What was the Origin of Slavery in America? The Courts!

Yes, that’s right: the courts started slavery in this nation.  What’s more, the first slave was owned by a black man.  But I bet you didn’t know that, did you?  Of course not.  Your schools were so determined to undermine your support for the founding ideals and principles of this nation that they taught you our founders were just a bunch of rich, racist, slave-owning white men trying to hold on to their wealth and power.  That’s probably why you don’t know how many black Colonists were involved in fighting for and help establish America’s independence.  But that is another story.  For now, here is why we should never just assume the court is right and that a law deserves our blind obedience:

America’s first slave owner was a black man.

According to colonial records, the first slave owner in the United States was a black man.

Prior to 1655 there were no legal slaves in the colonies, only indentured servants. All masters were required to free their servants after their time was up. Seven years was the limit that an indentured servant could be held. Upon their release they were granted 50 acres of land. This included any Negro purchased from slave traders. Negros were also granted 50 acres upon their release.

Anthony Johnson was a Negro from modern-day Angola. He was brought to the US to work on a tobacco farm in 1619. In 1622 he was almost killed when Powhatan Indians attacked the farm. 52 out of 57 people on the farm perished in the attack. He married a female black servant while working on the farm.

When Anthony was released he was legally recognized as a “free Negro” and ran a successful farm. In 1651 he held 250 acres and five black indentured servants. In 1654, it was time for Anthony to release John Casor, a black indentured servant. Instead Anthony told Casor he was extending his time. Casor left and became employed by the free white man Robert Parker.

Anthony Johnson sued Robert Parker in the Northampton Court in 1654. In 1655, the court ruled that Anthony Johnson could hold John Casor indefinitely. The court gave judicial sanction for blacks to own slave of their own race. Thus Casor became the first permanent slave and Johnson the first slave owner.

Whites still could not legally hold a black servant as an indefinite slave until 1670. In that year, the colonial assembly passed legislation permitting free whites, blacks, and Indians the right to own blacks as slaves.

By 1699, the number of free blacks prompted fears of a “Negro insurrection.” Virginia Colonial ordered the repatriation of freed blacks back to Africa. Many blacks sold themselves to white masters so they would not have to go to Africa. This was the first effort to gently repatriate free blacks back to Africa. The modern nations of Sierra Leone and Liberia both originated as colonies of repatriated former black slaves.

However, black slave owners continued to thrive in the United States.

By 1830 there were 3,775 black families living in the South who owned black slaves. By 1860 there were about 3,000 slaves owned by black households in the city of New Orleans alone.

John Casor
Anthony Johnson

Notice how the courts not only established slavery, they did so in contradiction to what was then the law.  In this case, by right, the court should have determined whether or not Robert Parker had served his seven years.  If he had, then he should have been freed.  But – even if he had not – then the court should have ONLY ordered he fulfill his obligation.  There was no basis in law to make the man a slave.  This was a violation of English common law and Natural Law.

For those who think this is some sort of “spin,” here is the same story from PBS.  If that is not a “credible” enough source for you, then I doubt anything will ever convince you of the truth:

From Indentured Servitude to Racial Slavery

20 thoughts on “What was the Origin of Slavery in America? The Courts!

  1. Wow. This was a History lesson for sure. I had no knowledge of this.

    Really puts a LOT in persepective doesn’t it…………. as does the Embarkation point in Africa being owned and opperated by a Black African Kingdom enslaving other Blacks and selling them to Arabs and white Slavers !!

    • Don,

      Ever see the famous painting of “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World?” One of the handful of Colonists to fall in that exchange was a black man. He is in that picture — lying on the ground.

      The picture of Washington crossing the Delaware: another free black Colonial soldier in that picture.

      I do not remember the scene/battle, but there is still another of a free black man standing behind a Colonial general from a third famous painting.

      The role of blacks in the Revolution has been erased by….say it with me, now… P-R-O-G-R-E-S-S-I-V-E-S-!

      • The Black who was killed was in the Boston Massacre I believe.

        John Adams went on to defend the Btitish troops involved so they could get a Fair trial.

        You’re right, Black Contribution to the Revolution and the Cause of Liberty from the Tyranny of the Central Gov’t of England has been erased.

  2. The black man shot at the Boston Massacre was named Crispus Attucks. But then I went to grade school before they purged stuff like that out of the history meme.

    • Sally,

      Isn’t it funny how those of us who went to school when our schools still believed in, supported and trumpeted America’s heritage have a vastly different understanding of the world from those who go to school today?

      But then, those kids and their teachers would just say WE were the ones brainwashed — even though their boy, Dewey, said they had to do the brainwashing to us.

  3. Good post, B. If I can just add:

    Some consider John Punch as the first slave simply because he was sentenced to life of servitude because he broke his indenture by running away. Casor was found by the courts to never have an indenture, even though he swore he did, that he was just brought here by Johnson. Therefore Johnson owned him outright as blacks could own other blacks but not whites.

