White Cargo: The Forgotten History of Britain's White Slaves in America

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ISBN-13: 978-0814742969
ISBN-10: 9780814742969
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White Cargo: The Forgotten History of Britain's White Slaves in America + The Irish Slaves: Slavery, indenture and Contract labor Among Irish Immigrants + To Hell or Barbados: The Ethnic Cleansing of Ireland
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

High school American history classes present indentured servitude as a benignly paternalistic system whereby colonial immigrants spent a few years working off their passage and went on to better things. Not so, this impassioned history argues: the indentured servitude of whites was comparable in most respects to the slavery endured by blacks. Voluntary indentures arriving in colonial America from Britain were sold on the block, subjected to backbreaking work on plantations, poorly fed and clothed, savagely punished for any disobedience, forbidden to marry without their master's permission, and whipped and branded for running away. Nor were indentures always voluntary: tens of thousands of convicts, beggars, homeless children and other undesirable Britons were transported to America against their will. Given the hideous mortality rates, the authors argue, indentured contracts often amounted to a life sentence at hard labor—some convicts asked to be hanged rather than be sent to Virginia. The authors, both television documentarians, don't attempt a systematic survey of the subject, and their episodic narrative often loses its way in colorful but extraneous digressions. Still, their exposé of unfree labor in the British colonies paints an arresting portrait of early America as gulag. 8 pages of photos. (Mar.)
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Review

“A colorful series of portraits of villains and victims, exploiters and exploited, rendered with bemused outrage.”-Choice

“This vividly written book tells the tale from both sides of the Atlantic . . . meticulously sourced and footnoted—but is never dry or academic...Jordan and Walsh offer an explanation of how the structures of slavery—black or white—were entwined in the roots of American society. They refrain from drawing links to today, except to remind readers that there are probably tens of millions of Americans who are descended from white slaves without even knowing it.”

-New York Times Book Review

“With information gleaned from contemporary letters, journals and court archives, White Cargo is packed with proof that he brutalities usually associated with black slavery were, for centuries, also inflicted on whites.”

-Daily Mail

“An eye-opening and heart-rending story.”

-The Times (London)

“High school American history classes present indentured servitude as a benignly paternalistic system whereby colonial immigrants spent a few years working off their passage and went on to better things. Not so, this impassioned history argues: the indentured servitude of whites was comparable in most respects to the slavery endured by blacks. Given the hideous mortality rates, the authors argue, indentured contracts often amounted to a life sentence at hard labor—some convicts asked to be hanged rather than be sent to Virginia . . . their exposé of unfree labor in the British colonies paints an arresting portrait of early America as gulag. 8 pages of photos.”

-Publishers Weekly
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: NYU Press (March 8, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780814742969
  • ISBN-13: 978-0814742969
  • ASIN: 0814742963
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (99 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #15,892 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

156 of 159 people found the following review helpful By Nathaniel on December 7, 2010
Format: Paperback
This is a Great Book!
As a Boy from the Caribbean my Grandparents taught me about African slavery and Irish slavery and my ancestry. Being like many Afro-Caribbean people (especially people from Montserrat, the Virgin Islands, Trinidad, and Barbados) I have African ancestry as well as Irish and Scottish Ancestry just as Colin Powell, singer Rhianna and many others.
When I moved to the States I always wondered why they didn't Also teach Irish Slavery in school. I understand that African-Americans endured slavery for longer in addition the being treated as second class citizens but never understood why both are not taught. I assume since America was founded by the British the history books were "edited" not to mention this time in history or "edited" to use lighter language like "indentured servants" instead of slaves.
This is a must read for all history buffs.
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168 of 176 people found the following review helpful By Fruit Loop VINE VOICE on April 28, 2008
Format: Paperback
The plight of millions of American slaves has been overlooked by historians for far too long. Slavery in the Americas was not limited to black Africans nor were the depredations inflicted on non-African slaves.

This well-documented, scholarly expose of white slavery is a must-read for historians and civil-rights advocates, many of whom will be surprised by how widespread this practice was. The practice of indenture was well-known, but the fact that bondage often lasted until the end of life is not. I found this work to be simultaneously heartbreaking, infuriating, and riveting in content.

My husband's sixth-great-grandmother and her son were sold on the block in Charleston, but whenever we tell this story, other people actually try to "correct" us with, "No, she was an indentured servant, not a slave." (Not true). This long-overdue work is a memorial to the nameless individuals who died in bondage as well as an expose of a practice too long forgotten and ignored by American history textbooks. Five stars.
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51 of 54 people found the following review helpful By A.D. Powell on May 23, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It is significant that two journalists wrote this extremely important book. Many professional historians don't want much attention paid to white slavery for fear that it will take something away from black slavery or make whites feel less compassion for black slaves. That is foolish. People must realize that anyone could (and still can) fall into bondage under whatever name if the circumstances are right. Other books that covered similar subject matter (but received little attention) are:

1) The Forgotten Cause of the Civil War: A New Look at the Slavery Issue by Lawrence R. Tenzer. Shows that white slavery was present in the antebellum American South and played an important role in increasing the tensions between North and South that led to the American Civil War.

2) Legal History of the Color Line: The Rise And Triumph of the One-drop Rule by Frank W. Sweet. Shows that American slave status was not truly based on "race" but on maternal descent from a female slave, regardless of race or color.

3) Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race by Matthew Frye Jacobson. Shows how ruling planters created anti-black racism and white supremacy in order to divide the labor force and secure the help of lower class whites in putting down slave rebellions and fighting Indians.
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44 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Joan K. Slomanson on June 14, 2009
Format: Paperback
This book is extraordinary and very upsetting indeed. Children were actually stolen along with adults who were carted off to America by the British.
Many Irish people were among them. I read the book, lent it to my son, and when he didn't return it, I bought another copy. Be warned, however, there is a book of fiction also titled White Cargo. You can tell them apart because the nonfictional book has the subtitle "The Forgotten History
of Britain's White Slaves in America."
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71 of 79 people found the following review helpful By Bart King on April 28, 2008
Format: Paperback
This book's authors take a new look at a very old subject. As you probably know by now, WHITE CARGO equates the experience of indentured servants with slaves in colonial America. While this may initially strike some people (me included) as a mere polemic, this book makes its case convincingly.

The book starts with discovery of the body of a teenaged European boy in Maryland in 2003. The remains date back to the 1600s, and he is found in a mound of trash. But who was this kid? And why was his body disposed of so unceremoniously?

Walsh and Jordan tell the story of this anonymous indentured servant, and the hundreds of thousands of others like him, from both sides of the Big Pond. The first group of them arrived in 1619, and most of them were kids swept up from the streets of London. "Society's sweepings" were shipped west and made into indentured servants.

As their stories unfold, the authors accumulate the evidence and arguments that show that both indentured servants and slaves were stripped away of virtually all civil rights and reduced to mere property. Further, the privations visited upon indentured servants (abuse, shortened lifespans, overwork) are so hair-raising, it's surprising this argument hasn't been made so convincingly long before 2008.

This book is vital, it's engaging, and it's news to me. (See also Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II.)
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White Cargo: The Forgotten History of Britain's White Slaves in America
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