Search billions of records on

Colonists in Bondage: White Servitude and Convict Labor in America 1607-1776 by Abbot Emerson Smith. 1947, reprinted 2000 by Clearfield Company, 200 E. Eager Street, Baltimore, MD 21202. viii, 435 pp. Index. Softcover. $35 plus $3.50 p&h.

This is historical account of indentured servitude and convict labor in the American colonies. It is valuable reading for those with British Isles or German ancestry.

The book is divided into three sections. The first discusses the trade in and need for servants. It highlights the differences between the older indentured servitude and the 18th century redemptionist system.

The section focuses on the transportation of rogues, vagabonds and criminals noting the differences. It also highlights the way convict transportation changed especially before and after 1718. Lots of examples are given throughout the book but I found two chapters in this section particularly helpful. One chapter deals with the transportation of English, Scottish and Irish political and military prisoners under the Commonwealth and Protectorate. Another chapter deals with the period after 1660 and the shipping of Quakers, Scottish Covenanters, Monmouth Rebels, Scottish Rebels of 1715 and 1745.

The last section addresses the life of the servant or convict. It begins with the journey to and arrival in America or the West Indies. It discusses what the local customs were and how they changed over time, plus what the conditions were that these people lived under and what they had to do for their freedom.

The book has an excellent appendix giving reported and estimated figures, fully referenced, for servants and convicts in the different American Colonies and the West Indies. The book concludes with a good bibliography of relevant laws, primary and secondary resources arranged by colony making further research easy.

This is one of those books that should be read by all with colonial ancestry who came as a servant or convict (and there are many) to be able to put their ancestor into the correct context.

Reviewed by Paul Milner
BIGWILL v.7 no.4, 2000