Was Early America “The Best Poor Man’s Country” for White Immigrants?

Documents Introduction:

What was life like for white immigrants who voluntarily migrated to the British North American colonies in the century and a half before the American Revolution? Most all of these immigrants came for new opportunities and the chance to improve their lives. William Penn, the Quaker exile who founded the colony of Pennsylvania as a haven for religious dissenters referred to British North America as “the best poor man’s country.” And there were certainly ways in which it was. White settlers on the whole enjoyed a higher standard of living than those who stayed behind in Europe. They were generally healthier, lived longer, and were taller (a sign of better nutrition). They owned more land: about 2/3 of white immigrants eventually came to own the lands they farmed; back in Europe, most ordinary people were landless peasants, tenant farmers, or urban wage workers. In America, higher rates of land ownership also brought greater status as more than half of adult white men met the property requirements to be able to vote; back in England, just 18 percent of adult men could vote. Broad measures such as these suggest that moving to America significantly raised the standard of living of migrants.

But was life really that much better than in Europe? The ultimate success of many immigrants often came at significant personal and family cost. The long and dangerous shipboard journey and typically harsh conditions in colonial settlements took many lives. All white migrants faced the challenges of difficult lives, starvation, disease, and hostile Indian attacks. More than half of white immigrants arrived in some degree on un-freedom. Most white immigrants started out their lives in America in servitude. Prior to the American Revolution, approximately 500,000 white Europeans migrated to the thirteen colonies. About 55,000 of that total (or 11%) came as convict laborers, who exchanged long prison sentences or even execution in England for a long term of service in the colonies after which they would become free. About half of the rest came as indentured servants, free people, who could not afford the ship fare who sold themselves into service, typically for about five years (some less, some more), after which they could do as they pleased. While many indentured servants ended up owning land of their own, many found limited success.

The documents below include numerous reports from white immigrants about their lives in the new world. Most of the documents are letters written home to inform relatives of their experiences. They are arranged chronologically, dating from the first English settlements to the 1750s. Use these documents to draw some conclusions about the experiences of white immigrants. As you read the documents, keep in mind the difference that the kind of historical source, how long the migrant had been in America before making their report, and the stage of colonial development at the time of writing. Remember that timing makes a difference in how historians interpret documents as does the context in which the source was created.

Consider the following questions as you frame your response:

To what extent did the migrants seem to find what they were looking for? Based on these documents, did the odds of migrants improving their lives seem to increase or decrease over time? Were the problems they encountered related to the difficulties of being pioneers struggling to survive? Or were there also larger systemic issues at play that kept ordinary settlers relatively powerless even after settlements were established? How might the fact that most of the documents below are letters written home relatively soon after new immigrants arrived shape the impressions of colonial life that the immigrants sent back home? What are some shortcomings of using sources like these to draw conclusions about white immigrant experiences? What other kinds of sources might create a more complete picture of immigrant lives?

Documents Text:

D1: “The Starving Time”: John Smith Recounts the Early History of Jamestown, 1609

Source: http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/6593.html

The organizers of the first English settlement at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607 had visions of easy wealth and abundant plunder. The colonists, a group with little agricultural experience and weighted with gentry, instead found a swampy and disease-ridden site. The local Indians were unwilling to labor for them. Few survived the first difficult winters. Captain John Smith had been a soldier, explorer, and adventurer. With the colony in near chaos, he took over the government of the colony in 1608 and instituted a policy of rigid discipline and agricultural cultivation. When a gunpowder accident forced his return to England in 1608, the colonists faced a disastrous winter known as “starving time.”

The day before Captaine Smith returned for England with the ships, Captaine Davis arrived in a small Pinace, with some sixteene proper men more: To these were added a company from James towne, under the command of Captaine John Sickelmore alias Ratliffe, to inhabit Point Comfort. Captaine Martin and Captaine West, having lost their boats and neere halfe their men among the Salvages, were returned to James towne; for the Salvages no sooner understood Smith was gone, but they all revolted, and did spoile and murther all they incountered. Now wee were all constrained to live onely on that Smith had onely for his owne Companie, for the rest had consumed their proportions, and now they had twentie Presidents with all their appurtenances: Master Piercie our new President, was so sicke hee could neither goe nor stand. But ere all was consumed, Captaine West and Captaine Sickelmore, each with a small ship and thirtie or fortie men well appointed, sought abroad to trade. Sickelmore upon the confidence of Powhatan, with about thirtie others as carelesse as himselfe, were all slaine, onely Jeffrey Shortridge escaped, and Pokahontas the Kings daughter saved a boy called Henry Spilman, that lived many yeeres after, by her meanes, amongst the Patawomekes. Powhatan still as he found meanes, cut off their Boats, denied them trade, so that Captaine West set saile for England. Now we all found the losse of Captaine Smith, yea his greatest maligners could now curse his losse: as for corne, provision and contribution from the Salvages, we had nothing but mortall wounds, with clubs and arrowes; as for our Hogs, Hens, Goats, Sheepe, Horse, or what lived, our commanders, officers & Salvages daily consumed them, some small proportions sometimes we tasted, till all was devoured; then swords, armes, pieces, or any thing, wee traded with the Salvages, whose cruell fingers were so oft imbrewed in our blouds, that what by their crueltie, our Governours indiscretion, and the losse of our ships, of five hundred within six moneths after Captaine Smiths departure, there remained not past sixtie men, women and children, most miserable and poore creatures; and those were preserved for the most part, by roots, herbes, acornes, walnuts, berries, now and then a little fish: they that had startch in these extremities, made no small use of it; yea, even the very skinnes of our horses. Nay, so great was our famine, that a Salvage we slew, and buried, the poorer sort tooke him up againe and eat him, and so did divers one another boyled and stewed with roots and herbs: And one amongst the rest did kill his wife, powdered her, and had eaten part of her before it was knowne, for which hee was executed, as hee well deserved; now whether shee was better roasted, boyled or carbonado’d, I know not, but of such a dish as powdered wife I never heard of. This was that time, which still to this day we called the starving time; it were too vile to say, and scarce to be beleeved, what we endured: but the occasion was our owne, for want of providence, industrie and government, and not the barrennesse and defect of the Countrie, as is generally supposed; for till then in three yeeres, for the numbers were landed us, we had never from England provision sufficient for six moneths, though it seemed by the bils of loading sufficient was sent us, such a glutton is the Sea, and such good fellowes the Mariners; we as little tasted of the great proportion sent us, as they of our want and miseries, yet notwithstanding they ever over-swayed and ruled the businesse, though we endured all that is said, and chiefly lived on what this good Countrie naturally afforded; yet had wee beene even in Paradice it selfe with these Governours, it would not have beene much better with us; yet there was amongst us, who had they had the government as Captaine Smith appointed, but that they could not maintaine it, would surely have kept us from those extremities of miseries. This in ten daies more, would have supplanted us all with death.

But God that would not this Countrie should be unplanted, sent and Sir Thomas Gates, and Sir George Sommers with one hundred and fiftie people most happily preserved by the Bermudas to preserve us: strange it is to say how miraculously they were preserved in a leaking ship, as at large you may reade in the insuing Historie of those Ilands.

