The Life of Anthony Johnson and His Experiences in the Slavery in America

Anthony Johnson was a black man who arrived in Virginia around 1621 and was purchased to work as a slave in the tobacco fields of the Bennett Plantation. At that time he was merely known as “Antonio a Negro”, as it wasn’t common for black slaves to have last names. On March 22nd, 1622, an Indian attack on the Bennett plantation left only 12 surviving slaves, one of them being Anthony.

In that same year a woman named Mary arrived at the plantation. Being that she was the only woman living at the Bennett plantation in 1625, Anthony could be considered fortunate to have received her as his wife. Together they had atleast four children. It isn’t known how Anthony received his full name of Anthony Johnson, but the time that it is believed that this happened leaves some clues for speculation. It is presumed that someone named Johnson helped Anthony and his wife escape to freedom, apparently sometime between 1625 and 1650.

In the 1640’s it is believed that Anthony and his family owned a small farm in Northamton where they raised livestock, which was mostly destroyed by fire in 1653. He received relief for this event in the form of his wife’s and two daughters’s excusal from paying taxes. About halfway through the 1660’s the Johnson’s moved to Somerset County, Maryland in search of more productive land. Shortly after acquiring a lease for 300 acres of land Anthony died, leaving his son to take his place as the head of what had become the Johnson Clan.

The similarity of his history with that of white servants of the time seems to be that while he started out in Virginia as a servant, or slave, he had worked his way up to freedom, had a family and established himself as a trustworthy land owner over the years. These too were some of the values he shared with his white neighbors. Having a family, a farm, and freedom. He was also trusted by the white people enough to be allowed to testify in an issue involving white men, and his wife and daughters were excused from paying taxes. At the time that would have classified them as equals to the white women.

There were restraints on Anthony and his family because of their race, atleast in the beginning of their time in Virginia. Obviously, being a slave came with certain restraints, but later in their lives it looks as though they had earned the trust of the people that surrounded them enough to have relatively little in the way of racially motivated restraints. They themselves even owned a black slave.

I see when I look at the history of Anthony Johnson that the hope for freedom of black people at the time wasn’t as grave as I would have thought. Anthony Johnson was able to work his way up from slavery, start a family, and establish a presence where he lived. He was successful enough to be recognized as historically significant, and I think that his accomplishments prove that it wasn’t a completely hopeless situation to be a black slave at that time. Sure, some of his success was credited to him being a lucky man, but he also earned his spot in history.

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