In 1640, three indentured servants— John Punch, James Gregory and a man named Victor— attempted to escape from Hugh Gwyn, the Virginia planter to which they were contracted. The men were recaptured and all three sentenced to whippings. Gregory and Victor, both white men, received an additional four years to their indenture. John Punch, a black man (DNA testing of his descendants indicate he was from Cameroon), was condemned to servitude for the rest of his life. Punch is the first known African to be enslaved for life in the American colonies. He is believed to be an ancestor of President Barack Obama and American diplomat Ralph Bunche.
Image: Map that accompanied John Smith’s 1624 history of the Virginia colony. (John Smith, The Generall Historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles (London, 1624). Source: Learn NC
Ranaway from Mr. N. Carpenter, on the Charlotte Rail Road, near Brown Marsh, in November last, my negro Girl BELL. The said girl is a No. 1 negro, about 5 feet 6 or 8 inches high, very well put up, and with a smooth black skin.
The slave traders would buy young and able farm men and well developed young girls with fine physique to barter and sell. They would bring them to the taverns where there would be the buyers
and traders, display them and offer them for sale. At one of these gatherings a colored girl, a mulatto of fine stature and good looks, was put on sale. She was of high spirits and determined disposition.
At night she was taken by the trader to his room to satisfy his bestial nature. She could not be coerced or forced, so she was attacked by him. In the struggle she grabbed a knife and with it, she sterilized him and from the result of injury he died the next day. She was charged with murder.
Gen. Butler, hearing of it, sent troops to Charles County [Maryland] to protect her, they brought her to to Baltimore, later she was taken to Washington where she was set free… This attack was the result of being goodlooking, for which many a poor girl in Charles County paid the price. There are several cases I could mention, but they are distasteful to me… ."
— RICHARD MACKS, enslaved in Maryland, interviewed 1937 [WPA Slave Narrative Project]