This image claiming that the first slave owner in America was a black man has been going around social media for the last few months. As is mentioned by commenter Ralph459, this is not a picture of Anthony Johnson, but that of former slave and abolitionist from Massachusetts, Lewis Hayden  This image says: “The First Slave Owner in America was not only a black man, but he went to court and demanded it”
There has been some argument as to what “America” really means as far as this image, South America was first called the Land of Americus, or America, in the Cosmographiae Introductio, printed on April 25, 1507, and it was later amended to add the name to North America as well, and in 1538, the geographer Gerard Mercator gave the name America to all of the Western Hemisphere on his Mapamundi.
African Slaves had been in the New World since at least 1501 when they were brought to modern day Brazil. But since this image is surely meant to use the 13 British Colonies, and not the United States of America, I will use them. I’m quite sure it wasn’t supposed to mean the United States of America, since in 1789 when it officially became a nation (When the Articles of Confederation were superseded by the ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America) there were almost 700,000 slaves here already, and many laws had codified slavery, and some states had already abolished slavery by this point.
Slavery in the Colonies started nearly as soon as the colonies themselves, and information regarding these colonies is difficult to find due to so much being lost over the years and so much not documented to begin with. Slavery was first codified in 1641 in the Colonies. I will only write about slaves and slave laws that took place before 1655, the year mentioned in this image that case of Anthony Johnson vs Robert Parker happened.
Anthony Johnson wasn’t the first slave owner in America, legal or otherwise. He wasn’t the first in North America, he wasn’t the first in the original 13 colonies, he wasn’t the first in the US, he wasn’t the first made a slave owner by a court of law. He was at best the first known black slave owner in the 13 colonies. Read on for the details.
Virginia’s first slaves.
Let’s start at the beginning. I’m going to base this on the original 13 colonies, even though slaves were owned by other countries in what would later become US States. Jamestown, Virginia was the first colony, established in 1607 .
In 1619 John Rolfe (who served as secretary and recorder general of Virginia (1614–1619) and as a member of the governor’s Council (1614–1622)) was also responsible for the first mention of Africans in Virginia. In a letter to Sandys in January 1620, Rolfe noted that late in August 1619 the Dutch ship White Lion arrived at Point Comfort, at what is now Fort Monroe, with “20. and odd Negroes” on board.
About the latter end of August, a Dutch man of Warr of the burden of a 160 tunnes arrived at Point-Comfort, the Comandors name Capt Jope, his Pilott for the West Indies one Mr Marmaduke an Englishman. They mett with the Treasurer in the West Indyes, and determined to hold consort shipp hetherward, but in their passage lost one the other. He brought not any thing but 20. and odd Negroes, which the Governor and Cape Marchant bought for victualls (whereof he was in greate need as he pretended) at the best and easyest rates they could. He hadd a lardge and ample Commyssion from his Excellency to range and to take purchase in the West Indyes.
Four days later, the English ship Treasurer arrived with additional Africans, the lot having been captured from a Portuguese ship carrying slaves en route from Luanda, Angola, to the West Indies. (The Treasurer was partly owned by Samuel Argall and was the same ship on which Argall had transported Rolfe and Pocahontas to England.) Rolfe’s letter is the first extant mention of Africans in Virginia, although there may have been others in the colony before then.  These Africans were stolen from Portuguese slave ships not merchant ships transporting indentured servants. The Governor at the time was Sir George Yeardley, and the Cape Merchant was Abraham Piersey. In Thomas D Morris’s book “Southern Slavery and the Law, 1619-1860“ He says that Governor Yeardley in his will, written in 1627, listed these Africans separately from his indentured servants, and that the 1624 Census listed the blacks with no last names, but white indentured servants with surnames and contract completion dates.
20 slaves sold to colonists, Jamestown, 1619, negros
While there is still some debate as to whether or not these Africans were slaves or indentured servants, the Virginia Library Archives References services tells me:
From the research completed thus far it appears that there is no mention of the existence of a bill of lading from the White Lion that documents the trade at Jamestown of the slaves that had been captured from the Portuguese vessel. Likewise there doesn’t appear to be any mention of an existing document that definitively designates the status of this group as a whole as being either indentured servants or slaves at that time. Records from gatherings do not indicate the marital status of the Africans (Mr., Miss, etc.) and, unlike white servants, no year is associated with the names — information vital in determining the end of a servant’s term of bondage. Most likely some Africans were slaves and some were servants.
