Philip Gowen born about 1650, in Warwick County, Virginia
Mihil Gowen b. abt 1630 (assumed parent – no documentation)
ii. Philip1, born say 1650, called “Phillip Cowen a Negro” when he petitioned the Governor and Council of State for his freedom. He was the servant of Amye Beazleye whose 9 April 1664 will stated that he was to be free and receive three barrels of corn and a suit of clothes after serving her cousin Humphrey Stafford for eight years. Stafford sold the remaining years of his indenture to Charles Lucas who forced Philip to acknowledge an indenture for twenty years before the Warwick County court [Colonial Papers, Library of Virginia microfilm, p.19, fol. 2]. On 16 June 1675 he was called “Philip Gowen negro Serving Mr. Jno Lucas” when the court ordered that his indenture in Warwick County was invalid, that Philip was free, and that he should be paid three barrels of corn according to Mrs. Amye Beazleye’s will [McIlwaine,Minutes of the Council, 411]. He may have been identical to Philip Gawen who was listed in the quit rent roll for James City County with 50 acres in 1704 [VMHB XXI:220]. https://goyengoinggowengoyneandgone.com/6349-2/
1674 July 16 – Philip Gowen, a black servant, files a lawsuit for his freedom. Court: freedom suit Gowen v Jon Lucas, 16 July 1674, James City, Virginia, USA. 1 At General Court Phillip Gowen “negro” suing John Lucas for his freedom – freedom granted and Lucas to pay Gowen 3 barrels of corn according to the will of Mrs Amye Boazlye, deceased. The Petition of Philip Gowen for his Freedom. [Philip Gowen sued for his freedom from his master, John Lucas, in June 1675. Perhaps he was a second son born to Mihill Gowen and Amy Barnhouse‘s enslaved woman Prosta.]
Phillip Gowen negro Suing Mr Jno Lucas to this Court for his freedome It is Orderd that the said Phill Gowen be free from ye Said Mr Lucas his Service and that the Indenture Acknowledg’d in Warwick County County [sic] be Invallid and that ye Said Mr Lucas pay unto ye Gowen three Barrels of Corne att the Cropp According to ye Will of Mrs Amye Boazlye decd wth Costs… Source: McIlwaine, ed., Minutes of the Council and General Court of Colonial Virginia, p. 441. http://www.virtualjamestown.org/practise.html
This document provides a unique look at the status of African laborers in Virginia by clearly illustrating that fixed terms of indentured servitude existed, but also that they could be violated.
In 1675 Phillip Gowen, an African American indentured servant, petitioned the governor of Virginia for release from servitude. In his petition, Gowen gave a detailed history of his life in bondage and the injustice he was currently experiencing.
In 1664, Amy Beazley, Gowen‘s original owner, provided in her will that after serving her nephew, Humphrey Stafford, for eight years, Gowen was to be set free and given the usual “freedom dues” for an indenture, corn and a set of clothes.
Gowen indicated that Stafford sold him and his remaining indentured time to Charles Lucas. Gowen claimed that Lucas, instead of freeing him at the end of his eighth year of servitude, forced him to serve three additional years. Even worse, Gowen claimed that Lucas threatened him and forced him to sign an indenture for another twenty years.
Indentured servants, both black and white, were subject to exploitation by their masters. Many could not read and write, which made their situations even more challenging. This document was probably written by an attorney on behalf of Phillip Gowen because it follows the traditional form of petitions of the time, with which, as a servant, Gowen himself probably would not have been familiar.
Despite their low status, servants did have the right to petition the courts for help, as this document shows. Records indicate that the General Court of Virginia freed Gowen on June 16, 1675, and ordered Lucas to pay him three barrels of corn and court costs. The court also invalidated the twenty-year indenture Gowen claimed that Lucas had forced him to sign that was on file with the Warwick County Court.
Phillip Gowen‘s petition offers a window to explore the development of chattel slavery in colonial America. While Africans were brought to North America as captives, most were treated like indentured servants and were freed after their terms of service.
Gradually, during the 17th and 18th century, Virginia began to pass laws that made slavery— servitude for life — a reality for most people of African descent. Below is a brief timeline of such legislation and legal cases which show a decrease in freedom for African Americans:
• 1639—African Americans were excluded from being required to have firearms.
• 1640—John Punch, an African American indentured servant, was sentenced to a life of servitude after being caught running away from his master. The two white men who were with him only received one additional year on their indentures.
• 1643—Owners were taxed on African American women, but not white women laborers.
• 1662—The law declared that a person’s status depends on the status of the mother. This meant that children born to enslaved women would be slaves for life, under the law.
• 1667—The law declared that being a baptized a Christian did not change a person’s status as a servant or slave.
• 1669—A new law was established that it was not a punishable crime for a master to kill a slave in the process of “correcting” that slave.
• 1705—The law provided that “Negro, Mulatto, and Indians slaves” were considered to be property, or real estate, under the law. This same statute also declared that all Africans were considered to be slaves.
