An unbroken string of Mattie’s ancestors going back to her great-great-grandparents had lived at Fair Oaks since its founding in 1690. The plantation, which sat on the northern bank of the James River, was part of the Virginia Company’s westward expansion. As was customary, land grants were given in proportion to the number of people a grantee imported to tame the land. Commander Theodore Pryne had the funds to bring thirty Europeans and Africans as indentured servants, so he was given fifteen hundred acres to plant. All indentured servants, both European and African, agreed to work off their debt for seven to fifteen years. After that they were to be released and given five acres of land, a bushel of seed, and the freedom to pursue their own fortunes in the New World.
Quickly the landed gentry realized that their plantations would not be profitable if they paid their workforce. Thus Mattie’s African ancestors were not turned free or given the means to farm for themselves but held in perpetual bondage after the Virginia Assembly passed a law in 1705 clarifying once and for all the status of Africans in the colony. It declared “all servants imported and brought into the Country…who were not Christians in their native Country…shall be accounted and be slaves. All Negro, mulatto, and Indian slaves within this dominion…shall be held to be real estate.” In addition, social status for slaves would be transferred from mother to children rather than from father to child. Those changes in social codes ensured eighteenth-century planters of Virginia a steady supply of workers.
Family lore held that Mattie’s paternal great-great-grandfather would have been free had the assembly waited but two months to pass this law: his indenture was to be completed later in 1705. As it was, none of her ancestors had secured their freedom from the peculiar institution known as slavery. Naturally they all imagined living as one of the free Africans in Charles City County, Virginia, with varying degrees of envy and rage.
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Genre - Historical Fiction
Rating – PG-13
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