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The End of Convict Transportation: Ex-Convicts Who Succeeded in America

Note: This post is part of a series on Convict Transportation to the American colonies.

In a letter to the Maryland Gazette on July 30, 1767, one writer defended importing convicts from Great Britain by citing how many of them reform their ways:

[A] few Gentlemen seem very angry that Convicts are imported here at all, and would, if they could, . . . prevent the People’s buying them, and then of course they would not be brought in.

I CONFESS, I am one of those who think a young Country cannot be settled, cultivated, and improved, without People of some Sort, and that it is much better for the Country to receive Convicts than Slaves . . . The wicked and bad of them that come into this Province, mostly run away to the Northward, mix with their People, and pass for honest Men; whilst those, more innocent, and who came for very small Offenses, serve their Times out here, behave well, and become useful People.

While the writer fancifully contends that bad convicts are spontaneously siphoned off to the north by running away, thereby leaving the good convicts behind in the Chesapeake, he is correct in asserting that some convicts managed to become productive members of society.

Anthony Lamb was one convict who managed to find success in America after being transported to Maryland in 1724 for burglary. Once a member of Jack Sheppard’s gang back in London, Lamb eventually left Maryland and set up a highly profitable business making mathematical instruments–northward in New York!

Lamb was not the only transported convict to establish roots in America, but tracking the fates of other transported convicts like him can be quite difficult. Many of the convicts were illiterate and left behind few documents to chronicle their lives. They were also eager to shed their criminal past, so they often changed their names and moved away from where they served. Even so, as the subject of convict transportation to America has garnered more interest, research into the identities and fates of transported convicts has begun to yield results, thanks especially to the work of genealogists.

Convicts Transported on the Pretty Patsy

If the fate of several convicts who were transported together on the Pretty Patsy in 1737 is any indication, transported convicts may have been more successful in establishing lives in America after serving out their terms than previously thought.

Jonthan Ady, Nicholas Baker, and George Gew were all convicted of theft back in England and transported to Maryland in 1737 on the Pretty Patsy. Jonathan Ady was found guilty of stealing money and a few assorted goods from Isaac Hone. At his trial, Ady pleaded, “I am a poor young Fellow, come out of the Country, and have not any one to stand my Friend. It will go hard with me I know: I beg for Transportation, though it should be for all my Life.” Despite Ady’s request, he was sentenced to death. While being held in Newgate Prison, the Ordinary reported that “Jonathan Adey was most of the Time sick, weak and infirm, complaining of Pains and Fevers, yet, excepting once or twice, he came constantly to Chapel.” Five days before he was scheduled to be executed, Adey got his wish and was instead transported to America for a term of 14 years after receiving a royal reprieve.

Nicholas Baker was indicted for stealing a pair of women’s shoes and some black lace from Benjamin Noble. The jury devalued the goods to 10 shillings, so that he would receive a reduced sentence of transportation. George Gew was also found guilty along with James Moulding for stealing a pig and a sack, presumably in which to carry off the pig, from the stable of John Scot. Both Gew and Moulding received a sentence of transportation, and Moulding joined the other three on the Pretty Patsy.

Ady, Baker, and Gew all managed to live out prosperous lives in America after being transported. Jonathan Ady married Rebecca York on March 27, 1743, most likely after finishing out his term of service, and settled in Baltimore County, Maryland. Eight months after marrying, he leased 60 acres from My Lady’s Manor, which he in turn mortgaged out to someone else two years later. At this point, he was identified as a cooper and signed his own name on the mortgage document. He served as a private during the American Revolution and had 11 children. Ady died in 1801 at the ripe old age of 82.

Nicholas Baker married Martha Wood on January 4, 1741 in Baltimore County, and they had seven children. Martha died by 1764, after which time Nicholas married his second wife, Mary Gilbert. The two of them had two daughters together. In 1768, Baker was listed as a planter and leased 125 acres of the Hall’s Plains plantation from William Horton for ten years. Baker died by May 6, 1774 in Harford County, Maryland. George Gew settled in present-day Montgomery County, and by 1747 he was married with children and owned a small farm. He died in 1772 and at that point had had eight or nine children.

