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"Irish Emigration to America, 1723-1773" from Journal of American Irish Historical Society, 1927

       ...Passing over twenty years, during which there was a constant stream of emigration from Ireland to America, I find another interesting document chronicled under date of May, 1751:
     “One hundred and fifty Passengers, including 50 Irish Servants (many of them Catholics who were bound as Servants before the Lord Mayor of Dublin) sailed for Philadelphia, on board the Homer, Captain John Slade, Commander.” The list of names is not complete, owing to damp, but I have made out the following as among those who sailed on the Homer from Dublin, in May, 1751: John O’Toole, Thomas Cassidy, James Fennell, James O’Neill, James Hickey, Edward Doran, John Callaghan, Catherine Cullen, Eleanor Cody, John Connery, Catherine Lawler, William Coffey, John Slattery, Philip MacNeill, Giles Power, Anne Connolly.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

A redemptioner is an immigrant, generally from the 18th or 19th century, that gained passage to America by selling themselves as an indentured servant.

Indentured servant

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

An Indentured servant is an unfree labourer under contract to work (for a specified amount of time) for another person or a company/corporation, often without any monetary pay, but in exchange for accommodation, food, other essentials, training, or passage to a new country. After working for the term of the contract (traditionally seven years) the servant was then free to farm or take up trade of his own. The term comes from the medieval English "indenture of retainer" — a contract written in duplicate on the same sheet, with the copies separated by cutting along a jagged (toothed, hence the term "indenture) line so that the teeth of the two parts could later be refitted to confirm authenticity.


Roe, Melissa. "Differential Tolerances and Accepted Punishments for Disobedient Indentured Servants and Their Masters in Colonial Courts." Indentured Servants. (30 Aug 2005)

Indentured servitude first appeared in America a little over a decade after the settlement of Jamestown in 1607. Labor was scarce; land was abundant and transportation costs to America were high compared to wages in England. An early economist noted that ...industry is limited by capital; but, through lack of labor, its limit is not always reached in older communities and seldom if ever in newer countries. Capital is an accumulation of labor and, like land, yields most when quickened by human toil. So dependent is capital upon labor that what is taken to new settlements often wastes away through lack of a labor supply. One obstacle to migration was the high cost of transportation. The Virginia Company, attempting to overcome high transportation costs, developed various schemes to increase migration; these schemes resulted in indentured servitude. The indenture system allowed for labor mobility from England to America...which made available the cultivation of vast amounts of new land that would satisfy the demands of the large English market resulting in a marginal productivity of labor in agriculture exceeding that in England. The Virginia Company eventually sold the labor of the servants to individual planters, forcing the planters to incur all costs of supervision and enforcement of contracts, including risks of escape or death of the servant. The indenture system, although initiated by the Virginia Company, was quickly utilized by private planters and merchants. Because this system worked so well in attracting labor to America, it remained in use long after the Virginia Company went out of business in 1624.  Market efficiency occurs when the marginal revenue product of labor is equal to the wage. In other words, the price paid for the servant equals the value of the servant contract length. Although the typical servant contract in England was for a period of one to two years, those in America were considerably longer. This was because the transportation costs were high, and the lender needed to recover his investment, forcing servants to enter into longer contracts. Contracts were usually four to seven years long depending on the details. If a servant contracted to be taught a specific trade or skill or an education, the contract length would increase. Economists such as Farley Grubb and David Galenson have examined indentured servitude in colonial America and suggested that the system was efficient and, thus, fair. Historians, however, have looked at various practices of physical coercion and abuse, as well as punishments prescribed by law for criminal and runaway servants, and have claimed the system to be exploitive and cruel.

Novak, George. "Negro Slavery in North America." Negro Slavery in North America. (30 Aug 2005)

At first the landed proprietors relied upon the importation of white bondsmen from the mother country. England and the continent were combed for servants to be sent to America.

Some of these indentured servants came of their own accord, voluntarily agreeing to serve their masters for a certain term of years, usually four to seven, in return for their passage. Many others, especially German serfs, were sold by their lords to the slave merchants and ship-owners. In addition the overflowing prisons of England were emptied of their inmates and the convicts brought to America to be sold into servitude for terms ranging from four to fourteen years.

The Cromwellian conquest of Ireland in the middle of the seventeenth century made slaves as well as subjects of the Irish people. Over one hundred thousand men, women, and children were seized by the English troops and shipped over to the West Indies where they were sold into slavery upon the tobacco plantations. In The Re-Conquest of Ireland James Connolly quotes the following instance of the methods used.

"Captain John Vernon was employed by the Commissioners for Ireland to England, and contracted in their behalf with Mr. David Sellick and the Leader under his hand to supply them with two hundred and fifty women of the Irish nation, above twelve years and under the age of forty-five, also three hundred men above twelve years and under fifty, to be found in the country within twenty miles of Cork, Youghal and Kinsale, Waterford and Wexford, to transport them into New England.” This British firm alone was responsible for shipping over 6,400 girls and boys. . . .

