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‘Stripes, Fetters, the Mill’
Notes on the Conditions of Freeman in Plantation America
© 2021 James LaFond
The partially factual and partially fantastic entry below does not bring one document to light that expresses “Indentured servitude” as an actual voluntary condition in Plantation America. As stated before, it is a term not known to have been in use, and most indented servant men and women I have found records of were being held strictly against their will and had not voluntarily decided to become a slave in all but name.
Below, however, we have a legal definition of a free man which does not mention the fantastical, anachronistic utopian condition “indentured servitude.”
Black's Law Dictionary (9th edition) defines Freeman as follows:
1. A person who possesses and enjoys all the civil and political rights belonging to the people under a free government.
2. A person who is not a slave.
3. Hist. A member of a municipal corporation (a city or a borough) who possesses full civic rights, esp. the right to vote.
4. Hist. A freeholder. Cf. VILLEIN.
5. Hist. An allodial landowner. Cf. VASSAL. - also written free man.
“A person who is not a slave.”
Bracketing that definition, the other primary definition both state that to be free one has to have full civil rights. The fact that the listing goes on to discuss something made up after the era and excusing it as a familial financial shell game, when it was a vast kidnapping, abduction, POW and human trafficking operation, usually conducted against the will of the person sold, who was typically too young to sell himself in the first place, is suspect.
The article does then go on to list actual numbers which can be examined.
Keeping in mind that women and children were not free people, with the exception of elite matriarchs, we see that roughly 1 in 7 inhabitants was a free man. The percentage of males in New England was greater than females, but not at steep proportions such as in the mid-Atlantic and south where men outnumbered women by 10 to 1. Interestingly, one can see why so many of the white servants had been freed, to fight the Indians. Indeed, the number of men in the militia suggest that all the male servants, African and European, were members of the militia, as the militia exceed the number of freemen by roughly the number of male servants available. Do note also that the majority of Africans were recent arrivals from the West Indies.
The African slave trade had been opened to all English merchants in 1702 by an act of Parliament. Rhode Island obtained most of its slaves from Barbados, receiving about 25 per year at a cost of about 35 [1] pounds each. In 1708 a duty of three pounds was placed on every negro imported into the colony. [Also note that the period term was negro, not black.
“The first general census of the colony took place in 1708 when 7181 inhabitants were tallied, including 1015 freemen, 426 black servants [does not say slaves], and 56 white servants. [does not say indentured servants] The militia force consisted of 1362 males from the ages of 16 to 60, each required to have a musket, sword or bayonet, powder, and bullets.”
The above census indicates a mass of children in the population. Factoring one woman for every freeman [which is over generous, with some of the freemen being bachelors, “recently crept out of servitude,”
We have:
1,015 free men
1,015 freewomen [a gross overestimate]
2,030 free persons, as a maximum
482 adult servants
Equaling 2,512 adults of 7,181 inhabitants.
Adults were counted at age 16.
Most kidnapped and indented servants were sold between ages 10 and 14, many as young as 8, some as young as 1.
The above census leaves 4,669 unfree minors, either children or servants, most of the latter being male, unaccounted for.
This is the secret sinkhole of plantation America, the mass of enslaved persons who were not yet adults and would not show up as unfree adults on a census. Thus the liars at Wikipedia, dedicated to obfuscating the truth, even they, point the way towards the mass child grave that was Plantation America.
“Initially, a male was not formally considered free when first entering into a colony, or just recently having become a member of one of the local churches; he was considered common.”
According to the above definition of freeman there was also a population of men who were not regarded as free but were nots servants either. These would be vagabonds, vagrants and mad men, those who while they may not be the property of another man, had no rights under law, which meant, in plain terms, that they could be captured and sold at any time on any pretense.
“In 1723 the first almshouse in Rhode Island was erected in Newport, and in 1725 the mainland towns were empowered to build a house of correction for vagrants and "mad persons," the first reference to a reformatory and philanthropic institution.”
The almshouse was a pace where “disowned” servant-class folk, no longer worth buying, in an economy where wage work was rare and only available to those in their prime of life, or simply cast out by a disgruntled owner, could be maintained in hospice. This was a rare, underfunded and truly benevolent enterprise. By 1900 85% of residents were elderly and today most occupants are female as well. These facilities were originally founded as places where dying and infirm person would be sheltered in a place funded by a rich man, where the occupants would then be obligated to pray for the salvation of the rich man, and were originally called chantries, and were generally outlawed after the Reformation.
The house of corrections, on the other hand, was where people in their youth and prime who refused to be slaves, and ran away would be beaten, corrected and often killed.
A house of correction was a a place where people who the government officers claimed did not want to work, would be forced to work for free. Work was not the issue, but freedom. Though the claim that these folk did not want to work was explicit, the acid test for incarceration was that one did not reside under the ownership of a master.
“Virtually all the prisoners were required to do hard labour, typically beating hemp.”
In 1720 an act allowed the use of houses of corrections for pretrial detention of "vagrants, and other criminals, offenders, and persons charged with small offences." By the 1760s and 1770s, prisoners awaiting trial accounted for more than three-quarters of those committed to the Middlesex and Westminster houses.
Hemp was used for British Navy rigging and, places the people locked into houses of correction for the crime of freedom in the very business of construction, without pay, materials for the outfitting of war ships that would be crewed by abducted men, “pressed men” who may or may not be paid, but were most certainly enslaved. Typically sailors were not paid their wages, but these payments were often given to women who claimed to be their wives and might just be whores. The scarcity of currency also meant that they would be paid in commodities such as tobacco or tea.
The sinister conjoining of vagrant and mad persons and of reformatory [objectively a torture facility for reeducation] and philanthropic clearly demonstrates that the elite of the Plantation Era were already committed to operating behind the façade of lies and half-truths that persist to this day.
-1. European servants cost between 4 and 20 pounds, accounting for the purchase of far more Europeans than Africans.
In Ancient Rome slaves under the age of 30 could not be freed. This was in a world where slaves rarely lived longer than 30, meaning that only the extremely healthy or lucky might gain freedom.
“Stripes [lashes], fetters [chains] the mill [toil],” were the lot of such servants from antiquity down to early 1900s America.
The idea of a freehold, in English law, is directly opposed to any rational notion of freedom as understood today, and seems to be similar to the virtual “water rights” owned by Americans and others today, as far as being a concept divorced from reality but based on the medieval idea of “The Commons” public lands that might be used by all. In light of the fact that the laws as written assign only options on such spaces to hereditary elites, the term, so disingenuous as to be farcical, suggests itself as having grown out of the Acts of Enclosure.
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NC     May 26, 2021

Thx 4 the history lesson Sir!
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