Source: John Smith, The Generall Historie of Virginia, New England & The Summer Isles (Glasgow, Scotland: James MacLehose and Sons, 1907), Vol. 1: 203–05

D2: “Our Plantation Is Very Weak”: The Experiences of an Indentured Servant in Virginia, 1623

Source: http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/6475.html

Planters in early seventeenth-century Virginia had bountiful amounts of land and a profitable crop in tobacco, but they needed labor to till their fields. They faced resistance from the local Indian people and were unable to enslave them, so they recruited poor English adults as servants. These young men and women signed indentures, or contracts, for four to seven year terms of work in exchange for their passage to North America. Richard Frethorne came to Jamestown colony in 1623 as an indentured servant. In this letter dated March 20, 1623, written just three months after his entry into the colony, he described the death and disease all around him. Two thirds of his fellow shipmates had died since their arrival. Those without capital suffered particularly precarious situations with the lack of supplies and loss of leaders. Frethorne pleaded with his parents to redeem (buy out) his indenture.

Richard Frethorne:


My most humble duty remembered to you, hoping in god of your good health, as I myself am at the making hereof. This is to let you understand that I your child am in a most heavy case by reason of the country, [which] is such that it causeth much sickness, [such] as the scurvy and the bloody flux and diverse other diseases, which maketh the body very poor and weak. And when we are sick there is nothing to comfort us; for since I came out of the ship I never ate anything but peas, and loblollie (that is, water gruel). As for deer or venison I never saw any since I came into this land. There is indeed some fowl, but we are not allowed to go and get it, but must work hard both early and late for a mess of water gruel and a mouthful of bread and beef. A mouthful of bread for a penny loaf must serve for four men which is most pitiful. [You would be grieved] if you did know as much as I [do], when people cry out day and night – Oh! That they were in England without their limbs – and would not care to lose any limb to be in England again, yea, though they beg from door to door. For we live in fear of the enemy every hour, yet we have had a combat with them … and we took two alive and made slaves of them. But it was by policy, for we are in great danger; for our plantation is very weak by reason of the death and sickness of our company. For we came but twenty for the merchants, and they are half dead just; and we look every hour when two more should go. Yet there came some four other men yet to live with us, of which there is but one alive; and our Lieutenant is dead, and [also] his father and his brother. And there was some five or six of the last year’s twenty, of which there is but three left, so that we are fain to get other men to plant with us; and yet we are but 32 to fight against 3000 if they should come. And the nighest help that we have is ten mile of us, and when the rogues overcame this place [the] last [time] they slew 80 persons. How then shall we do, for we lie even in their teeth? They may easily take us, but [for the fact] that God is merciful and can save with few as well as with many, as he showed to Gilead. And like Gilead’s soldiers, if they lapped water, we drink water which is but weak.

And I have nothing to comfort me, nor is there nothing to be gotten here but sickness and death, except [in the event] that one had money to lay out in some things for profit. But I have nothing at all–no, not a shirt to my back but two rags, nor clothes but one poor suit, nor but one pair of shoes, but one pair of stockings, but one cap, [and] but two bands [collars]. My cloak is stolen by one of my fellows, and to his dying hour [he] would not tell me what he did with it; but some of my fellows saw him have butter and beef out of a ship, which my cloak, I doubt [not], paid for. So that I have not a penny, nor a penny worth, to help me too either spice or sugar or strong waters, without the which one cannot live here. For as strong beer in England doth fatten and strengthen them, so water here doth wash and weaken these here [and] only keeps [their] life and soul together. But I am not half [of] a quarter so strong as I was in England, and all is for want of victuals; for I do protest unto you that I have eaten more in [one] day at home than I have allowed me here for a week. You have given more than my day’s allowance to a beggar at the door; and if Mr. Jackson had not relieved me, I should be in a poor case. But he like a father and she like a loving mother doth still help me.

For when we go to Jamestown (that is 10 miles of us) there lie all the ships that come to land, and there they must deliver their goods. And when we went up to town [we would go], as it may be, on Monday at noon, and come there by night, [and] then load the next day by noon, and go home in the afternoon, and unload, and then away again in the night, and [we would] be up about midnight. Then if it rained or blowed never so hard, we must lie in the boat on the water and have nothing but a little bread. For when we go into the boat we [would] have a loaf allowed to two men, and it is all [we would get] if we stayed there two days, which is hard; and [we] must lie all that while in the boat. But that Goodman Jackson pitied me and made me a cabin to lie in always when I [would] come up, and he would give me some poor jacks [fish] [to take] home with me, which comforted me more than peas or water gruel. Oh, they be very godly folks, and love me very well, and will do anything for me. And he much marvelled that you would send me a servant to the Company; he saith I had been better knocked on the head. And indeed so I find it now, to my great grief and misery; and [I] saith that if you love me you will redeem me suddenly, for which I do entreat and beg. And if you cannot get the merchants to redeem me for some little money, then for God’s sake get a gathering or entreat some good folks to lay out some little sum of money in meal and cheese and butter and beef. Any eating meat will yield great profit. Oil and vinegar is very good; but, father, there is great loss in leaking. But for God’s sake send beef and cheese and butter, or the more of one sort and none of another. But if you send cheese, it must be very old cheese; and at the cheesemonger’s you may buy very food cheese for twopence farthing or halfpenny, that will be liked very well. But if you send cheese, you must have a care how you pack it in barrels; and you must put cooper’s chips between every cheese, or else the heat of the hold will rot them. And look whatsoever you send me – be in never so much–look, what[ever] I make of it, I will deal truly with you. I will send it over and beg the profit to redeem me; and if I die before it come, I have entreated Goodman Jackson to send you the worth of it, who hath promised he will. If you send, you must direct your letters to Goodman Jackson, at Jamestown, a gunsmith. (You must set down his freight, because there be more of his name there.) Good father, do not forget me, but have mercy and pity my miserable case. I know if you did but see me, you would weep to see me; for I have but one suit. (But [though] it is a strange one, it is very well guarded.) Wherefore, for God’s sake, pity me. I pray you to remember my love to all my friends and kindred. I hope all my brothers and sisters are in good health, and as for my part I have set down my resolution that certainly will be; that is, that the answer of this letter will be life or death to me. Therefore, good father, send as soon as you can; and if you send me any thing let this be the mark.




Source: Richard Frethorne, letter to his father and mother, March 20, April 2 & 3, 1623, in Susan Kingsbury, ed., The Records of the Virginia Company of London (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1935), 4: 58–62

D3: A Letter Home From Massachusetts Bay in 1631

Source: http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5787.html

Over 20,000 migrants from England crossed the Atlantic to the new colony of Massachusetts Bay in the decade of the 1630s. This sudden influx of settlers became known to historians as the “Great Migration.” Once in New England, they quickly dispersed to various towns. About forty families followed Sir Richard Saltonstall and the Reverend George Phillips four miles up the Charles River to found the community of Watertown in July 1630. Many had relocated from the East Anglian region of England, where William Pond, the correspondent’s father, lived. These families attempted to set up a familiar farm economy based on grain and livestock, but early dreams of an easy trade with the Indians proved elusive. Their concerns focused on feeding themselves and achieving economic sufficiency.

______ Pond to William Pond, March 15, 1631

To my loving father William Pond, at Etherston in Suffolk give this.