As a result of the insistent demands of the planters for labor, the servant trade took on most of the horrible features of the slave trade. Gangs of kidnappers roamed the streets of English seaports and combed the highways and byways of Britain and Ireland for raw material. In the rapacious search for redemptioners the homes of the poor were invaded. Where promises could not persuade, compulsion was brought into play. Husbands were torn from their wives, fathers from their families, children from their parents. Boys and girls were sold by parents or guardians; unwanted dependents by their relatives; serfs by their lords—and all this human cargo was shipped to America to be sold to the highest bidder.

Thus the bulk of the white working population of the English colonies was composed of bondsmen and criminals, who had been cajoled or coerced into emigration and had to pass through years of bondage before they could call themselves free. These people and their children became the hunters, trappers, farmers, artisans, mechanics, and even the planters and merchants, who were later to form the ranks of the revolutionary forces against the mother country.

These white bondsmen however provided neither a sufficient nor a satisfactory supply of labor. They could not be kept in a permanent condition of enslavement. Unless they were marked or branded, if they ran away they could not readily be distinguished from their free fellows or their masters. As production expanded, it became increasingly urgent to find new, more abundant, and more dependable sources of labor.

Morris, Richard B. "Emergence of American Labor." US Department of Labor (30 Aug 2005)

Regardless of the lures offered to working men and women to emigrate to the New World, free labor remained in short supply throughout the colonial period. As a consequence, the English settlers innovated several forms of bound labor for white Europeans and adopted a long-established coercive labor system for black Africans. One form of bound labor, indentured servitude, included all persons bound to labor for periods of years as determined either by a written agreement or by the custom of the respective colony. The bulk of indentured servants comprised contract labor. White immigrants, called redemptioners or "freewillers," in return for their passage to America bound themselves as servants for varying periods, four years being the average length of service. This amounted to a system for underwriting the transportation of prospective emigrants.

It has been estimated that the redemptioners comprised almost eighty per cent of the total British and continental immigration to America down to the coming of the Revolution. Virginia and Maryland planters who assumed transportation charges received a head right or land grant for each immigrant. In the main, though, the business was carried on by merchants specializing in the sale of servants' indentures. Recruiting agents called "Crimps" in England and "Newlanders" on the continent were employed by these merchants. They hired drummers to go through inland towns in England or along the war-devastated Rhineland areas crying the voyage to America; with the help of a piper to draw crowds, they distributed promotional literature at fairs.

On the positive side, it should be said that the redemptioner system provided the bulk of the white labor force in the colonies. On the negative side, it must be acknowledged that it was riddled with fraudulent practices and that prospective servants were lured to detention houses to be held for shipment overseas through coercive procedures which often gave rise to charges of kidnapping. The redemptioners were packed like herring in unsanitary ships; the mortality rate could run in excess of fifty percent for a typical voyage. The survivors, served inadequate rations, generally arrived in a seriously weakened condition. Once, ashore, families might be broken up. Husbands and wives could be sold to different masters, and parents not infrequently were forced to sell their children. The latter could be bound out for longer terms of service than adults, even though they were shipped at half fare. Girls, ostensibly bound out for trades or housework, were at times exploited for immoral purposes.


Durkin, Michael. "Lesson 5: How the Irish Fled" Suite University. Irish Emigration to America. (30 Aug 2005)

Redemptioners was a name recognised in Pennsylvania for servants who had signed as bond servants for a period of 5 years. Slavery itself would have been more acceptable than the prevailing conditions in Ireland. Ship’s Masters also were in a position to show smaller numbers of passengers on their manifests than were actually carried which has proved to be another reason for hopelessly inadequate information on the numbers who fled the country. They could also profit from the supply of food which they were obliged to offer their passengers. This often was of the worst available sort and even more frequently portions were inaccurately weighed out.


Stratford Hall Plantation. "Indentured Servants and Transported Convicts." Indentured Servants and Transported Convicts. (30 Aug 2005)

White indentured servants came from all over Great Britain. Men, women, and sometimes children signed a contract with a master to serve a term of 4 to 7 years. In exchange for their service, the indentured servants received their passage paid from England, as well as food, clothing, and shelter once they arrived in the colonies. Some were even paid a salary. When the contract had expired, the servant was paid freedom dues of corn, tools, and clothing, and was allowed to leave the plantation. During the time of his indenture, however, the servant was considered his master's personal property and his contract could be inherited or sold. Prices paid for indentured servants varied depending on skills.

While under contract a person could not marry or have children. A master's permission was needed to leave the plantation, to perform work for anyone else, or to keep money for personal use. An unruly indentured servant was whipped or punished for improper behavior. Due to poor living conditions, hard labor, and difficulties adjusting to new climates and native diseases, many servants did not live to see their freedom. Often servants ran away from their masters. Since they often spoke English and were white, runaway servants were more difficult to recapture than black slaves. If runaway servants were captured, they were punished by increasing their time of service.


O'Malley, Mike. "Runaway from Freedom?" Runaway from Freedom (30 Aug 2005)

Benjamin Franklin estimated that at the time of the American Revolution, roughly one half of Pennsylvania’s labor force was legally unfree—bound to someone else as property, for many years or for a lifetime.

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