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Book Documents White Slave Children in Colonial MD and VA

Book Documents White Slave Children in Colonial MD and VA
Without Indentures: Index to White Slave Children in Colonial Court Records

The following article is excerpted from the book, Without Indentures: Index to White Slave Children in Colonial Court Records, by Richard Hayes Phillips. Drawing on records found in county courthouses, Dr. Phillips has compiled incontrovertible evidence of 5,000 children who were kidnapped from Ireland, Scotland, England, and New England and sold into slavery in Maryland and Virginia, ca. 1660-1720.  The author’s dramatic description of this practice of forced labor imposed upon un-indentured children is nothing short of groundbreaking.  If your missing ancestor could have lived in one of the following counties, Without Indentures: Index to White Slave Children in Colonial Court Records might just contain the clue you are looking for! (Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Cecil, Charles, Dorchester, Kent, Prince George’s Queen Anne’s, Somerset, and Talbot counties in Maryland;  Accomack, Charles, Essex, Henrico, Isle of Wight, Lancaster, Middlesex, Norfolk, Northampton, Northumberland, Old Rappahannock, Princess Anne, Richmond, Stafford, Surry,  Westmoreland, and York in Virginia.)

From the Foreword:

“Your poor petitioner was spirited out of his native country, unknown to any of his friends, and shipped aboard for this country as a servant.” So begins the petition of John Lyme, presented to the County Court in Somerset County, Maryland on 15 January 1690.”

John Lyme was one of thousands of white children spirited out of their native countries, unknown to their families and friends, transported to America, and sold into slavery . . . 

John Lyme swore that, on board the ship, he was given indentures “for four years,” and that some of his “ship mates are alive which can prove the same,” but that his indenture “was by some deceitful means or other taken” from him. And so, “five months after landing,” in 1686, he was brought before the court in Somerset County, adjudged to be fifteen years of age, and ordered to serve seven years. 

A systematic search of the surviving Court Order Books from the county courts of Maryland and Virginia has turned up more than five thousand white children, all without indentures, who were brought before the courts to have their ages adjudged and to be sentenced to slavery. It is likely that nearly all of these children were kidnapped, according to law. 

What is different about John Lyme is that he is the only one of the five thousand children who managed to get a petition on the record in the County Court stating that he was “spirited out of his native country.” That is to say, he came here involuntarily. He was kidnapped . . . .

Thrust into the same system was James Hambleton, my direct ancestor.  Born and raised near Dover, New Hampshire, his Last Will and Testament, and that of Grace Hambleton, his wife, were recorded in Westmoreland County, Virginia. And so I hitchhiked to Montross, Virginia to photograph the wills, and to see what else I could find in the county records. It was there that I discovered that James had been a slave for fifteen years. 

James Hambleton appears in the court records of Westmoreland County six times. His first appearance, on 26 April 1699, reads in its entirety:  “James Hamelton, servant to James Bourn, is adjudged to be twelve years of age and is ordered to serve according to law.”  

[A subsequent entry for James Hambleton reads as follows:]

Hambleton, James, 26 April 1699, age 12, James Bourn. Born 1682, Dover, New Hampshire, son of David Hambleton and Annah Jaxson. Sentenced to five months for running away, one year for violently assaulting his master, and twenty lashes for his “arrogant and saucy words and behavior” before the court, 26 March 1707. Sold to John Garner. Petition for freedom denied, 24 September 1712. Freed by court, 24 February 1714. Purchased 100 acres from Henry Asbury Jr., 21 July 1725. Married Grace. His will dated 17 November 1726. Her will dated 11 February 1727. Children: James, John, Ann.

[Without Indentures: Index to White Slave Children in Colonial Court Records] can be the starting point for thousands of genealogical searches by the descendants of these unindentured children. In almost every case we have the name of the child, the name of the owner, the date they appeared in court, and the age assigned by the judges.  In some cases, where the family has traced their ancestry back to a name that appears in this index, they will know for the first time how their progenitor got to Maryland or Virginia. In other cases, the kidnapped child will be the sibling in the family chart for whom there is nothing but a birth record. 