MOST LOVING & KIND FATHER & MOTHER, My humble duty remembered unto you, trusting in God you are in good health, & I pray remember my love unto my brother Joseph & thank him for his kindness that I found at his hand at London, . . . I know, loving father, & do confess that I was an undutiful child unto you when I lived with you & by you, for the which I am much sorrowful & grieved for it, trusting in God that he will guide me that I will never offend you so any more & I trust in God that you will forgive me for it. My writing unto you is to let you understand what a country this New England is where we live. Here are but few [Indians], a great part of them died this winter, it was thought it was of the plague. They are a crafty people & they will [cozen] & cheat, & they are a subtle people, & whereas we did expect great store of beaver here is little or none to be had. They are proper men & . . . many of them go naked with a skin about their loins, but now sum of them get Englishmen’s apparel; & the country is very rocky and hilly & some champion ground & the soil is very [fruitful], & here is some good ground and marsh ground, but here is no Michaelmas. Spring cattle thrive well here, but they give small store of milk. The best cattle for profit is swines & a good swine is her at £5 price, and a goose worth £2 a good one got. Here is timber good store & acorns good store, and here is good store of fish if we had boats to go for & lines to serve to fishing. . . . & people here are subject to diseases, for here have died of the scurvy & of the burning fever nigh too hundred & odd; beside as many lie lame & all Sudbury men are dead but three & three women & some children, & provisions are here at a wonderful rate. . . . If this ship had not come when it did we had been put to a wonderful straight, but thanks be to God for sending of it in. I received from the ship a hogshead of meal, & the Governor telleth me of a hundred weight of cheese the which I have received part of it. I humbly thank you for it. I did expect two cows, the which I had none, nor I do not earnestly desire that you should send me any, because the country is not so as we did expect it. Therefore, loving father, I would entreat you that you would send me a firkin of butter & a hogshead of malt unground, for we drink nothing but water, & a coarse clothe of four pound price so it be thick. For the freight, if you of your love will send them I will pay the freight, for here is nothing to be got without we had commodities to go up to the East parts amongst the Indians to truck, for here where we live here is no beaver. Here is no cloth to be had to make no apparel, & shoes are a 5s a pair for me, & that cloth that is worth 2s 8d is worth here 5s. So I pray, father, send me four or five yards of cloth to make some apparel, & loving father, though I be far distant from you yet I pray you remember me as your child, & we do not know how long we may subsist, for we can not live here without provisions from old England. Therefore, I pray do not put away your shop stuff, for I think that in the end, if I live, it must be my living, for we do not know how long this plantation will stand, for some of the magnates that did uphold it have turned off their men & have given it over. Besides, God hath taken away the chiefest stud in the land, Mr. Johnson & the lady Arabella his wife, which was the chiefest man of estate in the land & one that would have done most good.

Here came over 25 passengers & their came back again four score & odd persons, & as many more would a come if they had wherewithal to bring them home, for are many that came over the last year which was worth two hundred pounds afore they came ought of old England that between this & Micahelmas will be hardly worth £30. So here we may live if we have supplies every year from old England, otherwise we can not subsist. I may, as I will, work hard, set an acre of [English] wheat, & if we do not set it with fish & that will cost 20 s., if we set it without fish they shall have but a poor crop. So father, I pray, consider of my cause, for here will be but a very poor being, no being without loving father, your help with provisions from old England. I had thought to come home in this ship, for my provisions were almost all spent, but that I humbly thank you for your great love & kindness in sending me some provisions or else I should & mine a been half famished, but now I will, if it please God that I have my health, I will plant what corn I can, & if provisions be not cheaper between this & Michaelmas & that I do not hear from you what I was best to do, I purpose to some home at Michaelmas.

My wife remembers her humble duty unto you & to my mother, & my love to brother Joseph & to Sarey Myler. Thus I leave you to the protection of Almighty God.

Watertown, New England, [no signature]

Source: Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 2nd Series, vol. 8 (Boston, 1892–1894), 471–73.

D4: “Thus This Poore People Populate This Howling Desart”: Edward Johnson Describes the Founding of the Town of Concord in Massachusetts Bay, 1635

by Edward Johnson

Source: http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5797.html

After their arrival, the Puritan migrants to Massachusetts Bay quickly dispersed into a series of settlements around Boston and then moved inland. Colonists formed clustered towns where they could secure land for their families and churches for their worship. One such community was Concord, Massachusetts, founded by Simon Willard, a fur trader with the local Indians. In his history of New England, entitled The Wonder-Working Providence, woodworker and local historian Edward Johnson recorded an account “of the manner how they placed downe their dwellings in this Desart Wildernesse.” Johnson emphasized the providential (God-given) nature of the Puritan mission, one that saw the eastern woodlands, a region that the English and Indians shared in the first decades of settlement, as a wilderness.

Of the laborious worke Christ’s people have in planting this wildernesse, set forth in the building the Towne of Concord, being the first in-land Towne.

Now because it is one of the admirable acts of Christ[‘s] Providence in leading his people forth into these Westerne Fields, in his providing of Huts for them, to defend them from the bitter stormes this place is subject unto, therefore here is a short Epitome of the manner how they placed downe their dwellings in this Desart Wildernesse, the Lord being pleased to hide from the Eyes of his people the difficulties they are to encounter withall in a new Plantation, that they might not thereby be hindered from taking the worke in hand; upon some inquiry of the Indians, who lived to the North-west of the Bay, one Captaine Simon Willard being acquainted with them, by reason of his Trade, became a chiefe instrument in erecting this Town, the land they purchase of the Indians, and with much difficulties traveling through unknowne woods, and through watery scrampes [swampes], they discover the fitnesse of the place, sometimes passing through the Thickets, where their hands are forced to make way for their bodies passage, and their feete clambering over the crossed Trees, which when they missed they sunke into an uncertaine bottome in water, and wade up to the knees, tumbling sometimes higher and sometimes lower, wearied with this toile, they at end of this meete with a scorching plaine, yet not so plaine, but that the ragged Bushes scratch their legs fouly, even to wearing their stockings to their bare skin in two or three houres; if they be not otherwise well defended with Bootes, or Buskings, their flesh will be torne: (that some being forced to passe on without further provision) have had the bloud trickle downe at every step, and in the time of Summer the Sun casts such a reflecting heate from the sweet Feme, whose scent is very strong so that some herewith have beene very nere fainting, although very able bodies to under-goe much travell, and this not to be indured for one day, but for many, and verily did not the Lord incourage their naturall parte (with hopes of a new and strange discovery, expecting every houre to see some rare sight never seene before) they were never able to hold out, and breake through: but above all, the thirsting desires these servants of Christ have had to Plant his Churches, among whom the forenamed Mr. Jones’ shall not be forgotten.

In Desart’s depth where Wolves and Beares abide,

There Jones sits down a wary watch to keepe, O’re Christs deare flock, who now are wandered wide;

But not from him, whose eyes ne’re close with sleepe. Surely it sutes thy melancholly minde,

Thus solitary for to spend thy dayes, Much more thy soule in Christ content doth finde,

To worke for him, who thee to joy will raise.

Leading thy son to Land, yet more remote, i To feede his flock upon this Westerne wast: Exhort him then Christs Kingdome to promote; That he with thee of lasting joyes may tast.

