John Casor was legally declared a slave for life on March 8th, 1655, thus becoming the first person ever to receive this treatment.
Britain’s first colony in North America was Virginia. There, the officials of this state offered land for free to those colonist who would bring more colonists to Virginia. Many people were ready to take advantage of this offer, but they couldn’t afford the cost of the trip across the ocean. In order to attract more people, the wealthy colonists of Virginia offered to pay the expenses of the voyage for those who will work for them to repay the debt. The term for people who paid for their journey through labor was ‘indentured servants.‘ Most of these servants learned a trade during the time in which they worked for the debt, and they could earn money through it after the debt was repaid.
One of the first servants to clear his debt was an African named Anthony Johnson who worked from 1619 to 1623 and attained his freedom this way.
Anthony Johnson was from Angola and was one of the first black colonists in America. After gaining his freedom and becoming a “free N*gro,” Johnson soon acquired 250 acres of land and started farming it.
During these four years, he became an accomplished tobacco planter and later employed five indentured servants of his own, one of them being John Casor. For bringing in servants, Johnson was given another 250 acres of land as headrights.
After completing seven years of his service, Casor asked for his freedom, which he was refused by Johnson. But, in the mid-time Johnson was persuaded by his family members to allow John Casor to work for a white colonist named Robert Parker.
Johnson v Parker
Johnson didn’t stick to his decision and chose to take matters to court and demand that John Casor is returned to him for service. County Court of Northampton County, Virginia decided to give the ownership to Johnson on March 8th, 1655 after Johnson claimed that Parker took his “n*gro servant” and that by rights “Thee had ye N*gro for his life.”
Lifelong slave – John Casor
John Casor was returned to Johnson, and as result of this decision, he was the first person ever to be legally declared a slave. Another consequence of this is that Anthony Johnson this way become the first slaveholder in the history of the United States. Casor remained a servant to Johnson for the rest of his life. What Johnson did was a precedent that led to the years of slavery in North America.
Legal implications of the court’s decision were vast, as it set several precedents. It was the first recorded instance of a man being declared slave without committing a crime. John Punch, who was declared indentured servant for life previously has earned his sentence by trying to escape his servitude, and the court found him guilty of breaching the contract. Casor, on the other hand, hasn’t done anything wrong. Several laws were based on his case namely the 1670 act barring “free and baptized n*groes and Indians” from owning Christians, meaning white Europeans. They did, however, retain the right to purchase members of their own race as slaves.
As racism became more prevalent in Virginia, Johnson decided to sell his farm and move to Maryland, where he leased 300 acres for tobacco growing.
After his passing in 1670, Johnson’s 300 acres were passed to white colonists and not to his children. The reason was that as a black man Anthony Johnson was not a citizen of the colony.
By this time, the slave trade was developing into a major business, and slave ships brought more and more African men and women to satisfy the ever-growing need for labor in the colonies. Having other black men as slave owners was considered a bad example that may provoke other slaves to revolt, so in 1699, the Virginia Assembly passed the law expelling all “free N*groes” from the colony, thus declaring that only way for an African to live in Virginia is to be a slave.