I’ve been spontaneously researching this the last few days after I saw a post making a shocking claim that “only 1.4% of people owned slaves in 1860!”, followed by claims that the first slaveowner was in fact, black.
Obviously, these are pretty big claims, and I realised I knew nothing about the start or timeline of slavery, despite having studied the following civil rights movement in GSCE history. All I knew was that slavery had happened, was influential in the American and British economy, and had ended…I wasn’t even sure exactly when it had ended.
Over the following few days, I’ve filled myself in through some vigorous wikipedia-mining, and now feel confident enough in my basic knowlege to assert firstly that:
- Yes, if you manipulate the ownership statistics, you can find a 1.4% statistic, but this ignores joint ownership and profits by families, the wider effects of people who did not directly enslave others, the fact this is only one point in time, and most importantly, the fact that slavery was already illegal in the Northern states by the time of this census!
- Yes, Anthony Johnson was the first man legally declared a slave-owner, with the word “slave” used to describe the lifetime servitude that worker John Casor was legally bound to following a dispute over ownership of his contract. However, this ignores the fact that there had already been men enslaved for life, as punishments, and that first usage in a court document does not reflect the first practise of slavery.
But there is so much more, most interestingly in how sex and capitalism intersect with the already obvious racial dynamic at play, and also how religion played a far stronger role than one might expect.
I’m looking forward to finding more resources from author’s other than “Wikipedia”, and magnifying their insights and words too in my research.