Friday, July 12, 2013

Slavery and child-trafficking in New England

© 2013 Christy K Robinson

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Most of us got the G-rated version of history
in  elementary school classes--
also high school--
also university.
 If you’re like me, you learned that American slavery was limited to the importation of African captives to the Southern colonies and states. Indentured servants were young men and women from the British Isles who desired a better life in America and contracted their services for seven years in exchange for their ocean liner ticket. Native Americans had it hard, but mostly out in the West, and they were pushed out or died out in various wars, and cheated out of their treaties and reservations. Children had some heavy-duty farm chores, and their educations were limited to eight years or so.

So yes, it was a hard life, carving a utopian republic out of the wilderness, and it took a lot of people to do it. But all my ancestors and their friends were New Englanders in the Great Migration, and they didn’t do human exploitation and trafficking.

Oh, really??

That’s not what I found while researching my biographical novel on Mary Barrett Dyer. I found pieces of the story in Governor John Winthrop’s Journal, and in snippets of social histories, genealogical websites, New England court records, and other sources.

Pequot War, 1636-37
 You’ll have to Google the Pequot War, because this article is concerned only with the aftermath: captured Indians becoming slaves. The few men who survived the slaughter of war were put to death. (The descriptions are grisly.) The women and children were used as house “servants” in Boston and dispersed around New England. Those who ran away and were found or turned in were branded, or sold for slavery in the Caribbean sugar and tobacco fields, which meant certain death.

People readily accepted these practices, but I believe it stemmed from a terrible disdain for the poor, as they were obviously not candidates for the Elect of God. Winthrop moralized the stories in his journal to contrast the blessed and cursed of God. This treatment of natives is tragic and ironic, considering that the Massachusetts seal features a native who is asking the English to come over and help him by converting him to Christianity.

Winthrop Journal, 1637 (p. 225): “Captain Stoughton and his company, having pursued the Pequots beyond Connecticut [River], and missing of them, returned to Pequot River, where they were advertised, that one hundred of them were newly come back to a place some twelve miles off. So they marched thither by night, and surprised them all. They put to death twenty-two men, and reserved two sachems [tribal chiefs], hoping by them to get Sasacus (which they promised). All the rest [72 Pequots] were women and children, of whom they gave the Narragansetts thirty, and our Massachusetts Indians three, and the rest they sent hither.”

“July 6: There were sent to Boston forty-eight women and children. There were eighty taken, as before is expressed. These were disposed of to particular persons in the country [including Winthrop, who took at least two into his service, one of whom was a sachem’s wife]. Some of them ran away and were brought again by the Indians our neighbors, and those we branded on the shoulder.”

“July 13: [Swamp fight, Capt. Davenport vs. Pequots] …life was offered to all that had not shed English blood. So they began to come forth, now some and then some, till about two hundred women and children were come out… [After the fight] … Here our men gat some booty of kettles, trays, wampum, [their food stored in pits, which was highly desirable to the English settlers whose crops were failing and people were sickening in the famine] etc., and the women and children were divided [mothers and children torn apart], and sent some to Connecticut, and some to the Massachusetts. … We had now slain and taken, in all, about seven hundred. We sent fifteen of the boys and two women to Bermuda, by Mr. Peirce; but he, missing it, carried them to Providence Isle [an island in the Caribbean, off the Nicaraguan coast, which was granted to Puritans until 1641].” In 1638, Mr. Peirce’s ship, the Desire, returned to Boston, having traded the Pequot slaves for "Salt, cotton, tobacco and Negroes."

In 1645, Emanuel Downing, brother-in-law of Governor Winthrop, wrote to him longing for another "just war" with the Pequots, so the colonists might capture enough Indian men, women, and children to exchange in Barbados for black slaves, because the colony would never thrive "untill we gett ... a stock of slaves sufficient to doe all our business."    

English children as “servants”
Surely if you look deep enough into any country’s history, you’ll find exploitation of child labor, including sexual exploitation. It still happens all over the world today. In the seventeenth century, there are accounts of boys being “pressed” into service on merchant ships, boys kidnapped to be actors (and sexual prey) in Elizabethan theater, and Irish children whose parents had been slaughtered by Cromwell’s forces were kidnapped and sent to America (if they were lucky) or the Caribbean to die in the cane fields. In London, where thousands of children had been orphaned by the Civil Wars, famine, and plague, starving children were lured to camps or transport ships with promises of food.