Women Transported on the Loyal Margaret

Some convicts had inauspicious beginnings in America, but later managed to get their lives back on track. Mary Slider was transported on the Loyal Margaret in 1726 for stealing two shirts from Thomas Shelton. One year after arriving in Maryland, she had a son born out of wedlock and was tried for bastardy. Apparently, this experience wasn’t enough to dissuade her from such behavior, because she bore another child, a daughter, one year before her marriage in 1730 to Peter Majors. Together, the two had 3 or 4 children, including the daughter born out of wedlock.

Anne Ambrose, who was also transported on the Loyal Margaret, had an experience similar to Mary Slider. Ambrose, who was transported for theft, had a son, William Ambrose, out of wedlock c1725. She was charged with bastardy in 1731 and in 1737. No father was named in any of these cases, but Charles Motherby, who was transported in 1723, was said to be the father of her son William (although if he truly were the father, William’s birth year would have had to be much later than 1725). In 1749, William Ambrose was called to testify in proceedings against Charles Motherby, but he failed to appear and was found in contempt of authority. In 1774, William purchased the Rocky Point plantation in Baltimore County. At one point he moved away from Maryland, and he died in 1802 in Bracken County, Kentucky.

Note: Click here to read more about Anthony Lamb in an article I wrote for the Readex Report eNewsletter.

Resources for this article:

  • Andrews, Matthew Page. “Additional Data on the Importation of Convicts.” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 53.1 (1945): 41-42.
  • Barnes, Robert W. Colonial Families of Maryland: Bound and Determined to Succeed. Baltimore, MD: Clearfield, 2007.
  • Bedini, Silvio A. “At the Sign of the Compass and Quadrant: The Life and Times of Anthony Lamb.” Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 74.1 (1984).
  • Old Bailey Proceedings. (www.oldbaileyonline.org, 26 August 2009) Ordinary of Newgate’s Account, June 1737 (OA17370629).
  • Old Bailey Proceedings Online. (www.oldbaileyonline.org, 25 August 2009) March 1726, trial of Mary Slider (t17260302-72).
  • —. (www.oldbaileyonline.org, 25 August 2009) April 1726, trial of Ann Ambrose (t17260420-47).
  • —. (www.oldbaileyonline.org, 25 August 2009) January 1737, trial of James Moulding and George Gew (t17370114-19).
  • —. (www.oldbaileyonline.org, 25 August 2009) April 1737, trial of Jonathan Adey (t17370420-38).
  • —. (www.oldbaileyonline.org, 25 August 2009) May 1737, trial of Nicholas Baker (t17370526-5).
  • Pretty Patsie.” Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild (Website), 2 September 1737. (Accessed: 25 August 2009).

Learn More About Convict Transportation

Learn more about convict transportation to colonial America by reading my book, Bound with an Iron Chain: The Untold Story of How the British Transported 50,000 Convicts to Colonial America.

Amazon.com: Paperback ($16.99) and Kindle ($4.99).

Smashwords: All e-book formats ($4.99).

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 were separated from their families, chained together in the hold of a ship, and carried off to America, sometimes for the theft of a mere handkerchief.

What happened to these convicts once they arrived in America? Did they prosper in an environment of unlimited opportunity, or were they ostracized by the other colonists? Anthony Vaver tells the stories of the petty thieves and professional criminals who were punished by being sent across the ocean to work on plantations. 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 helpful tips for researching individual convicts who were transported to America.

Visit Pickpocket Publishing for more details.

22 Comments

  1. Judie wrote:

    Was thrilled to see the very end of this aricle. Ann Ambrose is my ancestor. The will of Charles Motherby dated 2 December 1785 and proved 25 November 1786 states: I give my plantation lying in Baltimore County at Chestnut Ridge…consisting of part of “Bring Me Home” and a part of “Lyons Den” unto James Ambrose, who I also make my executor. James Ambrose is a son of the above mentioned William.

