The first Black Americans of known origin in America, and the Woodson family
part of the Jamestown Study within the Virginia Chapter of Volume I: Our American Immigrants  & relevant specifically to the Woodson family study  within the Howard and Allied Lines , which, with the Swope and Allied Lines, forms the basis of the Two Volume  Within The Vines Historical Family Website
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The Ship's list of the George shows immigration 1619  of  Dr. John and Mrs Sarah Woodson. to the Jamestown Colony. The1622 post-massacre census of Jamestown shows  six black Americans present in their household. Listed  as "Negars", with no names assigned to them, these are 6 of 21 black Americans total then living in  the colony; One more  is found among  the post-massacre dead. They hold in their entries the often [incorrectly] cited historical precedent for black American residence in the new world footnote 1. What they more likely are is among the group of  first black Americans of known origin in what would become the United States. Whether or not they were slaves or indentures [as most historians purport]  is the subject of this page. 
 


 

 

 
Relevant Links
Map detailing African Origins of 
 Virginia  Slaves
Jamestown Laws Links
re: Indenture & Slavery
Records/Documents Links
re:  Slaves &  Slavery in
Jamestown & the Va Colony
Free African Americans 
of Va,No Carolina,
So Carolina, Md & 
Delaware
About the First Black Americans of known origin & our Woodsons of Jamestown

"I have found you an argument; I am not obliged to find you  an understanding." Samuel Johnson

In1614, in what has been called the most momentous event of the 17th century, Rolfe's first shipment of Virginia tobacco was sold in London 39 By 1619 Jamestown was a boomtown, having exported 10 tons of tobacco  to Europe. Success of the  cash crop allowed  the colonists  to afford two imports which would greatly contribute to their productivity and quality of life....In 1619 ninety  women from England and "twenty some odd" blacks from Africa  were added to the population of Jamestown--both were  paid for in tobacco. The women  were "Young maids to make wives for so many of the former Tenants"  and The Virginia Company  dictated they were to be priced at not less than "one hundredth and fiftie [pounds] of the best leafe Tobacco." The "20 and some odd" blacks were purchased as indentured servants from a passing Dutch ship  blown off course and  in need of food; Its Captain bartered cargo. Although it appears that all record of the Dutch ship itself is lost  leaving the type of vessel and name of the  captain unknown, one will frequently encounter remarks in which the Dutch boat is  called a schooner, other times a privateer,  and in many cases reported as having  taken the slaves from a Spanish ship. There are black persons of early Jamestown with names as easily Portuguese as Spanish and sometimes more clearly Portuguese than Spanish- these persons are frequently referred to as having Spanish names-but Portuguese slave trade was well established and the source referred to by persons  stating the twenty were stolen from a Spanish ship has not been encountered by me. 

It is also in the year 1619, one year before the pilgrims landed in Massachusetts, that our earliest direct ancestors so far known on American soil [the Native American ascendancy purported by our mid 19th century FOWLER /HOWARD ancestors not yet being revealed in any way] arrived in the form of Dr John Woodson and his wife Sarah. They arrived on the Ship George in company of Governor Yeardley.  John Woodson  apparantly emmigrated to meet the growing medical needs of the colony, now over 1,000 living individuals.  "On arrival 1619 or shortly afterwards"  John Woodson "bought six of these Africans who were registered in 1623 as part of his household"40

Historians generally agree that these black Americans of 1622 were in  fact indentured servants sold into service similarly to white indentures, although some argue less convincingly that they were de facto slaves,  purporting that although the word had not yet come into use the practice itself had[footnote 2]  What is clear is that these persons were unwillingly pressed into service into a colony unexpectedly receiving them and to which the human cargo was not originally intended. The choice of how best to describe them within the society into which  they are found  can only come with an understanding of  the census in which they appear and the treatment in that census in comparison with both white indentures and the Native Americans also present in its pages, the conditions of indentured servitude  in general  at the time of the census,  the evolution of slavery and indenture evidenced in advancing court records,  and the formation of Virginia law relative to  both slavery and indenture, the last study of which yields the only factual evidence of incipient black slavery.  In any scholarly discussion of the history of Black Americans and/or the history of black slavery, there is the inevitable and rightful inclusion of these "20 and some odd" first Black Americans mentioned in John Rolfe's 1619  letter to England  for reasons obvious. That 6 appear in the Woodson household forces this discussion to take on special meaning for those many Americans with the Woodsons among their direct forebears

