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John Pedro

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John Pedro (ca 1593 - March 28, 1655) was one of the first free black residents of the colony of Virginia, British Colonial America.[1] He was most likely executed in 1655 for his participation in the battle of Severn as a supporter of Lord Baltimore.


John Pedro most likely would have originally been from Ndongo when Portuguese and allied Imbangala warriors invade and conquer Ndongo. [2]


Nothing is known of John Pedro's life before he arrived in the English colonies of North America except that, if part of the Wessaguscus Colony, he must have sailed from England. While the population of people of African ancestry in the England of 1600 was small, there were hundreds who worked in positions such as domestic servant, musician, dancer, and sailor.[3][4]

Plymouth and Wessagusset Colonies[edit]

John Pedro's name first appears in records documenting that he arrived in the colony of Virginia in 1623 on the Swan. It is assumed he was one of the members of the Wessagusset Colony, though it is plausible that he was from the beginning a servant of Captain Francis West, or even a sailor.

The Wessagusset Colony[5][6] was established by Thomas Weston[7] in 1622. The Colony consisted of 60-70 young men: some English "gentlemen" and their servants, and others such as fishermen who were to do the work of the colony.[8] [9] The pinnace Sparrow reached Damariscove Islands in May 1622 and two other ships, the Charity and the Swan, with the majority of the colonists arrived in August 1622 to Cape Cod.[10] The Charity returned to England and the Swan remained in New England to be used in trading.[11]

In March of 1623 the Wessagusset Colony[12] was dissolved[13]; a few survivors went to Plymouth; most sailed to Maine[14] in the Swan. Weston eventually got possession of the ship and used it for trading along the coast. In January 1623/24 Weston brought fish in the Sparrow to Virginia and other records indicate the Swan was also involved in Weston's trading with the colony.[15] It is most likely that John Pedro sailed on the Swan to the Virginia Colony during one of these trips.[16]

Virginia Colony[edit]

John Pedro (age 30) and Beniamin Owin (age 18) are listed (1624/25-02-07) in the 1624/25 muster.[17] as servants to Francis West[18] and they both are also listed in the earlier 16 February 1623/24 List of the Living (Benjamin Owin and John, a negro) as residing at the Plantation over against James Cittie.[19] The muster lists them as arriving on the Swan in 1623, and lists a further 20 people (mostly in their 20s, many servants and only one female, a girl of 12) as arriving on the Swan in July 1624. One person on the 1624 list is noted "came from Canada in the Swan". None of the people who arrived in 1624 are included in the List of the Living.

November 1622 Francis West was appointed Admiral by the Council for New England, but the arrangement was short-lived.[20] West may have been in New England to enforce English control of fishing rights, but he was not able to do so and returned to Virginia.[21] The most likely scenario is that during this time he became acquainted with Pedro and Owens.[22]

John Pedro was involved in several land transactions in Lancaster County, Virginia after its formation in 1651.[23][24]

Maryland Colony and the Battle of the Severn[edit]

In 1653 John Pedro was witness to a land agreement in Maryland between William Eltonhead and John Anderson[25] and 5 December 1654 his attorney appeared on his behalf regarding a suit in Maryland Provincial Court.[26]

In early 1655 John Pedro was at the home of Master William Eltonhead[27], special agent for Lord Baltimore, as supporters of Governor Stone gathered.[28][29][30] March 25, 1655 found him at Horn Point, across Spa Creek from the Puritan settlement of "Providence", as part of the forces allied with the royal proprietor. Stone's forces were defeated.[31][32][33] Within days the leaders, including Stone were sentenced to death. Only four were executed, including William Eltonhead and John Pedro, before the local townsfolk protested and executions were halted.[34]

Identity Controversy: Some later sources list the John Pedro executed after the Battle of the Severn as a German servant of William Eltonhead. The original source for this information is a letter from Verlinda Stone to Lord Baltimore stating that "a Germane, which did live with Mr. Eltonhead" was one of the four people executed..[35] The word "germane" is capitalized most likely for emphasis or because it is being used as a noun.[36] The word 'germane': does not mean a person of German ancestry; that is an entirely different word. In early forms of English the noun 'Germane' meant near relative or blood relationship, and is used in Shakespeare as an adjective to refer to someone of near relationship or closely akin.[37] So most likely Virlinda Stone is indicating that John Pedro had a close relationship to William Eltonhead.

While Verlinda Stone does not name John Pedro, John Hammond does.[33] The only record of a John Pedro among the approximately 29,500[38] non-indigenous residents of Maryland and Virginia is the John Pedro who is listed in the Virginia records; it was not a common English name.


