We only know what we know, and yet we think we know it all.
The book’s synopsis says, ‘White Cargo is the forgotten story of the thousands of Britons who lived and died in bondage in Britain’s American colonies.‘
What? I never heard of British nationals in bondage or enslaved before, well yes now I have read White Gold
. Yes, black Africans slaves as depicted in Hollywood movies, in America’s south, in the cotton fields, and also in the West Indies
in the sugar plantations, but not white British.
I had been taught a little about the American War of Independence in 1776, about the abolishment of slavery by the British and the work of William Wilberforce, first by making it illegal for British ships to carry enslaved African in 1807, and then the passing of The Abolition of Slavery Act, on August 24th 1833 by the British Parliament, meaning the act of slavery by the plantation owners was abolished.
There are many sources of information about slavery, and as I have written, we are only taught what we are supposed to learn. Typical of this is a great little web site, I believe a British school
web site in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia,
which outlines and gives a lot of information, click to visit
, Reading this work, one would as I did, assume that there was only black slaves, there is absolutely no mention of the white slave market.
In White Gold
we can see that white slaves were probably enslaved in the Middle East and North Africa before the black populations, and in the book White Cargo
, the treatment of white transportees by ships were just as bad if not worse than those from Africa, with lack of good food and water, and little room. This was because African slaves when they were shipped could be worth more long term, as they would be sold in the slave markets for the rest of their lives, whereas the British slaves would be sold for maybe 5 or seven years only.
White Cargo tells the history of the problems faced in England, of vagabonds, thieves, urchins, gypsies, undesirables roaming the streets and countryside, especially after the European wars and returning soldiers had no wealth or income, so the only way to live was to beg or steal. It tells the story of the political unrest in England, Scotland and Ireland, the fights between the Kings and Queens, the Civil War in the UK because of the King’s belief in the divine right to rule. It tells the story of the religious unrest between the Anglican and the Presbyterian populations of England and those of Scotland and Catholic Ireland.
How could the politicians reduce the prison population?
How could they rid themselves of the anti English soldiers of Scotland, and the Irish?
Way back in 1578 a British knight or the realm Humphrey Gilbert was given leave by Queen Elizabeth to found a colony in the new land of America, the first blueprint for England to colonise North America. He was following in the footsteps of the Spanish and the Portuguese. Sir Humphrey was not to complete his journey until 1583, failed to estabish a colony, and died in the process.
It was Sir Humphreys half-brother Sir Walter Raleigh that took over the project, seeing it as a business venture with eager business partners, especially Sir John Popham and Sir Thomas Smythe, who headed-up a company to set up the colonies, the Virginia Company.
In 1607 Popham now with a subsidiary of the Virginia Company, called the Plymouth Company founded the first colony, but this failed a year later. But six hundred miles south the rival subsidiary London Company had set up along the James River called Jamestown. Many deaths occurred due to illness and hunger.
A foothold was made.
Now they needed skilled labour, and attracted a few people (indentured) with a promise of 100 acres after 7 years of service in the new land of Virginia, Others invested money to secure 500 acres, and 600 settlers embarked for Virginia in 1609.
The new colonies needed more labour, and there was a solution. The over population of the Engli
sh prisons and the unwanted people off the streets of England. Laws were passed enabling vagabonds to be shipped to America, including a rising population of street children. They would be sold to the estate owners for say 7 years, and became chattels that could be sold.
For those who wanted a new life but could not afford the fare, they would be indentured to a landowner, a master say for 7 years, again becoming chattels, who could be sold.
The hours were long, the labour hard, with no pay, just poor quality food, little clothing, and hardly any housing. Many died before the end of the seven years.
English, Scottish and Irish prisoners, kidnap victims, children, the unwanted where shipped out by the thousands, there is an estimate of over 300,000, to become indentured slaves.
More and more laws were created to control the indentured slaves and the prisoners, all in the favour of the planters and landowners, often meaning that the term of indenture would be extended beyond the 7 years.
The more indentured servants the landowners brought in, the more land they were awarded, and thus their estates grew.
The main crop in Virginia was tobacco, but in the Barbados in the West Indies it was to be sugar, and a separate colonisation took place there, just as brutal, with many loosing their lives to the harsh conditions and treatment.
It was in 1619 that the first Africans were to arrive, when one John Colwyn Jupe in command of the English ship the White Lion, sold twenty odd humans he had captured from the Portuguese, the first African coloureds to enter the slave market. But it was not to be a tidal wave, Many decades later there was still only a few hundred in slavery, it was the white English that made up the bulk of the indentured slave trade.
In the early years the two groups of slaves coexisted, working and living side by side, often the Africans being treated better than the whites, as the whites were indentured for a limited time, and the Africans were for life. It made economic sense to look after the life time slaves.
Some Africans even became landowners and owners of slaves themselves, treating their slaves just a poorly as the English owners. One such African was Anthony Johnson accumulated 1000 acres, naming his plantation Angola.
As more and more black slaves became available for lifetime slavery, more and more laws were passed to control them, barring such landowners as Johnson the right to buy white slaves, and then eventually laws making black slavery hereditary.
It is stated that in the early 1600’s white slaves outnumbered Africa by 20:1, by the end of the century it was still only 50:50. Economics then played its hand, for it was better to have a lifetime slave which would cost less than a white European slave, which would have a limited indentured term and who had a higher mortality rate.
White slave trade still continued to flourish even after independence until 1785 when the British Parliament admitted that the ports of America were closed to the importation of convicts, the Americans had refused to accept the unwanted English prisoners.
Another chapter started, as England had to find another dumping ground. This was to be Australia.
CONCLUSION FOR ME
Why was I not told this history at school?
Why was I not told that in reality, America was formed by the unwanted, prisoners of Britain?
Has my view of how America was formed clouded by the unreal Hollywood movies?
Were the Ingalls family, with the little girls Mary, Laura, Carrie, and Grace, from the series Little House on the Prairie, ex indented slaves?
Do the Americans themselves really know their history? As in my case and I expect the majority, they have not been told the whole truth, just what they need to know, and that is it.
The above is just a quick overview of a great book that contains a lot of information about white slavery, the formation of America. A good read if you want to know more.
I do not condone and I despise what I have read about slavery, but now realise that there was just as much suffering for Europeans as Africans.
I think all nationals should read this book, and other books like it to get a fuller and more knowledgeable idea of our world history.