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Meet Anthony Johnson, The First Black Landowner In America In 1651

Meet Anthony Johnson, The First Black Landowner In America In 1651

The first significant black landowner in the English colonies was Anthony Johnson. Johnson landed on board the a ship named ‘James’ in Virginia in 1621. Early records refer to Johnson as “Antonio, a Negro,” but it is unclear if they refer to him as a slave or an indentured servant.

Johnson was forced to work as bound labor on Edward Bennett’s tobacco estate close to Warresquioake, Virginia, regardless of his situation. Local Tidewater Indians raided Bennett’s plantation in March of 1622, murdering fifty-two persons. Only five people on the plantation survived the attack, including Johnson.

Similar to Anthony, “Mary, a Negro Woman” arrived in 1622 on board the ship named ‘Margrett and John’ and wound up on Bennett’s plantation. Anthony and Mary were wed at some point; Mary is identified as Anthony’s wife in a 1653 court document from Northampton County. The partnership was successful and long-lasting, lasting more than 40 years and giving birth to at least four children, including two sons and two daughters. According to court records, the pair was well-liked in their neighborhood for their “hard work and well-known service.”


Anthony and Mary acquired their freedom at some point between 1625 and 1640, relocated to Virginia’s Eastern Shore, and bought a little estate. By 1651, Johnson had claimed 250 acres of land along Pungoteague Creek. They had started growing cattle and hogs. Five headrights, one of which was in the name of his son Richard Johnson, were used to support his claim to the land.
Although it is impossible to confirm, it is conceivable that Anthony brought the other men whose names are included on the headright land claims. He might have acquired headright certificates from other planters as well. In any case, by the standards of the time, a plantation of 250 acres was sizable. Richard and John Johnson, the two sons of Johnson, each held lands that bordered their father’s property by 1654.

Anthony Johnson was not only a landowner, but he also owned servants. According to court records, Johnson defeated white landowner Robert Parker in a 1655 dispute over who would possess his slave, John Casor. Casor attempted to argue that he was an indentured servant rather than a slave with the aid of Robert Parker. Although the courts initially ruled in Parker’s favor, temporarily freeing Casor, they later overturned the ruling, placing Casor back in the employ of Anthony Johnson, his master.

In 1653, a fire significantly damaged the Johnson’s property. Anthony and Mary asked the court for tax relief as a result of the fire, and it was granted on the basis that they would find it difficult to make a living. Anthony and Mary Johnson, their dependent children, and their married sons, John and Richard, all relocated to Maryland at some point in the 1660s. Anthony rented a 300-acre vineyard in Maryland called Tonies Vineyard, where he resided until his death in 1670.

Mary left a cow to each of her grandsons in her testament from 1672, even though she outlived her husband. John Jr., the grandson of Anthony and Mary, bought a 44-acre estate in 1677 and gave it the name Angola. However, John Jr. later passed away without leaving an heir, and by 1730, the Johnson line had disappeared from the annals of history.


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