Yet farther to tell of the hard labours this people found in Planting this Wildernesse, after some dayes spent in search, toyling in the day time as formerly is said; like true Jacob, its ‘ they rest them one [on] the Rocks where the night takes them, their short repast is some small pittance of Bread, if it hold out, but as for Drinke they have plenty, the Countrey being well watered in all places that yet are found out. Their farther hardship is to travell, sometimes they know not whether, bewildred indeed without sight of Sun, their compasse miscarrying in crouding through the Bushes, they sadly search up and down for a known way, the Indians paths being not above one foot broad, so that a man may travell many dayes and never find one. But to be sure the directing Providence of Christ hath beene better unto them than many paths, as might here be inserted, did not hast call my Pen away to more waighty matters; yet by the way a touch thus, it befell with a servant maide, who was travelling about three or foure miles from one Towne to another, loosing her selfe in the Woods, had very diligent search made after her for the space of three dayes, and could not possible be found, then being given over as quite lost, after three dayes and nights, the Lord was pleased to bring her feeble body to her own home in safety, to the great admiration of all that heard of it.2 This intricate worke no whit daunted these resolved servants of Christ to goe on with the worke in hand, but lying in the open aire, while the watery Clouds poure down all the night season, and sometimes the driving Snow dissolving on their backs, they keep their wet cloathes warme with a continued fire, till the renewed morning give fresh opportunity of further travell; after they have thus found out a place of aboad, they burrow themselves in the Earth for their first shelter under some Hill-side, casting the Earth aloft upon Timber; they make a smoaky fire against the Earth at the highest side, nd thus these poore servants of Christ provide shelter for themselves, their Wives and little ones, keeping off the short showers from their Lodgings, but the long raines penetrate through, to their great disturbance in the night season: yet in these poore Wigwames they sing Psalmes, pray and praise their God, till they can provide them houses, which ordinarily was not wont to be with many till the Earth, by the Lords blessing, brought forth Bread to feed them, their Wives and little ones, which with sore labours they attaine every one that can lift a hawe [hoe] to strike it into the Earth, standing stoutly to their labours, and teare up the Rootes and Bushes, which the first yeare beares them a very thin crop, till the soard [sward] of the Earth be rotten, and therefore they have been forced to cut their bread very thin for a long season. But the Lord is pleased to provide for them great store of Fish in the spring time, and especially Alewives about the bignesse of a Herring; many thousands of these, they used to put under their Indian Corne, which they plant in Hills five foote asunder, and assuredly when the Lord created this Corne, hee had a speciall eye to supply these his peoples wants with it, for ordinarily five or six graines doth produce six hundred.

As for flesh they looked not for any in those times (although now they have plenty) unlesse they could barter with the Indians for Venison or Rockoons, whose flesh is not much inferiour unto Lambe, the toile of a new Plantation being like the labours of Hercules never at an end, yet are none so barbarously bent (under the Mattacusets especially) but with a new Plantation they ordinarily gather into Church-fellowship, so that Pastors and people suffer the inconveniences together, which is a great meanes to season the sore labours they undergoe, and verily the edge of their appetite was greater to spirituall duties at their first comming in time of wants, than afterward: many in new Plantations have been forced to go barefoot, and bareleg, till these latter dayes, and some in time of Frost and Snow: Yet were they then very healthy more then now they are: in this Wildernesse-worke men of Estates speed no better than others, and some much worse for want of being inured to such hard labour, having laid out their estate upon cattell at five and twenty pound a Cow, when they came to winter them with in-land Hay, and feed upon such wild Fother as was never cut before, they could not hold out the Winter, but ordinarily the first or second yeare after their comming up to a new Plantation, many of their Cattell died, especially if they wanted Salt-marshes : and also those, who supposed they should feed upon Swines flesh were cut short, the Wolves commonly feasting themselves before them, who never leave neither flesh nor bones, if they be not scared away before they have made an end of their meale. As for those who laid out their Estate upon Sheepe, they speed worst of any at the beginning (although some have sped the best of any now) for untill the Land be often fed with other Cattell Sheepe cannot live; And therefore they never thrived till these latter dayes: Horse had then no better successe, which made many an honest Gentleman travell a foot for a long time, and some have even perished with extreame heate in their travells: as also the want of English graine, Wheate, Barly and Rie proved a sore affliction to some stomacks, who could not live upon Indian Bread and water, yet were they compelled to it till Cattell increased, and the Plowes could but goe: instead of Apples and Peares, they had Pomkins and Squashes of divers kinds. Their lonesome condition was very grievous to some, which was much aggravated by continuall feare of the Indians approach, whose cruelties were much spoken of, and more especially during the time of the Peqot wars.

Thus this poore people populate this howling Desart, marching manfully on (the Lord assisting) through the greatest difficulties, and forest labours that ever any with such weak means have done.

Source: Edward Johnson, The Wonder-Working Providence of Sion’s Savior in New England (Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1910), 111–15.

D5: “They Live Well in the Time of their Service”: George Alsop Writes of Servants in Maryland, 1663

Source: http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5815.html

Lord Baltimore established the colony of Maryland in the upper part of Chesapeake Bay in the early 1630s as a refuge for his fellow Catholics. Baltimore’s plans for a feudal system with labor performed by tenant farmers, along with many of the colonists’ other high expectations, proved impossible to establish. The tobacco boom and offers of free land to Protestant and Catholic alike drew thousands of English immigrants to Virginia and Maryland. Over three quarters of the migrants to the seventeenth-century Chesapeake arrived as indentured servants, financing their passage by signing indentures, or contracts, for four to seven years labor. Most had agricultural backgrounds and were also fleeing poverty and unemployment in England. George Alsop was one such indentured servant, probably with experience as an artisan or mechanic. He offered an account that boasted of the favorable situation for servants, especially women, to counter other writers who compared conditions in the Chesapeake to slavery.

The necessariness of Servitude proved, with the common usage of Servants in Mary-Land, together with their Priviledges

As there can be Monarchy without the Supremacy of a King and Crown, nor no King without Subjects, nor any Parents without it be by the fruitful off-spring of Children; neither can there be any Masters, unless it be by the inferior Servitude of those that dwell under them, by a commanding enjoyment: And since it is ordained from the original and superabounding wisdom of all things, That there should be Degrees and Diversities amongst the Sons of men, in acknowledging of a Superiority from Inferiors to Superiors; the Servant with a reverent and befitting Obedience is as liable to this duty in a measurable performance to him whom he serves, as the loyalest of Subjects to his Prince. Then since it is a common and ordained Fate, that there must be Servants as well as Masters, and that good Servitudes are those Colledges of Sobriety that checks in the giddy and wild-headed youth from his profuse and uneven course of life, by a limited constrainment, as well as it otherwise agrees with the moderate and discreet Servant: Why should there be such an exclusive Obstacle in the minds and unreasonable dispositions of many people, against the limited time of convenient and necessary Servitude, when it is a thing so requisite, that the best of Kingdoms would be unhing’d from their quiet and well setled Government without it. . . .

Why then, if Servitude be so necessary that no place can be governed in order, nor people live without it, this may serve to tell those which prick up their ears and bray against it, That they are none but Asses, and deserve the Bridle of a strict commanding power to reine them in: For I’m certainly confident, that there are several Thousands in most Kingdoms of Christendom, that could not at all live and subsist, unless they had served some prefixed time, to learn either some Trade, Art, or Science, and by either of them to extract their present livelihood….

