Storm Bear

Black History: Transition from Servitude

Filed By Storm Bear | April 10, 2008 10:06 AM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: gay cartoons and comics, indentured servitude, slavery, webcomics

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The transformation from indentured servitude to racial slavery happened gradually. There were no laws regarding slavery early in Virginia's history. However, by 1640 the Virginia courts had sentenced at least one black servant to slavery.

In 1654, John Casor, a black man, become the first legally-recognized slave in the area to become the United States. A court in Northampton County ruled against Casor, declaring him property for life, "owned" by the black colonist mentioned before: Anthony Johnson. Since persons with African origins were not English citizens by birth, they were not necessarily covered by English Common Law.

The Virginia Slave codes of 1705 made clear the status of slaves. During the British colonial period, every colony had slavery. Those in the north were primarily house servants. Early on, slaves in the South worked on farms and plantations growing indigo, rice, and tobacco; cotton became a major crop after the 1790s. In South Carolina in 1720 about 65% of the population consisted of slaves. Slaves were used by rich farmers and plantation owners with commercial export operations. Backwoods subsistence farmers seldom owned slaves.

Some of the British colonies attempted to abolish the international slave trade, fearing that the importation of new Africans would be disruptive. Virginia bills to that effect were vetoed by the British Privy Council; Rhode Island forbade the import of slaves in 1774. All of the states except Georgia had banned or limited the African slave trade by 1786; Georgia did so in 1798 - although some of these laws were later repealed.

The West Africa Squadron was assisted by forces from the United States Navy, starting in 1820 with the USS Cyane. Initially this consisted of a few ships, but was eventually formalized by the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842 into the Africa Squadron.

A TCD reader suggested this documentary on Black History titled A Great and Mighty Walk.
View Documentary Here


When I went to school, we were never taught Black History. We never learned about the Black leaders, the long, agonizing history that brought most Blacks to America. Those atrocities were glossed over in favor of mindlessly boring topics like the X Y Z Affair.

This series of cartoons will review Black history as told from a Black mother to an interracial child. This series will be ugly, course, horrific and truthful. I will mostly abandon the commentary for an article on Black history.

This series is not about Obama or Hillary. I want to you to try to imagine how Black families tell their children of the atrocities their ancestors, all of them, suffered because of the color of their skin. Try to imagine how Black families counsel their children when someone calls them "nigger" for the first time. Can you imagine the bone crushing emotion that must well up? Can you imagine the agony, frustration and anger?

Can you imagine being the Black preacher who tries to paint a picture of a just God every Sunday? Especially in a country that claims where the notion of racism is a thing of the past, the job is difficult.

These strips may at times be entertaining and sometimes they may not - mostly not.

I don't want you to laugh so hard you cry, I want you to cry so hard you do something about it.

BIRTH OF A NOTION WALLPAPER is now available for your computer. Click here.

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imagine a law that would strip liberty and dignity from a human being...such a law would demean all humanity. and so it goes.....

Storm Bear, thanks for this. I'm really learning a lot from your Black history strips. I didn't realize that slavery wasn't actually a law on the books. Also, your point about 65% of the population being slaves makes the 3/5 compromise make a lot more sense.

That's what I thought too, Serena.

Who's Anthony Johnson though? Was he mentioned in another strip? There's no link!

About Anthony Johnson:

In some ways he was a lucky man. To be sure, finding yourself in bondage on a Virginia tobacco plantation was not the result of good luck, but Anthony Johnson would rise above his low status and undoubtedly become the envy of many colonists.

Anthony Johnson first arrived in Virginia in 1621. Referred to as "Antonio a Negro" in early records, Anthony went to work on a tobacco plantation. It's not clear whether he was an indentured servant (a servant contracted to work for a set amount of time) or a slave.

Anthony nearly lost his life in the spring of 1622. Virginia's Powhatan Indians, threatened by the encroachments of tobacco planters, staged a carefully-planned attack that took place on Good Friday. By the middle of the day, over three hundred and fifty colonists were dead. On the plantation where Anthony worked, fifty-two were killed. Only Anthony and four other men survived.

Anthony's luck continued. Several years later, "Mary a Negro" was brought in to work on the plantation -- she was the only woman on the plantation. At the time, Virginia was populated almost exclusively by men. Still, Anthony and Mary became husband and wife, and they had four children.

Anthony and Mary eventually bought their way out of bondage. They acquired their own land. During the 1640s Anthony and Mary lived at their own place, raising livestock. By the 1650s, their estate had grown to 250 acres. For any ex-servant -- black or white -- to own his own land was uncommon, despite the promise made by the Virginia Company to give a tract of land to each servant at the end of service. For an ex-servant to own 250 acres was rarer still.

In 1665 Anthony and his family sold their 250 acres and moved to Maryland, where they leased a 300-arce tract of land. Anthony died five years later, in the spring of 1670; Mary renegotiated the lease for another 99 years. That same year, a court back in Virginia ruled that, because "he was a Negro and by consequence an alien," the land owned by Johnson (in Virginia) rightfully belonged to the Crown.

Anthony Johnson lived a long life when, in America, disease and violent death by cruel overseers and Indian attacks resulted in low life expectancies. Court records reveal that he had the respect of his community -- a respect that would be denied African Americans in the years to come.