Volume Identifies 5,000 White Children Sold into Servitude in the American Colonies

Review by James Pylant

Without Indentures: Index to White Slave Children in Colonial Court Records [Maryland and Virginia]. By Richard Hayes Phillips, Ph.D. Published by Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., Baltimore, MD 3600 Clipper Mill Rd., Suite 260, Baltimore, MD 21211 (tel.: 1-800-296-6687). Softcover (2013), 283 pp., $29.95.

“We were taught in school about indentured servants, impoverished young workers from England or Germany who wanted to come to America,” writes Dr. Richard Hayes Phillips in the preface of Without Indenture: Index to White Slave Children in Colonial Court Records. “They contracted, in writing, by indenture, to work without wages for a number of years to pay off the cost of their passage and lodging, after which they were free.” But what about those who worked without that written contract? Since English law allowed justices of the peace to seize anyone deemed to be a vagrant for shipping into a foreign colony or plantation, thousands of white children were spirited away from their homeland—without the knowledge of their families—and transported to American shores and sold into slavery. “The history books like to call them ‘indentured servants.’ But this is not true. They had no indentures,” says Phillips.

This term of involuntary servitude was dependent upon the child’s age, a process involving the child’s being brought into court and having his or her age “assigned” by a judge. These assigned ages were not always correct, which benefited the master. Thus, a seventeen-year-old might be deemed twelve to make the sentence longer.

Dr. Phillips’s in-depth search of existing court order books in the county courts of Maryland and Virginia uncovered the names of more than 5,000 white children, all without indentures, who were hauled into court and sentenced into slavery between 1660 and 1720. “It is likely that nearly all of these children were kidnapped, according to law,” explains the author. He gives an example of a Maryland master holding 25 non-indentured children who, according to court records, were naked, starved and in danger of “perishing with cold.”

Phillips’s painstaking work, for the first time, combines all known extant records identify 5,000 children in one volume. Arranged by county, Without Indenture typically includes the name of the child, age, date of the court order, and the name of the master. Some entries are more detailed, including the exact birth date, date of arrival in the colony, and term of servitude.

Without Indentures: Index to White Slave Children in Colonial Court Records [Maryland and Virginia] is also available from Amazon.com (affiliate link).

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