10/09/07 - slaves and criminals

In today's excerpt - the preponderance of European immigrants to America in colonial times are indentured servants, and a significant number of these are convicted criminals:

"The scale of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century migration from the British Isles was astonishing and unmatched by any other country. From England alone, total net emigration between 1601 and 1701 exceeded 700,000. ...

"As we have seen, the first British emigrants to America had been drawn by the prospect of freedom of conscience and cheap land. But the attractions of emigration were rather different to those with only their labour to sell. For them, it had little to do with liberty. On the contrary, it meant consciously giving up their liberty. Few such migrants crossed the ocean using their own resources. Most travelled under a system of temporary servitude known as 'indenture', which was designed to alleviate the chronic labour shortage. In return for the price of their voyage out, they would enter a contract pledging their labour for a set number of years, usually four or five. In effect they became slaves, but slaves on fixed-term contracts. This they may not have realized on leaving England. ...

"[As Daniel Dafoe wrote] 'they were of two sorts, either (1) such as were brought over by Masters of Ships to be sold as Servants, such as we call them, ... but they are more properly call'd slaves. Or (2) Such as are Transported from Newgate and other Prisons, after having been found guilty of Felony and other Crimes punishable with Death. When they come here ... we make no difference: the Planters buy them and they work together in the Field til their time is out.' ...

"Between a half and two-thirds of all Europeans who migrated to North America between 1650 and 1780 did so under contracts of indentured servitude; for English emigrants to the Chesapeake the proportion was closer to seven out of ten. ... Like slaves, indentured servants were advertised for sale in the local newspaper ... 'Just arrived ... 139 men, women and boys. Smiths, bricklayers, plasterers, shoemakers ... a glazier, a tailor, a printer, a book binder ...  several seamstresses ...' "


Niall Ferguson


Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power


Penguin Books, Ltd


Copyright 2002 by Niall Ferguson


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