No one will ever know the extent to which the children and teens of both genders were exploited for sexual slavery. In Virginia Colony, there were at least four times as many men as women, and in New England, it was about double. Virginia Colony actually sought Tobacco Brides for planters in the 1620s.

See my article on the rape and subsequent abuse of an indentured servant, Elizabeth Due, in the household of Gov. John Endecott of Salem, Massachusetts. Rather than punish the rapist who made her pregnant, one of Elizabeth’s fellow servants was accused of fornicating with her, and he was whipped 13 stripes in public and forced to marry Elizabeth.

John Winthrop’s journal, June 1643: "One of our [Massachusetts-built] ships, the Seabridge, arrived with 20 children and some other passengers out of England, and 300 pounds worth of goods purchased with the country's stock, given by some friends in England the year before; and those children, with many more to come after, were sent by money given one fast day in London, and allowed by the parliament and city for that purpose." 

Translation: London Puritans took up a voluntary financial collection in the churches, to pay the passage of poor or orphan children from London to Boston, where the children were sold as indentured servants for a minimum of seven years, or to age 18 if they were younger than ten years old.

Orphans and poor were the responsibilities of parishes and their poor funds, and how convenient and easy on the consciences it was to get rid of those expensive little anklebiters and make some money at it. They cut their expenses of maintaining the poor and helpless, and they profited by selling off the liabilities. Once that lot was gone, the poor-tax collections eased.

Make no mistake, money was the issue, not the welfare of poor children.

“[Reverend] Hugh Peter collected these unfortunates at a place called the Six Windmills in Essex; but the ships were not ready, disease broke out in the children’s camp, many died, and others ran away or were recovered by their parents. [Hugh] Peter and [Thomas] Weld had promised to sail with the survivors, but either they could not bear to leave a country where so much was going on or, as is more likely, they feared catching ship-fever from the poor little wretches. [Actually, they got lucrative appointments preaching and writing in England and never went back to America.] So, as Weld apologized, ‘providence appeared clearly to our consciences to stop us,’ and the children came over with nobody but the seamen to care for them. How many actually arrived in New England or what became of them there, is not known. We know only too well what became of the small balance from the collection that Weld and Peter sent to the General Court for the children’s care when they arrived. The Court voted £150 of the money toward building the President’s Lodge; and then, if we have drawn the correct inferences from the accounts, charge the same sum off against the Country’s Gift.”  ~Samuel Elliot Morison, Founding of Harvard College, pp. 312-313.

Orphanages and work houses were emptied to send children and poor people (usually widows) away and out of sight. In addition, children and teenagers were kidnapped from their neighborhoods where they lived with their parents, to be sold for transportation to America or Barbados.

1657: Londoner Sarah Sharp was a “common taker up of children in ships and a setter to betray young men and maidens to be conveyed into ships, and as hath been proved upon oath before me, that she confessed to one Mr. Guy that she hath at this time four persons aboard a ship whereof one is a child about eleven years of age, all to be transported to foreign parts as the Barbados and Virginia.” ~Greater London Record Office, Middlesex Sessions Rolls, MJ/SR 1165/54

On 26 June 1661, Philip Welch Jr. and William Downing, English slaves in Ipswich, Massachusetts, testified in Salem court:
“We were brought out of our own Country [taken from their beds at night] contrary to our own wills & minds, & sold here unto Mr. Symonds by the master of the Ship Goodfellow, Mr. Dill, but what agreement was made between Mr. Symonds & ye said master, was never acted by our consent or knowledge, yet not withstanding we have endeavored to do him the best service we could these seven complete years. Which is 3 years more than you used to sell them for at Barbados, when they were stolen in England. And for our service, we have no callings [trades or professions to live on] or wages, but meat & clothes. Now 7 years service being so much as the practice of old England, & thought meet in this place, we being both about 21 years of age, we hope this honored courts and jury will seriously consider our conditions.” 
Unfortunately the terms of agreement between Samuel Symonds and Shipmaster Dill were deemed legal, and Philip and William would serve out an additional two years.  

