white slave children

White Slave Children of Maryland and Virginia

Picking up where he left off in his acclaimed book Without Indentures: Index to White Slave Children in Colonial Court Records, Dr. Richard Hayes Phillips has now taken the story back even further — back to the scenes of the original crimes–kidnapping of children to be sold into slavery (ca. 1660-1720).

In his original book, Dr. Phillips identified 5,290 “servants” without indentures, transported against their will. He culled that evidence from the Court Order Books of colonial Maryland and Virginia, where the county courts were authorized to examine the children, adjudge their ages, and sentence them to slavery for a number of years. The younger the child, the longer the sentence. In this book, White Slave Children of Colonial Maryland and Virgina: Birth and Shipping Records, compiled from shipping records found in the Library of Congress, the Bristol [England] Record Office, and elsewhere, the author has identified 170 ships that carried white slave children to the plantations of colonial Maryland and Virginia. The shipping records itemize the unfortunate kids as “cargo” and specify the import duties paid to the Royal Naval Officers for each child. The white slave ships sailed from no fewer than seventeen ports of departure in England.

The excerpt below is from Dr. Richard Hayes Phillips’ book, expressing the statement of purpose behind this new work.

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

It is the purpose of this book to find out where the white slave children of Maryland and Virginia came from, or as many of them as possible.

None of the 5290 white “servants” identified in “Without Indentures,” or the 37 identified by further searches of the Court Order Books (see “Additions and Corrections”), were asked by the Court where they came from. Five identified themselves as English, and twelve as Irish, but only one, from Dublin, identified his home town (see “Kids Who Identified Their Homes”). But 460 (8.6%) named the ship that transported them, or the ship’s captain. or both. I had something to work with.

Altogether, 124 ships that transported white slave children to the Chesapeake Bay between 1664 and 1733 are named in the Court Order Books of Maryland and Virginia. [13] I would need to find the shipping records from this time period in order to track the voyages of the ships. Then I would know the ports of departure, which would tell me the counties or shires from which the children were taken. This would enable me to conduct a targeted search of the births and baptisms, rather than a general search that would include the wrong places and inevitably lead to false matches.

The difficulties lay in locating the shipping records in the first place, for I did not know where to find them; and in obtaining complete data sets of all surviving and legible birth records and baptismal records from the counties and shires of departure, without which I could not be sure that I had found the right child, as there could have been others with the same name.

Either the forename or surname, or both, would have to be uncommon.  I would never be able to match, with certainty, John Smith, or Mary Jones, for example. But there would be cases with only one match, no more, no less, in any of the targeted counties and shires, and then I could publish, concisely, in very few lines, the name of the child, the date and place of birth or baptism, the names of one or both parents, the date and place of enslavement, and the name of the owner. The descendants could take it from there.

[13] “Without Indentures,” op. cit., Index to Ship Captains, pp. 250-252, and Index to Ship Arrivals, pp. 253-256. Ruby of White Haven, Somerset County, 1697, was omitted from the lists.

Image credit: By http://maps.bpl.org [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.


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