John Casor: The first person legally declared a slave for life
During the early 17th century, Virginia introduced the concept of indentured servants. This method allowed people who wanted passage to the New World but had no money to work as a servant for free in exchange for their passage. Indentured servants work for a specific period of time and once the time had been served, they earned their freedom. Casor was one of the many indentured servants during this time.
He was serving a former indentured servant named Anthony Johnson. Johnson completed his period of indenture, obtained his freedom, and successfully worked his way to become a successful tobacco landowner and planter.
Casor’s horrid fate
Just like Johnson, Casor worked tirelessly without pay until the end of his term, which was seven years. But when he completed the required years and requested for his freedom, Johnson refused. Instead of giving his freedom back, Johnson listened to the advice of his family and sent him to work as an indentured servant once again for Robert Parker, a white colonist.
Johnson immediately regretted his decision and wanted to get Casor back. To do this, he filed a case against Parker at the Country Court of Northampton County, Virginia for allegedly taking his “negro servant” and asserting that it was his right to have Casor for the rest of his life.
The court ruled in favor of Johnson on March 8, 1655. Instead of having the chance to be free and have similar opportunities as Johnson later, Casor was returned to Johnson and became the first person in North American colonies to be legally declared a lifelong slave. As a slave, he became Johnson’s possession. He worked tirelessly without pay nor any rights in Johnson’s plantation until his death. Casor’s case became a precedent for lifelong slavery in America.