The ship Goodfellow was primarily a transport ship for conquered Irish, Scottish, and child slaves, and it made repeated trips to Virginia and Boston to sell its human cargo.
By order of the "State of England," many Irish people had been sent to New England. On their arrival they were sold by those at whose expense they had been brought over, to any of the inhabitants who were in want of slaves or servants. There arrived [in 1653] a ship called the Goodfellow, Captain George Dell, with a large number of emigrants of the above description. Many of the Scotch people had been sent before this in the same way. Some of them had been taken prisoners at the sanguinary battle of Dunbar. There arrived in one ship, the "John and Sara," John Greene, master, early in the summer of 1652, about 272 persons. Captain Greene had orders to deliver them to Thomas Kemble of Charlestown, who was to sell them, and with the proceeds to take freight for the West Indies. ~History and Antiquities of the City of Boston, by Samuel Gardner Drake

Theocratic society thought that God rewarded good, moral, Christian people with wealth and eternal salvation; and punished bad people (lazy, malingering, criminal, immoral, mentally-ill) with poverty and hell. They rationalized that they were being kind and merciful by sending the poor children away to learn a trade and perform rehabilitative work. Parliament and courts, both royal and Commonwealth, had opportunities to stop the kidnapping and didn’t.
The Baker's Cart, by Jean Michelin, 1656.
This is the sort of life children were stolen from,
to be sold as slaves in the Americas.

When they could not be procured from orphanages or prisons, children and teens were stolen from their homes and parents, or off the streets, and herded into camps or transport ships with promises of food. We can only imagine the terror and life-threatening conditions of these captives. One account tells of English children on board a ship, whose horrified screams were audible from the shore, and of parents trying to get their children released, but could not because they didn’t have the money to buy back their freeborn children. The courts were deaf to the parents’ pleas, because the traffickers’ story was that the parents had sold the children, spent the money, and the children had been fed, and now the parents wanted their children back at financial loss to the traffickers.

The captives were sold to the ship’s master, who now owned them. The children were considered freight, had monetary value, and were disposable. There were no nurses, social workers, or babysitters on the transport ships. The children were at the mercy of the seamen—and there are tales told of ships’ boys who were routinely sexually abused, so you can imagine what else may have happened. Up to half of the human cargo died in transit, and one observer reported that 32 children’s bodies were thrown into the sea at one time.

After eight to twelve weeks chained in the ship’s hold, they arrived in America or Barbados and were sold again to colonists and planters, ostensibly for a term of indenture where they were “apprenticed” to a trade. In reality, they were set to hard labor, clearing land, tending crops, logging, moving stones and stumps, etc. 

Most of what I've cited in this article is about economically-disadvantaged English slaves and servants. But there was another, even more horrendous and barbaric economy in the Irish slave trade. From 1641 on, the Irish population shrank by two-thirds as men, women and children were slaughtered, and tens of thousands of them were transported to be sold in the West Indies and America. Some historians claim the Irish were bond-servants, but others have said slaves. Most of them didn't live more than a year or two.

By no means was every purchaser of indentured servants a bad master. Some of the children would have been raised amongst the families and treated well. Servants who were 18 or older could marry after their indenture termed out, and they did learn useful trades. Many (perhaps even most) masters honored the contracts. And though there are no records to support this, many genealogies do not list the name or background of a colonist’s wife—could she have been a captured, transported child who served an indenture, and then married a settler?

Further reading:
Early colonial American slavery
Smithsonian's forensic examination of skeleton of 16-year-old indentured servant in Maryland. Article and photos. The boy's skeleton, from between 1663 and 1677, showed evidence of hard physical labor, and was discovered in a rubbish pit under a house.

Christy K Robinson is author of these sites:  

and of these books:

·          We Shall Be Changed (2010)
·          Mary Dyer Illuminated (2013)
·          Mary Dyer: For Such a Time as This (2014)
·          The Dyers of London, Boston, & Newport (2014)
·          Effigy Hunter (2015)
·          Anne Marbury Hutchinson: American Founding Mother (2018)


  1. I'm convinced that Massachusetts' seal picturing an Indian saying, 'come over and help us' was a cynical ploy. "See our seal? We are going thither to save those poor pagans, not to set up a theocracy which will bar all other faiths."

    As for all my female ancestors who first appeared in the records when they married, and apparently had no family in New England, I can only hope they crossed the ocean voluntarily. Great post, Christy!

