Delmarva Settlers

Biographical Profiles
The Johnson Family: The Migratory Study of an
African-American Family on the Eastern Shore

By Ryan Charles Cox


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Chapter 3: The Value of Land

The colonists had demands on the lands which differed from those of the Native Americans who had lived there before European settlement.[46] Unaware of the commodities that lay underneath the Chesapeake wilderness, the Indians were thought to have no real interest in it because they did not "civilize" or alter the landscape. Consistent with the scrutiny the English had of anyone or anything foreign to them; their views of the Indians were equal to the animals, which roamed the earth alongside them. Included in the first Virginia charter in 1606, colonists were authorized to occupy and settle in areas "not actually possessed of by any Christian Prince, nor inhabited by Christian people."[47] The Virginia Company did recognize some boundaries where the local tribes lived, but as more settlers arrived into the region forced the Indians to encroach upon neighboring territory, thus creating conflict. The consequences of this crowding and removal of the aboriginal peoples came to light in March of 1622 when tribes from the Powhatan Confederacy that occupied the tidewater region of the Chesapeake attacked and killed more than three hundred men, women, and children. This illustrated their anger towards the foreign, pale-skinned people living in the areas of the familiar Patuxent and Potomac rivers and newly renamed James and York rivers. Despite the hostility, the drive and desire for free land occupied a permanent place in the hearts of emigrants as they traveled across the Atlantic and settled in North America.

Ownership of land raised one economically, politically, and socially above those who did not own property. With the accumulation of more land came more respect, power and responsibility. There were numerous ways of achieving the status of landowner. One could obtain land as a gift for meritorious service to the colony, such as those who performed manual services, occupied administrative office, or those who provided religious sanctity to settlers. The people who became servants of the Virginia Company would receive one hundred acres at the completion of their contract prior or during the administration of Sir Thomas Dale, marshal and acting governor of Virginia who held office in 1611, and 1614-1616. Another means of receiving land from the Company would be through a bill of adventure of owner of a single share that entitled them to one hundred acres. But due to disorderly record keeping, this method was not very effective when it came time to plot and outline the land reserved for shareholders.

The most utilized way to obtain land was through the headright system, which began operation in 1618. Essentially anyone who entered into the colony and paid for their own passage, andlor the passage of anyone else into Virginia would be granted fifty acres per person, including him or herself Applicants would make a claim to a piece of land and provide the names of the transported persons. Then surveyors would lay out the area and create a certificate with the location, name, boundaries, and acreage of the plot. If there were no complaints to the claim, then a patent was issued.[48] Often many individuals used the method of transporting others in order to receive patents for sizable tracts of land.[49] This was the means by which Anthony Johnson would receive his land on Virginia's Eastern Shore beginning in the 1640s and the process was continued by the rest of his family for decades.

Even though Anthony and Mary Johnson began their lives in Virginia as servants, they were eventually freed and owned their own land by 1650. After working under Richard Bennett on the Western Shore of the Chesapeake Bay in Wariscoyack near the mouth of the James River during the 1620s, the family eventually found their way to the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Unfortunately, records are not available to piece together the travels of the couple between those dates. The first record of the Johnsons on the Eastern Shore of Virginia is in the beginning of 1650 when Anthony received two hundred and fifty acres of land for the transportation of five people into Northampton County. The names underwritten were Thomas Bemrose, Peter Bagley, Anthony Crippes, Richard Johnson, Anthony's son, and John Goesorrow, a long time servant to the Johnson family.[50] The land was located on Craddock Creek, which was on the dividing line between Northampton and Accomack Counties. This would prove to be a suitable location, for two years later Anthony's son Richard would claim one hundred acres for the headrights of William Jones and William Vincent,[51] along with five hundred and fifty acres adjacent to his father's land in May of 1652 for the transportation of eleven people into the county.[52]

While the Johnsons had only lived on the Eastern Shore of Virginia a short while, their hard work and participation in the early formation of the county was not overlooked when tragedy struck. In 1653, "upon petition of Anthony Johnson Negro, and Mary his wife and their information to the court that they have lived as inhabitants in Virginia (above thirty years), consideration being taken of their hard labor and known service performed by the petitioners for the obtaining of their livelihood and great losses by fire," the Johnson women, Mary and her two daughters, were exempt from paying taxes or levies in Northampton County.53 Were it not for the understanding of the court, the family surely would not have been able to endure such a disaster regardless of what race the Johnsons happened to have been.

