In 1619, the first Africans arrived on a Dutch ship near present-day Hampton, Virgina. About twenty were aboard after having been stolen from a Spanish ship. The crew traded the Africans for food, then set sail. It's unclear whether the first group were indentured servants or slaves. Slave laws had yet to be written, and many of the first arrivals were indentured and given the same opportunities to live as free people after their terms had been served.
Arriving in 1620, Anthony Johnson was one of the first arrivals. He married Mary, and they had four children. By 1635, they had gained their freedom and inherited land as well as indentured servants of their own. In 1665, he moved to Maryland. The land he left behind was seized because he was a "negroe and by consequence an alien."
One of the first records of slaves for life was in 1640 when three indentured servants ran off from a plantation. Two servants were white and one was black. When recaptured, the white servants had four years added to their terms, while the black man, John Punch, was enslaved for life.
Ironically, a black servant of Anthony Johnson's filed suit against him in 1654. Johnson won the case and John Casor's indenture term was extended to life.
Slave laws in the colonies were first written in Massachusetts in 1641. Virginia followed suit in 1661. A year later, Virginia decided that children born to slave mothers would also be enslaved. In 1672, England officially entered the slave trade when the king chartered the Royal African Company. Between 1680 and 1686, the company transported approximately 5,000 Africans a year with most of the them going to the colonies, not just Virginia. In 1698, the average increased to over 20,000 a year.
In 1705, the Virginia General Assembly declared:
"All servants imported and brought into the Country, by sea or land, who were not Christians in their native Country. . . shall be slaves... All Negro, mulatto and Indian slaves... within this dominion. . . shall be held to be real estate. If any slave resists his master, or owner, or other person, by his or her order, correcting such slave, and shall happen to be killed in such correction. . . the master, owner, and every such other person so giving correction, shall be free of all punishment. . . as if such accident never happened."