Other Africans began to turn up in Virginia court records. On September 19, 1625, for instance, the General Court ordered Captain Nathaniel Bass to provide clothing for an African man named Brass (or Brase), who had come to Virginia with a Captain Jones and been sold to Captain Bass. The same decision awarded temporary custody of Brass to Lady Temperance Flowerdew Yeardley, the wife of Sir George Yeardley and a resident of Jamestown, who was then ordered to pay forty pounds of good tobacco per month for his labor “so long as he remayneth with her.” It was a decision that both distinguished between African servitude and slavery, and put a price on the labor of an African male.The Library of Virginia Archives Reference Services 800 E Broad Street Richmond, VA 23219-8000
Virginia’s first legal cases involving slaves.
In 1640 the first case in Virginia to make an indentured servant a slave was that of John Punch.
On July 9, 1640, members of the General Court decided the punishment for three servants-a Dutchman, a Scotsman, and an African-who ran away from their master as a group. The proceedings reveal an example of interracial cooperation among servants at a time when the colony’s leaders were starting to create legal differences between Europeans and Africans. John Punch became the first African to be a slave for life by law in Virginia (and all 13 colonies).
Whereas Hugh Gwyn hath by order from this Board Brought back from Maryland three servants formerly run away from the said Gwyn, the court doth therefore order that the said three servants shall receive the punishment of whipping and to have thirty stripes apiece one called Victor, a dutchman, the other a Scotchman called James Gregory, shall first serve out their times with their master according to their Indentures, and one whole year apiece after the time of their service is Expired. By their said Indentures in recompense of his Loss sustained by their absence and after that service to their said master is Expired to serve the colony for three whole years apiece, and that the third being a negro named John Punch shall serve his said master or his assigns for the time of his natural Life here or elsewhere 
In the second case, dated July 22, six white servants and a black man were caught running away, and their punishments varied. While four of the servants received lesser sentences, the other two were ordered whipped and branded on the cheek with the letter R, and several years were added to their indentures. One of these men was also sentenced to work for a year with a leg shackle. “Emanuel the Negro” suffered the same harsh sentence (and was also assigned a leg shackle), but because he presumably was a slave, he did not receive added years. 
Massachusetts First Slaves
The exact date slaves first entered Massachusetts is unknown but many sources suggest Samuel Maverick was the first slaveholder in the colony after he arrived in early Boston in 1624 with two slaves. According to the book “Bound for America: The Forced Migration of Africans to the New World,” the first slaves imported directly from Africa to Massachusetts arrived in 1634.
A few years later, in December of 1638, a slave ship named Desire brought Boston’s first shipment of slaves from Barbados, whom had been exchanged for enslaved Pequot Indians from New England.
Massachusetts First Laws involving slaves.
In 1641, Governor John Winthrop, a slave owner himself, helped write the first law legalizing slavery in North America. In 1641 he helped write the Massachusetts Body of Liberties which was the first legal code established in Massachusetts. Liberty 91 claimed:
91. There shall never be any bond slavery, villeinage, or captivity amongst us unless it be lawful captives taken in just wars, and such strangers as willingly sell themselves or are sold to us. And these shall have all the liberties and Christian usages which the law of God established in Israel concerning such persons cloth morally require. This exempts none from servitude who shall be judged thereto by authority.
Which makes Massachusetts the first colony to legalize and codify slavery.
In 1643 The New England Confederation of Plymouth, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Haven adopted a fugitive slave law.
John Winthrop, 2nd, 6th, 9th, and 12th Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
First Slaves in New York.
In Leslie M Harris’s book, In the Shadow of Slavery: African Americans in New York City, 1626-1863 (Historical Studies of Urban America) she says the first slaves in the Colony of New York came in 1626, when 11 African slaves were imported by the Dutch West India Company. In 1635 roads were built by slaves, timber and firewood cut by slaves, and they cut and burned limestone and seashells used in outhouses. In 1636 settlers bought slaves from a ship’s captain from Providence Island, in 1642 a French privateer sold and unknown number of slaves, and in 1652 a Dutch privateer captured a Spanish ship and sold 44 of its African slaves to the settlers. By 1655 settlers were hoping to cash in on the slave trade, by buying slaves and reselling them to other settlements, when a Dutch ship Witte Paert brought 300 African Slaves.
“The first blacks to arrive in New Amsterdam were Paul d’ Angola, Simon Congo, Anthony Portuguese, John Francisco, and seven other males in 1626. Their names indicate that they may have been slaves on Portuguese or Spanish ships captured at sea. Three women were brought in from Angola in 1628. The Reverend Jonas Michaelius, first minister of the Dutch Reformed Church of New Netherland, gave his opinion of their value as maid‑servants: “the Angola slaves are thievish, lazy and useless trash.” These fourteen blacks formed 5.2 percent of the 270‑person population of New Amsterdam in 1628. ” 
First New York Laws involving slaves.
