Monday, August 6, 2012

President Obama's Immigrant Bunch Ancestor "Free" or "Indentured Ringleader"


In the years the English were transporting colonist into the Virginia Colony, 20 December 1606,  and prior to the date 1637, the estimated birth of John Bunch I. The above graphic shows the route they - the English Captain's took to deliver their passengers to the Virginia Colony.

This is the route that would have brought Eliza Bunch, aboard the Alice to Virginia in 1635. This is the same route that would have been used to transport Hugh Gwyn's three servants,  (One) called Victor a Dutchman, the other a Scotchman called James Gregory, the third a negro called John Punch, three servants that were indentured to Hugh Gwyn. The terms of Indenture, would include Hugh Gwyn, paying for passage, food, clothing, and shelter - in return for labor for a set period of time usually five years.

There is only one record pertaining to John Punch. From this record a narrative has been constructed, and an identity crafted, based solely on reference to his race - Negro. What can we tell from this one recorded document of John Punch? That he was a servant of Hugh Gwyn - an indentured servant, because Hugh Gwyn took him to court to receive redress (Recompense) for John Punch's act of running away from his employer. If John Punch was just a free servant of Hugh Gwyn, he could have simply quit Hugh Gwyn's employ. If John Punch had been a slave, there would have been no need to penalize him by ordering  that he serve a lifetime of servitude to Hugh Gwyn, he already would have been serving a lifetime of servitude.

Where did John Punch come from? We know that the English were transporting people into Virginia Colony from England. There were colonist paying for their own passage, indentured servants, and convicts. Virginia was a penal colony. We know that John Punch, was subjected to English law. The impression the reader is left with, the narrative created for John Punch is that, because of his race identified as negro, he came straight from Africa, and was sentenced more severely, because of his race.  There is nothing in the record or document that identifies John Punch's origins.  Slavery of indigenous Africans, didn't just exist in Colonial America, the practice also existed elsewhere, and one of these places was England. The presence of Africans in Elizabethan England.  The Elizabethan Era  (1558-1603) In fact Queen Elizabeth, ordered that they start being deported from 1596- 1601.

Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain, Peter Fryer has argued that the queen's discriminatory project "failed completely" "in so far as [it] was a serious attempt to deport all black people from England." (13) To be sure, Elizabeth's efforts extended only across the short period between 1596 and 1601 and did little to diminish the size of that population. Blacks remained in England throughout the Renaissance and by the middle of the eighteenth century comprised somewhere between one and three percent of the London populace. (14) Yet to evaluate the queen's policies in the ambitious terms of a full-scale deportation is misleading, even with qualification ("in so far as") of the sort Fryer offers, since, as Fryer also acknowledges, Elizabeth never attempted to deport "all black people from England," only parts of that population.

If I was curious about the origins of John Punch, I might start by looking in London baptisms, and parish records for dates preceding the colonial Virginia record date of  July 1640. What's been overlooked in the ancestry.com report is that Virginia was an English penal colony, the people involved were English subjects, who would be subjected to English law. An accurate description of the final disposition of John Punch, would be, the first documented slave in the English penal colony of Virginia.  There is no evidence that John Punch, is the progenitor of the Bunch family of early colonial Virginia. The first record identifying (A) John Bunch I purchased 450 acres of land in 1662, neither his race nor his ethnicity is mentioned in the document.

Let's examine the only existing record of John Punch in Colonial Virginia. I found a copy of the transcribed record in The free Negro in Virginia 1619- 1865, by John Henderson Russell.  pages 29-30.

Where the text becomes pertinent: 9 July* (exact date added) 1640 the general court (53) rendered in a single case a judgement which is very instructive as to the earliest development of slavery. "Three Servants" of Hugh Gwyn, to wit a Dutchman called Victor, a Scotchman named James Gregory, and John Punch, a negro, having run away from their master, were overtaken in Maryland and brought back to Virginia to stand trail for their misbehavior. The verdict of the court was "that the said three servants shall receive a punishment by whipping and to have thirty stripes apiece."  Thus far there was no discrimination in the penalty, but the court went on to order that the Dutchman and the Scotchman should "first serve out their times with their master according to their Indentures and one whole year apiece after the time their service has expired......in recompense of his loss sustained by their absence," and that then they should serve the colony for three years. But "the third being a Negro....shall serve his master or his assigns for the time of his natural life. " (54)
While there is no mention of an indenture or a contract with the Negro, it must be remember not all white servants had formal contracts. If John Punch was not merely a servant with a future right to freedom, his punishment was much less severe than that of his white accomplices. If he was such a servant, his penalty was greater than the penalties inflicted on the white men. The most reasonable explanation seems to be that the Dutchman and the Scotchman, being white, were given only four additional years to their term of indenture, while "the third being a negro" was reduced from his former condition of servitude for a limited time to a condition of slavery for life.(55) END

This reasonable explanation would stand if we didn't have another similar case in the same period of time to compare the two similar events, and penalties ordered by the same court. What other explanation could there be for singling out one person from the other participants for a greater penalty if it wasn't based solely on their race?

The Virginia Magazine of history and biography The Virginia Historical Society page 236 -237.

