured “master”; when they were caught the two Euros received 4 more years of servitude, but John and his offspring were condemned to a life time of slavery… Yes, Johnson did have indentured servants and slaves, but He was not the first man, so-called “black or white” in the USA or Colonies to get a Court order to make a man or woman a salve…

    • Ok, if that is the case, with all the research I have endured, who do you say was? In the long run, it keads back to Johnson, and again, there was an active reign of a Queen at that time, whom was black. I’m sick of this poor African American. It has never been about you, but about the true meaning of slavery. Plus the slavery that continues. It invovles all races, children, men, and women. People!! Please!! Educate yourselves.

  • This article is NOT TRUE. #1 The first 20 slave arrived in the Colony of Virginia in 1619. Long before Johnson was a free man. #2 And most importantly, The Colony of Virginia was a British colony ruled by the King of Engand. The was NO such thing as the United States of America, for well over anther 100 years. So it was impossible for him to have been he first slave owner in the United States

  • Before any one starts whining about color and slavery..educate yourselves..COMPLETELY!. The civil war was about economics and not slavery. People of all races have been slaves throughout world history. The black man in Africa enslaved his so called ” BROTHER” and sold him to the white man..this is how black slavery started!. So, why is it that we only hear about the white man, enslaving the black man?. You need to start at the “ROOTS” of this issue and not selectively choose bits and pieces to fit your agenda.

    The bottom line is…ITS ALL BOUT CHOICE! You cannot self segregate yourself as a race then scream oppression or racism..there is no oppression, there are black people in all levels of the government and corp America, not forgetting as a president too. If, you choose use your race as an excuse to disobey the law and commit crimes, then use it as “I’m a victim”, you are the racist. I have yet to see a white,Asian,Hispanic and others burn down towns and riot, when one of their own commits a crime and is arrester or killed by a Law enforcement officer of any race?…

    Bottom line here is get and education, job, self-respect and assimilate into society as any other civilized human would do.

  • They called that indentured servant back in the days. It was a contract to work for a certain amount of years at the end of the contract the slave regained his freedom. Sometimes times he get land or a small amount of money to start on his own. Very different than slavery that we all know. Anthony Johnson after he got his freedom he got into business for himself. But he was the first to change the business. He sued someone else for taking his slave after the servant contract ended. He claimed that the man was his for life. Greedy bastard!!!

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