MYNE OWNE GROUND"": Race and Freedom on Virginia's Eastern Shore, 1640-1676 by T. H. & Stephen Innes Breen

MYNE OWNE GROUND"": Race and Freedom on Virginia's Eastern Shore, 1640-1676

Email this review


In this succinct history of 17th-century Northampton County, Virginia, history professors Breen and Innes (Northwestern and Univ. of Virginia, respectively) suggest that historians' usual ideas of prevailing black-white conflict may be misconceived. Rather, they say, an individual's conduct varies from one transaction to another. Hence free black planter Anthony Johnson could be both an ""articulate Afro-American"" and a ""black slave-owning Englishman."" Dominance and submission were primarily issues of class, not race; greedy, arrogant, self-serving land barons intimidated smaller farmers, white and free black alike. With their own kind, of whatever color, free blacks dealt on an equal footing. Yet this egalitarian society did not survive, the authors argue, largely because even the most diligent blacks, who could secure their freedom after years of labor, could not amass the means to sustain freedom: property, or one's ""owne ground."" The expanding plantation system and the rapidly increasing (and threatening) black population put an end to the more or less equal status of the free black planter. By 1680 race relations became adversarial; the black planter free to enter equally into almost everything, from courtroom litigation to sexual relations, was no more. Some historians may dismiss the authors' small canvas, yet this compact, lucid study challenges our notions of the way things were.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1980
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press