Never once, in Maryland or Virginia, do the court records reveal what law is referred to when these children are sentenced to slavery. I had to search the statutes of colonial Virginia to figure it out.  The court orders were pursuant to a Virginia law establishing terms of servitude for servants “brought into the collony without indentures.” The law, as originally enacted in 1643, was intended to resolve differences between masters and servants whose agreements were not in writing:  “if they be above twenty year old to serve fowre year, if they shall be above twelve and under twenty to serve five years, and if under twelve to serve seaven years.” [1] 

In March 1655 the Virginia law was amended to require that the Irish serve longer than the English, and the law was retroactive: 

“all Irish servants that from the first of September, 1653, have bin brought into this collony without indenture … shall serve as followeth, all above sixteen yeares old to serve six years, and all under to serve till they be twenty-four years old, and in case of dispute in that behalfe the court shall be judge of their age.” [2] 

The Maryland Assembly passed a similar act in October 1654: 

“all Servants Coming into this province without an Indenture or Covenant if they be above the age of twenty yeares shall serve four yeares, from Sixteene years of age unto twenty (shall serve) six years, from twelve to Sixteene, shall serve seven yeares, if they be under twelve, they shall serve untill they come to the age of one & twenty years. All masters and owners shall bring or Cause to be brought Such as aforesaid Servants at or before the third Court in their respective Counties, To the End that the said Court may Judge of their age which shall be Entred in a Book of Record to be kept for that purpose” [3] 

The terms of servitude in Maryland for children without indentures were amended in May 1661 and affirmed in April 1662: 

“every Servant transported into this Province … being of the full age of twenty and two yeares or upwards not haveing Indenture or other sufficient testimony…, such servant shall serve … after their first Arrivall into this Province the full tyme of foure yeares, if Betweene the age of Eighteene and two and twenty yeares such Servant shall Serve five yeares, if Betwixt the age of fifteene and Eighteene such Servant shall serve six yeares, and any Servant of what age soever under fifteene yeares and coming in as aforesaid shall serve till he or she Arrive to the age of one and twenty yeares.” [4] 

[1] “Statutes at Large; Being a collection of All the Laws of Virginia from the First Session of the Legislature in the Year 1619,” William Waller Hening, editor, March 1642-3, Act XXVI. Transcribed for the internet by Freddie L. Spradlin, Torrance, California. 
[2] “Statutes at Large; Virginia,” March 1654-5, Act VI. 
[3] “Proceedings and Acts of the General Assembly, January 1637/8-September 1664,” Volume 1, Page 352, October 1654. Published in 1883, with William Hand Browne as the editor, under the direction of the Maryland Historical Society.
[4] “Proceedings and Acts of the General Assembly, January 1637/8-September 1664,” Volume 1, Pages 409, 453, April-May 1661, April 1662. 

Since the publication of Without Indentures: Index to White Slave Children in Colonial Court Records in 2013, Dr. Phillips has produced four more titles that shed light on the participants in and the victims of the practice of kidnapping British youngsters for labor in the American colonies.

White Slave Children of Colonial Maryland and Virgina: Birth and Shipping Records

Identifies 170 ships that carried white slave children to the plantations of colonial Maryland and Virginia from seventeen ports of departure in England. View Book Details

White Slave Children of Charles County, Maryland: The Search for Survivors

Examines the treatment of children kidnapped and sold into slavery, and names hundreds of survivors. View Book Details

White Slave Children in Colonial America: Supplement to the Trilogy

Since the publication of the trilogy, many records that were previously unavailable have been posted online, allowing Dr. Phillips to identify Dozens more captains of white slave ships and over 100 white children sold into servitude along the Delaware River . View Book Details

Lost History of Stolen Children: An Epic Poem

Dr. Phillips is a long-time songwriter and folksinger in the Scottish and Irish tradition. His epic poem is divided into 75 passages, in lyric poetry, with rhyme and meter. Some of the passages are, or will become, folk songs. View Book Details

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