Free Blacks in the Seventeenth Century

Free Blacks in the Seventeenth Century
In the early sixteen-hundreds there were nearly equal opportunities for blacks and whites in the New World, most specifically in Virginia. One African-American man in particular exemplifies this fact. Anthony Johnson escalated in society from being a slave1 to becoming a wealthy landowner with slaves of his own.2 The successes of this man both economically and socially provide a rather important window into the lives and opinions of the peoples in Virginia at the time, especially the black community and their treatment by their fellow white agriculturalists.
?Antonio a Negro? arrived in Virginia in 1621 as a servant on a tobacco plantation, it was during his servitude that he met his wife Mary who had been bought to work at the same location several years after Anthony. Although it still remains a mystery how Anthony and Mary accumulated their wealth, they managed to buy their way out of servitude and acquire land of there own.3 They were not alone in this endeavor, however; it is known that several free blacks were able to advance in society in similar fashion. In the years between the mid 17th century into the later part of the century blacks were able to acquire land and status in the Virginian society. This proves that racial prejudices were subtle in this time span. In a society of even minimal equality in race it is possible for blacks to succeed alongside the white community.
In the 18th century the lifestyle of Anthony Johnson and his contemporaries became an impossibility. The role of slavery ruined the chance of success to blacks because it was no longer possible for them to acquire land or money let alone their freedom as Anthony did. The cause for this shift in social policy cannot be accurately traced through the events of the 17th century, but several clues to this alteration in slave treatment can be found. It is often presumed that racism led to the inevitable slavery acts in the 18th century, but this rationale is rather unfounded based on the idea that many African-Americans were in fact free and maintained their own farms in Virginia. The cause of slavery is much more subtle than a prejudice view of racial differences.
The first African slaves arrived in Jamestown in 1619 as indentured servants4 , much like the poor whites in that area became in order to earn money and land to strike out on their own after their term of servitude had ended. Not too long after this event it was found that blacks could be bought cheaply and then kept for an unlimited term of bondage. This seemed a much more economical alternative to the indentured servant, to whom their owner would provide them with land after their term had ended. Many years would pass before the limitless bondage of slaves became common practice, it wasn?t until 1680 that slavery became the foundation of the plantation. So it was in the interest of saving money rather than in racism that accounts for the enslavement of blacks.
Through the life of Anthony Johnson and his family we can understand more fully the lives of other black men and women of his time and learn more of the development of slavery in the New World. We now know that the oppression of the race came as a result of the incline of he slave efforts rather than the reciprocal effect. And it was the growing need for land and possession by white farmers that diminished the free black as a social unit.

Free Blacks in the Seventeenth Century 9.3 of 10 on the basis of 1270 Review.