Continuation of the post series More Properly Called Slaves.
In the 1630s new plantations and demands for labour increased, which meant Virginia was no longer in danger of extinction.
By the end of the century about 200,000 men, women and children from Britain were shipped to America. The first to be permanently settled outside the Chesapeake were the Pilgrim Fathers seeking religious freedom. in 1620 Edwin Sandys drew up a charter permitting them to establish Plymouth Colony in New England. 8 years later, more militant Puritans (oh God no) secured another charter for Massachusetts Bay Company in New England. At around the same time, Lord Baltimore secured a huge area north and east of Chesapeake (now known as Maryland) and urged gentry Catholics to relocate there.
Apparently the Puritans’ slaves weren’t as bad off comparatively speaking. However, the governor of Massachusetts John Winthrop (a Puritan) claimed in 1630 that God had destined some to be rich & powerful and others to be poor & in subjection.
But something strange happened.
The poet-lawyer-colonist Thomas Morton and his associate Thomas Wollaston had arrived in Massachusetts Bay, trading furs from what’s now Boston Harbour. Morton fell in love with America, especially the Algonquin people. Wollaston, however, reckoned further south would be better. At Jamestown he sold some slaves so successfully he wanted to send the rest – but Morton refused to co-operate. Instead in 1628 he launched a coup, freed the slaves and promised to make them his “partners and consociates”!
Together he and they partied (the festival is now known as May Day) and declared the plantation a free commonwealth! He renamed it Ma-re-mount (now Merrymount), and the Puritans were ROYALLY PISSED OFF!!! Not only were Morton and his lot committing the sin of fun and entertainment, but in its short existence Ma-re-mount became six times richer than all the other plantations! The Puritans stormed it, seized and chained Morton, and dragged him in front of governor Bradford. However, instead of execution he was merely shipped back to England! Why? Connections. Ma-re-mount houses were demolished, and though it’s not known what became of the freedmen it’s safe to presume they were re-enslaved.
Within that same year, some among a group of 180 East Anglian slaves were shipped to Merrymack, New England. They were meant to be resupplied with food in 2 years but the food didn’t show up. They appealed to the leadership of Salem but were refused. Why? The (Puritan) leader Thomas Dudley wrote in a 1631 letter that someone had stolen the supplies en route, and whoever was meant to restock the ship didn’t. Thus the colony would have to suffer a loss (£16 to £20 per person) and free them all. In other words, lame sick slaves were booted off the colony and left to fend for themselves or perish. Many relied on the charity of the local natives. This became such a common scenario that in 1636 Rhode Island made it illegal to free slaves who were too lame or sick to work!
The people trade continued. Despite the high monetary gains it remained a very risky business. Ships (and therefore slaves) were stolen by other planters and slaves became ill, therefore it was more profitable to indenture them after landing – on the pretext that they’d work to pay off the cost of shipping! This left planters free to charge absolutely any price they felt, thereby lengthening indenture times and profits! This was the headright system; needless to say it was massively corrupt. One planter claimed headrights on himself 8 times, by registering his passengers as planters, claiming headrights on each of them, and selling them off at different sites each time! Even dead people could be claimed on if they were on their way to a colony or had been to one before!
Slavers were rarely required to compensate the slaves with anything, save a very nebulous sum called “freedom dues” at the end of the indenture period. Slaves were usually duped into believing this meant land, the main reason many were there in the first place, but found it usually meant nothing at all. Furthermore, because this was America not England planters were not forbidden from extending the indenture period indefinitely, and they were not obliged to pay freedom dues!
Worse than that, sometimes slaves were required to prove in court that they were owed any freedom dues! Remember judges were planters themselves, so laws were set up to keep slaves in place.
Despite the moral and financial corruption, officialdom didn’t give a shit how slaves were gotten or treated. Its main problem was how to control all the runaways and rebels and the like. All the colonies dished out punishments for runaways (usually whipping) but in 1639 Maryland changed the punishment to…
Then the next year it was changed to 2 extra days’ service for every day gone, and if the slave refused…
It wasn’t all doom and gloom. Abbot Emerson Smith reckoned that 1 out of 10 servants went on to become “decently prosperous” landowners and another 1 artisans living “useful and comfortable” lives. The story of Thomas Allen of St Michaels, Maryland is such an example. In the early 1630s he’d been enslaved. 16 years later he was a freedman with 3 sons – but he feared something bad would happen to him to leave his children either orphaned or enslaved. His wife was already dead. In 1648 he wrote in his will that he (as an outspoken Protestant) had gotten into a scuffle with some Irish Catholics, so if he died and his sons sold off they were to blame.
4 months later Allen was dead and his youngest sons Thomas & Robert missing. This wasn’t due to Irish though, but to Patuxent tribesmen. They had the sons hostage and demanded 900lb of tobacco for Thomas and 600lb for Robert. A court of burgesses met to look into Allen’s estate – which totalled only a boat, a gun and 15 pigs. Therefore the court refused to pay the ransom, but they ordered that if someone did pay the sons would be that person’s servants until they turned 21.
Luckily, two of Allen’s good friends paid the ransom and took the boys – but as sons not as servants.
This was one of the rare stories of humanity’s triumph in those days. It was set to get worse in time…
Back to Part 6
On to Part 8