Slavery is an American embarrassment; in present day, African Americans and woman have gained the basic rights given to every American. (3) Slavery existed in every colony in the New World from Canada to the Rio de la Plata. (3) It emerged as a way of buying and selling humans to produce labor needed on the Plantations in the early seventeenth century. However, prior to the full system of slavery, blacks were relatively equal to whites.
They were able to own land, make their own money, and live with the same rights as whites. Anthony Johnson is one slave from his era to live a successful life. He started as a slave in Virginia, but later fought to achieve the American Dream. (4) Bought into slavery Anthony seemed to have no control over his future. He was referred to as “ Antonio a Negro” and was purchased to work on the Bennett plantation in the tobacco fields.
(8) As every American slave, Anthony had to fight day by day to survive. The poor living conditions with no food or water took a toll on his new life in the Americas. Living each day he was exposed to death, cruelty, and starvation. He seemingly had no opportunity of starting a family because of scarcity of woman; which gave him no choice other than slavery (9).
On March 22, 1622, the Indians of Tidewater Virginia attacked Edward Bennett’s tobacco plantation in Virginia (9). The attack on the plantations killed over three hundred and fifty colonists; fifty-two were killed at the plantation (9). Anthony Johnson was one of the twelve lucky survivors. He was fortunate enough to gain his freedom after the attack; all of the people fled their own way. He was able to start his quest to living the American dream, and later gained the name Anthony Johnson.
Anthony Johnson got a fresh start in the new world. He was finally able to start a family, he married a woman named Mary. She was the only female to be living at the Bennett’s farm in Warresquioake. They would live together for over forty years and have four children. Bennett later became governor of Northampton. When the Johnsons moved there, Bennett looked after their legal and economic interests. (11)
In 1640, Johnson and his family gained an estate (11). Their main source of income came from raising cattle and hogs, which helped with the local economy. Anthony later was able to obtain two hundred and fifty acres of land for his estates; he purchased five headright certificates to help with the land. (11) The land was located on Pungoteague Creek and later had a devastating fire. The fire burned the plantation to the ground and Anthony suffered hard times with the lack of money and resources to start the farm again. He petitioned and gained legal excuse from paying taxes for his wife and two daughters.
The reduction of taxes helped Johnson rebuild his plantation. The legal aspects showed that Mary and her two daughters were equal of white women in Northampton County because of the tax system. All black women and men had to pay taxes, whereas only white men who made an income paid. White women were exempt (12).
Johnson’s life was like that of the white men during this time. He was able to trade with his white neighbors and buy his own slaves to work for him. Casor, a slave under Johnson, pleaded to Robert Parker, a white man, that Johnson was holding him illegally. He took Casor to his tobacco plantation because he was supposedly a freeman. Johnson was enraged because Casor did not have the indenture he claimed to have. He and his family had a meeting and decided to set John Casor free from his plantation (14). On March 8, 1655, Johnson regained the right of slave Casor by suing Robert Parker. He not only took a white man to court, but he also defeated him, declaring Casor Johnson’s slave for life (15). Anthony was treated with respect; he had the legal documents and his actions were not questioned.
Later Johnson would proceed to sell most of his farm and give the rest to his youngest son to help him start a life of his own. Anthony and his wife moved to Maryland as headrights, but they remained free for the rest of their lives. He leased three hundred acres of plantation; he later named the land “Tonies Vineyard”. (16) After Anthony’s death, Mary renegotiated the lease. She was successful and paid the colony taxes and the annual rent each time. The Johnson family was able to live the remainder of their lives as free equals to the white society.
In seventeenth century Northampton, a man’s place in the chain was dependent partly on wealth and race (45). Because of this system, some blacks were able to gain freedom and prosper (68). Many Northampton documents feature names of black men and women who owned their own land. They were able to have families and provide for the welfare (68). Nineteen percent of black men even owned a home. Free blacks on the Eastern Shore significantly had both family and given names (69). These names allowed the family connections to be made. In New Netherland, many black men were free and faced very little discrimination. They were even able to indenture a white female servant for one year (71).
The authors are very convincing; I do believe that it was possible for blacks and whites to live together in harmony. In the text it shows how blacks and whites shared legal rights in the seventeenth century, this helped African Americans gained rights in the mid 1900’s. It caused blacks to argue why they couldn’t have freedom when there is evidence of previous peaceful equality (20).
Another reason that I believe harmony was possible between blacks and whites are that they could live together as neighbors. In the seventieth century blacks could own land and had the ability to free market. They could buy and sell goods for profit; they could even trade with the white Americans for certain resources needed to be successful. African Americans had the ability to own their own slaves just like white men. Land owning African Americans had to pay taxes just like everyone else owning land.
The text shows how African Americans in the seventeenth century had the rights to living free among whites where segregation was not a factor in everyday life. The title of the book Myne Owne Ground means that if you are not allowed to go after liberty and freedom or own land, then freedom isn’t really free. It means in order to be truly equal, you must own your own land. Giving African Americans the freedom to be successful played a huge role in freedoms given today. Without the study of the equal rights given to blacks in the seventieth century, todays freedoms given to all would not have been as accepting in modern day culture.