They first arrived in 1619 — in chains, speaking no English and often listed only by first names — "Antonio a negro . . . Mingo a negro."
The fact that Edward had to sue for his freedom after nearly 28 years suggested his owners viewed him as a slave. But that he could sue and win showed that blacks, for a brief moment, had rights they would struggle for the next two centuries to regain.
Free blacks got land grants, conducted business and used the courts. A few grew wealthy and had servants themselves. They mixed with whites.
"Not only did many blacks and whites work alongside one another," Philip D. Morgan, a history professor at Johns Hopkins University, wrote in his book "Slave Counterpoint," "but they ate, caroused, smoked, ran away, stole" and had sex. Some blacks and whites even married — which undoubtedly explains how many Mozingo lines became "white" within a few generations.
Virginia began to formalize slavery in the mid-1600s and outlawed intermarriage in 1691. The free blacks and mixed-race offspring became a pariah class.
"Edward made it in the last gasp, when there was a degree of flexibility in the system," Morgan said.
At the courthouse in Warsaw, I found a copy of Edward's will and an inventory of his possessions when he died around 1712. He had lived to be at least 68 — well beyond the normal life expectancy of the time — and had done quite well for his family.
His tools indicated he was a carpenter and a farmer. He was better off than most people in that place and time.
His house had two feather beds, two chests, a trunk, three couches, a couple of tables, seven cider casks, a spinning wheel, four "earthen juggs," all sorts of kitchen necessities. Many items suggested a certain refinement of the upwardly mobile: napkins, table cloths, ceramic dishes instead of wooden, candlesticks, pewter salt containers, a chamber pot and a looking glass. In the field there were five sheep, a young horse, a mare and a colt, a heifer, two cows and two calves. He owned two guns, which he bequeathed to his son Edward.
And he had a fiddle, a sure sign that there was more to his life than survival.
I left the courthouse and headed farther west. The landscape looked neglected, as if humanity was in retreat. Faded little homes and trailers gave way to fallen farmhouses and gray woods — unmoving skeletons of locust, oak, maple, dogwood. The road passed fetid old mill ponds and abandoned barns shot through with trees and dead vines.
In a deep hollow, I noticed a house on a hill to the left. Through the bare trees, a homemade sign next to the driveway said "Pantico Run."
My heart beat faster. Edward had lived around here somewhere. His sons leased a nearby grist mill.
I got out and picked my way along the creek. The ground was a decaying mat of moss and fallen leaves. Rotten stumps crumpled underfoot. The creek pooled into a swamp, then sluiced back into a clear channel.
I dug a hand into the cold, sandy soil and studied it. This was the earth Edward worked every day, the grit he must have scraped from under his fingernails at night. I hiked farther into the woods, hoping some hunter or property owner wouldn't draw a bead on me. People still made moonshine in these hills. Dogs barked in the distance.
Where could his cabin have been? In 337 years, this land could have cycled between forest and farmland over and over. The terrain presented no hint, just a forlorn maze of wood.
This was not a rational endeavor. I wasn't going to find the ruins of Edward's cabin, his diary lying among the rotted logs.
But I'd spent days holed up in small-town courthouses, trying to read faded 17th century script. I wanted to feel something, to see Edward out in a field or on a porch playing his fiddle. I wanted to see a ghost.