Colonists in Bondage : White Servitude and Convict Labor in America, 1607-1776 by Abbot Emerson Smith

Colonists in Bondage : White Servitude and Convict Labor in America, 1607-1776 by Abbot Emerson Smith

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Chapel Hill, N.C. : University of North Carolina Press, 1947. First Edition. Hardcover. 435 pages ; 25 cm. Price clipped dust jacket. Pages are age toned and unmarked. Binding is firm.


The seventeenth century had at advantage over the twentieth: The oppressed and unwanted people of the Old World had a place to go—a New World with plenty of room, not all preempted, and plenty of opportunity for the able and stouthearted. COLONISTS IN BONDAGE tells the paradoxical story of those white men and women who endured servitude as a road to freedom. Voluntarily or involuntarily, they went in large numbers to the trans-Atlantic British colonies to become bondservants to colonial masters who paid their passage.

They were a mixed lot—"unfortunate French, German, and Swiss Protestants fleeing from religious persecution, starving and unhappy Irish, rack-rented Scottish farmers, poverty-stricken German peasants and artisans, convicts, political and military prisoners, brash adventurers of all sorts."

So profitable to merchants and carriers did the transportation of these bondservants become that "people of every age and kind were decoyed, deceived, seduced, inveigled, or forcibly kidnapped and carried as servants to the plantations." There they were eagerly paid for by planters, farmers, speculators, and colonial proprietors. "Our principal wealth," wrote John Pory from Virginia in 1619, "consisted! in servants."

Drawing his materials from contemporary diaries, letters, and records, the author tells of the ship Abraham, which collected a cargo of servants and took them to the Barbados in 1636. He tells of the "spirits" and "kid-nabbers" who supplied ships like the Seven Brothers with their "cryinge and mourninge" cargoes; of the attempt to curb this evil through registry offices—at which Parliament at first balked because of the powerful inter-

ests involved: of the "rogues and vagabonds" sent to the colonies, including numerous "Scottish Border ruffians," whom the colonists seemed glad to get; of the hundreds of poor children sent to be apprenticed in Virginia, their passage paid by charitable people; of the deportation of political and military prisoners during the Commonwealth and Protectorate, which introduced a higher type of individual among the servant class of America; of the 20,000 convicts imported into Virginia and Maryland during the eighteenth century.

Concluding chapters tell of the actual ex-periences of the immigrant servants—their "appalling" voyages; their arrival in North American or West Indian ports, where buyers boarded the ships and chose servants as in a cattle market; the gradually developing "custom of the country," whereby their lives were governed; their length of service, their status as chattels, their food, clothing, living quarters, work, complaints, misdoings, and punishments; and, finally, their freedom, with, "for about one in ten," prosperity and honor. Told without sensationalism or bias, the story clarifies an important phase of colonial life.

The author, a Rhodes Scholar from Maine, received his D. Phil, from Oxford in 1932 in the field of seventeenth-century colonial history. From 1932 to 1943 he was on the faculty of Bard College, Columbia University. In 1939-40 he was visiting lecturer in the Columbia Graduate School. In 1943 he was commissioned in the U. S. Navy and served in the Normandy invasion and elsewhere. He is now Head of the Historical Section, U. S. Naval Forces, Europe. He is the author of numerous articles and of James Madison, a biography published in 1937.

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