The African Americans

Search for Truth and Knowledge

By Dr. Leonard Jeffries, Jr.

Part Fourteen: Free African American Families in America

African Labor, Property Ownership and Institution Building

A free African Community developed in the 1640's in Virginia in the Tidewater area of the Eastern Shore, along banks of the Pungoteaque River. It was here that the first community of Black property owners was established. The human drama of these forgotten African Families is an inspiring story.

 In 1625 there were only 23 Africans in the Virginia Colony, by the 1650's the figure increased to more than 300 African Freemen and indentured servants. Between 1670 and 1680 this African population increased from 2,000 to 3,000. During this period the legal status of the African population was undergoing change. Free Africans by statute law, for example, were prohibited from owning white servants. Other laws were passed creating a permanent slave system. In spite of the laws and customs restricting the African population, many remained free and continued to accumulate property. There were various ways to obtain property. Some received land under the head-rights system which allowed you to own forest land you cleared and made productive. Others purchased land outright or acquired it through wills of former masters. As a result of these events, a class of Free African property owners began to emerge in Virginia and other American Colonies and their descendants continue to play an important role in American Society.

In the same year, 1651, another African John Johnson received a tract of 550 acres of land as head-rights for importing eleven white servants for help clear the land. Other free Africans also increased their land holdings. Sometimes disputes arose over who had proper title to the newly claimed lands. In 1663, for example, John Johnson, Sr. was involved in a court dispute with his African neighbor over the title of 450 acres. By 1670, the Virginia Colony assembly passed laws restricting the property ownership of Free African Americans.

Laws were also passed to separate white indentured servants form African indentured servants and create a permanent status of slavery for Africans. In spite of the growing slavery system in southern colonies of America, the Free African population continued to increase and expand their ownership of property. For the next two centuries this Free African population became the base for building the institutions and traditions of today's African American community.

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