 (two weeks later) 22nd July 1640, Whereas complaint has been made to this board by Capt. Wm. Pierce Esqr., that six of his servants and a negro of Mr Reginald's has plotted to run away unto the Dutch plantation from their said masters, and did assay to put the same Execution upon last Saturday night, being the 8th day of July 1640, as appeared to the board by the Examinations of Andrew Noxe, Rich'd Hill, Rich'd Cookeson, and John Williams, and likewise by  the confession of Christopher Miller, Peter Milcocke, and Emanuel the aforesaid Negro, who had, at the aforesaid time, taken the skiff of the aforesaid Capt. Wm. Pierce, their master, and corn, and powder and shots and guns to accomplish their said purposes, which said persons sailed down in the said skiff to the Elizabeth river, where they were taken and brought back again, the court taking the same into consideration as a dangerous precedent for the future time (if left unpunished) did order that Christopher Miller a dutchman (a prime agent in the business), should receive punishment of whipping and to have 30 stripes and so be burnt in the cheek with the letter R and to work with a shackle on his legg for one whole year and longer if said  master shall see cause, and after his full time of service has Expired with his said master to serve the colony for seven whole years, and the said Peter Milcocke, to receive thirty stripes, and to be Burnt in the cheek with the letter R and after his term of service is Expired with said master to serve the colony for three years, and said Rich'd Cookeson, after his full time has expired with his master, to serve the colony for two years and a half, Rich'd Hill, to remain on his good behavior until the next offence, and Andrew Noxe, to receive to receive thirty stripes, and the said John Williams, a dutchman and a chirurgeon after his full time has Expired with his master, to serve the colony for seven years, and Emanuel the Negro to receive thirty stripes and be burnt in the cheek with the letter R and to work in shackles for one year or more as master shall see cause, and all those condemned to serve the colony after their time are Expired with their masters, then their said masters are required hereby to present to this board their said servants condemned to the colony.

The reasonable explanation is that the prime agent aka ringleader is penalized more severely than the rest of the participants. Above Christopher Miller styled the dutchman is referred to as (a prime agent in the business) he received the most severe penalty, he was white. The reasonable explanation would be that John Punch received the most severe penalty of the three, because he was (a prime agent in the business).

The purpose of examining genealogical records is not to emote meaning into the records, and documents. Emoting leads to people reading opinion into records. The purpose of examining genealogical records is to glean from the record any information that would lead to the next step backward's in the specific person's ancestry, in this case John Punch.

Without having a dog in the fight, I can look at the records dispassionately for their intended purpose, identifying John Punch, and his origins. Examining the court record, I noted that the other two men were identified by their nationalities Victor the dutchman, and James Gregory the scotchman. What is the point of the court identifying them as such ? Is it to make the point they are other than English in origin? John Punch is only referred to as Negro, but no mention of origins, because he was already an English subject? From the second court record it's stated the six, and one Negro's purpose was to runaway to a Dutch plantation. Two of the men are identified by nationality Christopher Miller a dutchman, and John Williams a dutchman and chirurgeon. The other's nationality are not identified by the court - because their origins are English, and they are already known to be English subjects? If they had managed to reach the Dutch plantation, would they have been out of the reach of English law?

From examining the court record, I can determine that, John Punch was free, and became Indentured to Hugh Gwyn. How did John Punch, become indentured to Hugh Gwyn? Did Hugh Gwyn pay for John Punch's passage into the Virginia colony or was John Punch a convict sent to the Virginia colony to serve his sentence on a tobacco plantation? If John Punch was a convict shipped from England to Virginia, the next place to look for records for John Punch is in England.

Addressing the beginning of slavery in America, I read that the Portuguese made a point of christening the people they imported into the Americas, for the express purpose of servitude -indenture. The cultural mores' of the time being, that no Christian could be held in bondage for the entirety of their life time. The Europeans first mission was to convert pagans to Christianity. When examining records, it's important not to project our current cultural mores' onto  people who lived in the 17th century with the cultural mores' we live by today. That's what creates road blocks in genealogical research IMO. 

I did note that ancestry.com's report on John Punch, does include muster rolls, and Emanuel is mentioned in the rolls.

page 40 I found an Emannuell in 1639 Richard Kemp - James City, this isn't the only mention of him in the muster rolls. 

page 41 *Emanualla 1642 William Ireland - Robert Wallis, York

page 43 Emanuel is mentioned again in 1648 Daniel Pierce selling to Francis Yardley lower Northfolk. The 6 in the above court record were referred to as servants of Capt Wm Pierce, this Daniel Pierce,  was probably a relation to Capt Wm Pierce, (speculation).

Ancestry.com has created an ancestry for President Barack Obama based on John PUNCH who is found in only one record. Punch stepped out of a court room in 1640 and into oblivion.  John Punch was not a slave, he was a servant, his transportation paid for by Hugh Gwyn. 

Just because John Punch, wasn't the progenitor of the Bunch family in America, doesn't mean the Bunch family didn't have African slave ancestry. 

This post was a collaborative effort of myself -  Keyboard Jockey, and Joanne Pezzullo.


blog comments powered by Disqus