    As far as the ACS goes, it is correct that the repatriation was based of fear of freed blacks and they would influence uprisings from enslaved ones. There were also other reasons. There was one wealthy black board member that supported the movement because he felt blacks could have a better life in Africa. He was John Cuffee. Now, Andrew Jackson simply felt that blacks were heathens and criminal (native Americans also) that could never succeed in America, so that was his part reasoning for repatriation. Monroe felt that blacks would never escape America’s prejudices, so he supported the movement from afar. Lincoln tried but he met resistance from abolitionists and didn’t want blacks just dropped off at a port in Liberia, since the blacks and whites that went there were dying from diseases. Also, people should know that most of the people that left, left voluntarily. Yes, whites went also to help. They dreamed of an “America in Africa.” Throughout history there were always whites that helped. They too, get very little credit for what they did. Not many blacks were forced to leave America though. Plus there were associated costs involved that severely hampered the movement. Ultimately it failed.

    “There was no basis in law to make the man a slave. This was a violation of English common law and Natural Law.”

    Now this was beginning to happen quite often. According to English law a child’s status was determined by his father. But guess what, that would have made Frederick Douglass WHITE since his father was white. But the progressive court system, in the same Virginia colony that eventually led the ACS, changed the law to that any child born took the mother’s status. Now why did they do that, you ask? Because at the time most of the interracial relationships were white masters and black slaves. Any child born from that relationship, according to English law, would make that child free. Remember this is way prior to the “one drop rule”. So that was done to ensure the child remained a slave. Here’s the twist though, freed black men or indentured servants and white women were starting relationships. So any product of those relationships would produce a free child. The ruling therefore backfired because that child would again be considered white/free according to law. So the 1699 law was passed to deport free blacks was passed.

    • WM,

      Still, the basic point seems to stand: the COURTS muddled things up and — in the process — committed a travesty of justice rather than doing justice. Or do you disagree? And, if not, then isn’t there a lesson for us all in this piece of history?

      To me, it tells us that the People MUST ride herd over the Courts and make sure they stay within their proper role/authority lest they do harm tot the society they were created to serve.

      • Yes, the courts did muddle things up. They ruled very inconsistently and with bias.

        People saw the travesties and where most chose to ignore it many chose to rebel against it. Without the people that chose to rebel against it, things would be a lot worse than they are today. You have to dig deep into history to find them and their names.

        That same Virginia court system that awarded Casor to Johnson eventually ruled against him in other matters and pretty much took all that he had. A successful tobacco farmer died pretty much broke with most of his land confiscated with they ruled he wasn’t a member of the Colony.

  4. the like many other posts about Anthony Johnson always forgets. This was not the USA and most try and make it sound like. This was in the Colony of Virginia, which was a British colony, and ruled by the King of England.

    • Nice try, but you are trying to deflect from the PRINCIPLE by obfuscating the facts. Had it not been for that and several other cases, slavery most likely never would have come to the Colonies.

      You have not won your point!

      • B3A,, Thanks for your post ! From my studies of “the colonies’ know they were vastly different in both social and governing organization, so a historian can’t( IMO) “pick and choose” amongst them to conclude a certain set of governmental/societal “facts” . Slavery – “bonded or not – was fact in England jurisprudence for many years. And the “american plantations” needed slaves to clear land and plant, ten and harvest crops. Primary of which was tobacco – a labor-intensive crop in high demand – and completely contrarian to the “crops” harvested from New England.

        I strongly suspect, ( albeit without any serious personal research ) since a lot of america’s westward expansion originated in the Virginias, the practice of “bond slaves” continued westward – at least until the dissolution of the legal system defacto “freed” a lot of these individuals as they assimilate into local society.

        OTOH , the concept of “slavery” – at least outside household/longshore activities – in the NE was pretty much an alien concept. Harvesting timber was a skilled activity not conducive to slavery any more than the social and religious mores were.

        • Jeff,

          I am aware of these things, so I try not to pick-and-chose. But even with all you stated, there were still those — even inside the slave States — who opposed slavery. The slave States were no more as homogeneous as the Colonies, themselves.

          As for the issue of slavery, I have recently stumbled across something that I need to study more in depth before I bring it to the blog. However, if it turns out to have some factual basis (and I suspect it does), it will change our understanding of how slavery came to be in the Western world. No, that will not change the wrong or the evil inherent in the practice, but it most certainly will connect us to the past and show us how the past is still driving the present.

          • “…but it most certainly will connect us to the past and show us how the past is still driving the present.”

            This is SO true. I have one car that is 23 years old that I still drive occasionally …. ;- )).

            ( but youse probably meant something a tad bit different huh ? )

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