Due to the fact that there were few people settling in selected areas previously surveyed and cleared, it was convenient for the men of the family to stay in the same area once they were mature enough to buy and sell land. But for the women, they were not in such a position to hold onto their own land. Most possessions owned by women would legally be recognized as their father's, or husband's if they were to marry, and only allowed to be used with their permission. Anthony Johnson's daughter Jane would experience this in fall of 1657 in a deposition by Nicholas Waddlelowe. On 27 September, Waddlelowe proclaimed that Tobot Deabot, an Indian King often referred to as Debedeavon, and nicknamed "The Laughing King" due to his lightheartedness and friendliness towards the English settlers, gave to Anthony Johnson's daughter Jane one hundred acres next to her brother John.[54] The reasoning behind the present is not expressed and impossible to know for certain, but under the circumstances, a gift such as this could have been a wedding present to the young girl from the bridegroom's father. Black and Indian relations were strong during these times considering the lowered position socially the two groups occupied. However, without coherent records to express the motive behind the gift, speculation on it would be unproductive.

Regardless of the intentions of the land, there was more to the process in order for Jane to receive it; the land must be available. According to the research conducted by Ralph T. Whitelaw in his work based on the recorded land transactions of the Eastern Shore of Virginia, nothing more was found referring to this plot.[55] The land courd either have been a mistake and not legally owned by the Indian King, or there was no room for the one hundred acres promised to the young girl. Capt. George Parker, a prominent figure during this time, bought the open plot in 1671.

There has been a lot of discussion as to the actual identity of the Laughing King. Researchers have found a number of record entries identifying the Indian King by various Anglican names.[56] There is a possibility that Tobot Dobot, Debedeavon, The Laughing King and Esmy Shichans were possibly the same person, just various monikers used by the court recorders at the time. Regardless of whom the man was, the importance of the native peoples role in creating these networking connections was invaluable to settlers in the region. Being the only indigenous people to the area, blacks and whites alike would have to use the Indians intelligence and technology if they were to survive. A settler in the area did not have the luxury of hand selecting who their neighbors would be, but given the circumstances, these developing tn-racial connections and communities were essential in order for a community to develop fUlly. Researchers would never know the names of individuals such as George Parker, Anthony Johnson and Esmy Shichans were it not for the individuals discussed creating these relationships with one another at first out of necessity, and later out of choice and/or perhaps even friendship. Hardship in the environment knew nothing of skin color, so the wisest of settlers in the region adapted the same mentalities.

Land plots were constantly being bought and sold, and at times without the owner even setting foot on the land or clearing it of debris so that crops could be planted. Of the two hundred and fifty acres originally given to Anthony Johnson for his five headrights in 1651, by 1665 he had given the rights and title to fifty of those acres to his son Richard, with the remaining land given to Morris Matthews and John Rowles.[57] After the land left the hands of Anthony Johnson, the two men would have to rely on slow information gathering and lack of communication and hope that the land would be theirs to own. Five years after Johnson sold the land, Morris Matthews appointed Devorax Brown to be his attorney, who in turn sold the one hundred acres to Captain Parker in Nandua Creek. Apparently Devorax Brown and Matthew's neighbor John Rowles thought that Morris Matthews was dead and sold the land accordingly. The sale was questioned when it was discovered that Matthews had simply left the area and moved north to Maryland. After it was known that Morris Matthews would stay in Maryland, the land was returned to Captain Parker. [58]

The migration that Morris Matthews took north to Maryland was not an unfamiliar action during the middle of the seventeenth century. After Cecilius Calvert, Lord Baltimore II, gave word that the land known as Somerset, below the Choptank River, would be open for settlement in 1660, those in Virginia would be some of the first travelers searching for a fresh start. The land was named after Lady Mary Somerset, sister of Anne Arundell, Cecilius Calvert's wife.[59] Conditions worsened as overpopulation and civil unrest due to political and religious ties haunted the Eastern Shore of Virginia. The Johnsons, along with hundreds of other Virginia families, would make the trip north to new lands in search of better conditions and freedoms that were being taken from them in Virginia.

The Johnsons would find themselves in Maryland, in the company of one of the most successful men to live in the Chesapeake region during the time, Randall Revell. Revell was a member of the Virginia House of Burgess for Northampton County in 1657 and 1658, and county justice in 1661. Revell was appointed in that year to grant lands on the Eastern Shore; no doubt this was the time that he, along with Ann Toft, would claim a plantation "Double Purchase" located on Revell's Neck off the Manokin River.[60] Granted in 1662, and patented in July of 1665, the three thousand acre plot contained the list of headrights that the two settlers claimed when receiving their land. Among those listed were Anthony and Mary Johnson, their son John and his wife, or possible servant,

Susan, along with their servant John Casor, spelled in the record as Cassaugh. [61] Whether or not the Johnsons even stayed on the land with Revell is questionable considering that only a percentage of the headrights claimed by Randall Revell and Ann Toft actually resided in Somerset County.62 But what is certain is that wherever the Johnsons were before they moved to Maryland, we know exactly where they were in September of 1666.

