King James gave us the King James Bible. He also planted tares along with the wheat that America is harvesting today. He gave us Jamestown, which was built on the tribal lands of the Algonquin Indians. 1605, unbeknownst to the Indians who never heard of England, King James signed a “Charter” which read in part “all the rights to all the lands, woods, soils, grounds, ports, rivers, mines, minerals, and commodities” were awarded to a group of English merchants to establish a colony for profit.
On April 26 1607, a group of ill prepared entrepreneurs established a settlement in the mosquito infested, marshy swamp lands of coastal Virginia. By winter only 38 of the original 105 colonists had survived. They were dispirited, weak, and disorganized as well as being surrounded by indigenous peoples who were, (depending on who you asked), either “hostile,” or “not happy with all these illegal aliens.” Reinforcements, fresh supplies and John Smith brought help and order, saving the colony which started to make a profit by selling the newest rage in Europe, tobacco. The local Indians established a truce and relationship with the English, trading crops for European wonders, products, gizmos and inventions.
Two things happened in 1619 (one year before the Pilgrims) which was a game changer. Women arrived from Europe (up until this time only men were part of this enterprise). The second thing was Africans were brought to the New World to tend to tobacco growing which was very labor intensive. Most who came were indentured servants. Indentured servants sold themselves for 4 to 8 years as a price of passage to a new world and all its possibilities and opportunity. Indentured servants, black and white worked side by side under the hot Virginia sun and horrific circumstances, sometimes right alongside their masters and their master’s family. Sometimes the indentured servants would try to run away. In 1640 three “made a run for it.” They were the Three Musketeers for Freedom; they were free until they were caught in Maryland and tried for violating their indentured servant’s contract. A Dutchman named Victor, a Scotchman named James Gregory and an African named John Punch stood before the “Justice.” Victor and James were whipped and four additional years were added to their contract. John Punch’s sentence was different. He was to be a slave for the rest of his life. This was the first seed of such a great sorrow planted in American soil which would produce a bitter harvest still being reaped to this day. What happened to John Punch’s quest for freedom in Virginia would eventually lead to the Civil War and to the battles fought at Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and the civil unrest and resentment felt today by many blacks when they see the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia on a pickup truck driving around some monument in Charlottesville today.
The House of Burgesses felt it had to address the costly problem of indentured servants bolting (both “negro and white.”) Time lost in the field, as well as chasing, tracking, and transporting fugitives back called for measures both punitive and preventive and land owners sought a remedy for such a costly annoyance. Courts added additional time to the servant’s contract, or working a year while wearing a leg iron, or even being branded on the cheek with a red hot branding iron. White indentured servants felt no compunction to “not dream” of running away with a black servant until a law was passed which added the time of any or all the blacks who helped them or of those they helped to their own sentence, so a division of difference was cleaverly wedged to separate men and women by race, not their indentured standing. Laws upon laws were passed to discourage runaways, even to the point of fining the master for the inconvenience of allowing it to happen in the first place. This caused punishments to become more severe. Chattel slavery as an institution was being legally forged, link by link until the very heavy chains of injustice would wrap America like those that entwined Marley’s Ghost. The landowners of Virginia were not “racists” at first. They did not hate black people. They were businessmen and all these laws had to do with “profit” and sending more tobacco, and eventually cotton to Europe.
Before 1662 a slave born to a white master, might find legal standing upon declaring her Christian faith and her paternal relationship to her white father. Seeing that danger, in 1662 the House of Burgesses passed a law stating that a child born to a slave was a slave, regardless of who the father was. So much for inalienable rights endowed by the Creator. Indentured servitude was not as financially lucrative as slavery and if slavery was to be protected, laws were passed to close this way of escape. Legal status was changed from the paternal to the maternal relationship. If your mother was a slave it did not matter who the father was, you were born a piece of property with no rights, no recourse, and no hope of freedom.
King James and all those who passed laws that took away tribal lands, or turned people into property have died long ago, but the spectral memories which still haunt the House of Burgesses and hover over the unmarked graves of those who failed in their attempt to “make a run for it,” should cause us to pause and like Ebenezer Scrooge to ponder the ethereal visitation of conscience and thank God that we have awakened in time for Christmas morning as an opportunity to know the love of God and have a change of heart, and to live to see another day when both slave owner and slave, in cotton fields and cotton mills, in counting houses, and call centers strive no more to lord over anyone, but rather practice what we preach as we sing Joy to the World, the Lord has come, and for the Prince of Peace to bring salvation from a Prince of Darkness and to remove the shackles of the worst kind of slavery: sin. Ebenezer Scrooge enquired as to the continued availability of a large turkey hanging in the butcher’s window on Main Street, intending to show a kindness to the Cratchit household and then determined to increase Bob Cratchit’s wages and seek medical assistance for Tiny Tim. Charles Dickens, was neither an Apostle nor one of the Magi, but he raised his Ebenezer (like Samuel in I Sam 7:12) reminding us that a Christian nation (if there is or ever was) should be “doers of the word and not hearers only.” -id