By Mark St. John Erickson
1:17 PM EDT, May 9, 2013
When the director of the Middle Passage port markers project arrives in Yorktown to give a talk about slavery Friday night, she'll find herself in the perfect place.
Though Old Point Comfort and Jamestown can lay claim to the first Africans in English America and the nation's first signs of race-based slavery, the powerful Virginia planters along the York River are the ones who really made slavery happen.
Blessed with some of the richest soil in Virginia, they built huge and profitable estates by concentrating on tobacco in a way that other colonists could not. And inspired by what they saw in the sugar plantations in the West Indies, they conspired to create a kind of bondage-based labor system that was far more intense and systematic for the blacks it enslaved than anything ever experienced by white indentured servants.
"There weren't a lot of Africans in Virginia prior to the 1670s," former Colonial Williamsburg historian Lorena S. Walsh told me in February before giving her own talk on early slavery at Jamestown Settlement.
"But by then most had been bought up by the very biggest planters because they had made a choice. They were through using indentured white servants as field workers. They wanted Africans that could serve as slaves for life."
Middle Project director Ann Chin will be talking about the port marker project at 7 p.m. Friday at York Hall, 301 Main St. Her appearance is sponsored by the York County Historical Committee, in cooperation with the Yorktown Middle Passage Committee, and is being given in advance of the dedication of the York River port marker in Yorktown on Memorial Day. Call 898-0782 for more information.
In the works at Hampton Roads History is a more in-depth look at the York River planters and the indispensable role they played in establishing race-based, life-long slavery in Virginia.
Look for it sometime just before the Memorial Day ceremony in Yorktown. -- Mark St. John Erickson
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