Deeper Roots Genealogy

~ Discovering Your Family's Past To Shape Your Future ~

slavery as a gift

Slavery is a pernicious institution, but it has been relatively common throughout history across the globe.  Something we don’t hear about very often is the white slaves in colonial America.  Children in England, Ireland, Scotland and even New England were kidnapped – they had parents and family they were stolen from – and shipped off to Maryland and Virginia to be slaves.  Now for the gift part – I received a superb book on the topic for Christmas: Without Indentures: Index to White Slave Children in Colonial Court Records by Richard Hayes Phillips, PhD. Not only is it an index; it is a masterful and concise treatment of the social, historical and legal context in which this practice occurred.

Why white children? They were culturally similar to their owners, they already spoke English, and if the owners were uncomfortable with their neighbors knowing they had a slave, they could pretend the child was a distant relative from the homeland.  And many other reasons, too, which the good Dr. explains.

Richard Hildreth, 1807-1865 illustration from page 218 of the 1852 book "The White Slave; or, Memoirs of a Fugitive."

illustration from page 218 of the 1852 book “The White Slave; or, Memoirs of a Fugitive.” by Richard Hildreth, 1807-1865

The practice petered out in the mid-1700s, and many records did not survive the following centuries.  But those that did give a wealth of information – first AND LAST names, age assigned by the courts (which may or may not have had any relation to the child’s real age), and other information that is of great historical and genealogical worth.  Dr. Phillips also gives us several different ways to use his index, because he created several indexes – by county, by judge who sentenced the child, and alphabetized list of the ships that brought the children to the colonies.

If you have any interest in this topic, I highly recommend you get a copy of his book.  And thank you, Dr. Phillips.  Perhaps your index holds the answer, or the key, to an ancestry mystery I seek to resolve.

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One comment on “slavery as a gift

  1. Laura Aanenson
    2 January 14

    Thank you for sharing – I had no idea such a book existed!

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