  2. Facebook comments on slavery-trafficking article

    GP wrote:
    I was wondering if you could give me some insight on these claims regarding Mary being involved in trafficking? I'm hoping this is false, because I came to Cambodia for the reason to help women and children who are trafficked. Finding this in my family history is rather disturbing.

    Christy K Robinson wrote:
    I wrote the article and keep the blog. No, Mary and William Dyer were NOT slave traffickers, nor did I claim in the article that they were. If you notice the 70-odd other articles in the blog, they're about the CULTURE of colonial New England (and England), and the environment in which the Dyers lived and made their mark.
    Many of the people the Dyers interacted with owned bond-servants and slaves, including Governor William Coddington of Rhode Island, their neighbor, and Governor John Winthrop of Massachusetts Bay, one of Mary's oppressors.

    GP wrote:
    Well, I just sort of skimmed over and didn't read thoroughly. I guess it was these two statements below that caught my eye, that made me question it. As well as the Facebook page I got it from it saying, a bit of history not mentioned in schools, or something like that that led me to your blog where i found this. Was that your fb page? Thank you for clarification, I was a bit worried, but did wonder how she could be involved in trafficking when she was such a religious woman. I actually have much of her same spirit in me, which some Christians would say is rebellious.

    Christy K Robinson wrote:
    Those of us with New England ancestors have MANY families who came there from Britain, that didn't necessarily marry with the Dyers. I had Isaac Robinson (son of the pilgrim pastor), Hull, Perry, Harper, Fuller, Bristol, Ayers, Welde, Stone, Skelton, and oodles of others who were all emigrants during the 1630s. I don't know their stories because I haven't put the same amount of research into them, but one has to understand that there were English and Irish servants who served indentures, to all degrees of masters from kind and benevolent to harsh.
    Yes, I started the Mary Barrett Dyer Facebook page and post articles and photos there.

    GP wrote:
    Well, I have thoroughly enjoyed looking at your Facebook page and the wealth of information you have on there. Thank you! My husband always said he doesn't want to go to far back in his ancestry for fear of what he might find. I myself find it intriguing, but mind boggling at the same time.

    Christy K Robinson wrote:
    You're welcome. It does boggle our modern minds. Contrary to your husband's opinion, the research into any family is fascinating, even if they weren't as savory as could be, or particularly moral. You also find tons of people who you can be proud of for their commitment to doing good, their contributions to society, their godly influence.

    But if I've learned anything in research, it is that no man or woman was an island. They were deeply interconnected with their friends, relatives, neighbors, fellow citizens, church members, and their physical environment. The people who came to New England were not strangers who got to know each other upon arrival. Their families were connected by many generations in England; they lived on top of each other for 8-12 weeks on the Atlantic crossing; they could not (and were not allowed to) live on their own isolated farms--they lived in villages and commuted to their land. Single people were placed in families until they were married. So there were no secrets. I'm convinced they'd be horrified at our singular lifestyles, and pity us for our loneliness.

    Carolyn Stone wrote:
    Well said, Christy~

  3. Facebook comments regarding slavery-trafficking article:

    GP wrote:
    It is a shame how isolated we have become, and with that our influences in todays society suffers.

    Maureen Mead wrote:
    I am aware of this happening, because of (Lady?) Elepehel Fitzgerald. She was born circa 1644 and came from Ireland to America and according to Slocum relatives, separated by several generations, was sold to the Slocums as their slave. (There is a story that she was the daughter of an Earl, taken to America and sold during the persecution of that time.) When a friend tried to correct me, saying, "You mean she was a servant, don't you?" I said, "No." I read she was a slave, sold for what would have been about 600 dollars of tobacco. It forced me to do some research and what I found was surprising. Some of the FIRST slaves to America were white and Irish. They were taken from Ireland and tossed wherever the ship could dump them, for FREE! From there, they were housed, bought and sold and some in Barbados were bred like cattle to the more valuable Africans. I really believe this is the source of the claim that most African-Americans carry European ancestry in their family. If anyone is interested, I have collected some interesting links and stories. I spoke to a researcher in the UK a few years ago and he told me that it was absolutely true. Almost no records were kept of the literal kidnapping of the island's women and children. It's said that hundreds of thousands of Irish were swept from Ireland, under order of Cromwell and others--seeking to cleanse the island of its pagans and Catholics.