    Saturday, January 16, 2010 at 8:58 pm | Permalink
  2. Linda wrote:

    I am a desendent of Mary Slider and her bastard son, Christopher from your article. I have been trying to obtain a manifest of the Loyal Margaret to try to determine who might be the father of Christopher!

    Sunday, June 6, 2010 at 8:59 pm | Permalink
  3. In “The King’s Passengers to Maryland and Virginia,” Peter Wilson Coldham lists 98 convicts on board the Loyal Margaret. By my count 57 of them were men. It must have been a hard voyage. Fifteen of the convicts are listed as dying during the voyage, and another ten were not listed on the landing certificate, so it’s quite possible that they died as well.

    The captain was John Wheaton, and the voyage left London in June 1726. The ship was registered in Annapolis, MD in December 1726, which does not mean that the voyage took six months–only that it took that long to register it. Coldham gives the following citations for his information:

    -Public Record Office, Kew, Richmond, Surrey (T53/32/386)
    -Corporation of London Record Office, Guildhall, London EC2P 2EJ (Mss 57.8.26)

    In “Colonial Families of Maryland,” Robert W. Barnes lists Christopher Slyder as being born on 18 July 1727, so it is highly unlikely that Mary got pregnant with him while on board the ship.

    I hope this information helps you out in your search.

    -Anthony

    Monday, June 7, 2010 at 10:03 am | Permalink
  4. Linda Rudd wrote:

    Thanks Anthony for your excellent work, especially on Convict Transportation. You’ve not only done a wonderful job with the information, but what a magnificent service to those of us who benefit from your knowledge. Plus, I enjoyed reading thru it very much!

    A few years ago when I was trying to put together a biographical sketch for my ancestor, Burlingham Rudd, I had a very difficult time finding information about the practice of Transportation to the American colonies. In “The Complete Book of Emigrants in Bondage ~ 1614-1775” by Peter Wilson Coldham, on page 692 is the entry: Rudd, Burlingham of Poringland, S s horse Summer 1728 *Nf

    I’m a family genealogist. To my knowledge, no one in my Rudd family has found the record which Coldham says was extracted from the Public Record Office in London. My understanding is that this entry translates into: Burlingham was sentenced by the Assizes circuit court of Norfolk which included Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire, Norfolk and Suffolk. The book says that the * indicates it was a sentence for which transportation was the usual punishment. Must not have been a very expensive horse! Or I think he might have had the Benefit of Clergy because his land records later in Anson Co., NC state that he signed with his legal signature. If he could write, he could probably read. What is missing from this record is the name of the transport ship, the destination and the date of landing in America and the book says if it is not provided, then it wasn’t known. Since this was not an Old Bailey court, I can only assume the missing information was because the arrangements weren’t made until he was moved to some other place for transport. I’ve never found his name on any other record.

    I think you are right when you speculate that perhaps convicts were shipped also to the Carolinas. I suspect for a number of reasons that Burlingham arrived at the Port of Charles Town or the Port of George Town in SC.

    And he was one that prospered and did not hide his name, but rather his name was passed down to the second and third and some fourth generation males. Either he or his son, Burlingham 2nd, signed the 1769 Regulator’s Petition in Anson which was a predecessor to the Regulator’s Movement and precursor to the Revolution. His grandson, Burlingham 3rd was a Revolutionary War soldier. I suspect others were too but no record has been found, probably because they didn’t survive it to marry or claim a pension. Another grandson was among the first generation of males to be named for the Commander of the Continental Army, George Washington, before he became our first President. My ancestor line from him has numerous males named for American war heroes. So there didn’t seem to be any longing to return to England. Leads me to think he might not have had any family back in England. Interestingly, years later in the 1840’s one of his great grandsons is in the Florida Mounted Militia during the Seminole Wars and has a horse valued at $100! So I think the family might have been in the horse business!

    Any insights you might have would be welcomed!