We  have, then, among our ancestors two early Jamestown settlers presenting 12 years after its founding, a man and wife  intimately tied to the history of  black Americans in the first permanent British colony in America.  That indentured servitude for blacks quickly, if not immediately, differed from that of whites is evident in the formulation of laws regulating the status of black children as free or slave dependant on the status of their mother,  the concept of ownership sanctioned by law, etc, all  yet to be determined but  occuring in the coming decades at tremendous disadvantage to the first indentured black servants and their offspring and all based on the labour intensive and extremely profitable tobacco trade. 


 

Footnote one:
Virtual Jamestown informs in their time-line entry for  year 1619:  " Twenty blacks are purchased from a passing Portuguese slave
ship bound from Luanda, Angola, to Vera Cruz" 46  and also states  that these persons may not have been the first black
Americans, since some 32 Africans were noted five months earlier in a Virginia census of 161947.


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The 1623 Census and how indentures, black or white, and Native Americans are enumerated therein:

In 1623 Dr John Woodson and his wife Sarah had included in their household 6 persons entered as žNegarÓ and without name. On that census, in other households, there appear other žNegarsÓ who are sometimes listed with their forenames, but as often not. The white indentures in other households are called žservantsÓ , mostly unnamed. Similar to the black Americans in that census, the white servants are occasionally given first names.  Sex is often not addressed for either white or black indentures when their names are not given.  In that census [ which includes 21 living žNegarsÓ and one likewise mentioned on the death list for the colony] are also žIndiansÓ who are sometimes unnamed, and who occasionally have forenames as well, and when not given names, their sex is not addressed.  Again, the inclusion of name, if given, seems based on whim and / or the info made available to the census taker. Native Americans were the first to suffer slavery, and the status of these Indians is not clear in that census. The first " 20 and some odd" Black Americans present in the American Colonies were bartered, according to John Rolfe, by a Dutch Sea Captain  in need of žVictualsÓ. The 20 had names, some English, some Spanish or Portuguese.  Most agree that this Dutch Skipper came directly  from the coast of Africa but  questions of their point of origin will never likely be answered; Both the Skipper's name, and that of his boat, have been lost to history.

 The racially defined slavery of Black by White first begins to be legally formulated in the 1640s-60s, the period from 1620 to that time notably brief , causing Black Indenture to appear fragile and tentative in light of a rapidly advancing racial disparity at first not entirely evident . Although the word žNegarÓ in the census could cause discomfort based on our modern understanding of the historical use of the word, at that time  the word did not carry the negative implications implied in its later use. Differentiation in the census of Jamestown for Irish also existed , and it would appear these entries, Indian, Negar, Servant, were to seperate the English self sufficient classes from the others present in the colony. See 1623 Muster Role

Conditions of Indenture
Black and white indentures in the Virginia Court System
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Conditions of Indenture:

The worst  [one would hope] scenario conditions of early indenture in Jamestown is best described by a white indentured man of Marin's Hundred , Richard Frethorne, in his letter home to England  written exactly in 1623.
His letter includes the request that his parents send money to buy his freedom or send food to sustain him, describing a pitiful condition no better than slavery and remarkable in its extremes.

