August 20, 1619, the first 20 Africans were brought to what would become Jamestown, Virginia aboard a Dutch ship. The Africans were traded for food and supplies as temporary indentured servants in the same way that English whites were owned as laborers in the New World. Their labor arrangement was for a specified period of time after which they were free to live their lives, just as the English laborers were. The permanent enslavement of Africans in America was implemented later.
A violent storm was passing through in late summer and a Dutch ship carrying only a cargo Africans which the Captain and crew admitted they hijacked from a Spanish ship and wanted to trade the cargo for food. The Virginians provided food and supplies in exchanges for 20 Africans. Apparently, the Africans were meant as Indentured servants, and yet were not granted freedom. Records show in 1623 and 1624 they were listed as servants, and later records show increasing numbers of free blacks, some of whom owned property. Yet, unlike white servants, no year is associated with the names or information vital in determining the end of a servant’s term of bondage.
Records show by 1640, at least one African had been declared a slave and was ordered by the court “to serve his said master or his assigns for the time of his natural life here or elsewhere.” Within years of their arrangement for the indentured servants, race defined the characteristic of enslaved Virginians. The transformation to racial slavery was evolving.