Antonio a Slave: A Story of Diminishing Progress from Father to Son
Created by Julie Bray, Toano Middle School, Toano, Virginia 23168
Could slavery have been avoided in Colonial America? Was slavery in its beginning different here in America for the earliest arrivals then for second generation slaves? Why did it change? Why did the laws change from having no printed laws for slaves in the early seventeenth century to severe statues of force and confinement in the eighteenth century?
Introduction to Case:
In this case, students follow the life of Anthony Johnson formerly listed as “Antonio a Negro” on the Jamestown Colony censuses of 1620. He felt his capture into slavery, then the march to Luanda for deportation with the Dutch, experienced the terrible voyage across the Atlantic on the Bautista, was captured by pirates and eventually taken to English America where he was placed as a slave on the Bennett Plantation, he survived the Good Friday Powhatan Massacre of 1622, bought his freedom and that of his wife Mary’s, and became a successful plantation owner on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. After 20 years of being a slave and well into mid-life. Anthony owned 250 acres in Northampton County, Virginia. We meet Anthony and his sons, John and Richard Johnson, through a series of court cases that record some of their life on the Eastern Shore and later into Maryland and Delaware.
Anthony raised a family with four children, owned two of his own slaves, (John Casor and Mary Gersheene), was baptized into the Anglican faith, raised cattle and hogs, grew corn and tobacco, and acquired his land through the head right patent system used by the white gentry of Virginia. Anthony is acknowledged as a prominent member of the freeholder community within his county when he successfully wins his case in court. Anthony flees to Maryland in 1649 as freedom for former slaves is becoming diminished through the change in Virginia slave laws. Anthony’s sons, John and Richard, want a life similar to their father, but even after acquiring land it will eventually given back to the crown and to neighboring white planters. John and Richard and their sons will experience more of a slave society than their father even though they are listed on the tax lists as free negroes. They will never rise beyond that of tenant farmer or some type of hired servant and yet they will feel the gripping hand of bondage and scorn as laws grow oppressive.
Read and analyze the sections called “Primary Sources” and “Listening to the Historians.” Students are to find one or more historian’s comments that add to their response paper as having influenced their opinion about the conditions of slavery. Students should also draw from the narrative documents. Use the analyzing sheet to assist in forming your response. Draw conclusions about the institution of slavery and write about it in a response paper.
NCSS Theme II: Time, Continuity and Change
Maryland Voluntary State Curriculum Standards
Virginia SOL USI.5c
Essential Knowledge: Slaves
As a teacher, I would start this investigation with the sound clips on Anthony Johnson created by the Historic Jamestown Park TAGH Grant materials. This will provide a hook into the life of Anthony Johnson. There is an image of what Anthony could have looked like to show while the four voice clips play.
The students can complete an Insert Reading Guide to the Narrative on Anthony Johnson. This should lead to classroom discussion that includes wanting to understand more and clarification of Anthony’s situation here in Virginia.
Students could also create an acrostic using PowerPoint to summarize what they have learned about Anthony as a result of engaging in the investigation. Here is an example of what a student created after working through this case(PowerPoint, PDF) as well as a handout of directions for students (Word, PDF).
The students can write a response paper with three paragraphs about early seventeenth century slavery. They can summarize the way it began and get into possible causes for its changes. Students can conclude with a possible way to have avoided slavery in America.
A Slave No More: Two Men Who Escaped to Freedom, Including Their Own Narratives of Emancipation. David W. Blight. Mariner Books; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.2007.
Africans in America. Public Broadcasting Service. (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/home.html)
American Memory: Born in Slavery: Narratives from the Federal Writer’s Project, 1936-1938. Library of Congress. (http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/snhome.html) This online collection is a joint presentation of the Manuscript and Prints and Photographs Divisions of the Library of Congress and includes more than 200 photographs from the Prints and Photographs Division.
American Passages: A History of the United States. Ayers, Edward, Lewis Gould, David Oshinsky, and Jean Solderlund.Harcourt, Inc. 2000. (pages 97-100,126, 194,200, & 212)
American Slave Narratives: An Online Anthology. (http://xroads.virginia.edu/~HYPER/wpahome.html) From 1936 to 1938, more than 2,300 former slaves from the South were interviewed by writers and journalists under the aegis of the Works Progress Administration. This Web site provides an opportunity to read a sample of these narratives and to see some of the photographs taken at the time of the interviews. The entire collection of narratives can be found in George P. Rawick, ed., The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press) 1972-79.