Indenture and the treatment of black and white indentures in the Virginia Court system;
The legal dispute of a slave with his owner, a descendant of one of the original "20 and some odd":

For a brief period in early American  history, all indentured servants, whether black or white, went on to gain their freedom and purchase land, and sometimes then procured  indentured servants for themselves, including the black former indentures buying at times white indentures.  What is evident is that there quickly came a time when black indentures were treated  differently than white indentures in the legal system, and these appear the  first evidence of systematic seperation of bartered blacks into a slave system. Two important legal cases are important to this study: one in 1640 and the next, in 1655. The circumstances in the two cases differ, one being a punishment for the running away from the duty of indenture and thus punished to the awful extension of served years to permanent life indenture, while the 2nd  is  a clear legal precedent establishing the right of one person to own another for life based on the contract of sale, litigated in court with the two parties in question facing each other in that venue. But the first case, in 1640, stands out sadly for the legal disparity in punishment allotment;  Fleeing  a Virginia plantation, two white and one black indentured servant were caught and returned to their owner, two had their servitude extended four years. 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."42
 

The first account of legal dispute of indenture vs. slavery is found in 1655 when the Va courts found for the holder.  žFrom evidence found in the earliest legal documents extant, it is Anthony Johnson who we now must recognize as the nation's first slaveholder. After all, the court battle he eventually won in 1655 to keep John Casor (Ceasar?) as his servant for life, identifies this unfortunate soul as the first slave in the recorded history of our country. Claiming that he had been imported as an indentured servant, Casor attempted to transfer what he argued was his remaining time of service to Robert Parker, a white, but Johnson insisted that "hee had ye Negro for his life".
The court ruled that "seriously consideringe and maturely weighing the premisses, doe fynde that the saide Mr. Robert Parker most unjustly keepeth the said Negro from Anthony Johnson his master....It is therefore the Judgement of the Court and ordered That the said John Casor Negro forthwith returne unto the service of the said master Anthony Johnson, And that mr. Robert Parker make payment of all charges in the suit."43
The sadly ironic aspect of this  ligation is that Anthony Johnson himself  is felt  likely one of those first indentured servants sold at Jamestown, having gained his freedom, bought lands, and bought hands to work it. It has then in its construct economic and class consideration,  yet , it was to have far reaching racial effects.
 
 

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The 1623 Census
Black and white indentures in the Virginia Court System
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Footnote 2
 
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Relevant Links:
Jamestown Laws relevant to Indenture and  Evolving Slavery
Records/Documents/ Narratives of Slaves and Indentures
General Black American and Slave History
Maps Relevant

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Jamestown Laws:
Regarding Indentured Servants  [Virtual Jamestown]
Shows laws regulating both servant and master, and finally a law involving White and Black  indentures and the ability of Christian Free Blacks to buy Christians of any race is curtailed while that of the Whites is not. This law dates to October 1670
Regarding Slavery [Virtual Jamestown]
These laws give great insight over a great period of time . The word slave appears in the first instance that I can find within these pages  in the laws of 1660/1 and included is mention of Indians sold for life.  This appears to show not the time frame of the first slaves but  the period in time in which the institution was  legally defined and the governing body involved in attempting to protect it.
Africans in Court   Court decisions that reflect the concept of indenture, and the advancing practice of slavery
Laws Pertaining to Slaves and Servants, Virginia 1629-1672 ["From William Waller Hening, editor. The statutes at large; being a collection of all the laws of Virginia, from the first session of the Legislature in the year 1619, vol. 1. New York: Printed for the editor, 1819-23."]

Records / Documents:
Servants and Slaves as Seen Through Runaway Advertisements [Virtual Jamestown]
Letter from a Freedman to his Old Master  [Although the book from which this is taken is not identified and so its source not entirely made evident, it is a remarkable letter well worth the reading]
Lord DunmoreŪs Proclomation 1775
The first mass emancipation of slaves in American history occured via the call for Slaves promised freedom in exchange for
soldiering on the British Behalf . British forces were quickly and significantly increased.
Black Loyalists: Our History, Our People   Site dedicated to Black Loyalists of the Revolution
WiIliam Buckland's Indenture [of 1755. Buckland was contracted in England for a space of four years. From Virtual Jamestown]

General:

African American Voices [a GREAT site] from Gilder Lehrman Resource Guides . See Their page Slavery in Colonial America
Slavery and the Slave Trade from the History net. Another great site

