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Virginia’s first legally recognized slave was enslaved by a black man to protect him from slavery

"John Casor" is based on the true story of the slave, John Casor, and his African-born master, Anthony Johnson, and takes place over a 29-year period, from 1641 to 1670. Anthony Johnson is one of a dozen prosperous landowners living on Virginia's eastern shore who were born in Africa. These landowners originally arrived in Virginia as slaves, and were eventually released from servitude, given land, and allowed to pursue the American dream.


The story opens with Johnson purchasing John Casor from a sea captain in Jamestown. On the boat ride back to Johnson's plantation, the two men realize that they both came from the same region of Africa. Johnson explains that Virginia is a land of opportunity for all, "regardless of where a man comes from and how he got here"; suggesting that John Casor may hope to one day be released from servitude.



Anthony and his eldest child, Virginia, conflict over John Casor's duties as a family servant. Anthony wants him out working in the fields. But Virginia, a dynamic social leader, needs John Casor to help her fulfill her increasing obligations by escorting her to the neighbors and to the settlements.



Virginia and her sister, Elizabeth, both have pending marriage proposals with sons of white planters. But Virginia's plans are aborted when her fiance's family becomes reluctant to invite a negro into a traditional English family.



In spite of her disappointment, there are still dozens of young men who vie for Virginia's affections. But she develops strong feelings for John Casor and ultimately chooses to abandon her dream of becoming the wife of a wealthy, white planter, in favor of following her heart. After seven years of servitude, John Casor confronts Anthony and requests his freedom, which Anthony reluctantly grants.



John Casor initiates his own quest for the American dream, hoping to form a family with Virginia. He signs a five-year indenture agreement, attempting to acquire his own land. But the planter he agrees to work for is an advocate for outright slavery and John Casor is abused and severely mistreated.



The Johnson family comes to his rescue by going to court to argue that John Casor's status as a slave is still valid. The court agrees, declares John Casor a slave for life, and orders his return to the Johnsons.



A slavery cabal forms, hoping to solve Virginia's insatiable need for laborers with African slaves. They fear that, as the number of slaves increases, the likelihood of a revolt also increases. They reason that the accumulation of wealth by negro landowners must be thwarted, so they are not in a position to support a revolt. One night, a squad of arsonists destroys the Johnson plantation with fire. Anthony calls a family meeting and announces that he and his wife will settle their affairs in Virginia and relocate to Maryland.



John Casor and Virginia manage to develop a small farm and raise two boys. One day, they are informed of Anthony's death. At a probate hearing, the court denies the family their father's inheritance on the grounds that he was of African origin, and therefore an alien to England. His property reverts to the Commonwealth. The family barrister counsels Virginia and John Casor, explaining that since he was legally a slave, he was property, and therefore could also be seized by the commonwealth.



The couple is left with no choice. They are forced to leave their beloved Virginia and emigrate to Maryland for their safety. The story concludes with a cathartic soliloquy, with Virginia lamenting the loss of her beloved, now estranged homeland, Virginia.