Reviewing the fallout from an influential but fatally flawed work of popular history about “white slaves”

https://limerick1914.medium.com/reviewing-the-fallout-from-an-influential-but-fatally-flawed-work-of-popular-history-about-white-be6cfc37069b

Here’s what some historians thought about “White Cargo” when it was published.

36 thoughts on “Reviewing the fallout from an influential but fatally flawed work of popular history about “white slaves”

  1. Interesting. Thanks.

    Leaving aside the bounteous violations of academic standards in “White Cargo,” these two sentences sum up what any decently educated person already knew. . .

    “Thus as Williams clarified over seventy years ago, indentured servitude was never racialized, was mostly voluntary and always time-limited. Colonial Slavery in the Early Modern Atlantic world was perpetual, hereditary and was justified and sustained by anti-black racism.”

    Not even close to comparable. Obviously.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The distinction between indentured servitude and slavery is subtle and legalistic in my view and insufficient to sustain the argument that black slavery in colonial America was special because of its racialism.

    Most historians acknowledge that slavery in the American colonies began in the middle 1500s, but the legal definition of “slave” or “slave for life” didn’t arise until 100 years later. In other words, indentured servitude was slavery in the earliest period. You can see this illustrated in the stories of John Casor and John Punch:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Casor

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Punch_(slave)

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    1. “The distinction between indentured servitude and slavery is subtle and legalistic in my view”…

      Your view is quite simplistic. At the end of the contract, the indentured were released to freedom and allowed to participate in the economy of the times; slaves were held for life, unless freed by a benevolent owner. And then kept from full participation by those who did not believe that black slaves should be free or worthy of participation.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. John Punch was the “first slave for life” in colonial America. An African, he had been an indentured servant until, in 1640 he ran away from his employer with two other servants, both white. For 100 years prior to John Punch’s time, black indentured servants completed their contracts and emancipated just as white indentured servants did.

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        1. …” black indentured servants completed their contracts and emancipated just as white indentured servants did.”

          Black indentured servants may have been emancipated at the end of their contracts, BLACK SLAVES were not.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. “There were no black slaves in the colonies prior to John Punch.”

            Cite? Because if I recall the first black slaves were brought to the colonies in 1619.

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          2. RE: “Because if I recall the first black slaves were brought to the colonies in 1619.”

            You are referring to the “20 odd negros” who disembarked a pirate ship at Point Comfort in 1619. The exact legal status of all those Africans is not known, but at least several were not slaves, but were in fact indentured. One of them, Anthony Johnson, was John Casor’s employer, a black owner of other black indentured servants in early Virginia.

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        2. “For 100 years prior to John Punch’s time, black indentured servants completed their contracts and emancipated just as white indentured servants did.”

          The first African slaves were landed and sold in Jamestown in 1619. That does not jive with this 100 years of parity between white and black indentured servants that your claims rest on. Facts really do matter especially when you are trying to defend a divisive concept.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. RE: “The first African slaves were landed and sold in Jamestown in 1619.”

            You don’t know your history. You are referring to the “20 odd negros” who disembarked a pirate ship at Point Comfort in 1619. The exact legal status of all those Africans is not known, but at least several were not slaves, but were in fact indentured. One of them, Anthony Johnson, was John Casor’s employer, a black owner of other black indentured servants in early Virginia.

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          2. Those “20 odd negroes” were the only survivors of several hundred that were kidnapped by Portuguese raiding parties in Africa to be sold. They signed NO contracts. There was no time limit on their term of service. Their captors SOLD them to the Jamestown colonists. They had no say in the transaction. They word for that is “slave.”

            Your “history” of 100 years of mere indentured service for black people in the colonies going back about 80 years before there were ANY black people in the colonies is typical of the factual sloppiness that you European civilization chauvinists manifest all the time.

            Finally, and obviously, your attempts to equate white people (treated by the law as human beings) who CHOSE to enter into time-limited contracts to secure passage to black people (treated by the law as chattel) kidnapped from their homes, forced into death ships, and sold at auction is both ignorant and repugnant. There is no polite way to put it – it is racist horseshit. Or to put it another way, it is deplorable.

            Liked by 2 people

    2. “The distinction between indentured servitude and slavery is subtle”

      No, the distinction is not in the least bit subtle. That is absolute nonsense. and so is your conclusion that slavery was not racial.

      1. Indentured servitude was a voluntary contractual arrangement. Slavery was forced.
      2. Indentured servitude was time limited. Slavery was for life.
      3. Slaves were born into that status. Indentured servants were not.
      4. Indentured servants were protected by law. Slaves were not.
      5. Slaves were 100% black and 0% white.

      Both your links are about the law catching up with reality. Where are the white people declared slaves for life? Where are the white children born as slaves? Where are the white people kidnapped from their homes and sold at auction?

      Liked by 1 person

          1. Each point is clear, but only in a theoretical or ideal sense. Indenture was a form of slavery that both blacks and whites experienced during the colonial period.