Then let such, where Providence hath ordained to live as Servants, either in England or beyond Sea, endure the prefixed yoak of their limited time with patience, and then in a small computation of years, by an industrious endeavour, they may become Masters and Mistresses of families themselves. And let this be spoke to the deserved praise of Mary-Land, That the four years I served there were not to me so slavish, as a two years Servitude of a Handicraft Apprenticeship was here in London. . . .

They whose abilities cannot extend to purchase their own transportation over into Mary-Land, (and surely he that cannot command so small a sum for so great a matter, his life must needs be mighty low and dejected) I say they may for the debarment of a four years sordid liberty, go over into this Province and there live plentiously well. And what’s a four year’s Servitude to advantage a man all the remainder of his dayes, making his predecessors happy in his sufficient abilities, which he attained to partly by the restrainment of so small a time?

Now those that commit themselves unto the care of the Merchant to carry them over, they need not trouble themselves with any inquisitive search touching their Voyage; for there is such an honest care and provision made for them all the time they remain aboard the Ship, and are sailing over, that they want for nothing that is necessary and convenient.

The Merchant commonly before they go aboard the Ship, or set themselves in any forwardness for their Voyage, has Conditions of Agreements drawn between him and those that by a voluntary consent become his Servants, to serve him, his Heirs or Assigns, according as they in their primitive acquaintance have made their bargain, some two, some three, some four years and whatever the Master or Servant tyes himself up to here in England by Condition, the Laws of the Province will force a performance of when they come there: Yet here is this Priviledge in it when they arrive, If they dwell not with the Merchant they made their first agreement withall, they may choose, whom they will serve their prefixed time with; and after their curiosity has pitcht on one whom they think fit for their turn, and that they may live well withall, the Merchant makes an Assignment of the Indenture over to him whom they of their free will have chosen to be their Master, in the same nature as we here in England(and no otherwise) turn over Covenant Servants or Apprentices from one Master to another. Then let those whose chaps are always breathing forth those filthy dregs of abusive exclamations, which are Lymbeckt from their sottish and preposterous brains, against this Country of Mary-Land, saying, That those which are transported over thither, are sold in open Market for Slaves, and draw in Carts like Horses; which is so damnable an untruth, that if they should search to the very Center of Hell, and enquire for a Lye of the most antient and damned stamp, I confidently believe they could not find one to parallel this: For know, That the Servants here in Mary-Land of all Colonies, distant or remote Plantations, have the least cause to complain, either for strictness of Servitude, want of Provisions, or need of Apparel: Five dayes and a half in the Summer weeks is the alotted time that they work in; and for two months, when the Sun predominates in the highest pitch of his heat, they claim an antient and customary Priviledge, to repose themselves three hours in the day within the house, and this is undeniably granted to them that work in the Fields.

In the Winter time, which lasteth three months (viz.) December, January, and February, they do little or no work or imployment, save cutting of wood to make good fires to sit by, unless their Ingenuity will prompt them to hunt the Deer, or Boar, or recreate themselves in Fowling, to slaughter the Swans, Geese, and Turkeys (which this Country affords in a most plentiful manner:) For every Servant has a Gun, Powder and Shot allowed him, to sport him withall on all Holidayes and leasurable times, if he be capable of using it, or be willing to learn.

Now those Servants which come over into this Province, being Artificers [craftsmen], they never (during their Servitude) work in the Fields, or do any other imployment save that which their Handicraft and Mechanick endeavours are capable of putting them upon, and are esteem’d as well by their Masters, as those that imploy them, above measure. He that’s a Tradesman here in Mary-Land (though a Servant), lives as well as most common Handicrafts do in London, though they may want something of that Liberty which Freemen have, to go and come at their pleasure . . . . He that lives in the nature of a Servant in this Province, must serve but four years by the Custom of the Country; and when the expiration of his time speaks him a Freeman, there’s a law in the Province, that enjoyns his Master whom he hath served to give him Fifty Acres of Land, Corn to serve him a whole year, three Sutes of Apparel, with things necessary to them, and Tools to work withall; so that they are no sooner free, but they are ready to set up for themselves, and when once entred, they live passingly well.

The Women that go over into this Province as Servants, have the best luck here as in any place of the world besides; for they are no sooner on shoar, but they are courted into a Copulative Matrimony, which some of them (for aught I know) had they not come to such a Market with their Virginity, might have kept it by them untill it had been mouldy, unless they had to let it out by a yearly rent to some of the Inhabitants of Lewknors-lane [a disreputable neighborhood in London]… Men have not altogether so good luck as Women in this kind, or natural preferment, without they be good Rhetoricians, and well vers’d in the Art of perswasion then (probably) they may ryvet themselves in the time of their Servitude into the private and reserved favour of their Mistress, if Age speak their Master deficient.

In short, touching the Servants of this Province, they live well in the time of their Service, and by their restrainment in that time, they are made capable of living much better when they come to be free; which in several other parts of the world I have observed, That after some servants have brought their indented and limited time to a just and legal period by Servitude, they have been much more incapable of supporting themselves from sinking into the Gulf of a slavish, poor, fettered, and intangled life, then all the fastness of their prefixed time did involve them in before.

Source: George Alsop, A Character of the Province of Maryland (1666) ed. Newton D. Mereness (Cleveland: The Burrows Brothers Company, 1902), 52–61.

D6: Bacon’s Rebellion: The Declaration (1676)

by Nathaniel Bacon

Source: http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5800.html

Economic and social power became concentrated in late seventeenth-century Virginia, leaving laborers and servants with restricted economic independence. Governor William Berkeley feared rebellion: “six parts of Seven at least are Poore, Indebted, Discontented and Armed.” Planter Nathaniel Bacon focused inland colonists’ anger at local Indians, who they felt were holding back settlement, and at a distant government unwilling to aid them. In the summer and fall of 1676, Bacon and his supporters rose up and plundered the elite’s estates and slaughtered nearby Indians. Bacon’s Declaration challenged the economic and political privileges of the governor’s circle of favorites, while announcing the principle of the consent of the people. Bacon’s death and the arrival of a British fleet quelled this rebellion, but Virginia’s planters long remembered the spectacle of white and black acting together to challenge authority.

1. For having, upon specious pretenses of public works, raised great unjust taxes upon the commonalty for the advancement of private favorites and other sinister ends, but no visible effects in any measure adequate; for not having, during this long time of his government, in any measure advanced this hopeful colony either by fortifications, towns, or trade.

2. For having abused and rendered contemptible the magistrates of justice by advancing to places of judicature scandalous and ignorant favorites.

3. For having wronged his Majesty’s prerogative and interest by assuming monopoly of the beaver trade and for having in it unjust gain betrayed and sold his Majesty’s country and the lives of his loyal subjects to the barbarous heathen.

4. For having protected, favored, and emboldened the Indians against his Majesty’s loyal subjects, never contriving, requiring, or appointing any due or proper means of satisfaction for their many invasions, robberies, and murders committed upon us.

