Picture Purports to Depict a Black Man Named Anthony Johnson, “First Slave Owner in the USA”


Fact Test - Mixed

The claim(s):

On August 21, 2017, a user on Twitter posted a picture depicting a black man with the text: “Anthony Johnson: Early Civil Rights Activist” at the top, and then at the bottom: “Just Kidding. First Slave Owner in the USA.”

Not Anthony Johnson (Lewis Hayden)

Other sources likewise depict this image along with the name Anthony Johnson.

The truth:

The text regarding Anthony Johnson is accurate, but the picture is of Lewis Hayden.

According to Wikipedia (emphasis ours):

“Anthony Johnson (b. c. 1600 – d. 1670) was a black Angolan who achieved freedom in the early 17th-century Colony of Virginia after serving his term of indenture. He became a property owner, and was one of the first people in Virginia to have his right to own a slave legally recognized. Held as an indentured servant in 1621, he earned his freedom after several years, and was granted land by the colony.

He later became a successful tobacco farmer in Maryland. He attained great wealth after having been an indentured servant and has been referred to as ‘“the black patriarch” of the first community of Negro property owners in America.’ ”

Furthermore, as stated on ocf.berkeley.edu (emphasis ours):

In 1654, John Casor became the first legal slave in America. Anthony Johnson, previously an African indentured slave, claimed John Casor as his slave. The Northampton County rule against Casor, and declared him propter for life by Anthony Johnson. Since Africans were not English, they were not covered by the English Common Law.”

The inaccuracy in the image is the portrait, which is, as noted above, of Lewis Hayden.

This can be observed on Wikipedia here, and Hayden is described there as follows:

“Lewis Hayden (December 2, 1811 – April 7, 1889) was an African-American leader who escaped with his family from slavery in Kentucky; they moved to Boston, where he became an abolitionist and lecturer, businessman, and politician. Before the American Civil War, he and his wife Harriet Hayden aided numerous fugitive slaves on the Underground Railroad, often sheltering them at their house.

He was elected in 1873 as a Republican representative from Boston to the Massachusetts state legislature. He helped found numerous black lodges of Freemasons. The Lewis and Harriet Hayden House has been designated a National Historic Site on the Black Heritage Trail in Boston.”

Lewis Hayden (19th Century).png
(Source: Wikipedia)

This picture can also be seen in relation to the name Lewis Hayden here, here, and here.

(For archives where the images aren’t visible, follow the original links to the live pages.)

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