    Christy K Robinson wrote:
    Ireland, in 10 years, went from a population of 1.6 million to less than half a million. The ones the English didn't slaughter there (in horrendous ways too graphic to blog about), were transported. The most beautiful women probably did end up as brides, but knowing human nature, the majority were put to hard labor and possibly sexual slavery. They were disposable.
    Elephel Fitzgerald is in my ancestry, too.

    Maureen Mead wrote:
    This Slocum family ties into the Hulls and the Dyers--the Quaker Mariner Merchants of Rhode Island and Dartmouth, whose families owned ships and were headed by sea captains working the so-called "Triangular Trade." Eventually, "Lady" Elephel Fitzgerald married the master's son. Eliezer left her a fortune upon his death. The reason I also think this is interesting is the (purported) former slave girl, Elephel, and husband, Eliezer Slocum had several children. One of them, Ebenezer, owned an African slave named Cuffe Slocum, whom I read eventually changed it to John Cuffe (Some of the Slocum family members didn't want him using their surname). They lived in Dartmouth.

  4. Facebook comments regarding slavery-trafficking article:

    Maureen Mead wrote:
    America was founded in the waning years of the FEUDAL system in Europe. Americans were transitioning from the system they knew (chattal slaves/renters/indentured servants) and tried to transplant that system here in America. Virginia, most definitely. But our Quakers--the New England Cape Cod Quakers, were in the shipping and transport business--including Paul Cuffe, son of a freed African Slave. The Mariners of RI and Cape Cod were transporting and trading their wares--which very much included human beings, as they sailed along the way. They did not seem to have the same contempt for slavery that the Pennsylvania Quakers had, as they arrived a few decades after our Quakers. It was a different "folkway," and class, to borrow a phrase from David Hackett Fischer in his book, "Albion's Seed." Cuffe Slocum bought his freedom. His son was educated and wealthy, beyond imagination.

    Jo Ann Butler wrote:
    Indentured servants and apprentices were not considered slaves, but sometimes treated very similarly. They were not free to leave, they were often punished severely if they ran off. However, I've seen cases where indentured servants sued for better treatment. Masters who abused or killed their servants and apprentices were tried and punished.

    Maureen Mead wrote:
    For me, Jo Ann, the shock was that there was never a discussion about this in our history. It is only now that the truth is coming out. Why? Why didn't we know that Ireland was virtually cleansed of its population and sent into slavery? Bred like cattle to African slaves? Why didn't we learn this?

    Jo Ann Butler wrote:
    Because we are taught heavily sanitized history written for conservative school boards who don't want their children - or their parents - to be offended. You might get such information in college-level courses, but otherwise you have to find it on your own. Researching colonial records for genealogy and my historical novels was an eye opener for me, and Christy has nearly finished her Mary Dyer novel after years of research.

    Christy K Robinson wrote:
    I read that the Texas and Tennessee legislatures have rewritten their school curriculum to make history more palatable by lightening up on the slavery issues, especially for the revered "Founding Fathers," who were slave owners and had sexual affairs with women of both races. The Tea Party are rewriting history to suit their own agenda.

    I think these things were left out of our curriculum several decades ago, for some or all of these conditions: ignorance that these things ever happened, biased research and withholding evidence, preferring to shield harsh facts from young people, religious or political "exceptionalism," and probably even more reasons.

  5. Anyone know where in Ireland Ship Goodfellow obtained passengers/servants?

  6. I am descended from the 11 yr old Philip Welch on the Goodfellow. He did gain his freedom and married but never made it out of poverty, a fate plaguing many white slaves. All his children married and moved to Maine and didn't do much better . At one point Philip tried to move from Wyndham to Marblehead and was refused to live there be ause he had money.
    If people would read e en 1 of the many books written on the subject they would be calling for reparations. The savage brutal beatings and whipping plus the additional years of servitude incurred for the slightest thing. Any child born to an indentured servant would be bound til the age if 21 and her indenture lengthened for having it. Many infants were ripped away at birth and sold off at once. And this attitude of regarding the poor whites as less than animals wasn't new. It was a continous practice from medieval days and much earlier. You could literally do anything you wanted to a slave of any color-' rape, whip to death or sell their bodies for sex to line your pockets


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