PHILLIP GOWEN PETITION, JUNE 16, 1675
The practice of indentured servitude in England grew out of older feudal systems and apprenticeship practices that had their roots in the Middle Ages. The Virginia Company of London contracted with the first Virginia settlers for their labor, and, when the Company started trading land for service and tobacco became the first profitable cash crop, Virginia’s style of indentured servitude coalesced. By the 1620s, a standard system had been put into place whereby servants negotiated the terms of their indentures with a merchant, ship’s captain, or other agent before sailing to Virginia. Their indentures were then sold to planters when the servants arrived in the colony.
The beginning of lifelong servitude or slavery in Virginia is very hard to trace. There is evidence that Africans may have already been in the colony before the first documented appearance of them in John Rolfe’s 1619 letter, which mentions, “20. and odd Negroes” arriving in Jamestown.
Whether or not a person of African descent was held in slavery was a matter of circumstances unclear to modern historians. The person’s status as a Christian or a non-Christian, and whether or not the person had previously been enslaved definitely affected how he or she was treated in the colony. The most important thing to note is that some African Virginians were not held as slaves at the beginning of the colony’s history.
Although many of the laws restricting African Virginians were passed in the 1660s, slavery did not become codified in Virginia law until 1705.
Phillip Gowen was the son of Mihill Gowen (I believe this is a best guess – I have not been able to locate any documents confirming this relationship), a free African Virginian, who had once worked for Amye Beazlye, the woman who had freed Phillip in her will. This petition to Governor William Berkeley and the Council of State was probably written for Gowen by a person familiar with the petitioning process; the document makes use of standard structure and language of petitions from that era. Gowen sought relief from his new master, whom he declared was attempting to prolong his servitude. After reviewing the petition, the governor and council ordered that Gowen be freed. This document gives an example of the precarious situation of African Americans in the early colony before slavery was completely institutionalized. http://edu.lva.virginia.gov/online_classroom/shaping_the_constitution/doc/gowenpetition
TRANSCRIPTION of Phillip Gowen‘s Petition: Page 1 of 1
To the Rt: Honble: Sr: William Berkeley knt: Governr: & Capt. Genll: Of Virga: with the Honbl: Councill of State:
The peticon of Phillip Gowen a Negro, In all humility Sheweth: That yor. petr. being a servt: to Mrs. Amye Beazlye late of James Citty County Widdow decd. the said Mrs. Beazlye made her last will & testament in writtinge under her hand & seale, bearing date the 9th day of Aprill An Dom. 1664: and amongst other things, did order, will, & appoint, that yor. petr. by the then name of Negro Boy Phillip, should serve her Cousin Mr: Humphrey Stafford, the terme of Eight yeares then next ensueing, and then should Inioy his freedome & be paid three barrells of Corne & a suit of Clothes, As by the said will appeares, Soone after the makinge of which will, the said Mrs. Beazlye departed this life, and yor petr. did continue & abide with the said Mr. Stafford (with whome he was orderd by the said will to live) some years, and then the said Mr. Stafford sold the remainder of yor. petrr. time, to one Mr. Charles Lucas, with whome yor petr alsoe continued, doeing true & faithfull Service, but the said Mr: Lucas coveting yr petrs.
Service longer then of right itt was due, did not att the expiracon of the said Eight years, discharge yor petr. from his service, but compelled him to serve three yeares longer then the time sett by the said Mrs: Beazleys will, and then not being willing yr. petr. should Inioy his freedom, did contrary to all honesty & good conscience, with threats & a high hand, in the time of yor. petrs. Service with him, and by his confedracy with some persons, compell yor. petr. to sett his hand to a writeing, which the said Mr. Lucas now saith, is an Indenture for twenty yeares, and forcet yor. petr. to acknowledge the same in the County court of Warwick.
Now for that may itt please yor. honrs: yor. petr. was att the time of the makeing thes said forst writeing, in the service of the said Mr. Lucas and never discharged from the same, the said Mr: Lucas alwaies uniustly pretending that yor. petr. was to serve him three yeares longer, by an order of Court is untrue, which pretenses of the said Mr. Lucas will appeare to yor. honrs. by t[he] testimony of persons of good creditt: Yor: Petr. therefore most humbly prayeth yor. honrs. to order that the said writeing soe forced from him be made void; and that the ssid Mr. Luca[s] make him sattisfacion for the said three yeares service above his tim[e] and pay him Corne & Clothes with costs of Suite: And yor. petr. (as in duty bound) shall ever pray &c.
Source: Undated petition of Phillip Gowen to Governor Sir William Berkeley, ca. 1675. Colonial Papers, folder 19, no. 2, Record Group 1, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia.
[Proceeding from the 16th Day of June 1675]
Gowen vs Lucas – Phillip Gowen negro Suing Mr Jno Lucas to this Court for his freedome It is Ordered that the said Phill Gowen be free from ye Said Mr Lucas his Service and that the Indenture Acknowledg’d in Warwick County County [sic] be invalid and that ye Said Mr Lucas pay unto ye Gowen three Barrels of Corne att the Cropp According to ye Will of Mrs Amye Boazlye decd wth Costs
Source: H. R. McIlwaines, ed., Minutes of the Council and General Court of Colonia Virginia, p. 441.