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De Omnibus Dubitandum - Lux Veritas

Friday, December 16, 2022

Creative Historical Interpretations Are Not History

The dominating narrative in American schools and the popular culture today is that slavery began in America in 1619.  Unfortunately, there is about as much truth in that scenario as there was in the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” media crusade in August 2014.  Nikole Hannah-Jones and her Critical Race Theory comrades prove beyond doubt the accuracy of Arthur Schlesinger’s maxim that “history is a weapon.”  They distort the historical narrative by omitting key facts that, if told, would present an entirely different view of the past.

There seems to be a general consensus, regarding the arrival of African slaves at Jamestown in 1619. They were first captured in Angola, and sold to Portuguese slavers based in Luanda. While in transport towards Mexico, two English corsairs flying a Dutch flag captured this Portuguese ship in the Gulf and removed some of the slaves, who were then brought to Jamestown, which was in desperate need of laborers. Here, “some twenty odd” Africans were exchanged for “victuals.”

Then, the historical concurrence stops.  Hannah-Jones argues that all the Africans were reduced to slavery, while others argue that they were given the same status as White contracted laborers. Some argue that the word “servant” and not “slave” was used in Virginia’s first census of 1620. What complicates matters is that indentured servants sometimes referred to themselves as slaves.

The status of the Africans is also unclear because after the 1625 census we lost sight of them.  In putting forth the claim that those Africans who arrived in 1619 were life-long slaves it’s necessary to generalize events and omit key facts. For example, in 2011 Barack Obama signed a proclamation at the landing site, which read:

The first enslaved Africans in England’s colonies in America were brought to this peninsula on a ship flying the Dutch flag in 1619, beginning a long ignoble period of slavery in the colonies and, later, this Nation.

Unfortunately, that’s not the entire story. The words probably, may, and likely, are freely used to support the argument that the enslavement of Africans in colonial America began in 1619.  The Africans were indeed slaves when they arrived in Virginia, and they undoubtedly would have continued to remain slaves had they reached their intended destination in Mexico.  What the historical record in Virginia does show is that the small group of Africans was repeatedly referred to as “servants” in the annual censuses of 1620, 1624, and 1625.  Moreover, several of them appear later as free persons.  For this to happen, they undoubtedly had to have been accorded the status of their White equals (indentured servants).  Anthony  Johnson — one of the earliest Africans to arrive — began his life in Virginia as an indentured servant who gained his freedom and eventually became the owner of 250 acres of land through the headright system. His African wife, Mary, arrived in Virginia around 1622 or 1623 and was reported as living with Anthony in 1625.  They were both free before 1645 and “became comparatively prosperous landowners” on Virginia’s eastern shore.  In February 1653, Johnson’s home and some outbuildings were consumed by fire and he received public assistance from the colony because of his “hard labor and known service.” There’s more:

Two years later, when he and his family had again attained a modicum of prosperity, he successfully sued a prominent planter who he accused of illegally confiscating some of his livestock. Then in 1654, an incident took place that proved that Johnson, a black man, not only owned another member of his race, but was able to keep him in bondage for the rest of his life. The man in question was a ‘Negro called John Casor,’ who convinced a white neighbor that he was an indentured servant who should have been freed at the expiration of his tenure. Believing Casor, the man took him home to work in his own tobacco fields . . . In the end, the justices decided that Casor ‘shall forthwith be returned unto the service of his master Anthony Johnson.’

It’s ironic that this civil suit, which is cited as the first example of an enslaved African, had an African master.  The life of John Pedro provides another example: in 1625, John was listed in the household of Francis West, but was a free landowner in Lancaster, Virginia by the 1650s. Another, John Phillip, was thought to have been “the only African to arrive in Virginia free.”