5. For having, when the army of English was just upon the track of those Indians, who now in all places burn, spoil, murder and when we might with ease have destroyed them who then were in open hostility, for then having expressly countermanded and sent back our army by passing his word for the peaceable demeanor of the said Indians, who immediately prosecuted their evil intentions, committing horrid murders and robberies in all places, being protected by the said engagement and word past of him the said Sir William Berkeley, having ruined and laid desolate a great part of his Majesty’s country, and have now drawn themselves into such obscure and remote places and are by their success so emboldened and confirmed by their confederacy so strengthened that the cries of blood are in all places, and the terror and consternation of the people so great, are now become not only difficult but a very formidable enemy who might at first with ease have been destroyed.

6. And lately, when, upon the loud outcries of blood, the assembly had, with all care, raised and framed an army for the preventing of further mischief and safeguard of this his Majesty’s colony.

7. For having, with only the privacy of some few favorites without acquainting the people, only by the alteration of a figure, forged a commission, by we know not what hand, not only without but even against the consent of the people, for the raising and effecting civil war and destruction, which being happily and without bloodshed prevented; for having the second time attempted the same, thereby calling down our forces from the defense of the frontiers and most weakly exposed places.

8. For the prevention of civil mischief and ruin amongst ourselves while the barbarous enemy in all places did invade, murder, and spoil us, his Majesty’s most faithful subjects.

Of this and the aforesaid articles we accuse Sir William Berkeley as guilty of each and every one of the same, and as one who has traitorously attempted, violated, and injured his Majesty’s interest here by a loss of a great part of this his colony and many of his faithful loyal subjects by him betrayed and in a barbarous and shameful manner exposed to the incursions and murder of the heathen. And we do further declare these the ensuing persons in this list to have been his wicked and pernicious councilors, confederates, aiders, and assisters against the commonalty in these our civil commotions.

Sir Henry Chichley                                   William Claiburne Junior

Lieut. Coll. Christopher Wormeley           Thomas Hawkins

William Sherwood                                    Phillip Ludwell

John Page Clerke                                     Robert Beverley

John Cluffe Clerke                                    Richard Lee

John West                                                Thomas Ballard

Hubert Farrell                                          William Cole

Thomas Reade                                         Richard Whitacre

Matthew Kempe                                      Nicholas Spencer

Joseph Bridger

John West, Hubert Farrell, Thomas Reade, Math. Kempe

And we do further demand that the said Sir William Berkeley with all the persons in this list be forthwith delivered up or surrender themselves within four days after the notice hereof, or otherwise we declare as follows.

That in whatsoever place, house, or ship, any of the said persons shall reside, be hid, or protected, we declare the owners, masters, or inhabitants of the said places to be confederates and traitors to the people and the estates of them is also of all the aforesaid persons to be confiscated. And this we, the commons of Virginia, do declare, desiring a firm union amongst ourselves that we may jointly and with one accord defend ourselves against the common enemy. And let not the faults of the guilty be the reproach of the innocent, or the faults or crimes of the oppressors divide and separate us who have suffered by their oppressions.

These are, therefore, in his Majesty’s name, to command you forthwith to seize the persons above mentioned as traitors to the King and country and them to bring to Middle Plantation and there to secure them until further order, and, in case of opposition, if you want any further assistance you are forthwith to demand it in the name of the people in all the counties of Virginia.

Nathaniel Bacon

General by Consent of the people.

William Sherwood

Source: “Declaration of Nathaniel Bacon in the Name of the People of Virginia, July 30, 1676,”Massachusetts Historical Society Collections, 4th ser., 1871, vol. 9: 184–87.

D7: “A Person Like Me, Oppress’d By Dame Fortune, Need Not Care Where He Goes”: The “Infortunate” William Moraley Tries His Luck in America, 1729.

Source: http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/6229/index.html

Many travelers made their way to Philadelphia and the Mid-Atlantic colonies in the eighteenth century in search of economic opportunity, but not all experienced the fabulous success of Benjamin Franklin. William Moraley, born in 1699 into a modest artisanal family, was more typical. Economic cycles were often critical in determining migration patterns; approximately 73,000 people left for the British colonies in the 1730s, twice the average of earlier in the century (17,000 arrived in Philadelphia). Like half of all European emigrants to North America in the eighteenth century, Moraley faced grim conditions at home. After the death of his father, a journeyman clockmaker, Moraley possessed scarce resources and was imprisoned for debt. The thirty-year-old Moraley bound himself for five years as a servant in the British North American colonies. He titled his picaresque account of life in Britain and America The Infortunate: The Voyage and Adventures of William Moraley, an Indentured Servant.

About this time [1720], the World run mad after the South Sea Bubble. My Father was bit to the Tune of £800, which somewhat impair’d his Fortune; and being advanc’d in Years, proposed to my Mother to settle at Newcastle, where he had many Friends.—She declin’d this Proposal for some Years, but at last agreed to it, by my giving her a good Account of the Place, where I had been some Years before.

We arriv’d at Newcastle after two Days Sail, and settled for about two Years, meeting with Encouragement in our Business from the generous Inhabitants. In the meantime, my Father having Notice of the Death of his Brother, left us, in order to secure his Effects, but unfortunately died at Harwich, in his Passage home from London, in the Year 1725, from which Time I date all my Misfortunes. He had made a Will, which not answering my Expectations, occasioned frequent Quarrels and Contests between my Mother and myself; and her marrying again, widen’d the Breach, and oblig’d me to leave Newcastle for London, where I arrived with 12s. [shillings] only, given me by my Mother, to seek my Fortune, she assuring me she could not raise any more, by reason of her Marriage.

The Money being soon spent, and not readily falling into Business, I was reduc’d to Poverty. A Gentleman let her know my circumstances. She answer’d, she had given all out of her Power, and could do no more for me. He writ to her again, throatening [threatening] her, if she did not restore the third Part of the Personal Effects to me, he would do me Justice; and withal let her know, he had applied to the Chamber of London on my Account. She answer’d him, if her or I gave her Trouble, she would leave all she had a Right to, from me: So the Affair dropp’d. I had now my Ingenuity to trust to; and it was in vain to expect any Subsistence from her.

The said Gentleman writ another Letter to her, and told her it was needless to contend with me, for I was resolv’d to have my Right, notwithstanding my Father’s Will, and any Release I could give her, unless she could prove I receiv’d my whole Fortune from her, a Release only standing good for so much as I had receiv’d, which was but £20 for the Acquittance of about £300 (for the Lord Mayor’s Court being a Court of Equity, Remedy would be had against such an Imposition) and advised her to restore me the remainder.

But not hearing from her, I being resolute, as not caring what became of me, it enter’d my Head to leave England, and sell myself for a Term of Years into the American Plantations. Accordingly I repair’d to the Royal Exchange, to inform myself, by the printed Advertisements fix’d against the Walls, of the Ships bound to America; where musing by myself, a Man accosted me in the following Manner. Sir, said he, I have for some time observ’d you, and fancy your Condition of Life is alter’d for the worse, and guess you have been in better Circumstances; but if you will take my Advice, I’ll make it my Business to find out some way which may be of Service to you. Perhaps you may imagine I have a Design to inveigle you, but I assure you I have none; and if you will accept of a Mug of Beer, I will impart what I have to propose to you. The Man appearing sincere, I gave Ear to him.

