"Va. Gov. Northam Refers to Slaves as “Indentured Servants” in TV Interview"
"Northam’s choice of words were immediately seen as an example of how little he
understands about American history and the history of African-Americans in his
state and the country in general."
It seems to me that the Africans brought to Jamestown in 1619 were sold into slavery but some historians disagree:
Though the history of blacks in Virginia begins in 1619, the transition of status from indentured servant to lifelong slave was a gradual process. Some historians believe that some of the first blacks who arrived in Virginia were already slaves, while others say they were taken into the colony as indentured servants. Historians generally believe slavery in the English colonies in North America did not begin as an institution until the 1660s.
Early cases show differences in treatment between Negro and European indentured servants. In 1640, the General Virginia Court decided the Emmanuel case. Emmanuel was a Negro indentured servant who participated in a plot to escape along with six white servants. Together, they stole corn, powder, and shot guns but were caught before making their escape. The members of the group were each convicted; they were sentenced to a variety of punishments. Christopher Miller, the leader of the group, was sentenced to wear shackles for one year. White servant John Williams was sentenced to serve the colony for an extra seven years. Peter Willcocke was branded, whipped, and was required to serve the colony for an additional seven years. Richard Cookson was required to serve for two additional years. Emmanuel, the Negro, was whipped and branded with an "R" on his cheek. All of the white servants had their terms of servitude increased by some extent, but the court did not extend Emmanuel's time of service. Many historians speculate Emmanuel was already a servant for life. While Emmanuel's status is not defined in the records, his being branded shows a difference in how white servants and black servants were treated. Though this case suggests that slavery existed, the distinction of lifetime servitude or slavery associated with Africans or people of African descent was not widespread until later.
That same year, 1640, "the first definite indication of outright enslavement appears in Virginia."
John Punch, a Negro indentured servant, escaped from his master, Hugh Gwyn, along with two white servants. Hugh Gwyn petitioned the courts, and the three servants were captured, convicted, and sentenced. The white servants had their indentured contracts extended by four years, but the courts gave John Punch a much harsher sentence. The courts decided that "the third being a negro named John Punch shall serve his said master or his assigns for the time of his natural life here or else where." This is considered the earliest legal documentation of slavery in Virginia. It marked racial disparity in the treatment of black servants and their white counterparts, but also the beginning of Virginian courts reducing Negros from a condition of indentured servitude to slavery. Leon Higginbotham believes the case is evidence that the colony was developing a policy to force Negro laborers to serve terms of life servitude.
Now its a Wiki article so it can be taken with a grain of salt, though it does footnote to various articles and books by historians. So Northam might be wrong, but it seems the outcry over these comments is rather disproportionate to the gravity of his (possible) error.