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          2. “Indenture was a form of slavery”…

            It was a form of employment where as the indentured would fulfill his contracted obligation and then be allowed to move on with his/her life and become a business owner, farmer, or whatever other occupation desired. Slaves were held in bondage without contract, without a defined time frame for the end of the enslavement, progeny was born into slavery and, then after emancipation, not allowed to fully be involved in the economy because folks thought they were incapable, unworthy, or sub-human.

            Liked by 1 person

    3. The Nuremberg Laws were also “subtle and legalistic,” but still lead to the Holocaust.

      If your argument was about how the practice of “kidnapping Irish and British children and collecting convicts from prison for export to North American plantations” was widespread, I have no idea why you are now talking about the 1500s–a century before the British had permanent colonies and an administrative apparatus here.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. I have said, based on the book, White Cargo, that Britain exported 300,000 white slaves from its own population to the original thirteen colonies. I contend that calling these children, convicts, and debtors indentured servants instead of slaves is to mischaracterize their condition and distort history. I also contend that Africans brought to the colonies as labor were in the earliest period legally defined as indentured servants, not as slaves and that many obtained their emancipation by completing their contracts. I believe these observations are relevant to the topic of the history of slavery in America.

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          1. RE: “I’m providing you with evidence that you are wrong.”

            Your only evidence is a book review that criticizes the book for failing to distinguish between indentured servitude and slavery to the satisfaction of the reviewer. You have provided no evidence to refute:

            • That 300,000 white Britons came to America under indenture.

            • That the conditions of indenture were indistinguishable from slavery in many respects.

            • That colonial Africans were originally indentured until later redefined as slaves.

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          2. I’ll expect John to explain or refute a victim mentality.

            I have seen these debates before. It follows the path of “some Blacks owned slaves”. “Some slaves were freed and then prospered”. “Some slaves fought for the Confederacy”.

            All quasi-true, but the numbers are small and they are literally the exceptions that prove the rule.

            US slavery was a legal and profitable institution and it involved millions of Africans and their descendants. White supremacy was pretty common (even Lincoln was skeptical of equality) and was a convenient reason for slavery of the Africans. The tragedy was magnified with an additional century of obvious and rampant racism. That we finally had to resort to troops and legislators to at least outlaw legalized racism and tamp down the violent enforcement of it.

            In any other dimension, this would be considered a racist nation. Legislation to enforce second class citizenship based on “one drop” rules cements that label in my view. Covenants in contracts outside the South to restrict housing, businesses and unions did the same thing.

            Liked by 2 people

          3. “That colonial Africans were originally indentured until later redefined as slaves”

            Uh, your own link about John Punch makes it clear that this “fact” is a matter of dispute among historians.

            “Africans were first brought to Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619. However, their status as slaves or indentured servants remains unclear. Philip S. Foner pointed out the differing perceptions held by historians, saying:

            Some historians believe that slavery may have existed from the very first arrival of the Negro in 1619, but others are of the opinion that the institution did not develop until the 1660s and that the status of the Negro until then was that of an indentured servant. Still others believe that the evidence is too sketchy to permit any definite conclusion either way.”

            Liked by 1 person

          4. RE: “All quasi-true, but the numbers are small and they are literally the exceptions that prove the rule.”

            Are you guilty of an irrational “pro-negro bias”?

            There were 300,000 white (indentured) slaves exported from Britain to the thirteen colonies. According to Wikipedia, there were 340,000 Africans imported to the thirteen colonies to meet the demand for servitude (slavery). Are these numbers not comparable?

            What false narrative are you trying to preserve?

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        1. The book has been called into question. Mr. Chandler pointed out that your assessment is wrong.

          Terms of indenture ended; terms of slavery only ended in death and was passed down from generation to generation.

          ” I contend that calling these children, convicts, and debtors indentured servants instead of slaves is to mischaracterize their condition and distort history.”

          The only distortion of history is by yourself and the book you posted.

          Your continued attempts to conflate indentured servitude with slavery is historically inaccurate and flat out wrong. No matter how you spin it, the Irish sold into indenture were freed after their period was up; slaves were slaves until freed in 1865.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. RE: “The only distortion of history is by yourself and the book you posted.”

            No, Mr. Green. I am pointing out that white slavery in colonial America was a true fact. I can post other sources, if you need them. I can even post sources blaming Jews for the phenomenon of white indentured servitude in the Americas, if you want.

            But I have no interest in blaming anyone. I simply want the history of slavery in America to be better understood; in this case, that white servitude was the foundation for black slavery in the colonies.

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          2. White indentured servants are NOT the same as slaves. Your continuation of the argument is specious and full of cherry picked facts. Something Dr. Semantics is quite good at.

            And if you want to add to your anti-Semitism by including “Rothschild’s-type” tropes, go ahead. But I’ll call it out for what it is.

            Liked by 1 person

  3. Considering that I retired with about a quarter million dollars in unpaid services on my books, perhaps it’s time to rethink debtor’s prisons and indentured servitude for resolving debts.

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