England is not free of an anti-Semitic past and continues to have problems to this day. Like many European countries, Jewish people had a golden age before rising hatred and slander led to their expulsion by Edward I in 1290. It was not until the time of Oliver Cromwell in the mid-1600s that the situation started to improve for the Jewish people, but it did not happen quickly. Benjamin Disraeli, a Jewish born convert to the Church of England, in 1846 brought an end to the law requiring Jews to dress in a certain way. In the early-1900s, the lack of violence against Jews drew significant numbers throughout Europe, which saved countless lives.
The turning point for the Jews started before Oliver Cromwell’s birth. In 1534, Edward VIII started the Reformation and that was the singular event from which everything else followed. He may have done it for personal reasons, but the significance of that event cannot be understated.
When the British first started towards taking India, starting in 1599, there was no forced conversion. Not even when the British Crown took direct control in 1857 was there any move to force a single Indian to convert to the Church of England. This was a significant difference from what other European colonizers were doing.
Following Columbus’ discovery of what he believed to be India in 1492, the Spanish were the first to colonize North America. It is not until 1535 that the French tried to settle Quebec, which failed in 1541. The French made a few attempts, but had no success until 1604 when Acadia was settled. England did not try their hand at colonization until Roanoke in 1585.
Roanoke may be famous for becoming a lost colony, but it should be noted that the first Jewish person to reach North America was among the 100 to first make landfall for the English in 1585. Joachim Gans was a Jewish metallurgist from Prague who never hid who he was. There was not one reported incident against him, and the crew accepted him for the craftsman that he was.
Jamestown was the first successful settlement by England in 1607. Over a century after Columbus and predominantly Spanish conquest of North America. There was not a single slave aboard any of the ships sent for the purpose of colonization and the original charter was based on English Common Law, which had nothing in regards to slavery; meaning it was not legal to own slaves by anyone.
After years of hardship, which included a few under martial law, a representative government was created in 1619 to write laws for the colony of Virginia. That representative government laid the groundwork for what would become the United States. 70 laws were written and not one allowed for slavery.
After the passage of the laws, a Dutch slave ship, San Juan Batista, was taking an unknown number of African slaves from Angola to Vera Cruz. Two English privateers sailing the White Lion and the Treasurer attacked the Dutch ship and took about 60 slaves between the two of them. The White Lion reached the port of Jamestown in August of 1619. Food was traded for 20 Angolans, but not one became a slave.
They were sold as indentured servants and freed at the end of their contracts. An indentured servant was not owned, but the contract was. Had slavery been legal in Jamestown, not one would have become indentured.
Among those 20 who were freed after their contracts ended was Anthony Johnson. He was among the first Africans to reach Jamestown and among the first to own property. The colony of Virginia gave him land after his contract had expired with no thought about origin of birth.
In 1623, an African female was bought and worked the same fields as Johnson. She was the only woman indentured to the field and possibly the first African woman to reach English soil. She married Johnson and spent over 40 years living together. Had his story included nothing else of note, it would have been a life worth celebrating for the success he achieved later in life.
Johnson became quite wealthy in his own right shortly after his release. He had the resources to buy contracts of indentured servants, which was every bit within the law as when his contract was held. It must be repeated that an indentured servant was not considered a slave. They were not owned by anyone, including those held by Johnson.
In July of 1651, Johnson purchased 250 acres and 5 indentured servants. Among the 5 was his son and a man named John Casor of African birth. All 5 were already under contract and the contract for Casor had already concluded. An indentured servant’s contract could not be renewed against the will of the servant and had to be released when it ended. Provided a servant did not run away, which had resulted in numerous cases of lifetime servitude regardless of origin. Casor had never run away and did nothing to violate his contract.
In 1653, Casor spoke with Captain Goldsmith, since his contract had expired several years earlier and should have been freed prior to being sold to Johnson. A neighbor of Johnson’s, Robert Parker, convinced Johnson to free Casor. Parker offered him a job and new contract, which Casor signed. He never agreed to work for anyone else and his contract was never sold to anyone.
Johnson sued Parker in 1654 to have Casor returned to him claiming that he, not the contract, was Johnson’s property. There was nothing in the law to allow such a claim and the initial court ruling sided with Parker. Slavery was not legal, and the court concurred with the law.
It should have ended with the initial ruling, but Johnson appealed the following year. The court reversed the ruling and found that Casor, without an existing contract, belonged to Johnson. Parker was ordered to return Casor to Johnson and pay the court dues. There was no legal basis for the ruling and marked the first time an indentured servant was considered property who had nothing wrong.
During the early years of Virginia, those of African descent were seen as no different than those of European descent. About 20% of free black Virginians owned their own homes and could leave their land to their children. Jamestown was not founded on the basis of slavery, which is why the 70 laws passed in 1619 never included slavery.
The first slave law in the 13 colonies that would become the United States was not passed until 1661 in Virginia. After that first law, things went from bad to worse for those of African descent. Johnson died in 1670 and had his plantation taken away from his family, since he was not considered to be a citizen.
It would be a little over a century before the first shots of the American Revolution was fired and a bloody war fought to be free of British oppression. The United States Constitution replaced the short-lived confederacy in 1787. The 13th Amendment, which officially ended slavery in the United States, was passed in 1865 towards the end of another bloody war.
It took 78 years from the founding of the United States Constitution to bring an end to what Johnson had started a little over two centuries prior. There is no shortage of people today who make the claim that African slavery existed within the United States for 400 years, which is clearly not the case. The colonies were founded on English Common Law and not one colony legalized slavery of Africans until 1661.