  1. Hashaw, Tim (2007). The Birth of Black America: The First African Americans and the Pursuit of Freedom at Jamestown (1st ed.). Basic Books. pp. 127ff. Search this book on
  2. Austin, Beth (December 2019). "1619: Virginia's First Africans". Hampton History Museum. Unknown parameter |orig-date= ignored (help)
  3. "Were There Africans in Tudor England?". FutureLearn. Retrieved 2023-03-08.
  4. "Britain's first black community in Elizabethan London". BBC News. 2012-07-19. Retrieved 2023-03-08.
  6. "A Brief History of Weymouth, MA". Retrieved 2023-02-17.
  7. "Weymouth Historical Society - Early Settlers". Retrieved 2023-03-10.
  8. "Servants and Masters in the Plymouth Colony". Retrieved 2023-03-10.
  9. "The Project Gutenberg eBook of Bradford's History of 'Plimoth Plantation', by William Bradford". pp. 146, 150. Retrieved 2023-03-08.
  10. "Pilgrim Ship Lists By Date". Retrieved 2023-03-07.
  11. Chartier, Craig (2010-01-01). "An Investigation into Weston's Colony at Wessagussett Weymouth, MA".
  12. Weymouth Historical Society. Weymouth Historical Society. 1905. Search this book on
  13. Rich, George (1922). Genealogy of John Sanders (PDF). p. 8. Search this book on
  14. Baxter, James Phinney (1893). Christopher Levett, of York. Harvard University. Portland, Me. Search this book on
  15. Spencer, Arlene (2019-02-25). "New Evidence: Was Thomas Weston, Seventeenth Century London Merchant among the First to Sail Fish to Virginia's Starving Colonists?". Global Maritime History. Retrieved 2023-03-08.
  16. Hotten, John Camden (1874). The Original Lists of Persons of Quality: Emigrants, Religious Exiles, Political Rebels, Serving Men Sold for a Term of Years, Apprentices, Children Stolen, Maidens Pressed, and Others, who Went from Great Britain to the American Plantations, 1600-1700. Empire State Book Company. p. 258. Search this book on
  17. "Muster Search Results". Retrieved 2023-02-17.
  18. "Capt. Francis West". Retrieved 2023-02-17.
  19. "1623 Lists of Living & Dead". Jamestowne Society. Retrieved 2023-03-10.
  20. Neill, Edward D.; Butler, Nath. (1885). "Virginia Carolorum: The Colony during the Days of Charles the First and Second". The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography. 9 (2): 134–166. ISSN 0031-4587. JSTOR 20084699.
  21. "George Bancroft, History of the Colonization of the United States, Vol. 1, 17th edition., Chapter 9: , page 326". Retrieved 2023-12-31.
  22. McCartney, Martha W. (2007). Virginia immigrants and adventurers, 1607-1635 : a biographical dictionary. Internet Archive. Baltimore, MD : Genealogical Pub. Co. ISBN 978-0-8063-1774-8. Search this book on
  23. COOMBS, JOHN C. (2019). ""Others Not Christians in the Service of the English": Interpreting the Status of Africans and African Americans in Early Virginia". The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. 127 (3): 212–238. ISSN 0042-6636. JSTOR 26743947.
  24. Nugent, Nell Marion; Virginia State Library; Virginia Genealogical Society (1934). Cavaliers and pioneers; abstracts of Virginia land patents and grants, 1623-1800. University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Richmond, Press of the Dietz Print Co. Search this book on
  25. "Maryland Historical Magazine | Maryland Center for History and Culture". pp. 179 & 180. Retrieved 2023-02-24.
  26. "Archives of Maryland, Volume 0010, Page 0407 - Judicial and Testamentary Business of the Provincial Court, 1649/50-1657". Retrieved 2023-02-24.
  27. Rankin, R.G. (1955). The Eltonhead Family (PDF). pp. 55–57. Search this book on
  28. "Annapolis: Its Colonial and Naval Story • Chapter 2". Retrieved 2023-02-17.
  29. The Eltonhead Family in the Chesapeake (PDF). pp. 50 ff. Search this book on
  31. "The Battle of the Severn". American History Podcast. 2021-09-09.
  32. Heaman, Roger (1665-07-04). An additional brief narrative of a late bloody design against the Protestants in Ann Arundel county, and Severn, in Maryland in the country of Virginia. Crown in Popes-Head-Alley: Livewell Chapman. Search this book on
  33. 33.0 33.1 Hammond, John. "Hammond versus Heamans".
  34. "History Reconsidered". Retrieved 2023-02-16.
  35. Stone, Virlinda. "Letter to Lord Baltemore" (PDF). Maryland State Archives. Unknown parameter |orig-date= ignored (help)
  36. "Word of the Day: Germane".
  37. "". Retrieved 2023-07-25.

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