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White Cargo : The Forgotten History of Britain's White Slaves in America

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White Cargo is the forgotten story of the thousands of Britons who lived and died in bondage in Britain's American colonies.

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, more than 300,000 white people were shipped to America as slaves. Urchins were swept up from London's streets to labor in the tobacco fields, where life expectancy was no more than two years. Brothels were raided to provide 'breeders' for Virginia. Hopeful migrants were duped into signing as indentured servants,...

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Overview

White Cargo is the forgotten story of the thousands of Britons who lived and died in bondage in Britain's American colonies.

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, more than 300,000 white people were shipped to America as slaves. Urchins were swept up from London's streets to labor in the tobacco fields, where life expectancy was no more than two years. Brothels were raided to provide 'breeders' for Virginia. Hopeful migrants were duped into signing as indentured servants, unaware they would become personal property who could be bought, sold, and even gambled away. Transported convicts were paraded for sale like livestock.

Drawing on letters crying for help, diaries, and court and government archives, Don Jordan and Michael Walsh demonstrate that the brutalities usually associated with black slavery alone were perpetrated on whites throughout British rule. The trade ended with American independence, but the British still tried to sell convicts in their former colonies, which prompted one of the most audacious plots in Anglo-American history.

This is a saga of exploration and cruelty spanning 170 years that has been submerged under the overwhelming memory of black slavery. White Cargo brings the brutal, uncomfortable story to the surface.

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Editorial Reviews

Joyce Hor-Chung Lau
This vividly written book tells the tale from both sides of the Atlantic. Its condemnation is aimed at both American planters and the English elite, who were blinded by greed, arrogance and a desire to get rid of their "society's sweepings"…White Cargo is meticulously sourced and footnoted—which is wise, given its contentious material—but it is never dry or academic. Quotations from 17th- and 18th-century letters, diaries and newspapers lend authenticity as well as color. Excerpts from wills, stating how white servants should be passed down along with livestock and furniture, say more than any textbook explanation could. The authors are not only historians, but also natural storytellers with a fine sense of drama and character.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

High school American history classes present indentured servitude as a benignly paternalistic system whereby colonial immigrants spent a few years working off their passage and went on to better things. Not so, this impassioned history argues: the indentured servitude of whites was comparable in most respects to the slavery endured by blacks. Voluntary indentures arriving in colonial America from Britain were sold on the block, subjected to backbreaking work on plantations, poorly fed and clothed, savagely punished for any disobedience, forbidden to marry without their master's permission, and whipped and branded for running away. Nor were indentures always voluntary: tens of thousands of convicts, beggars, homeless children and other undesirable Britons were transported to America against their will. Given the hideous mortality rates, the authors argue, indentured contracts often amounted to a life sentence at hard labor-some convicts asked to be hanged rather than be sent to Virginia. The authors, both television documentarians, don't attempt a systematic survey of the subject, and their episodic narrative often loses its way in colorful but extraneous digressions. Still, their exposé of unfree labor in the British colonies paints an arresting portrait of early America as gulag. 8 pages of photos. (Mar.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
Two British journalists unravel a significant history of indentured servitude in the New World. Before the 18th century, when Southern tobacco grandees and West Indian sugar planters imported Africans for cheap labor, the New World was the forced destination of many of England's unwanted-the rootless, the unemployed, the criminal and the dissident. Jordan and Walsh systematically dispel the creation myth-"in which early American settlers are portrayed as free men and women who created a democratic and egalitarian model society more or less from scratch"-surrounding the arrival of the English settlers by documenting several waves of "victims of empire" who were often treated as savagely as black slaves and toiled alongside them: boatloads of children raked up from the streets of London, forcibly transported to places like Virginia, sold to planters and often dead within a year; vagrants and petty criminals, ranging from beggars to prostitutes; the Irish, dehumanized and deported under Oliver Cromwell's ethnic-cleaning policy; the kidnapped, often young people snatched from the streets by " ‘spirits' working to satisfy the colonial hunger for labor"; and the so-called "free-willers," who agreed to become indentured servants in return for free passage and perhaps an illusory plot of land. The authors work chronologically, beginning with England's Vagrancy Act of 1597, under which "persistent rogues" could be banished to the fledging colonies. As the first 100 street children were rounded up and sent off to work the tobacco fields of Virginia by 1618, kidnapping, or "spiriting," became so prevalent and feared that it appeared in the work of Daniel Defoe and Robert Louis Stevenson. Theauthors conclude with the abject floating British prisons off the coast of newly independent America. An eye-opening work to be read alongside Richard S. Reddie's forthcoming Abolition!: The Struggle to Abolish Slavery in the British Colonies (2008).
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781845961954
  • Publisher: Gardners Books
  • Publication date: 4/5/2007

Meet the Author

Don Jordan is an award-winning television director and writer who has worked on dozens of documentaries and dramas. He lives in London.

Michael Walsh spent twelve years as a reporter and presenter on World in Action and has won several awards for his work. He is now a producer and writer living in London, specializing in political and historical documentaries.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: In the Shadow of the Myth     11
A Place for the Unwanted     21
The Judge's Dream     33
The Merchant Prince     47
Children of the City     75
The Jagged Edge     89
'They are not Dogs'     99
The People Trade     113
Spirited Away     127
Foreigners in Their Own Land     137
Dissent in the North     155
The Planter from Angola     169
'Barbadosed'     177
The Grandees     193
Bacon's Rebellion     205
Queen Anne's Golden Book     213
Disunity in the Union     227
Lost and Found     233
'His Majesty's Seven-Year Passengers'     247
The Last Hurrah     271
Notes     283
Select Bibliography     301
Index     313
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