African American Women in Colonial and Revolutionary America
The early Europeans brought Africans with them to the Americas, and it was not long before the institution of slavery was established in what would become the United States. When the laws changed so that, for those of African ancestry, servitude followed the condition of the mother, not the father, the system of chattel slavery had begun. The story of African American women in these times is mostly of women without names. Phillis Wheatley is one, but not the only, exception to this enforced anonymity.
Women and African American History: 1492-1699
• Columbus discovered America, from the perspective of Europeans. Queen Isabella of Spain declared all indigenous peoples her subjects, in the lands claimed by Columbus for Spain, preventing the Spanish conquerors from enslaving the Native Americans. The Spanish thus looked elsewhere for the labor they needed to take advantage of the New World’s economic opportunities.
• Spain permitted African slaves to be sent to the Americas
• first African slaves arrived in Hispaniola
• Isabel de Olvero, part of the Juan Guerra de Pesa Expedition, helped to colonize what has since become New Mexico
• (August 20) 20 men and women from Africa arrived on a slave ship and were sold in the first North American slave auction — by British and international custom, Africans could be held in servitude for life, though white Christian indentured servants could only be held for a limited term
• Anthony Johnson, son of an African mother, arrived in Virginia. He lived with his wife, Mary Johnson, in Accomack on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, the first free Negroes in Virginia (Anthony taking his last name from his original master). Anthony and Mary Johnson eventually founded the first free black community in North America, and themselves held servants “for life.”
• Virginia census lists 23 “Negroes” including some women; ten have no names listed and the rest only first names, likely indicating lifetime servitude — none of the women are listed as married
• Virginia census lists twelve black men and eleven black women; most have no names and do not have the dates of arrival that most white servants in the census have listed — only one of the blacks has a full listing