"An indenture made on the 10th of August 1666, Stephen Horsey of Anamessick sells to Anthony Johnson of Manonoakin... one piece or parcel of land called Tonies Vineyard on the south side of Wiccocomoco Creeke... adjacent to Will Bosman... containing by estimation three hundred acres... for a term of two hundred years... paying one pepper corne... along with the Lord's rents and other dues," entered on 10 September 1666 with Anthony Johnson's mark.63 With this entry, the Johnsons are among some of the first settlers of Somerset County and the first blacks mentioned in the court records. Another first for the county involved the Johnsons in a judicial entry in 1667 between Revell and Anthony Johnson's son, John, is the first entry of a free black in debt on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and will be looked at more in chapter 5.

Life on "Tonies Vineyard" would be similar to what the family faced in Virginia. However, it is in Maryland that Anthony Johnson would leave his legacy, for five years later he died at his home in Somerset County. Although the exact date of his death is unknown, and without a will or inventory accounted for, what is known is that this extraordinary individual died sometime before June of 1670. On the 21st of that month, Mary Johnson, relict of Anthony Johnson, signed an indenture with Stephen Horsey for "Tonies Vineyard" for ninety-nine years at the same rent, labeling her sons, John and Richard, as executives of the estate after her.64 Though John and Richard were still in Virginia during this time, as land records would indicate, they would not be far from the rest of family after their father's passing.

As soon as Anthony Johnson's death reached Virginia, the county escheater would act on behalf of the colony. John Stringer, escheater of land for the Eastern Shore of Virginia, found that Anthony Johnson was deceased and seized fifty acres of land that was in the possession of his son Richard. This ruling was based on the fact that the Johnsons were black, and by consequence aliens to the colony, so their land now belonged to the Crown in England.[65] This is ironic since all settlers were aliens to the land except the native Indians. The land was then given to a familiar figure in the Johnson's lifetime, George Parker, now promoted to Major. It is clear that as the seventeenth century closed, further restrictions were placed on blacks who were free and wished to stay in the colony. Virginia enacted laws in the 1690s that stated once a black slave were freed, the freed person would have six months to leave the colony so as not to distract the remaining slaves from their tasks,[66] dreaming of one day being free working for themselves. It even reached the point that if a slave owner wished to free his slaves; he would have to fund the move. But considering a case where a white Richard Johnson attempted to claim four hundred and fifty acres belonging to Anthony's son, Richard Johnson twenty years prior, the mindset was already in place of the government wanting to relieve the blacks of the land they earned. This incident will also be discussed further in chapter 5.

By this time, John Johnson wished to leave the colony and even sold most of his five hundred and fifty acre plot in 1672 that he had owned for more than twenty years. Five hundred acres were sold to Goslin Vanitson in July of 1672, while John Johnson and his wife moved closer to the family still living on "Tonies Vineyard."[67]

John Johnson would be in Maryland for a number of years before owning his own land. In 1677, John Johnson purchased forty-four acres that he named "Angola" from William Grace of Somerset County. This was part of a four hundred and fifty acre plot on the south Wicomico River at a rent of one shilling, nine pence sterling annually.[68] A lot of speculation has been placed on the name of the tract "Angola." Was this an attempt for the Johnsons to connect with their ancestral roots? Or was it simply a word that was familiar to the family and without personal connection? It was believed that some of the best workers for manual labor were those from the Angola region in Africa.[69] After seasoning in the Caribbean, many African workers were brought to the Chesapeake region, bringing their culture and histories with them. Whether or not the Johnson clan originated in Angola, having a name such as that for their home certainly separated them from their white neighbors and expressed the differences even more between the Johnsons and those around them. But ironically, by using those location names connecting blacks to their native lands, they are actually using the same practices as whites did. The same intentions of maintaining those distant connections between Northampton County, Virginia and Northampton, England could have applied to John Johnson when he chose the name Angola.

