White Cargo

The Forgotten History of Britain’s White Slaves in America

320 pages

16 illustrations

March, 2008

ISBN: 9780814742969

Authors

Don Jordan is an award-winning television director and writer who has worked on dozens of documentaries and dramas. He lives in London.

All books by Don Jordan

Michael Walsh spent twelve years as a reporter and presenter on World in Action and has won several awards for his work. He is now a producer and writer living in London, specializing in political and historical documentaries.

All books by Michael Walsh

White Cargo is the forgotten story of the thousands of Britons who lived and died in bondage in Britain’s American colonies.

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, more than 300,000 white people were shipped to America as slaves. Urchins were swept up from London’s streets to labor in the tobacco fields, where life expectancy was no more than two years. Brothels were raided to provide “breeders” for Virginia. Hopeful migrants were duped into signing as indentured servants, unaware they would become personal property who could be bought, sold, and even gambled away. Transported convicts were paraded for sale like livestock.

Drawing on letters crying for help, diaries, and court and government archives, Don Jordan and Michael Walsh demonstrate that the brutalities usually associated with black slavery alone were perpetrated on whites throughout British rule. The trade ended with American independence, but the British still tried to sell convicts in their former colonies, which prompted one of the most audacious plots in Anglo-American history.

This is a saga of exploration and cruelty spanning 170 years that has been submerged under the overwhelming memory of black slavery. White Cargo brings the brutal, uncomfortable story to the surface.

Reviews

  • “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

  • “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

  • “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)

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

    Choice