‘History’s Alive’ series to begin with indentured servant narrative

Sheila Arnold Jones, storyteller and historical character interpreter.

Mary Ball Washington Museum & Library recently announced its schedule of public programs for 2017, beginning March 23 with “The Life of Mary Johnson, From Indentured Servant to Free Black in 17th-century Virginia” by Sheila Arnold Jones.

A professional storyteller and historical character interpreter, Jones will share the true story of the Johnson family through a dramatic, first-person portrayal of Mary.

“Mary and her husband, Anthony Johnson, lived in Virginia in the early 1600s when most laborers, white and black, were indentured in servitude for a contracted length of time,” said executive director Karen Hart.

“The racially-based system of slavery for life would later begin to take hold in the colonies,” she said.

“Antonio a Negro” was brought to Jamestown in 1621, two years after the arrival of the first Africans there and he survived the Good Friday massacre of 1622 during which Indians killed more than 350 colonists, continued Hart. Anthony worked for nearly 12 years in servitude on a Tidewater tobacco plantation where “Mary a Negro” was also a servant. Mary was the only woman there in a time when Virginia was almost exclusively populated by men.

Mary and Anthony eventually married, had four children and gained their freedom.

“They settled in the Eastern Shore and owned 250 acres, cattle and even indentured servants of their own,” she said. “By 1650, Anthony was still one of only 400 Africans among nearly 19,000 settlers in Virginia. In Northampton County, however, there were at least 20 free African men and women and 13 owned their own homes.”

Jones has performed historical character portrayals since 1998. She is the CEO and Lead Performer of “History’s Alive!” based in Hampton.

“Sheila previously performed for the Museum’s Court Day events as Ol Bess and Oney Judge and was a crowd favorite, said Hart. “The character of Mary Johnson will be new to our Lancaster audience, but people can still expect Sheila’s engaging energy and emotion.”

The performance will be held in the Chesapeake Center at Rappahannock Westminster-Canterbury, 132 Irvington Drive, Irvington. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. The program will start at 7 p.m.  A $10 donation is requested for admission and can be paid at the door or mkt.com/maryball. Reservations are requested to 462-7280, or history@mbwm.org.

The history program series will continue with “Revolutionary Women” by storyteller Darci Tucker on April 24; “Music Between the Great Wars: 1920-30s America” by Ampersand July 9; and “Looking the Part: Fashions and Manners of 18th-century Virginia Gentry” by Jami and Ted Borek on July 27.

The Museum will not hold a Lancaster Court Day festival in April, said Hart.

“We are taking a break from the all-day program format and experimenting with a series approach that could be more convenient for a wider audience,” she said.


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