Thursday, February 25, 2016

Indentured Sevants, Slaves, Mulattos and Free Persons of Color

"All servants imported and brought into the Country. . . who were not Christians in their native Country. . . shall be accounted and be slaves. All Negro, mulatto and Indian slaves within this dominion. . . shall be held to be real estate. If any slave resists his master. . . correcting such slave, and shall happen to be killed in such correction. . . the master shall be free of all punishment. . . as if such accident never happened.

- Virginia General Assembly declaration, 1705"

 It's been a real adventure researching my paternal side's family history. All things changed back in 2003 when I took a 12 marker Y-DNA test at Family Tree DNA and the results came back with the African haplogroup E3a which is now E1b1a1a1d1, at 111 markers.

I still don't know who my first a paternal ancestor was who first stepped on American soil. Was he an African ?, was he an Atlantic Creole ? , truth is I don't know. I have no reason to believe my first paternal ancestor who came to America was ever a slave, an indentured servant ?, probably.

Coupled with the DNA, are the documented facts that my Collins line starting in the late 1700's were shown on the US Census as everything from 'other free', 'FPC' (free person of color), Mulatto, white, and 'Indian'. As late as the 1910 US Census, Johnson County, Kentucky, they were listed as 'Mulatto'. How could this be, we didn't look to have Negro features ? Maybe dark skinned, but not Negro. I'm sure when the Census enumerator came around in 1910, my Great Grandfather when asked what his race was, didn't state 'Mulatto'. From the 1910 US Census instructions:

I'm not sure my Great Grandfather even knew of any African blood. In-fact that generation stated our Collins' were 'once' Indians. I guess the enumerator took it upon him/her self to mark 'Mulatto' under race, based on skin tone.

Here is my 'theory' on how my folks stayed 'free'. My first 'person of color' who came to America arrived before the 'race codes' were enacted, and in-fact were 'free'. I have no reason to think otherwise. Below are some links to the first 'race codes' enacted in the British colonies by the British:

Slavery and the Law in Virginia...... Slave Laws Passed in Virginia

A History of Slavery Time Line:  Time and Place

Virginia Slave Laws......Black slavery took root in the American colonies slowly 

Slavery Takes Root in Colonial Virginia........The status of blacks in seventeenth century Virginia

Slaves and Free Persons of Color.......An Act Concerning Slaves and Free Persons of Color NC

"We sometimes imagine that such oppressive laws were put quickly into full force by greedy landowners. But that's not the way slavery was established in colonial America. It happened gradually -- one person at a time, one law at a time, even one colony at a time.

One of the places we have the clearest views of that "terrible transformation" is the colony of Virginia. In the early years of the colony, many Africans and poor whites -- most of the laborers came from the English working class -- stood on the same ground. Black and white women worked side-by-side in the fields. Black and white men who broke their servant contract were equally punished.

All were indentured servants. During their time as servants, they were fed and housed. Afterwards, they would be given what were known as "freedom dues," which usually included a piece of land and supplies, including a gun. Black-skinned or white-skinned, they became free.

 Historically, the English only enslaved non-Christians, and not, in particular, Africans. And the status of slave (Europeans had African slaves prior to the colonization of the Americas) was not one that was life-long. A slave could become free by converting to Christianity. The first Virginia colonists did not even think of themselves as "white" or use that word to describe themselves. They saw themselves as Christians or Englishmen, or in terms of their social class. They were nobility, gentry, artisans, or servants.

One of the few recorded histories of an African in America that we can glean from early court records is that of "Antonio the negro," as he was named in the 1625 Virginia census. He was brought to the colony in 1621. At this time, English and Colonial law did not define racial slavery; the census calls him not a slave but a "servant." Later, Antonio changed his name to Anthony Johnson, married an African American servant named Mary, and they had four children. Mary and Anthony also became free, and he soon owned land and cattle and even indentured servants of his own. By 1650, Anthony was still one of only 400 Africans in the colony among nearly 19,000 settlers. In Johnson's own county, at least 20 African men and women were free, and 13 owned their own homes.

In 1640, the year Johnson purchased his first property, three servants fled a Virginia plantation. Caught and returned to their owner, two had their servitude extended four years. However, the third, a black man named John Punch, was sentenced to "serve his said master or his assigns for the time of his natural life." He was made a slave.

Traditionally, Englishmen believed they had a right to enslave a non-Christian or a captive taken in a just war. Africans and Indians might fit one or both of these definitions. But what if they learned English and converted to the Protestant church? Should they be released from bondage and given "freedom dues?" What if, on the other hand, status were determined not by (changeable ) religious faith but by (unchangeable) skin color ?

Also, the indentured servants, especially once freed, began to pose a threat to the property-owning elite. The colonial establishment had placed restrictions on available lands, creating unrest among newly freed indentured servants. In 1676, working class men burned down Jamestown, making indentured servitude look even less attractive to Virginia leaders. Also, servants moved on, forcing a need for costly replacements; slaves, especially ones you could identify by skin color, could not move on and become free competitors.  

In 1641, Massachusetts became the first colony to legally recognize slavery. Other states, such as Virginia, followed. In 1662, Virginia decided all children born in the colony to a slave mother would be enslaved. Slavery was not only a life-long condition; now it could be passed, like skin color, from generation to generation.

In 1665, Anthony Johnson moved to Maryland and leased a 300-acre plantation, where he died five years later. But back in Virginia that same year, a jury decided the land Johnson left behind could be seized by the government because he was a "negroe and by consequence an alien." In 1705 Virginia declared that "All servants imported and brought in this County... who were not Christians in their Native Country... shall be slaves. A Negro, mulatto and Indian slaves ... shall be held to be real estate."

English suppliers responded to the increasing demand for slaves. In 1672, England officially got into the slave trade as the King of England chartered the Royal African Company, encouraging it to expand the British slave trade. In 1698, the English Parliament ruled that any British subject could trade in slaves. Over the first 50 years of the 18th century, the number of Africans brought to British colonies on British ships rose from 5,000 to 45,000 a year. England had passed Portugal and Spain as the number one trafficker of slaves in the world."

In my opinion the uniqueness of the mixed blood people who were called Melungins, is the intermixing of families with similar 'tri-racial' backgrounds. African, Native American and European Caucasian, for almost 3 hundred years, starting in early 17th century Colonial Virginia. The Bunch's, Collins', Gibson's and the Goin's.

If  a reader of this blog has an interest in this subject, they might take the time to read:

'Children of Perdition: Melungeons and the Struggle of Mixed America' by Tim Hashaw

That's my 2 cents....

1 comment :

  1. Nice piece - well written and thoroughly researched. I've had the impresson for a long time that FPOC in the later 1600s and early 1700s generally enjoyed their special status but also often found cause to resent their 2nd class citizenship (cf., the Bunch/Slayden case in 1705). Well accepted by some of their neighbors, they were less so by others and probably always had a sense that the law could be turned against them. They had greater cause than most (of those who could) to seek their fortunes by moving to new frontiers. After the Revolution and lands began opening up in the west, the FPOC and their descendants who were able to "pass" were among the first to head out (and among the first to bury their heritage).