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They were descendants of African women and Portuguese or Spanish men who worked in African ports as traders or facilitators in the slave trade.
For example, Anthony Johnson arrived in Virginia in 1621 from Angola as an indentured servant; he became free and a property owner, eventually buying and owning slaves himself.
The indentured laborers were not slaves, but were required to work for four to seven years in Virginia to pay the cost of their passage and maintenance.
The first 19 or so Africans to reach the English colonies arrived in Jamestown, Virginia in 1619, brought by Dutch traders who had seized them from a captured Spanish slave ship.
Those states attempted to extend slavery into the new Western territories to keep their share of political power in the nation; Southern leaders also wanted to annex Cuba to be used as a slave territory.
Domestic slave trading, however, continued at a rapid pace, driven by labor demands from the development of cotton plantations in the Deep South.
The transformation of the social status of Africans, from indentured servitude to slaves in a racial caste which they could not leave or escape, happened gradually.
There were no laws regarding slavery early in Virginia's history.
But, in 1640, a Virginia court sentenced John Punch, an African, to slavery after he attempted to flee his service.
Slaves could be held if they were captives of war, if they sold themselves into slavery or were purchased from elsewhere, or if they were sentenced to slavery as punishment by the governing authority.