When reading the records from the counties on the peninsula, one can become confused as to where an individual actually resided when they owned land in many different places. Found in the Accomack County court records, Richard Johnson dealt with an individual that was selling land in Maryland. In May of 1676, Richard Johnson buys five hundred and ninety acres from Christopher Thomson on the Manokin River.[70] This is apparently a portion of an eight hundred acre purchase from Thomson to Johnson. In October of 1679, Richard gives two hundred and ninety-five acres to his sons, Francis and Richard Jr.[71] It is probable that Richard Johnson and his family had interest in the newly-opened Maryland but still lived in Virginia for the time being.

John Johnson however; had interests farther north than Somerset County, Maryland. During the same time his brother Richard was buying land for his sons in Maryland, John was looking at property in Sussex County, Delaware. John Johnson sold two hundred acres to John Hill in February of 1680, and patented it two years later.[72] The patent record labels him as "John Johnson, Sen.," suggesting that he had a mature son now able to own property for himself An entry in September of 1685 also shows John Johnson handling sizable plots for people in the Rehobeth Bay region. Four hundred acres was given to William Futcher by the order of John Barker, who patented the plot on 19 September 1677. [73] Ten years later, John Johnson would sell another four hundred acre plot named "Musmillion" to William Clark.[74]

Through these land records and transactions researchers can gain a sizable amount of information about the people involved other than the location of the plot and the price it was sold. At the same time his brother John was selling large plots of land to people in Delaware, Richard Johnson would be concluding his life in Accomack County. The first and only substantial entry about the death of Richard Johnson comes through an estate account of William Silverthorne. In 1689, Susan Johnson was assessing the estate, and in collecting the debts due to him, as the price for white and blue linen was paid to the sheriff from Richard Johnson's estate.[75] This would have to suffice since no will or inventory is available for this particular Johnson either. Susan Johnson, relict of Richard Johnson, would handle the family's financial issues, no doubt with the responsibility of his two sons if their mother would be unable to do so.

It seemed that Richard Johnson's son, while still in Accomack County,[76] "Richard Johnson, and molatto" would buy three hundred acres in Delaware on the North side of the Indian River called "Rotton." [77] It is believed that this was Richard Johnson's son, Richard Johnson, Jr., since he married Susan, a free white woman, hence the label. There is no further evidence that suggests the rest of the family moved from Accomack County to Delaware. As the century come to an end, the records in all three colonies become loose, scattered, and incomplete.

Although land records are some of the most complete and useful guides to understanding colonial life and settlement, for the Johnson family, researchers are unable to follow their movements accurately through the surviving records. It is difficult to locate some of the Johnson grandchildren in the records due to the lack of the races of people being listed in the records. This fact, coupled with the restrictions that were placed on blacks in the Chesapeake area as they became more populous, and their labor more desirable, developed into the institution of slavery by the turn of the 18th century.

By the time we reach the eighteenth century, it is nearly impossible to see a family such as the Johnsons appear as prominent and active as they were seventy-five years prior. Relations Anthony Johnson had with families such as the Scarboroughs and Bennetts was extraordinary in the sense that given the circumstances. as the wealth made by the families was at the expense of both blacks and whites for their labor. The social atmosphere was changing and it would be much more difficult for a black landowner to own property or slaves, even though there were more black slaves entering the region as the seventeenth century drew to a close.78 It was regulated that thirty years earlier freed slaves would have to migrate outside of the colony within six months of their emancipation, but in 1700, there were few free black people.

In order to understand how Anthony and Mary Johnson were so fortunate to escape slavery and prosper during such troublesome times, one must look into the relations that the Johnsons nurtured that enabled them to be so successful. The social standing that the Johnsons held was interesting in that there appeared to be nothing odd about their position. To be viewed as an equal and accepted into one's environment meant having a sense of security. Secure that property and freedoms would not be compromised was the dream that drove Europeans to travel to the New World in the first place; a new opportunity to change the place in society, no matter what transpired in the past.


46 Breen and Innes, Myne Owne Ground, 40.

47 W. Stitt Robinson, Jr., Mother Earth: Land Grants In Virginia, 1607- 1699 (Williamsburg, VA: The Virginia 350"' Anniversary Celebration Corporation, 1957), 2.

48 Gust Skordus, The Early Settlers of Maryland: An Index to Names of Immigrants Compiled from Records of Land Patents, 1 633-1 680 (Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1968), VII. Receiving a patent was the same in Maryland as it was in Virginia.

49 Susie Ames, Studies of the Virginia Eastern Shore in the Seventeenth Century (New York: Russell & Russell, 1940), 17-19.

