Emigrants in Chains

A Social History of Forced Emigration to the Americas of Felons, Destitute Children, Political and Religious Non-Conformists, Vagabonds, Beggars and Other Undesirables, 1607-1776


Author: Coldham, Peter Wilson
Publication Date: 1992
Reprint Date: 2007
Pages: 196 pp.


Few colonizing powers can have relied so heavily and consistently on the wholesale deportation of their prison population as did England through two-and-a-half centuries of imperial expansion. By the time America made her Declaration of Independence in 1776, the prisons of England had disgorged some 50,000 of their inmates to the colonies, most of them destined to survive and, with their descendants, to populate the land of their exile.

In a story largely untold until now–certainly never told as well–Coldham’s groundbreaking study demonstrates once and for all that the recruitment of labor for the American colonies was achieved in large measure through the emptying of English jails, workhouses, brothels, and houses of correction. Supported by a massive array of documentary evidence and first-hand testimony, the book focuses on the emergence and use of transportation as a means of dealing with an unwanted population, dwelling at length on the processes involved, the men charged with the administration of the system of transportation or engaged in transportation as a business, then proceeding with a fascinating look at the transportees themselves, their lives and hapless careers, and their reception in the colonies. The whole unhappy saga of enforced transportation is here recounted with such force and eloquence that it is bound to set some popular notions about the peopling of the American colonies on their head.

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