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Looking Back on Slavery in Virginia

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F.T. Rea wrote an interesting piece that left out some significant facts regarding the history of slavery in Virginia ("Unvarnishing Virginia History," Back Page, Feb. 28).

The first 20 Africans brought to Jamestown in 1619 were five-year indentured servants, not slaves bound to lifetime servitude. Once they served their indentures, they each received 50 acres of land.

Lifetime servitude -- slavery -- in Virginia and English-speaking America actually came about in 1654 when Anthony Johnson, one of the original indentured Jamestown Africans, sued for and won lifetime servitude of John Casor, another African indentured servant. Slavery in Virginia was begun by a black African.

Twice while under British rule, Virginia tried to abolish slavery, but the Crown would not allow it because it was too profitable for the New England merchants shipping slaves and paying fees to the British Empire.

According to the U.S. Census of 1860, even though Virginia had a "Black Code" on the books that forbade free blacks and free people of color from residing in the state, there were 64,000 of them living and working in Virginia. They were recorded as owning houses, farms, businesses — and slaves.

Additionally, many black Virginians — free and slave — served in the Confederate Army and not just as "servants" or laborers. There are far too many examples to list here, but just this one should suffice:

"Robert (Uncle Bob) Wilson, Negro veteran of the Confederate army who observed his 112th birthday last January 13, died early yesterday morning in the veterans' hospital at the Elgin State hospital. ... He enlisted as a private in Company H of the 16th regiment of Virginia Infantry on Oct. 9, 1862 and discharged May 31, 1863." -- Elgin (Illinois) Daily Courier-News, Monday, April 12, 1948

History is a rich topic -- when one actually considers the real history from the source documents.

Michael Kelley
12th-generation Virginian
Pascagoula, Miss.

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