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East Indians in the North American colonies

While looking up some background information about indentured servants for my last post, I came across a one-line reference to South Asians as indentured servants in the English colonies as early as the 17th century. I was intrigued, all the more so because a favorite novel of mine, The Holder of the World by Bharati Mukherjee, has a 17th century Massachusetts woman travel to India and back again, by way of marriage to a rakish English trader.

The British East India Company was only one of several competing European factions in India at the time, but a significant one, and upon further research, it appears that Mukherjee’s fictional Hannah Easton may not have been the only person making the trip from India to the English Atlantic colonies at the time. Unfortunately, I can’t trace any of the claims in the following article back to an original source (not even the academic paper mentioned), but it’s certainly an interesting read. Indian Slaves in Colonial America 

On the other hand, Virtual Jamestown does document a freedom suit as follows:

16 November 1713

To all to whom these Presents shall come Now know ye that Whereas an East India Indian woman named Moll (imported into this Colony by Joseph Walker Gent in ye Year One Thousand seven hundred & by him sold to Jno: Tullitt) being desirous of freedom hath for some time besought us ye above named Joseph Walker & Jno: Tullitt to give her her liberty & to discharge her out of ye Cond: of slavery, therefore we ye sd. Jos: Walker & Jno. Tullitt for divers good causes & considerations us thereunto moving hath acquitted & by these Presents & for our selves, our heirs, Execrs: & Adminrs: acquitt ye sd Moll from being a Slave & do also by these Presents for ever hereafter declare her to be a free woman.

East Indians were imported in large numbers as indentured servants or slaves to the Caribbean in the early 19th century. They began being transported to work on the sugar cane plantations as soon as the British abolished African slavery in 1833. This article provides an overview.

It should be no surprise that the many of the major figures of early Victorian England derived their wealth from the Caribbean sugar and slave trades. But it seems that there were quite a lot of middle-class absentee slave owners residing in England who rented out their human property to Caribbean planters without ever seeing their faces.

And here’s what happened after 1833:

The Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 formally freed 800,000 Africans who were then the legal property of Britain’s slave owners. What is less well known is that the same act contained a provision for the financial compensation of the owners of those slaves, by the British taxpayer, for the loss of their “property”. The compensation commission was the government body established to evaluate the claims of the slave owners and administer the distribution of the £20m the government had set aside to pay them off. That sum represented 40% of the total government expenditure for 1834. It is the modern equivalent of between £16bn and £17bn.

The compensation of Britain’s 46,000 slave owners was the largest bailout in British history until the bailout of the banks in 2009. Not only did the slaves receive nothing, under another clause of the act they were compelled to provide 45 hours of unpaid labour each week for their former masters, for a further four years after their supposed liberation. In effect, the enslaved paid part of the bill for their own manumission.

Read more here.

Finally–Mongols were never noted for their seafaring prowess. They twice tried to invade Japan, only to lose their fleets in storms. Recent underwater explorations have identified a vessel from one of those invasions.

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