    Linda Rudd
    Friendswood, TX

    Thursday, January 13, 2011 at 3:04 pm | Permalink
  5. Thank you for sharing the history of your ancestor with me. I checked some
    of my tried and true sources, and the information you already gathered from
    Coldham was all that came up. Unfortunately, if the convict did not come
    from London or the adjoining area, it’s hard to find information on him or
    her. Since the Treasury paid merchants to transport convicts from London,
    Middlesex, and Home Counties, it kept meticulous records for payment, which
    is where a lot of the information we have about convicts come from. Other
    counties were not quite as meticulous.

    I’m not surprised that Rudd was transported for horse theft. Even though
    England held a lot of executions, repeat offenders were really the target.
    If this offense was Rudd’s first, transportation would have been an obvious
    choice at this time.

    I have two guesses as to how your ancestor came over. In Coldham’s “The
    King’s Passengers to Maryland and Virginia,” the only convict ship to leave
    the London port around the time of your ancestor’s arrest was the “Forward”
    in November 1728. William Loney was the captain, and it landed in
    Rappahannock, VA. Your ancestor, however, is not listed, so while it makes
    sense that Rudd could have been transferred relatively easily to London for
    transport, I would expect his name to appear on the list. The only reason
    why his name would not appear is that the Treasury did not pay for his
    transport, so they simply did not record his name. But this seems unlikely.

    More likely, he was transported by a regular merchant ship. The smaller
    counties, since they were not part of the central government’s subsidy to
    the main convict contractor, made their own deals with independent
    merchants. I’m guessing that a merchant who had extra room on his ship took
    Rudd and any other convicts sentenced to transportation in Norfolk. There
    probably weren’t many. He might even have spent quite a spell in jail
    waiting for a ship that could take him over.

    I wish I could offer you more specific information. I love hearing about
    convicts who “made it” in America, because the odds were so much against
    them. I’m working hard right now on putting a book together that gives a
    more complete and comprehensive picture of convict transportation than I do
    on my website. I hope to have it out by this spring.

    Thanks again for visiting my website, and good luck with your search. Let me
    know if you find any more definitive information.

    Best,
    Anthony Vaver

    Friday, January 14, 2011 at 7:45 am | Permalink
  6. George P. Farris wrote:

    Dear Mr. Vaver:

    I’m quite impressed with both the quality of your research and your writing. You mention Mary Slider in your work, under the heading of “Women Transported on the Loyal Margaret”

    Might you have any additional data on Mary, or perhaps could you advise me on search strategies that lead me to learning more about her and her family?

    It would also be interesting to learn how you decided to focus on the two women you did from aboard the “Loyal Margaret.”

    You have my appreciation and…

    my thanks,
    George

    FARRIS
    CPT, IN
    USA (R)

    Tuesday, March 15, 2011 at 5:05 pm | Permalink
  7. Thank you for the compliments, George. Mary Slider appears in the book, Colonial Families of Maryland: Bound and Determined to Succeed, which is listed in the “Resources” for the article. It is difficult to take the random name of a transported convict and then figure out what happened to him or her in America after landing, because more often than not the trail ends there. In a way, you have to work backwards: find the name of a transported convict who succeeded and then work your way back to England.

    In looking for stories about transported convicts, I try to find connections. Both Mary Slider and Ann Ambrose appear in the same book, and it just so happens that they came over on the same ship and had similar experiences after they arrived. Once I made these connections, there was suddenly a story to tell. The fact that the two were women was really incidental in terms of selecting them, although it certainly plays into their stories.

    I am in the final stages of publishing a full-blown book on the story of convict transportation to America, which has a lot more stories about transported convicts. It should be out sometime this spring if all goes well.

    Thank you for visiting my website.

    Best,
    Anthony Vaver

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 7:54 am | Permalink
  8. Kathleen Ambrose wrote:

    I am confused about the Ann Ambrose/Charles Motherby connection. If Motherby is transported in 1723 and Ambrose transported in 1726, how was William born in 1725?

    Thursday, November 3, 2011 at 10:13 am | Permalink
  9. Hi Kathleen,

    Good point. I went back to my sources, and one says that William was born “c1725″ (the “circa” must have escaped my attention when I originally wrote the post). So either William was born later than 1725 or Charles Motherby was not the father, as some people have claimed.