Ames, Susie May ed., County Court Records of Accomack-Northampton, Virginia, 1640-1645. Charlottesville, VA. 1973.
Before Freedom Came: African American Life in the Antebellum South. The Museum of the Confederacy, Richmond, VA., Edward Campbell editor. The University Press of Virginia. 1991.
Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America. Ira Berlin. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. 1998.
Myne Owne Ground: Race and Freedom on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, 1640-1676. T.H. Breen and Stephen Innes, 1980.
Russell, John H. "Colored Freemen as Slave Owners in Virginia." Journal of Negro History Vol.1 (June 1916) pg. 234-42.
Slavery in the United States. Complied by William C. Hine. Jackdaw No. A30. Jackdaw Publications.1975. This packet includes exhibits such as newspapers, broadsheets, and Bills of Sale of slaves, plus it includes Slave Codes and Laws that changed from 1796 to 1863.
Slave Testimony: Two Centuries of Letters, Speeches, Interviews, and Autobiographies. John W. Blassingame editor. Louisiana State University Press. 1977.
The American Journey. Appleby, Joyce, Alan Brinkley, and James McPherson. Glencoe McGraw-Hill, 2003. (pages 41-489)
The American People: Creating a Nation and a Society. Volume One to 1877. Gary B. Nash and Julie R. Jeffrey editors. Longman Press. 1998.
The Birth of Black America: The first African Americans and the pursuit of Freedom at Jamestown. Tim Hashaw Carroll and Graf Publishers. New York, 2007.
The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, The African, Written by Himself. Werner Sollors editor. Harvard University Press. W.W. Norton &Company, 2001. (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part1/1 h320t.html
Anthony Johnson, formerly listed as “Antonio a Negro” on the Jamestown Colony censuses of 1620, had an amazing life. He was captured into slavery and marched to Luanda for deportation with the Dutch. He endured the terrible voyage across the Atlantic on the Bautista, was captured by pirates hidden in England and eventually taken to English America where he was placed as a slave on the Bennett Plantation. After 20 years of slavery however, he bought his own freedom and that of his wife Mary. He became a successful plantation owner on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, owning 250 acres of land acquired through the headright patent system used by the white gentry of Virginia. He raised a family with four children, owned two of his own slaves, (John Casor and Mary Gersheene), was baptized into the Anglican faith, raised cattle and hogs, and grew corn and tobacco. Anthony is acknowledged as a prominent member of the freeholder community within his county when he successfully wins a case in court against a White man.
Despite all this progress, Anthony's fortunes changed dramatically during the 1640's. By the end of the decade in 1649, he flees to Maryland. Anthony’s sons, John and Richard, acquire land that will eventually be given back to the crown and to neighboring white planters. John and Richard and Anthony’s grandsons will experience a more oppressive slave society than their fathers even though they are listed on the tax lists as free negroes. They will never rise beyond that of tenant farmer or some type of hired servant and yet they will feel the gripping hand of bondage and scorn as laws grow increasingly oppressive.
Francis Latimer, a historian, wrote, “We think about slavery as this complete package that just came to evil landowners. It didn't happen that way. Changes occurred one law at a time and to one person at a time.” As a historical detective, you will examine what happened to Antonio Johnson’s family by reviewing early Virginia slave laws and work from modern historians which help explain what happened to the Johnsons’ freedom from one generation to the next. At the end of the case, you will be asked why Antonio’s life was so different from that of his sons and his grandchildren.
Slave Laws in Virginia
Listening to the Historian
Please answer the following questions referring back to your analysis of the slave laws along with the Listening to the Historian documents.
Based on your analysis of the narrative of Anthony Johnson, the slave laws in Virginia, and opinions of the historians, please write a paragraph answering the following questions: How would you describe the changing slave laws from 1639-1705? Do you believe these the slave laws could have remained less rigid in Virginia for slaves as they were for Anthony’s generation? Why did colonists begin to view Africans as different from themselves and begin to pass laws that held them in lifelong bondage? Were they necessary? Why or why not? Did slavery for life have to happen in Virginia?