I was dress’d at that Time in a very odd Manner. I had on a Red Rug Coat, with Black Lining, Black Buttons and Button Holes, and Black Lace upon the Pockets and Facing; an old worn out Tye Wig, which had not been comb’d out for above a Fortnight; an unshaven Beard; a torn Shirt, that had not been wash’d for above a Month; bad Shoes; and Stockings all full of Holes.

After he had shav’d me, he proposed to me an American Voyage, and said there was a Ship at Limehouse Dock, that would sail for Pensilvania in three or four Days. Sir, said I, a Person like me, oppress’d by Dame Fortune, need not care where he goes. All Places are alike to me; and I am very willing to accept of your Offer, if I could have some View of bettering my Condition of Life, though I might have expected a better Fate than to be forc’d to leave my Native Country: But adverse Fortune is become familiar to me, by a Series of Misfortunes; so had rather leave a Place where I have no Prospect of advancing myself, than to continue here where I have no Friends to relieve me. Besides, in a distant Place, not being known, no Person can reflect on me for any ill Management, which oftentimes discourages one’s Friends from supporting one, knowing the ill Use that is made of their Support.

Sir, says the Person, I’m entirely of your Way of Thinking, and believe you will better yourself by following my Advice. I will recommend you to the Captain, who is bound for Philadelphia, in Pensilvania, a Country producing everything necessary for the Support of Life; and when your Time is expir’d, you will be free to live in any of the Provinces of America.

Then he ask’d me, if I was bred to any Business. I told him, Watchmaking was my Occupation. He said, he was afraid I would not do for any other Business, that being of little Service to the Americans; the useful Trades being, Bricklayers, Shoemakers, Barbers, Carpenters, Joiners, Smiths, Weavers, Bakers, Tanners, and Husbandmen more useful than all the rest. They bind themselves for four Years; but If I would consent to bind myself for five, he said he would undertake to get me admitted.—Those Men Brokers have generally for their Pains Three Half Crowns, given them by the Masters of those Vessels which they are employ’d for.

After we had drank two Pints of Beer, he paid the Reckning. I absolutely agreed to go, and to that Intent we went before Sir Robert Bailis, Lord Mayor, where I was sworn as not being a married Person, or an Apprentice by Indenture. He paid for my Oath one Shilling, a Perquisite of his Clerk. From thence we went to London Bridge, to a Stationer’s Shop, and there an Indenture of Servitude was drawn, which I sign’d.—After this we took Boat at Billingsgate, steer’d our Course for Limehouse, where we arriv’d about Eleven o’Clock in the Forenoon. The Ship was named the Bonetta, of about 200 Tons; the Owner Charles Hankin, James Reed, Commander. There were on board 20 Persons, all Men, bound to the same Place, and on the same Account. As soon as I enter’d, my Friend left me to think better on it, and wish’d me a prosperous Voyage, and a good Wife….

We all of us had the Liberty of Visiting the Town [on arrival in Philadelphia], where I sold my Red Coat for a Quart of Rum, my Tie Wig for Sixpence, with which I bought a Three-penny Loaf and a Quart of Cyder. Our Cargo consisting chiefly of Voluntary Slaves, who are the least to be pitied, I saw all my Companions sold off before me; my turn came last, when I was sold for eleven Pounds, to one Mr. Isaac Pearson, a Man of Humanity, by Trade a Smith, Clock-maker and Goldsmith, living at Burlington, in New Jersey: He was a Quaker, but a Wet one….

I left Philadelphia to go to Burlington to my Master; I went in a Boat, where I got myself Drunk for the first time after my Arrival, and then first experienced the Strength of Rum. About Twelve we landed there, and I was conveyed to my Master, where I dined upon Dumplings, boil’d Beef, and Udder; when I became enamour’d with Mrs. Sarah, the Daughter. I was stripp’d of my Rags, and received in lieu of them a torn Shirt, and an old Coat: They tell me, it was only for the present, for I might expect better.

I went to bed that Night, being the first Time I had seen one since I left London, which was fifteen Weeks. The next day I had leave, upon my Desire, to walk about the Town: It is close to the river, and contains about 300 Houses; the Number of inhabitants was 800. It has a Key and Wharf, where Ships of 500 Tun may anchor: At the Upper-End, is the Prison, built of Brick.—Every House has a Garden and Orchard, stored with Apples, Peaches, and Cherries. Cyder is the common Drink here; some Houses making one hundred and fifty Barrels in the Year….

My Master employed me in the Business: I continued satisfied with him for sometime; but being desirous to settle at Philadelphia, during the rest of my servitude, I declared to him, I would stay no longer, and desired him to dispose of me to some other Master, and insisted upon it, agreeably to the Tenour of my Indenture. This Demand made him cross to me, and I attempted an Escape, but was taken, and put into Prison; but was soon released, with a promise to satisfy my Demand. About a Fortnight after, we went to the Mayor of Philadelphia, his Name was Griffith, a Man of exact Justice, tho’ an Irishman, who reconciled us; so I returned back to Burlington, and continued with him three Years, he forgiving me the other Two: I was ever after perfectly pleased with my Master’s Behaviour to me, which was generous.

Source: William Moraley, The Infortunate: or, the Voyage and Adventures of William Moraley. Written by Himself. Newcastle, England, 1743; reprint, Chester, PA: The Delaware County Republican, 1884.

D8: “Work and labor in this new and wild land are very hard”: A German Migrant in Philadelphia, 1750

by Gottlieb Mittelberger

Source: http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5712.html

William Penn’s colony of Pennsylvania, founded in 1681, attracted many poor European migrants. Many colonists financed their migration by arriving as indentured servants. Indentured servants were an important source of labor in the colonies; those arriving in the 17th century usually signed contracts (known as indentures) for a fixed term and upon completion received their freedom and a suit of clothes, a similar practice to apprenticeship. However, the Germans whom Gottlieb Mittelberger observed in the mid-18th century had no formal contracts; instead they were auctioned off to he highest bidder upon arrival, a practice that Mittleberger labeled as barbaric, and “a sale in human beings.” Mittelberger, an organist and schoolmaster, found much in North America not to his taste, and returned to Germany in a few years where he wrote a book warning Germans of the dangers of emigration to the New World.

When the ships have landed at Philadelphia after their long voyage, no one is permitted to leave them except those who pay for their passage or can give good security; the others, who cannot pay, must remain on board the ships till they are purchased, and are released from the ships by their purchasers. The sick always fare the worst, for the healthy are naturally preferred and purchased first; and so the sick and wretched must often remain on board in front of the city for 2 or 3 weeks, and frequently die, whereas many a one, if he could pay his debt and were permitted to leave the ship immediately, might recover and remain alive.

The sale of human beings in the market on board the ship is carried on thus: Every day Englishmen, Dutchmen and High-German people come from the city of Philadelphia and other places, in part from a great distance, say 20, 30, or 40 hours away, and go on board the newly arrived ship that has brought and offers for sale passengers from Europe, and select among the healthy persons such as they deem suitable for their business, and bargain with them how long they will serve for their passage-money, which most of them are still in debt for. When they have come to an agreement, it happens that adult persons bind themselves in writing to serve 3, 4, 5 or 6 years for the amount due by them, according to their age and strength. But very young people, from 10 to 15 years, must serve till they are 21 years old.

