>by Don White
Much of the following is taken from the American Passenger Arrival Records
written by Michael L. Tepper, published by Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., Baltimore, 1993.
I have previously written in the blog Getting America Right that blacks may not have been the earliest group of slaves in America, whites from Britain were.
I prefaced my remarks by referring to fiction by Charles Dickens to dwell on the flavor of the mid nineteenth century. Prominent themes in the works of Dickens remind one of our own early twenty-first century: attempts to move up the social ladder, wasteful and indolent people, greed, working class oppression (though I believe those oppressed and those who won’t work are fewer today in America than in Dickens’ century), parenthood neglect and guilt, dysfunctional family relationships, resentment, revenge, and imprisonment.
On the last of these Dickens’ most famous and successful novel, Great Expectations, has elements of all including imprisonment. The blacks may have been first to be imprisoned and transported to the West Indies and other islands of the Americas but not the United States or its colonies’ first slaves. Surprisingly, white slaves were the first.
Black slave trade was the most egregious example of one race imprisoning and requiring involuntary servitude of a free people by another race, but even before the blacks arrived in America, Caucasian prisoners in England arrived in America, particularly in Jamestown to work on the plantations.
Servitude played a big part in peopling the colonies and lasted until the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, not in Public Record Office but in copies of guildhall records.
Long before Cromwell’s time it had been the policy of the government to transport certain classes of convicted felons to the colonies. As early as 1601, a year before the founding of Jamestown, the plantation of Virginia had been recommended to the Privy Council as “a place where the idle vagrants might be sent.” (Coldham Complete Book of Emigrants, 1607 – 1660. p. 1).
The concept was further refined in 1611 when Governor Dale of Virginia proposed that “the king banish hither all offenders condemned to die out of common goales.” 18 So attractive did this idea of ridding the country of undesirables prove, in fact, that between 1615 and the beginning of the Revolutionary War as many as 50,000 men, women, and children were forcibly transported from Great Britain to the American colonies, by far the largest number ending up as plantation servants in the tobacco-growing colonies of Virginia and Maryland. It may be unpalatable to some, but the fact is that recruitment for service in the tobacco colonies was achieved in large measure through the emptying of English jails.
As a separate category of emigrants these transportees are the most numerous and the most thoroughly documented of all the emigrant groups prior to the Nineteenth century, suggesting that to a considerable extent the southern colonies were settled by the dispossessed and the lawless.
As a rule, transportees were placed on ships and sent to the tobacco colonies where they were sold to the highest bidder for a period of servitude lasting from seven to fourteen years, with the threat of dire penalties should they return to England before their term was out. The arrangement was a happy one for England, and continued right up to the Revolution, leaving in its wake a vast trove of documents bearing witness to the practice of enforced transportation — records of the Assize Courts and Courts of Quarter Session, Patten Rolls, Treasury papers, prison records, transportation bonds, and landing certificates.
These records are widely scattered and somewhat hard to find, even in the Public Records Office and would otherwise defy access except that the English scholar Peter W. Coldham compiled a complete list of those persons recorded as having been sentenced or reprieved for transportation to the American colonies between 1614 and 1775. Utilizing every source, Coldham’s Complete Book of Emigrants in Bondage, 1614 – 1775 is by any standard of measurement the largest collection of names of colonial emigrants ever published in a single volume. It is thanks to his efforts that we have not only a definitive list of these transported felons but the largest and most discrete collection of immigration records ever published. 19
Also refer to a work by David Dobson, Directory of Scots Banished to The American Plantations, 1650 -1775 (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1983). It is based on records of the Privy Council of Scotland, the High Court of Justiciary, Treasury and State papers, and Tolbooth, or prison, records, most of which are located in the Scottish Record Office, it identifies several thousand Scots who were banished to the American colonies for political, religious, or criminal offenses. It names, for example, some of the Scots soldiers who were taken prisoner during the English Civil War and exiled to New England, Virginia, and the West Indies; it singles out the records of about 1,700 Scots who were expelled as enemies of the state during the Covenanter risings of the late seventeenth century, and it lists the names of men, women, as well as children who were banished to the colonies as a result of the Jacobite rebellions of 1715 and 1745. While it is a directory only of involuntary Scottish emigrants, it is nonetheless a significant research tool, for there are almost no other records in existence which establish a link between the early Scottish emigrant and his homeland. Although a much smaller work than Coldham’s Complete Book of Emigrants in Bondage, its achievement in underscoring the role of enforced transportation in the peopling of the American colonies is considerble.
Smaller still is the recently published Emigrants from Ireland to America, 1735 – 1743 (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1992), transcribed by Frances McDonnell from the pages of the obscure Journal of the House of Commons of the Kingdom of Ireland for 1796. Published originally in the Journal as a report of a special committee of the Irish House of Commons which had been appointed in 1743 to investigate abuses of the system of enforced transportation that had occurred during the previous seven years, this modest list of 2,000 transportees is the only known euivalent of English or Scottish transportation records — essentially a country-by-country list of convicted felons and vagabonds and an account of the money raised at courts of assizes and quarter sessions for their transportation. The report is doubly significant because in the 300-year history of emigration from Ireland to America there are few periods as destitute of emigration data as the mid-eighteenth century. A researcher could turn over an entire library of documents and books before finding anything of use on the subject, for the fact is that apart from documents relating to the Scotch – Irish of Ulster there are precious few records in Ireland of the thousands of men and women who emigrated in the eighteenth century. As a rule, if anything at all can be learned of these emigrants it is from records of arrival rather than departure, and they are few enough in the period concerned. Even so, from internal references in the committee’s report it is clear that records of enforced transportation were maintained by country Crown offices and by county sub-sherrifs and mayors’ clerks and may yet prove accessible.
Page 27-29: “The climate of conspiracy and insurrection prevailing in England in the seventeenth century, fueled by church-state factionalism, by a mistrust of the monarchy and its predilection for Roman Catholicism, and by recurring fears of the exiled House of Stuart, gave rise to the creation of an increasingly esoteric body of emigration records.
“There is ample evidence, for example, that the establishment of the Commonwealth under Cromwell in 1649 to the Jacobite uprisings of 1715
and 1745, the colonies were used as a dumping ground for enemies of the state. Indeed, fragmentary records of the forcible transportation of both political and military prisoners in the form of release and consignment documents are in the Public Records Office in London and the Scottish Record Office in Edinburgh (a few have been Scots soldiers shipped to New England after the Battle of Dunbar (1650); of rebels who in 1685 joined the Duke of Monmouth in his attempt to overthrow James II and were subsequently banished to the West Indies; of Scottish Covenanters who in that same year refused the oath of allegiance to the monarch, and were transported to the plantations, many of them to New Jersey; and of Scots soldiers and Stuart sympathizers sent into exile after the seiges of Preston (1715) and Carlysle (1745). 17