In 1723, James Bell grabbed a book from a London bookstall and started to run, but he was chased by several witnesses and was discovered hiding in a dog kennel. As punishment for his crime, Bell was loaded on a ship and sent to colonial America, where he was sold at auction as an indentured servant for a seven-year term.
Most people know that England shipped thousands of convicts to Australia, but few are aware that colonial America was the original destination for Britain’s unwanted criminals. In the 18th century, thousands of British convicts like Bell were separated from their families, chained together in the hold of a ship, and carried off to America. What happened to these convicts once they arrived? Did they eventually prosper in an environment of unlimited opportunity, or were they ostracized by other colonists and doomed to live in poverty?
Anthony Vaver tells the stories of the petty thieves and professional criminals who were subjected to this unique punishment, and in bringing to life this forgotten chapter in American history, he challenges the way we think about immigration to early America. The book also includes an appendix with tips on researching individual convicts who were transported to America.
Anthony Vaver is the author and publisher of EarlyAmericanCrime.com, a website that explores crime, criminals, and punishments from America’s past. He holds a Ph.D. from the State University of New York at Stony Brook and an M.L.S. from Rutgers University, and he is currently working on a new book about early American criminals. He has never spent a night in jail, but he was once falsely accused of shoplifting.