In 1640, New York passes a law that forbids residents from harboring or feeding runaway slaves.
In 1652, the first law establishing codes for Slaves and Slavery was written in New York, it was called the “Protection for Slaves” law, and were passed to prevent the mistreatment of slaves. Whipping was forbidden unless the owner received permission from authorities. Manumission of slaves was allowed.
First slaves in New Hampshire
According to Dr. Dinah Mayo-Bobee’s Servile Discontents: Slavery and Resistance in Colonial New Hampshire, 1645–1785, African slaves were noted in New Hampshire by 1645. They concentrated in the area around Portsmouth.
The first known black person in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, came from the west coast of Africa in 1645. He was captured one Sunday when slave merchants attacked his village in Guinea, killing about a hundred persons and wounding others. Upon arrival in Boston, the slave was bought by a Mr. Williams “of Piscataqua.” When the General Court of the colony learned of the raid and kidnapping, the court ordered the merchants to return the African to his home. Slavery was not the issue of concern, for human bondage was legal in the region. The court was “indignant” that raiders had violated the Sabbath and that they had committed “ye haynos and crying sin of man stealing.” 
First Slaves in Connecticut
According to Benjamin Trumbull, a Connecticut Historian, who wrote “A complete history of Connecticut, civil and ecclesiastical, from the emigration of its first planters, from England, in the year 1630, to the year 1764 (v.002): and to the close of the Indian wars” the first slave in the state of Connecticut was Louis Berbice, killed at the Dutch Fort ‘in Hartford by Gysbert Opdyke in 1639. It is certain that ownership of negroes was common among the leading statemen of our early history. Theophilus Eaton, the first governor of New Haven Colony; JohnTalcott of Hartford; Edward Hopkins, second governor of Connecticut Colony, and founder of the famous Hopkins Grammar Schools, were all owners of slaves. John Pantry of Hartford owned them, and the inventories of the estates of Col. George Fenwick in 1660, and of John Latimer in 1662, show those eminent gentlemen to be in a like category.
Trumbull also said “it is certain that Africans were introduced into the Colonies as early as 1620, and the fact that slavery existed in New Haven Colony in 1644 shows that the custom was rooted in the very earliest history of the state. It must be said in extenuation that the early settlers were but following the practice obtaining in England, their mother country, from the time of Elizabeth, with the difference that the slaves in England were not black, but white; again, that if we were among the first to introduce African slavery, we were among the first to abolish that institution.” Which clearly shows that Connecticut slaves were not white at all, but black.
First laws involving slaves in Connecticut
The “Articles of Confederation” of 1643 is probably the first know law to involve “ownership” of people (aka slaves) a provision was made for the distribution among the inhabitants of “persons, as well as lands and goods, taken in the spoils of war.” 
It was almost by accident that slavery was officially recognized in Connecticut in 1650. The code of laws compiled for the colony in this year was especially harsh on the Indians. It was enacted that certain of them who incurred the displeasure of the colony might be made to serve the person injured or “be shipped out and exchanged for Negroes.” 
First slave in Delaware
According to Alf Aberg’s book “The People of New Sweden” In 1639 Anthony, the first known enslaved African arrived in Delaware, the ship, the Fogel Grip, which accompanied Kalmal Nyckel, brings a 25th man from St. Kitts, a slave from Angola known as Anthony Swartz. He served Johan Printz, Governor of New Sweden. 
These are the slaves, slave owners, and slave laws passed before 1655, there are surely more, but these are the documented ones. While I am aware that I didn’t list all of the 13 colonies, this is because I stopped at 1655, and all other colonies either didn’t pass laws until after then, didn’t have any documents slaves before then, or weren’t established yet.
This brings us to Anthony Johnson, Anthony Johnson first arrived in Virginia in 1621. Referred to as “Antonio a Negro” in early records, Anthony went to work on a tobacco plantation. It’s not clear whether he was an indentured servant (a servant contracted to work for a set amount of time) or a slave.  1651, Johnson claimed 250 acres of land along Pungoteague Creek. He claimed the land by virtue of five headrights A headright was a colonial system put in place to help bring laborers to the new Colonies, in exchange for buying the contract for an indentured servant, the colonies would give the purchaser between 1 and 1000 acres each. In the case of Virginia it was given at a rate of 50 acres per indentured servant. So this means that Johnson had bought the contracts for 5 indentured servants, which typically had contracts of either 4 or 7 years. This is how Johnson came to have a servant named John Casor. However, 4 years later, John Casor escaped to a nearby farm owned by Robert Parker and claimed that Johnson had kept him longer than his indenture by “7 or 8 years” which is obviously not true since he had only acquired his contract 4 years prior.
