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White convicts, slaves shipped to colonies

Britain shipped "white slaves"

Little known or minimized then dismissed was a practice that occurred for 150 years. Britain shipped thousands of convicted felons and other "undesirables" to its colonies in America. This included men, women and children. These were not indentured servants. They were "white slaves"  people bought and sold.

Life in England in the late 1500s was a series of harvest disasters, economic depressions and wars. Hordes of peasants and laborers were left homeless and landless. Starvation and plague spread across Britain. Petty crime, prostitution and beggary were a way of life. Vagrancy and lawlessness increased. Jails overflowed.

Something had to be done to get rid of the steadily increasing number of convicts and vagrants. At about this same time, the English decided they liked tobacco, and it could be grown in their Virginia colony. Masses of laborers were needed, however.

The solution

The Privy Council decided to address both situations  ridding England, Ireland and Scotland of their convicts and undesirables by shipping them primarily to Virginia, Maryland and the Carolinas, where they would fill the labor need on the tobacco plantations.

While most of those jailed had committed petty crimes, their offenses merited the death penalty. These felons were offered an option  be transported to the colonies to serve a sentence of seven to 14 years at hard labor or remain and line up for the gallows.

Transporting people became a flourishing business. It was so lucrative and the demand for laborers so great that kidnappings occurred. Jailers and corrupt officials sold convicts to contractors and dealers in stolen goods, who in turn sold those kidnapped to ships' masters, who in turn sold them upon arrival in the colonies.

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