The story of our family...for my sons

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Treasurer and history...

Jamestown resident Captain John Thomas Clay was my 9th great grandfather. In Feb 1613 (6 years after the founding of Jamestown), John Thomas Clay arrived in Jamestown aboard the Treasurer. John was called "The English Grenadier". His wife, Anne Nicholls, did not join him until August 1623, when she arrived on the Ann. John probably travelled back and forth from Virginia to England during this ten years before Anne joined him in Virginia. John and Anne were married about 1612 in England.

They settled at Jordan's Journey in Charles City, 21 Jan 1624/25. Together, John and Anne had eight children. A soldier in the British Army, John gained the rank of Captain by the age of 21 and was sent to Virginia to control problems that were developing. John was placed in charge of the fifty Muskateers aboard Captain Samuel Argall's ship, the Treasurer, which was sent to protect the settlers at Jamestown.

The "Treasurer" aka "The African Mayflower"

We are all taught the story of the Pilgrims and the ship, the Mayflower that brought them to Plymouth Rock in late autumn of 1620. The following year, the Governor of the Plymouth colony proclaimed a day of "Thanksgiving" to celebrate their first harvest in America.

On the other hand, little is known or taught about the Africans who arrived in the Jamestown Colony in 1619, more than a year before the arrival of the Mayflower in America. Jamestown, which was established in 1607, was the first permanent English Colony in North America. Although there were already blacks living in Jamestown prior to 1619, the arrival of approximately 20 Africans in 1619 marks the official beginning of slavery in what would become the United States of America.

In April of 1619, the Governor of the Jamestown colony, Sir George Yeardley, sent an English ship named the Treasurer on a supposed "routine trading voyage." The Treasurer was accompanied by a Dutch "Man of War" ship. The Captain of the Dutch ship was named Jope. In fact, the Treasurer's true purpose was to act as a privateer and raid Spanish shipping and the Dutch ship was to cover its activities. Both ships were owned by an Englishman, Robert Rich, the Earl of Warwick, my 11th great granduncle.

While on their joint voyage in the West Indies, the two heavily armed vessels captured a Portuguese merchant-slaver ship named the San Juan Bautista. Included in the plunder taken from the Portuguese ship were approximately 100 Africans. The Dutch ship returned at the end of August of 1619 to Old Point Comfort (near Jamestown) with approximately 20 of the Africans. The Dutch sold most of the Africans to Governor Sir George Yeardley and the colony's wealthiest resident, a merchant named Abraham Peirsey. Smaller vessels smuggled the stolen Africans from Old Point Comfort to Jamestown.

The Portuguese had considered the Africans to be slaves. However, because slavery had been eliminated as a classification in English law, the Africans had to be legally classified as "indentured servants". Based on a census taken in March of 1619, there were already 32 blacks (15 men and 17 women) "in the service" of Jamestown planters prior to the August arrival of the Dutch ship.

There are indications that, after years of servitude, some of the 20 stolen Africans brought to Jamestown eventually obtained their freedom. However, unlike most white indentured servants who voluntarily contracted their services for a specific period of time, these Africans were not given such options and most of them probably remained in servitude for the rest of their lives. Indeed, by 1625, the Jamestown census listed ten "slaves." Over the next decades, the number of African slaves in the colonies would increase by the thousands.

Shortly after the return of the Dutch ship to America in late August of 1619, the Treasurer also returned to America and dropped off an African slave woman named Angela. She was the first African-Virginian whose name is known. The Treasurer then set sail for Bermuda with 29 of the original 100 Africans stolen from the Portuguese ship.

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