One Book, One Chicago Fall 2010
Historical Timeline – Life in America at the Time of A Mercy
A Mercy takes place in the late 17th century, from 1682, when the narrator Florens is 8 years old and is acquired by Jacob Vaark, to 1690, the year from which she narrates the novel at the age of 16.
Nathaniel Bacon, courtesy of the Library of Congress
1621: Anthony Johnson is believed to be one of the first Africans to arrive in Virginia, where he works on a tobacco farm as either a slave or as an indentured servant (a servant contracted to work for a set amount of time). Johnson goes on to marry and buy his way out of bondage, becoming a landowner and raising livestock in first Virginia, then Maryland, until his death in 1670.
1670: A court in Virginia rules that because Anthony Johnson was “a Negro and by consequence an alien,” his land there rightfully belongs to the Crown.
1671: A bounty for Maroons (black fugitives who formed communities in the mountains and swamps) is passed in Virginia in response to attacks on local villages.
1673-1674: Dutch forces occupy New York until the English regain control. The Treaty of Westminster states that residents of New York and New Sweden are now recognized as English subjects.
King Philip’s War
1675-1676: Nathaniel Bacon leads fellow Virginians in a revolt against English rule because of dispute over the government’s Indian policy. Bacon and his followers want to drive all Indians out of the colony, and find the government’s stance too lenient. Bacon’s Rebellion, supported by poor or enslaved blacks and whites, includes the invasion of an Occaneechee fort and the burning of Jamestown. The Rebellion causes fear in the ruling class of an alliance between poor whites and blacks, hastening the transition to racial slavery.
1676: In New England, King Philip’s War breaks out when Metacom of the Wampanoag (known by the English as King Philip) protests Puritan policies that force many Natives from their lands. He convinces other tribes to join forces, attacking over 90 English settlements throughout the region. After a year, Metacom is captured and executed, ending the attacks.
1676: Well-known Puritan Boston minister Increase Mather interprets the war as punishment from God for provoking evils such as tavern-going, travel on Sundays and pride in clothing.
1678: A year-long epidemic of small pox comes to an end in New England.
1679: A Guide to Heaven by Samuel Hardy is published and becomes a colonial bestseller.
1679: Attacks on white settlers by Five Nations (Iroquois tribes) increase throughout the East.
1682: William Penn, an English Quaker, recruits Mennonites and Quakers from England and the Netherlands, founding Philadelphia.
1686: A diphtheria epidemic spreads through Virginia, one of many epidemics to hit the colonies during this time period, including malaria, small pox and yellow fever.
1688: The Society of Friends (Quakers) in Germantown, Pennsylvania, adopts the first formal anti-slavery resolution in America. The Quakers continue to protest slavery throughout the 17th and 18th centuries.
Outbreak of smallpox
1690: The Connecticut slave codes forbid black and Indian servants from wandering away from town without a pass from their master or they will be deemed a runaway.
1691: Manumission—the freeing of slaves—is outlawed in Virginia.
1692: The infamous Salem witch trials begin. Of the 20 condemned, 18 are executed and two die in prison.
1698: The tax laws in Massachusetts are changed to declare that “all Indian, mulatto, and Negro servants be estimated as personal estate.”
1702: Cotton Mather, son of Increase, publishes an ecclesiastical history of America, Magnalia Christi Americana, and forms the “Society for the Suppression of Disorders” to keep a look out for “swearing, blaspheming and patronage of bawdy houses.”
Advertisement for slave auction
1704: Ministers in Maryland can separate a man and woman if they disapprove of the match. If the man disobeys he can be tried and, if convicted, “can be fined, or whipped until blood begins to flow.”
1705: The Virginia slavery act states that all imported Negroes are slaves for life unless they are Christians. Furthermore, all black, Indian or mixed-race slaves are considered real estate, and no master will be held accountable for killing a slave as a result of punishment. This is a drastic change from the 17th century laws, which allowed a dispute between slave and master to be brought before the court.
1705: Massachusetts bans interracial marriages.
1707: Redeemed Captive by John Williams is popular reading in the colonies and tells of his supposed capture by Indians.
1750: Slavery is legalized in Georgia, making it an institution in all 13 colonies.
- Champage, Duane, editor. Chronology of Native North American History: From Pre-Columbian Times to the Present. Gale Research, 1994.
- Hornsby, Jr., Alton. Chronology of African American History: From 1492 to the Present. Gale Research, 1997.
- Moretta, John A. William Penn and the Quaker Legacy. Pearson Longman, 2007.
- Urdang, Laurence, editor. The Timetables of American History; with an introduction by Henry Steele Commager ; and a new foreword by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. Simon & Schuster, 2001.
- Watts, Sheldon. Epidemics and History: Disease, Power and Imperialism. Yale University Press, 1997.
- Williams, Tony. The Pox and the Covenant: Mather, Franklin and the Epidemic That Changed America’s Destiny. Sourcebooks, Inc., 2010.