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Before Slavery

December 2023
1min read

In the May/June issue, “The Most Underrated National Turning Point” is listed as 1619, “when some twenty Africans were brought to Jamestown by a Dutch trading vessel. What if the tobacco growers of Virginia had simply turned them away?…Or [if] they didn’t want slaves competing with freemen in the fields?” Writes Bernard A. Weisberger: “That day in 1619 made us a biracial (later to become a multiracial) society, like it or not. And I am surprised how rarely I see it referred to with the gravity it deserves.”

I agree partially with Mr. Weisberger on the importance of that day, but, according to The Negro Almanac: A Reference Work on the Afro-American , compiled and edited by Harry A. Ploski and James Williams, those 20 black Africans came to Jamestown not as slaves but as indentured servants in 1619. They were freed and given land after a stipulated term, as were white indentured servants. They were even allowed to vote. White Irish and Negroes were even offered for temporary sale in the same newspaper ads while indentured.

A Virginia law of 1661 ruled that black slaves were to be “perpetual servants.” Maybe that is the day that should really be considered “The Most Underrated National Turning Point” in our history.

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