Many parents must sell and trade away their children like so many head of cattle; for if their children take the debt upon themselves, the parents can leave the ship free and unrestrained; but as the parents often do not know where and to what people their children are going, it often happens that such parents and children, after leaving the ship, do not see each other again for many years, perhaps no more in all their lives.

When people arrive who cannot make themselves free, but have children under 5 years, the parents cannot free themselves by them; for such children must be given to somebody without compensation to be brought up, and they must serve for their bringing up till they are 21 years old. Children from 5 to 10 years, who pay half price for their passage, viz. 30 florins, must likewise serve for it till they are 21 years of age; they cannot, therefore, redeem their parents by taking the debt of the latter upon themselves, But children above 10 years can take part of their parent’s debt upon themselves.

A woman must stand for her husband if he arrives sick, and in like manner a man for his sick wife, and take the debt upon herself or himself, and thus serve 5 to 6 years not alone for his or her own debt, but also for that of the sick husband or wife. But if both are sick, such persons are sent from the ship to the sick-house [hospital], but not until it appears probable that they will find no purchasers. As soon as they are well again they must serve for their passage, or pay if they have means.

It often happens that whole families, husband, wife, and children, are separated by being sold to different purchasers, especially when they have not paid any part of their passage money.

When a husband or wife has died at sea, when the ship has made more than half of her trip, the survivor must pay or serve not only for himself or herself, but also for the deceased.

When both parents have died over half-way at sea, their children, especially when they are young and have nothing to pawn or to pay, must stand for their own and their parents’ passage, and serve till they are 21 years old. When one has served his or her term, he or she is entitled to a new suit of clothes at parting; and if it has been so stipulated, a man gets in addition a horse, a woman, a cow.

When a serf has an opportunity to marry in this country, he or she must pay for each year which he or she would have yet to serve, 5 to 6 pounds. But many a one who has thus purchased and paid for his bride, has subsequently repented his bargain, so that he would gladly have returned his exorbitantly dear ware, and lost the money besides.

If some one in this country runs away from his master, who has treated him harshly, he cannot get far. Good provision has been made for such cases, so that a runaway is soon recovered. He who detains or returns a deserter receives a good reward.

If such a runaway has been away from his master one day, he must serve for it as a punishment a week, for a week a month, and for a month half a year. But if the master will not keep the runaway after he has got him back, he may sell him for so many years as he would have to serve him yet.

Work and labor in this new and wild land are very hard and manifold, and many a one who came there in his old age must work very hard to his end for his bread. I will not speak of young people. Work mostly consists in cutting wood, felling oak-trees, rooting out, or as they say there, clearing large tracts of forest. Such forests, being cleared, are then laid out for fields and meadows. From the best hewn wood, fences are made around the new fields; for there all meadows, orchards and fruit-fields, are surrounded and fenced in with planks made of thickly-split wood, laid one above the other, as in zigzag lines, and within such enclosures, horses, cattle, and sheep, are permitted to graze. Our Europeans, who are purchased, must always work hard, for new fields are constantly laid out; and so they learn that stumps of oak-trees are in America certainly as hard as in Germany. In this hot land they fully experience in their own persons what God has imposed on man for his sin and disobedience; for in Genesis we read the words: In the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread. Who therefore wishes to earn his bread in a Christian and honest way, and cannot earn it in his fatherland otherwise than by the work of his hands, let him do so in his own country, and not in America; for he will not fare better in America. However hard he may be compelled to work in his fatherland, he will surely find it quite as hard, if not harder, in the new country. Besides, there is not only the long and arduous journey lasting half a year, during which he has to suffer, more than with the hardest work; he has also spent about 200 florins which no one will refund to him. If he has so much money, it will slip out of his hands; if he has it not, he must work his debt off as a slave and poor serf. Therefore let every one stay in his own country and support himself and his family honestly. Besides I say that those who suffer themselves to be persuaded and enticed away by the man-thieves, are very foolish if they believe that roasted pigeons will fly into their mouths in America or Pennsylvania without their working for them.

How miserably and wretchedly so many thousand German families have fared, 1) since they lost all their cash means in consequence of the long and tedious journey; 2) because many of them died miserably and were thrown into the water; 3) because, on account of their great poverty, most of these families after reaching the land are separated from each other and sold far away from each other, the young and the old. And the saddest of all this is that parents must generally give away their minor children without receiving a compensation for them; inasmuch as such children never see or meet their fathers, mothers, brothers or sisters again, and as many of them are not raised in any Christian faith by the people to whom they are given.

Gottlieb Mittelberger, Journey to Pennsylvania in the Year 1750, trans. Carl Theo Eben (Philadelphia, John Jos McVey, 1898), 25–31

D9: “We Unfortunate English People Suffer Here”: An English Servant Writes Home

by Elizabeth Sprigs

Source: http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5796.html

While some planters in the eighteenth-century Chesapeake began to build spacious mansions and rely on the labor of increasing numbers of white and black dependents, most white southerners lived in far humbler circumstances. In Maryland most small farmers were tenants, renting their land from larger landowners. Landless men and women worked as agricultural tenants, laborers, or domestic servants. Elizabeth Sprigs, a servant in a Maryland household, financed her passage from England in exchange for a term as an indentured servant (a frequent practice in the seventeenth century but more rare by the eighteenth). She wrote to her father in 1756 and complained bitterly of the brutal treatment by her master and the harsh privations of daily life, begging him to send clothing.

Maryland, Sept’r 22’d 1756

Honored Father

My being for ever banished from your sight, will I hope pardon the Boldness I now take of troubling you with these, my long silence has been purely owning to my undutifullness to you, and well knowing I had offended in the highest Degree, put a tie to my tongue and pen, for fear I should be extinct from your good Graces and add a further Trouble to you, but too well knowing your care and tenderness for me so long as I retain’d my Duty to you, induced me once again to endeavor if possible, to kindle up that flame again. O Dear Father, believe what I am going to relate the words of truth and sincerity, and Balance my former bad Conduct my sufferings here, and then I am sure you’ll pity your Destress Daughter, What we unfortunate English People suffer here is beyond the probability of you in England to Conceive, let it suffice that I one of the unhappy Number, am toiling almost Day and Night, and very often in the Horses drudgery, with only this comfort that you Bitch you do not halfe enough, and then tied up and whipp’d to that Degree that you’d not serve an Animal, scarce any thing but Indian Corn and Salt to eat and that even begrudged nay many Negroes are better used, almost naked no shoes nor stockings to wear, and the comfort after slaving during Masters pleasure, what rest we can get is to rap ourselves up in a Blanket and ly upon the Ground, this is the deplorable Condition your poor Betty endures, and now I beg if you have any Bowels of Compassion left show it by sending me some Relief, Clothing is the principal thing wanting, which if you should condiscend to, may easily send them to me by any of the ships bound to Baltimore Town Patapsco River Maryland, and give me leave to conclude in Duty to you and Uncles and Aunts, and Respect to all Friends

Honored Father

Your undutifull and Disobedient Child

Elizabeth Sprigs

Source: Elizabeth Sprigs, “Letter to Mr. John Sprigs in White Cross Street near Cripple Gate, London, September 22, 1756,” in Isabel Calder, ed., Colonial Captivities, Marches, and Journeys (New York: Macmillan Company, 1935), 151–52. Reprinted by permission of the Connecticut Chapter of the National Society of Colonial Dames of America.