American ancestors

Published on January 6, 2011   ·   No Comments

The very early British colonizers of America in the 1600s and 1700s needed laborers for their new colonies, and so turned in many cases to convicts, children and other forced migrants:

“[Early British colonizers] needed a compliant, subservient, preferably free labour force, and since the indigenous peoples of America were difficult to enslave they turned to their own homeland to provide. They imported Britons deemed to be ‘surplus’ people – the rootless, the unemployed, the criminal and the dissident – and held them in the Americas in various forms of bondage for anything from three years to life. … In the early decades, half of them died in bondage.

“Among the first to be sent were children. Some were dispatched by impoverished parents seeking a better life for them. But others were forcibly deported. In 1618, the authorities in London began to sweep up hundreds of troublesome urchins from the slums, and ignoring protests from the children and their families, shipped them to Virginia. … It was presented as an act of charity: the ‘starving children’ were to be given a new start as apprentices in America. In fact, they were sold to planters to work in the fields, and half of them were dead within a year. Shipments of children continued from England and then from Ireland for decades. Many of these migrants were little more than toddlers. In 1661, the wife of a man who imported four ‘Irish boys’ into Maryland as servants wondered why her husband had not brought ‘some cradles to have rocked them in’ as they were ‘so little.’

“A second group of forced migrants from the mother country were those such as vagrants and petty criminals whom England’s rulers wished to be rid of. The legal ground was prepared for their relocation by a highwayman turned Lord Chief Justice who argued for England’s jails to be emptied in America. Thanks to men like him, 50,000 to 70,000 convicts (or maybe more) were transported to Virginia, Maryland, Barbados, and England’s other American possessions before 1776. …

“A third group were the Irish. … Under Oliver Cromwell’s ethnic-cleansing policy in Ireland, unknown numbers of Catholic men women and children were forcibly transported to the colonies. And it did not end with Cromwell; for at least another hundred years, forced transportation continued as a fact of life in Ireland. …

“The other unwilling participants in the colonial labour force were the kidnapped. Astounding numbers are reported to have been snatched from the streets and countryside by gangs of kidnappers or ‘spirits’ working to satisfy the colonial hunger for labour. Based at every sizeable port in the British Isles, spirits conned or coerced the unwary onto ships bound for America. … According to a contemporary who campaigned against the black slave trade, kidnappers were snatching an average of around 10,000 whites a year – doubtless an exaggeration, but one that indicates a problem serious enough to create its own grip on the popular mind.’ ”

author: Don Jordan and Michael Walsh
title: White Cargo:
publisher: New York University Press
date: Copyright 2007 by Don Jordan and Michael Walsh
pages:
12-14
Delancey Place
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