Racism in the Chesapeake Area
The Chesapeake area in the seventeenth century was a unique community that was almost absent of racism. In this community, at this time, property was the central and primary definition of one’s place in society. The color of one’s skin was not a fundamental factor in being a well respected and valued member of the community. Virginia’s Eastern Shore represented a very small fellowship of people that were not typical of the Southern ideals during this time period and gave free blacks owning property a great deal of respect and merit usually equal to that of any white man around.
Racism, as a generalization, was a common and mostly unified way of thinking in the Southern states for a very long time and was in its prime during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The first importation of slaves into Virginia was in late August of 1619 and was only briefly recorded by one colonist, John Rolfe. He recorded them as “20. and odd Negroes” and from this the black population slowly grew to about three hundred by the mid-century. One must understand that the attitudes towards the blacks that came to Virginia were not inevitable. This is a very important point to note when understanding how the free blacks came to be they way they were in Northampton, Virginia.
It is not specifically known how Anthony Johnson came to own his “modest estate” or how he ended up in Northampton. Historians believe that his former master, Rirchard Bennett, may have been involved with Johnson’s move to Northampton because of his connections with the Scarborough family, a very dominant family in Northampton at the time. Also, as governor, Bennett may have helped to look after the Johnson’s “legal and economic interests” as well. By acquiring his estate, it enabled Johnson to have a constant source of income and therefore help the local community with it’s economy similarly. This relationship between he and the community came to help him when later his estate nearly burned down entirely. The court of Northampton treated him very well in helping them get through the disaster. He was treated just as any white man in Johnson’s position would have been. This example alone shows how merely owning property and giving back to the local community was a priority in establishing respect among people of the Northampton area; his skin color did not matter.
Another free black, Philip Mongum, was given usually respectable treatment for a crime of adultery...