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Slavery in Virginia

Click images to enlarge.

Slaves Arrival at Jamestown

The Landing of Negroes at Jamestown from a Dutch Man-of-War in 1619.

This was a tragic day indeed for these 20 Negroes and millions more who would follow, to be enslaved in the English Colonies of North America and the United States over the course nearly two and one half Centuries!

This was the beginning of 247 years of combined slavery for these people and their descendents. This is a good time to emphasize that the ancestors of African Americans did not voluntarily emigrate to the English Colonies of North America or the United States. They were brought here by force!

We sometimes imagine that oppressive slave laws were put quickly into full force by greedy landowners in the English Colonies of North America. The enslavment of Africans and Indians had been common in Central and South America a century before it was introduced into the English Colonies of North America.

In 1619 the first Africans were brought to Jamestown. Their status is presumed to have been indentured servitude. Over the course of a few decades the enslavement of black Africans was established, in the individual English Colonies of North American, one law at a time and one colony at a time. The clearest view I have of the "peculiar institution" of slavery is in the colony of Virginia. During the very early period of Virginia's history, black Africans and poor whites shared a similar status. Blacks and whites, men and women often worked side-by-side in the fields. Anyone who broke their servant contract was punished.  In the turn of events leading to the legalized enslavement of black Africans, the fact that Africans could not speak, read, nor write English upon their arrival. Africans had no concept what an indentured servant was, let alone and indentured servant contract.

Early colonial court records in Virginia concern "Antonio the Negro," as he was named in the 1625 Virginia census. He was brought to the colony in 1621. At that time, English and Colonial law had not yet defined racial slavery; the census called Antonio 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 became free, and he soon owned some land and cattle. He even engaged indentured servants to work for him.

In 1640 three indentured servants, one black and two white, fled from a Virginia plantation. When caught and returned to their owner, the two white servants had their indenture extended for four years. The black servant, named John Punch, was sentenced to serve his said master or his assigns for the time of his natural life. John Punch's status was changed from an indentured servant to a slave. It is not difficult to imagine that how rapidly it became an accepted practice to falsly accuse black indentured servants of infractions in order to keep the enslaved for life.

In 1650, Anthony was one of 400 Africans in the Virginia Colony, among a white settler population of nearly 19,000. In Virginia county Johnson where Johnson lived 20 or so African men and women were free, and 13 of this number owned their own homes. But a drastic change loomed in the near future for Africans who were brought to Virginia! In 1661, the enslavement of black Africans was leagalized in Virginia.

Traditionally, Englishmen had held the belief they had the right to enslave non-Christians or captives taken in a just war. Conveniently Africans and Native American fit this definition. But what if these captives learned to speak English and converted to Christianity? Should they be released from bondage and given their freedom? 

Instead the status of Africans was not determined by changing their religious faith, but by their unchangeable skin color! Also when freed black indentured servants were percieved as a threat to the property-owning white elite. The establishment government placed restrictions on available lands thus creating  a general unrest among all newly freed indentured servants.

In 1676, freed working class men rebelled burned Jamestown to the ground, (Bacon's Rebellion. This made indentured servitude look less attractive to Virginia's ruling class. Also indentured servants were entitled to move on once indenture obligation was fulfilled. The replacement of indentured servants was continual and costly for plantation owners. It was expedient to enslave Black Africans for life because African were easily identified by their black skin color. It was even extra expedience to legalize the enslavement of black children.

 Ironically the first English Colony in North America to legalize the enslavemnt of black Africans was Massachusetts in 1641. But laws were soon pass to legalize slavery in the other English Colonies.

In 1662 Virginia legalized the enslavement of black Africans. All children born to enslaved mothers were the property of the slave mother's owner. The condition of enslavement was passed down from generation to generation.  1705 Virginia declared that "All servants imported and brought in this County... who were not Christians in their Native Country... shall be slaves. Negroes, mulattoes and Indian shall be held to be real estate."

English suppliers responded to the increasing demand for slaves in the English Colonies in North American. In 1672, England officially entered the slave trade when 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 be liscensed to practice in the African slave trade.

During 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 surpassed Portugal and Spain to become the largest trafficker in the African Slave Trade!

A preview for slaves arriving at Jamestown (circa 1700)

In 1700, when newly arriving slaves were being taken to the slave market at Jamestown, this is the scene they witnessed. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the sight of a hook in the body of an African sent the message in the strongest possible way. Slave owners were not joking and enslaved Africans had better take them seriously! The term "lynching" is said to have derived from Charles Lynch, a slave owner at Lynchburg, Virginia during the latter part of the 1600s and early part of the 1700s. It is reported that during that period of Colonial history, Charles Lynch and other Virginia planters were driving themselves into bankruptcy by torturing and killing so many Africans, in their attempts to force Africans to submit to slavery.

William Lynch (Willie), a brother of Charles Lynch, who owned a plantation on the Island of Barbados, West Indies, was invited to come to Jamestown  advise slave owners about his methods of controling slaves.

