Norrece Jones on the early status of Africans in Virginia
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Q: In regards to the formal structure for slavery, how would you describe the early colony of Virginia when, say, around 1619 the first ship arrived?
A: In early Virginia, this new land, this trying to understand what their fate will be in this new system. They are going to be encountering a greater fluidity of possibilities within that early colony. We don't know exactly what the status is of many of these individuals. But there is evidence from early musters of the Virginia population that whereas European indentured servants are on the list given marital status (misses, whoever), in the case of Africans there are no surnames, there's no marital status. And there are no dates there. And what the dates meant, and why they're so important, is that if one were an indentured servant, the date of arrival is absolutely crucial because that begins the calendar or the clock ticking, we might say, of how long one's going to have the status of being an indentured or a dependent laborer. The fact that we don't have this on these early accounts of the population for Africans suggests that already there is a distinction between these two different types of dependent labor.
Norrece T. Jones, Jr.
Associate Professor of History and African American Studies
Virginia Commonwealth University
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