The Historical Significance of Anthony Johnson
August 1, 2021 | View PDF
We are constantly bombarded with issues instigated by individuals attempting to cause division in America. For example, the 1619 Project (reminiscent of something in the old parody magazine, National Lampoon), Critical Race Theory (an outgrowth of Marxism), and a seemingly endless stream of individuals who insist they are victims. What kind of parent would want their children to consider themselves victims? As Booker T. Washington observed: “Nothing ever comes to one, that is worth having, except as a result of hard work.”
The “government-approved” version of history claims the first twenty Africans who arrived in Virginia were slaves. However, the first British colony (later called a State) to legalize slavery was Massachusetts (1640), the second was Connecticut (1652), and the third was Virginia (1661). As the saying goes: “Something does not compute.”
In August 1619, twenty indentured Africans landed at Jamestown, Virginia, disembarking from the English ship The White Lion. It is recorded that the ship’s captain “sold” these individuals. In the vernacular of the time, that terminology was used to reference indentured servants, who, of course, were predominantly Caucasian. Rou¬¬¬ghly equivalent to a work contract, the indentures generally ran from three to seven years. Upon completion of the agreement the servant would be free to go his (or her) own way, having typically learned a trade or skill to become productive and self-sufficient. “Masters” were sometimes guilty of extending indentures based on flimsy evidence of violation of the terms, i.e., indentures could be illegitimately held beyond the legally set time.
One of the indentured servants believed to be in the original group of twenty was Anthony Johnson. Thought to be from Angola and often referenced as “Antonio a Negro,” Johnson would become a pivotal figure in American history.
Johnson worked at Bennett’s Welcome, a tobacco plantation located on the southern side of the James River. On March 22, 1622, over 350 colonists were killed in an Indian massacre. Fifty-three individuals were killed at Bennett’s Welcome; however, Johnson managed to escape. Later in 1622, another ship arrived at Virginia’s shores. On board was “Mary a Negro Woman” (also thought to be Angolan) and she ultimately became Johnsons’ wife. They would have two sons and two daughters.
Around 1635 Johnson was freed from his indenture and he immediately started his own farm with his wife. Johnson had servants who worked on his farm. Eventually John Casor became one of those servants.
Casor insisted that Johnson held him beyond his indenture (thought to be seven or eight years). This was considered to be a serious offense during that era. Fearing possible legal repercussions, Johnson let Casor go in 1653. Casor then went to work for Robert Parker. After this relationship unfolded, Johnson sued Parker (who helped Casor gain his freedom), asserting that Casor owed lifetime service to him (Johnson). This was the court case Johnson vs. Parker, Northampton County. On March 8, 1655, Johnson won the case. Casor was returned to Johnson’s service, and Parker was ordered to pay the costs of the lawsuit. As author Francis W. Springer noted, this entitled Anthony Johnson to be called “The Father of Negro Slavery in Virginia.” In other words, a Black “slave-owner” won a lawsuit that established lifetime servitude in Virginia. Springer also noted that Johnson imported his own servants and even established a community of free Blacks. [Some insist John Punch was the first slave in “English” Virginia in 1640; however, his sentence of lifetime servitude was punishment for the “crime” of attempting to escape to Maryland. Of course, Black slaves were said to among the Spanish who came to the Americas in the 1500s.]
A sound argument could be made that anyone who has actually been held as a slave might deserve compensation. Can anyone identify individuals in America who meet those qualifications? Furthermore, any historian with a clue understands the following: Africans sold other Africans in the slave trade, beginning with the Arabs in the 700s, and later the Europeans in the 1400s; the English dominated the slave trade for years; the New England States operated the slave trade in America; and every racial and ethnic group in America owned slaves (White, Jewish, American Indian, Hispanic, Asian, etc.), including at least 3,775 Black slave-owners.
Only about 5% of African slaves were brought to North America, yet, in the modern “media” the Southern and Border States receive the brunt of the criticism for a practice that predates the time Jesus Christ walked on earth.
History shows beyond a reasonable doubt that everyone had a hand in it—even Abe Lincoln admitted that fact. The case of Anthony Johnson is an example of the folly of broad brushing an extremely complicated history by selectively demonizing some people and giving others a free pass.
Sources: “Ambitious Slave-turned-Slaveowner enjoys Farm Success,” George Tucker, from The Virginia Pilot, August 21, 1994; “Court Ruling on Anthony Johnson and his Servant (1655)”; “Anthony Johnson’s place in American history significant, says ASU historian,” Calvin Schermerhorn, Arizona State University News; “The First Slave”, Ariana Kyl, from “Today I Found Out: Feed Your Brain”; and War for What?, by Francis W. Springer.