50 Northampton County Court Records, Deeds, Wills, & etc., Volume 3, Number 3, 1645-1657, folio 237. See Appendix A on page 70 for a copy of the original record.

51 Northampton County Deeds and Wills, Volume 4,1651-1654, folio 103.

52 Ralph T. Whitelaw, Virginia's Eastern Shore: A History of Northampton and Accomack Counties (Camden, ME: Picton Press, 1989), 699.

53 Northampton County, 1651-1654, folio 161. For tax purposes, Mary and her daughters were equal to any white woman in the county, despite the fact that they worked the ground and should be taxed. The county court felt tat the fire would set the family on the brink of bankruptcy and starvation if they did not grant their request. Idea expressed in Breen and limes, Myne Owne Ground, 12.

54 Northampton County Court Orders, 1657-1664, folio 7-8. See Appendix B on page 71 for a copy of the original record.

55 Whitelaw, Virginia's Eastern Shore, 699.

56 For more information of the identity of the Laughing King, refer to the following: Ralph T. Whitelaw's Virginia's Eastern Shore, pages 23, 216, 219, 280,287, 612 for references identifying the Laughing King as Debedeavon. Nell Marion Nugent's Cavaliers and Pioneers, pages 30 and 75 for references identifying the Laughing King as Esmy Shichans, also found in Helen C. Rountree and Thomas E. Davidson's Eastern Shore Indians of Virginia and Maryland (Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 1997), pages 44, 50-57, and 206-07.

57 Accomack County Court Records, Orders, Deeds, and Wills, 1664-1671, folio 12.

58 Accomack County Court Records, 1671-1673, folios 7-8, 25.

59 J. Hall Pleasant, ed., Archives of Maryland LIV, xxvii.

60 Ibid., xxxi.

61 Maryland Land Office, Patent Record, 1664-1665, 8,495-96 (microfilm, SR 7350, Edward H. Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture, Salisbury University, Salisbury, Maryland). Within this text is the native word for area in question, it was called Arracoco. See Appendix C on page 72 for a copy of the original record.

62 See Clayton Torrence's Old Somerset on the Eastern Shore of Maryland; A study in Foundations and Founders (Baltimore, Regional Publishing Company, 1966), 473-74.

63 J. Hall Pleasant, ed., Archives of Maryland, LIV, Liber B, No. 1,32. See Appendix Don page 73 for a transcript of the deed,

64 Somerset County Land Records, 1668-1706, B 1/2 GO, Somerset County Courthouse, Princess Anne, Maryland (microfilm, CR 34,3 6, Edward H. Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture, Salisbury University, Salisbury, Maryland), folio 20-21.

65 "Inquisitions of Escheated Lands, 1665-1676," Virginia Genealogical, 20:2 (April-June 1975): 109. Found in a collection of Virginia miscellany papers is one titled "Foreign Business and Inquisitions, 1665- 1676" as part of the records of the Secretary of Colony. Given to the Library of Congress along with Thomas Jefferson's manuscripts, a large portion of it relates to inquisitions to determine whether land has escheated back to the crown or not. See Appendix E on page 74 for a copy of the original record

66 Hening, The Statutes at Large, vol. 3, 1684-1710, 87-88.

67 Accomack County Court Orders, 1671-1673, folio 122. Of the original 550 acres, 50 were previously sold to Vanitson in 1664, which in turn was sold to Major George Parker later that year.

68 Maryland Land Office, Patent Record, 1675-1680, 20, (microfilm, SR 7361, Edward H. Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture, Salisbury University, Salisbury, Maryland), folio 225. Patented 14 May 1679.

69 Breen and Innes, Myne Owne Ground, 71

70 Accomack County Court Records, Deeds and Wills, 1676-1690, folio 14.

71 Ibid., folio 161.

72 Sussex County Deed Record, Liber A1, 168 1-1805, folios 19 and 112.

73 Ibid., folio 45.

74 Ibid., folio 172.

75 Accomack County Wills, Orders, & etc., 16$2-1697, folio 157.

76 Ibid., folio 55. Debt actions brought against him in 3 Dec 1684, 1000 pounds of tobacco to Walter Hargis; and 682 pounds of tobacco to William Parker on 18 Oct 1682 found in Ibid., folio 322.

77 Sussex County Deed Record, 1681-1805, folio 83. Entry dated 30 March 1699 purchased from Richard Ward. Richard Johnson, Anthony Johnson's son, married a white woman named Susan. All entries pertaining to their children interchangeably label tern as either "negro" or "mulatto".

78 Kolchin, American Slavery, 16.

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