Unfortunately, the scant records do not tell us much about the lives of these few dozen Africans.  Some Africans achieved free status and successfully sued — not just once, but twice — more prominent White colonists.  It is true that by the 1660s, the colonies were increasingly moving towards the institution of slavery, but when viewed within the context of global events, this is hardly seem surprising.  English civilians had long been at risk of enslavement themselves by Africans — as the White aristocrats in charge of the early Virginia colony were fully aware.  The coasts of England, Scotland, and Ireland had been targeted by Muslim slavers from North Africa.  Since the Berber invasion of Spain and France, large Islamic armies had launched massive slave raids against Christian Europe.  Unlike Europe, which sought spices, Muslim armies sought “white gold” — slaves.  Men  were prized as galley slaves, eunuchs, and laborers who were worked to death in the mines and  quarries of North Africa.  Between 1400 and 1700, hundreds of thousands of white Christian boys and girls were seized by the Ottoman Empire in a form of “child tax” called devshirme.  It should be noted the early English explorer of Virginia, James Smith, was a soldier of fortune whose military experience fighting the Ottomans helped the colony to survive.  In August 1625 — the very year the Virginia census listed 25 Africans living there — Muslim slavers from Africa seized over 60 English residents who sought refuge in a church in Cornwall.  That same month, the Plymouth mayor decried that “27 ships had been taken and all the men on board, over 200 of them – had been made slaves.”

From Lundy Island, Muslim slavers established a permanent base and preyed upon England and Ireland for years. On two occasions, they sailed to Iceland, successfully capturing nearly 400 people, leaving more than 36 dead, some burned alive.  In 1631, African slavers seized 89 women and children and 20 men from Ireland, selling them in Algiers.  African-based slavers even attacked the Faroe Islands while continuing to ravage helpless towns all over coastal Europe. One Icelandic historian writes:

By the 1650s, there were 30,000 prisoners from coastal lands all over Europe in Algiers alone… As one of the hapless 400, Guðríður spent nine years in what’s now Algiers before the Danish government finally came up with ransom money… She was ransomed in June 1636 but had to leave her son behind in Algiers.

Ben Johnson succinctly summarizes it here:

For over 300 years, the coastlines of the south west of England were at the mercy of Barbary pirates (corsairs) from the coast of North Africa… Between 1677 and 1680 the English were losing 3,000 people to Muslim slavers per year, highlighting a problem that had not abated for the entirety of the century.

In the first half of the seventeenth century, more White Europeans were seized and taken to Africa than Black Africans seized and taken to America.

Nor were the English unfamiliar with events in eastern Europe — Ottoman slave raids from the Crimean Khanate enslaved an estimated 2 million people over hundreds of years.  Nor were the colonists in America immune.  The enslavement of White Americans and Europeans continued until actions by the United States in 1815 and England in 1816 finally brought it to an end. By this time, both the nations had outlawed the trans-Atlantic slave trade by stationing fleets of warships to intercept and free any slaves they encountered.  It’s worth remembering that very few of the slaves from Africa ever arrived in North America.  African-American historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr. states that — of the 10.7 million who disembarked in the New World — only 450,000 African slaves were ever brought to North America.  Africans from Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli, on the other hand, are estimated to have enslaved 1.25 to 1.5 million  White Europeans.  Just as the facts surrounding the details of those few dozen Africans who disembarked in Virginia remain unclear, so the total number of Europeans who suffered enslavement by people of color remains hazy.

What is clear is that there has been a deliberate omission of the historical record in American schools regarding the subject of slavery and how it influenced the foundation of America.  Nor are many Americans aware that in its first 100 years as a nation, the U.S. fought three anti-slavery wars — two to free White slaves and one to free Blacks.  To deliberately ignore these historical truths is not only deceitful and wrong, it’s malicious.  What has been the result of this deliberate distortion of our nation’s past? National division.  Increased racial tension and hate crimes, emanating from a false narrative.  A lack of patriotism in our younger generation.  New forms of discrimination and racial segregation aimed against those who supposedly “enjoy” the benefits of “White privilege.”  Increased social upheaval within our once grand cities.  A collapse of our educational system.  A weakened military. Increased tribalism all across the nation.

This has been the toll of the false historical narrative. Literally, the survival of our nation is at stake.

How do we correct the problem? Simple.  We demand a return to the honest teaching of American history.


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