The Civil Suit was against Robert Parker for taking his property, not against John Casor. According to the case transcript form the original archives, John Casor claimed to be an indentured servant, which might have possibly been true if you consider that Virginia gave Johnson a 50 acre headright for him, but Johnson said he was not, and that he was purchased as a slave (probably untrue for above reasons) but there was obviously no proof of indenture since Casor was returned to Johnson. According to the ruling he was not “an indentured servant made a slave as the result of a civil suit” as the court apparently believed he was already a slave. He did not go to court to demand it. The transcript follows :
The deposition of Captain Samuel Goldsmith taken (in open court) 8th of March Sayth, That beinge at the howse of Anthony Johnson Negro (about the beginninge of November last to receive a hogshead of tobacco) a Negro called John Casar came to this Deponent, and told him that hee came into Virginia for seaven or Eight yeares (per Indenture) And that hee had demanded his freedome of his master Anthony Johnson; And further said that Johnson had kept him his servant seaven yeares longer than hee ought, And desired that this deponent would see that hee might have noe wronge, whereupon your Deponent demanded of Anthony Johnson his Indenture, hee answered, hee never sawe any; The said Negro (John Casor) replyed, hee came for a certayne tyme and had an Indenture Anthony Johnson said hee never did see any But that hee had him for his life; Further this deponent saith That mr. Robert Parker and George Parker they knew that the said Negro had an Indenture (in on Mr. Carye hundred on the other side of the Baye) And the said Anthony Johnson did not tell the negro goe free The said John Casor would recover most of his Cowes of him; Then Anthony Johnson (as this deponent did suppose) was in a feare. Upon this his Sonne in lawe, his wife and his 2 sonnes perswaded the said Anthony Johnson to sett the said John Casor free. more saith not
This daye Anthony Johnson Negro made his complaint to the Court against mr. Robert Parker and declared that hee deteyneth his servant John Casor negro (under pretence that the said Negro is a free man.) The Court seriously consideringe and maturely weighinge the premisses, doe fynde that the said Mr. Robert Parker most unjustly keepeth the said Negro from Anthony Johnson his master as appeareth by the deposition of Captain Samuel Goldsmith and many probably circumstances. It is therefore the Judgment of the Court and ordered That the said John Casor Negro forthwith returne unto the service of his said master Anthony Johnson, And that mr. Robert Parker make payment of all charge in the suit. also Execution.
While the case of Anthony Johnson and John Casor was not the case of the first slave, first slave owner, or first legal slave owner, it might possible have been the first civil case involving slavery, and at the very least is the first known example in the colonies of a black man owning either indenture servants or slaves. Slaves had been here since 1619, and all slaves had been “legal” slaves (and thus their owners “legal” slave owners) since the first law legalizing slavery passed. The first man to be considered a slave by a court of law was John Punch, and his owner Hugh Gwyn considered the first slave owner by a court of law. However it might be of interest to note that in 1670, when Johnson died, a court in Virginia ruled that, because “he was a Negro and by consequence an alien,” the land owned by Johnson (in Virginia) rightfully belonged to the Crown meaning that because he was a negro he did not have the legal right to own property to begin with. 
 McIlwaine, ed., Minutes of the Council and General Court of Colonial Virginia, p. 466. http://www.virtualjamestown.org/practise.html
 H. R. McIlwane, ed., Minutes of the Council and General Court of Colonial Virginia 1622–1632, 1670–1676 (Richmond: Library of Virginia, 1924), 466–467. http://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/General_Court_Responds_to_Runaway_Servants_and_Slaves_1640
 Northampton County Order Book 1655–1668, fol. 10; via Warren M. Billings, ed., The Old Dominion in the Seventeenth Century: A Documentary History of Virginia, 1606–1689 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1975), P. 180–181.
The difference between slaves, and indentured servants.
An indentured servant is by definition “A person under contract to work for another person for a definite period of time, usually without pay but in exchange for free passage to a new country. During the seventeenth century most of the white laborers in Maryland and Virginia came from England as indentured servants.”
A slave is by definition “the condition in which one person is owned as property by another and is under the owner’s control, especially in involuntary servitude. Lifetime hereditary involuntary servitude.”