marycatelli (marycatelli) wrote,

White Cargo

White Cargo: The Forgotten History of Britain's White Slaves in America by Don Jordan and Michael Walsh

A history of colonial America's indenture servitude.

In which the "servants" were bought and sold as chattel, and their time limit was often nominal, because they would die first (often owing to their masters' neglect), because they would have years tacked on as punishment for this or that, or because their masters simply refused to free them, and either they could not appeal to the courts or the courts backed their masters on specious grounds -- or even didn't pretend they had grounds.

Covers the first colonies, where the law allowed rigid control of all the workers. Followed by the various kinds -- the abducted children, the convicts, the (often deceived) free-willers, the victims of the "spirits" who, even if caught, were less severely punished than horse thieves, the Irish and the Scots, the big German influx (lured by a hoax "Queen Anne's Golden Book"). . .

And the horrific conditions they faced, both crossing the sea and once they land. In Barbados, where there was a large population of black slaves, all observers agreed that the slaves were treated considerably worse than the indentured servants. Even if they survived to freedom, they often ended up paupers. Not to mention the crime ensuing from the convicts. And Parliament kept preventing the colonies from passing laws against it.. One American suggested sending rattlesnakes back in return, even though it wasn't fair trade, since the snakes would warn before they struck.

The American Revolution ended the import, but as soon as the treaty was signed, there were British plans to resume sending convicts. It actually took some years to forbid it by law, which hardly mattered, given the reception they gave the ships. Only seven were sent, and only two managed to land their cargo.

The free-willers trade trailed off for other economic reasons over the next years.

Not light reading.
Tags: history reviews: 15th-18th centuries

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