T.H. Breen’s and Stephen Innes’s book “Myne Owne Ground” did an outstanding job of showing readers the differences in perspectives of African people living in Virginia, one of the thirteen original colonies. It went in depth and showed how an indentured African person was competent and was capable of acquiring a wealth comparable to what a wealthy white person has. However, it would never be recognized by the general white population. There are two main themes in this book, whether the society, which was introduced in this book, was color blind or not. On one hand, the authors made an argument that the African people was able to live normally and be viewed as relatively equal to white if they were rich and owned plenty properties. On the other hand, after the Virginia slave codes passed, African people were treated unfairly by the society at that time.
First of all, the society in Virginia was a color-blind society for those African people who were wealthy. This could be seen from families of Anthony Johnson and Emanuell Driggus. Families like theirs were able to collect enough wealth to purchase their own freedom or earn their freedom by working for their “masters”. Also, after they amassed enough wealth, they setup plantations on Virginia’s eastern shores. Moreover, they were even able to purchase slaves and indentured servants as the other white people did. Most importantly, they were treated with justice in the colonial courts. For example, when Johnsons encountered “‘an unfortunate fire’” in February 1653, the court gave Mary and Johnson’s two daughters a financial relief. From this incident, we can easily see that “ By specifically excusing the three black women from public levies, the justices made it clear that, for tax purposes at least, Mary and her daughters were the equals of any white woman in Northampton County” (p12). There were lots of examples that could be used for proving that Virginia colony was a color-blind society, such as John Casor was freed by Johnson via Northampton county’s court.
On another hand, the society in Virginia was a not a color-blind society for those African people who were not wealthy. African “indentured servants” could be considered as significant representatives of a non-color-blind society. Firstly, those African “indentured servants” did not have a last name as white people did during that time, even Anthony Johnson was named “Antonio a Negro” by his master while he just arrived in Virginia as an “indentured servant”. Secondly, non-color-blind society can be reflected by the Virginia law. After the slave codes were announced, there were extremely unfairness between African and white people. Winthrop Jordan explained that “Virginia law set Negroes apart…by denying them the important right and obligation to bear arms. Few restraints could indicate more clearly the denial to Negroes of membership in the white community” (p25). Lastly, among those “indentured servants” who ran away, there were huge unfair differences between white and African people. For incident, there was once, while two white laborers were given thirty lashes and order to serve extra four years as a harsh punishment, another African man received not only the same harsh punishment but also was ordered to “‘serve his said master or his assigns for the time of his natural Life here or elsewhere’” (P. 28). These are only a few of many examples that represent the unfair treatment that African “indentured servants” experienced. There were more alike examples can be found in the book that indicate the non-color-blind society in Virginia colony.
In “Myne Owne Ground”, T.H. Breen and Stephen Innes did an excellent job to prove their points by using plenty of dramatic and touching examples. Whether Virginia was a color-blind society or not, lots of examples were used to support each of the themes. The readers could easily follow the two main themes by reading through the book. To support that Virginia was not a color-blind society, the authors used African “indentured servants” as examples to illustrate the differences among African and white people, such as how Virginia court treat run-away “indentured servants”, how “indentured servants” were named with racial prejudice, and how law makers set African people apart. On the other hand, for what supports that Virginia was a color-blind society, the authors used plenty of examples as well. The most significant examples should be how Anthony Johnson and Emanuell Driggus, as examples of rich African people, were treated by the society. From those aspects, readers could easily find out that Virginia colony was a color-blind society when an African person became wealthy.
“Myne Owne Ground” is a book that basically tells the readers how African
“indentured servants” were treated by the colony in 1600s. Overall, this book is touching and vivid for those readers whose ancestors were not African. The authors used lots of examples throughout the entire book to describe the images that how African “indentured servants” got treated. That is very persuasive for readers to believe what happened during that time, and that can be regarded as one of the strengths of the book. However, this book also has a small weakness for the modern readers who are not familiar with the old English. Throughout the book, the authors use lots of old English spelling method, and the title was spelt that way as well. Therefore, it could be confusing and difficult for some readers to understand the context of the book. If the authors or someone could rewrite the book with modern English spelling method, this would be a perfect example to inform the readers of how African “indentured servants” were treated in 1600s.
“Myne Owne Ground” is such an excellent book that helps the readers understand the Virginia colony history in 1600s. For those of readers who already knew the African history in at that time, it gives more specific examples for them to learn the history better. After reading this book, readers will have an impression that how African “indentured servants” were treated during that period of time as well. Even though Anthony Johnson and some other Africans like him were able to buy their freedom and to be treated as normal white people, many of the other African people were treated extremely differently in an opposite way. Overall, this book is very helpful for readers to learn the African history with full of dramatic examples.