Slaves and The Courts 1740-1860 [From the American Memory Collection of the Library of Congress and searchable by keyword. "contains just over a hundred pamphlets and books (published between 1772 and 1889) concerning the difficult and troubling experiences of African and African-American slaves in the American colonies and the United States. The documents, most from the Law Library and the Rare Book and Special Collections Division of the Library of Congress, comprise an assortment of trials and cases, reports, arguments, accounts, examinations of cases and decisions, proceedings, journals, a letter, and other works of historical importance"]
Africans in America   A Gateway to an extensive and informative PBS mounted site
"Stowage of the British Slave Shipe Brookes," ca. 1790[describes the  terrible and horrifying conditions on board but improved over the period before regulation of conditions for transport when this same ship carried many more. From Virtual Jamestown]
Account of the Middle Passage from "The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano"
Slavery: Lest we Forget Website   provides  Links to some remarkable items
Studies in the New World of Slavery, Abolition and Emmancipation   An ongoing website best described in its preface: žStudies in the World History of Slavery, Abolition and Emancipation (ISSN: 1090-6231) is an occasional publication featuring essays, documents, images, bibliographies and database information relevant to  the history of slavery, abolition, and emancipation. The journal is intended to provide a global context for slave studies. The project  is intended also to link scholars in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas. Although the project's primary means of dissemination is electronic, printed copies can be made available to scholars and libraries that lack access to the Internet. ž
This  Site also has an excellent links page
American Legacy  A scholarly and interesting magazine available in part online and  presenting  articles  detailing the history of black Americans.
African American Odyssey [From the American Memory Collection of the Library of Congress and including many useful links to specific collections themselves searchable by keyword]


Maps:
African Origins of Virginia Slaves  [A map detailing the regions most affected by slave trade with percentile breakdown]
The Hargrett Rare Maps Collection From University of Georgia. Provides Maps of Colonial America.
Perry Casteneda Library collection for The University of Texas. Many map links available here.
The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Website
Virtual Jamestown   ža digital research, teaching and learning project that explores the legacies of the Jamestown settlement and "the Virginia   experiment." Includes links to many documents and maps

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Sources for this Page  [The first Black Americans & the Woodsons]
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Sources
1. Jamestown laws Regarding Indentured Servants  Shows laws regulating both servant and master, and finally a law involving White and Black  indentures and the ability of Christian Free Blacks to buy Christians of any race is curtailed while that of the Whites is not. This law dates to October 1670
2,Jamestown laws Regarding Slavery
These laws give great insight over a great period of time . The word slave appears in the first instance that I can find within these pages  in the laws of 1660/1 and included is mention of Indians sold for life.  This appears to show not the time frame of the first slaves but  the period in time in which the institution was  legally defined and the governing body involved in attempting to protect it.
3.  Africans in Court   Court decisions that reflect the concept of indenture, and the advancing practice of slavery
4. Servants and Slaves as Seen Through Runaway Advertisements
39. žA Brief History of Jamestown, Virginia,Ó http://www.virtualschool.edu/mon/SocialConstruction/Jamestown.html.
40. žChronology on the History of Slavery and Racism,Ó Citation information and credit: Chronology on the History of Slavery, Compiled by Eddie Becker 1999,, http://innercity.org/holt/slavechron.html.
42. The Terrible Transformation. From Indentured Servitude to Racial Slavery . Part of the PBS webpages entitled Africans in America.
43. The Blurred Racial Lines of Famous Families. Part of the PBS webpages. Researched and Written by Mario de Valdes y Cocom.
44. Citation to Book and Author as given from Chronology on the History of Slavery and Racism. Website mounted by Eddie Becker.
45. Frank Willing Leach. Pleasants Family . Philadelphia, PN: The Historical Publication Society, 1939.
46. Virtual Jamestown Timeline [ " Jamestown Timeline, Virtual Jamestown, Virginia Center for Digital History, University of Virginia ]
47. Virtual Jamestown Timeline  entry for 1619 which states in part for 1618 "August: Twenty blacks are purchased from a passing Portuguese slave ship bound from Luanda, Angola, to Vera Cruz. They may not have been the first, since some 32 Africans were noted five months earlier in a Virginia census of 1619."  Jamestown Timeline, Virtual Jamestown, Virginia Center for Digital History, University of Virginia ]
 
 

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