(Editor’s note: This is Part 2 of Ben Kinchlow’s series on the history of black America. Read Part 1 here.)
To pick up where we left off, let me reiterate: The first blacks did not come to America as slaves.
In point of fact, according to British law, every Christian was equal before the law, and judgments were based upon being Christian or non-Christian, not race. If blacks served out their indentured periods or became Christians, they were, as other Europeans, granted their freedom.
According to the historical records, the aforementioned Anthony Johnson family settled on the eastern shore of Virginia and prospered for almost 40 years. As was the custom, he indentured both black and whites. As there are conflicting reports as to the origin of the following, we will cut to the chase. One of Johnson’s indentured servants would cause a seismic shift in the relationships between blacks and whites that would last centuries.
This indentured servant, named John Casor, was black and apparently convinced a white neighbor that he was being illegally detained. Long story short, the case ended up in court.
Johnson sued – not to have Casor fulfill a debt of servitude (five to seven years) – but he insisted he had bought Casor as a slave and “hee had ye Negro for life.” Johnson was claiming that Casor, who had committed no crime, belonged to him as a slave for the rest of his life.
Despite the fact that two influential white landowners sided with Casor, the court ruled for Johnson: “… be it therefore ye judgement of ye court & ordered that sd (said) Jno. Casor, negro, shall forthwith bee turned into ye service of his sd master Anthony Johnson …”
For the record, this is the first legal sanction of slavery (not for a crime) in America. According to historical records, Anthony Johnson must be recognized as the nation’s first official slaveholder. Johnson had been previously captured in Angola and brought to America as an indentured servant in exchange for 50 acres.
Here is where my mouth fell open: Anthony Johnson was black. The father of legalized slavery in America was a black man!