Willie’s Advice Speech, deliverd on the banks of the James River in 1712: “Gentlemen, I greet you here on the banks of the James River in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and twelve.

First, I shall thank you, the gentlemen of the Colony of Virginia, for bringing me here. I am here to help you solve some of your problems with slaves. Your invitation reached me on my modest plantation in the West Indies where I have experimented with some of the newest and still the oldest methods of controlling slaves.

Ancient Rome would envy us if my program were implemented. As our boat sailed south on the James River, named for our illustrious King, whose version of the Bible we cherish. I saw enough to know that your problem is not unique. While Rome used cords of woods as crosses for standing human bodies along its highways in great numbers you are here using the tree and the rope on occasion.
I caught the whiff of a dead slave hanging from a tree a couple of miles back. You are not only losing a valuable stock by hangings, you are having back. You are not only losing a valuable stock by hangings, you are having uprisings, slaves are running away, your crops are sometimes left in the fields too long for profit, you suffer occasional fires, your animals are often killed.

Gentlemen, you know what your problems are, I do not need to elaborate. I am not here to enumerate your problems, I am here to introduce you to a method of solving them. In my bag here, I have a fool proof method for controlling your black slaves. I guarantee everyone of you that if installed correctly it will control the slaves for at least 300 hundred years.

My method is simple. Any member of your family or your overseer can use it. I have outlined a number of differences among the slaves and I take these differences and make them bigger. I use fear, distrust, and envy for control purposes. These methods have worked on my modest plantation in the West Indies and it will work for you. Take this simple little list of differences, and think about them.
On top of my list is "Age", but it is there only because it starts with an "A": the second is "Color" or shade, there is intelligence, size, sex, size of plantation, status on plantation, attitude of owners, whether the slave lives in the valley, on a hill, East, West, North, South, have fine hair, coarse hair, or is tall or short.

Now that you have the list of differences, I shall give you an outline of action; but before that I shall assure you that distrust is stronger than trust and envy is stronger than adulation, respect, or admiration.The Black slave after receiving this indoctrination shall carry on and will become self re-fueling and self generating for hundreds of years, maybe thousands. Don't forget you must pitch the old Black male vs. the young Black male, and the young Black male against the old Black male. You must use the dark skin slaves vs. the light skin slaves and the light skin slaves vs. the dark skin slaves. You must use the female vs. the male, and the male vs. the female.

You must also have your white servants and overseers distrust all Blacks, but it is necessary that your slaves trust and depend on you, their owner. They must love, respect and trust only their master. Gentlemen these kits are your keys to control; use them. Have your wives and children use them, never miss an opportunity. If used intensely for one year, the slaves themselves will remain perpetually distrustful.

Thank you, gentlemen.”

Source: The AFRO-American Newspaper

John Carter Tombstone

Burke - Carter Genealogy Connections

John Carter (1613-1669) sailed from England to the Jamestown Virginia in 1635. He apparently was very well connected with the power structure in England. He rapidly became elected to the House of Burgess and appointed as Colonel in the Virginia Colony Militia. He commanded the Virginia Militia in subduing the last of the Powhatten Indians around 1640, then quickly acquired a large plantation called Corotomaton, located in Lancaster County, Virginia. At Corotoman John Carter established the beginning of large scale plantation style tobacco cultivation.

Corotoman Plantation

There is no way for me to be sure exactly when my African ancestors arrived at Corotoman, but John Carter did own a few Negroes prior to 1650. Since generations of Carter slaves were passed down through inheritance, it is probable that my genealogy is connected the early African people at Corotoman. Also there is the possibility that my genealogy is connected to the first Aficans brought to Jamestown in 1619.

Robert "King" Carter (1663-1732)

Robert King Carter

When John Carter died in 1669, ownership of Corotoman passed to his eldest son John Carter II who died around 1693. Robert “King” Carter then became the principle owner of Corotoman and during the course of his life, he expanded his land holdings in the Northern Neck of Virginia to an excess of 300,000 acres.

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Robert Carter II (1704-1732)

Robert Carter II was born at Corotoman in 1704. As a young man, his father, Robert “King” Carter gave him Nomini Hall Plantation in Westmoreland County, Virginia along with some slaves to work that plantation. Nomini Hall was located on Nomini Creek which flows into the Potomac River. Apparently one of the slaves was my ancestor named Mary. Mary had several children; one of her sons named Baptist Billy, born around 1725, is the ancestor of African American Burke family living in Washington County, Ohio since 1854.

Robert Carter II had two children,by his wife, a girl named Elizabeth and a boy named Robert Carter III born at Nomini Hall in 1728. Robert “King” Carter and his son Robert Carter II both died in the year 1732 when Robert Carter III was only four years old.

Nomini Hall Plantation (Westmoreland County, VA)
Nomini Hal Plantation, Westmoreland County, Virginia

Nomony (Nomini) Hall Plantation belonged to Robert Carter II, but he died in 1732 and the Nomini Plantation was passed on to his four year old son, Robert Carter III. Business affairs at Nomini were handled by uncles of Robert Carter III until he was old enough to assume control.