    I will make the changes in the original post. Thank you for bringing the discrepancy to my attention.

    Anthony Vaver

    Thursday, November 3, 2011 at 12:18 pm | Permalink
  10. Kathleen Ambrose wrote:

    I believe Ambrose’s bastardy charge in 1728 will prove to be for giving birth to William. According to the “Queen Anne’s (MD) Prosecutions, 1728-1748,” on the Maryland State Archives site, Ann Ambrose only appears charged for bastardy once during that time period. It’s still hard to believe that William lived to 105, though!

    Thursday, November 3, 2011 at 4:10 pm | Permalink
  11. Bob Barnes wrote:

    I am the author of Colonial Families of Maryland, and I am currently working on an expanded account of Charles Motherby to be published in the Maryland Genealogical Society Journal.

    I think it is very possible that Charles Motherby was not the father of William Ambrose, but he was tried in 1722, not born in 1722, so it still may work out.

    I have bo data on his birth date.

    I am gradually putting together a book on colonial Maryland servants, convicts and native born apprentices and what happened to them after they served their time.

    Friday, December 2, 2011 at 10:29 am | Permalink
  12. Bob Barnes wrote:

    This Just In!

    I have found a deed dated 1780 in which Charles Motherby conveys Negroes to his son William Ambrose who he had by Ann Ambrose, and if Ambrose will provide sufficient meat, clothing, washing and lodging for the rest of Motherby’s life, Ambreose can have any goods and chattels that are in Ambrose’s house when Mothebry dies.

    NEXT QUESTION: In Charles Motherby’s will, does he really name James Ambrose ad his heir and executor–or did the abstractor misread WIlliam as James? I will be checking that out.

    Friday, December 2, 2011 at 11:30 am | Permalink
  13. Thank you so much for adding this information, Bob! And please add any more that you come across. I am (obviously) a fan of your book, and I appreciate your contributions.

    Friday, December 2, 2011 at 12:23 pm | Permalink
  14. Bob Barnes wrote:

    Can anyone give me the exact citation for “Queen Anne’s (MD) Prosecutions, 1728-1748,” on the Maryland State Archives site?

    Thanks.

    Bob Barnes

    Saturday, December 3, 2011 at 1:24 pm | Permalink
  15. Benjamin Ady wrote:

    Anthony,

    Thanks so much for this brilliant article. Jonathan Ady is my 6th great grandfather, and it was delicioius to read these details about him. Thank you!

    Friday, September 7, 2012 at 7:22 pm | Permalink
  16. Shelley McLaughlin wrote:

    re:James Moulding and George Gew

    I’ve discovered in the oldbaileyonline links above, that James Moulding is also spelled James Moulden; in the 2 original documents he is referred to each way. Is there a way to discover which spelling is correct?
    Thanks for any information you can lead me to. My gggg grandfather was Levi Moulden born in Mongtomery County, MD circa 1800. The trail stops with him.
    Best regards,
    Shelley McLaughlin

    Friday, October 5, 2012 at 11:52 am | Permalink
  17. Thanks for the information, Shelley. Spelling in the 18th century (and before) was not standardized in the way it is today, so there is no way to say which spelling of your ancestor’s name is “correct.” Spelling was often done phonetically, which appears to be the case here, so names sometimes appear in different forms.

    Saturday, October 6, 2012 at 9:07 am | Permalink
  18. Nicole Ambrose wrote:

    Ann Ambrose is also my ancestor and I am delighted to find information on my roots. Thank you for places like this and researchers like you all.

    http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?id=t17260420-47-defend282&div=t17260420-47

    Tuesday, March 5, 2013 at 7:50 am | Permalink
  19. Judy Rowse wrote:

    I am reading your “Bound with an iron chain” with great interest. I have found several felons via “More emigrants in bondage” by Coldham, who all have the info: > LC QA Co., Md Jun 1739 De < I take this to refer to a Landing Certificate at Queen Anne's County, Maryland from Devon, but I cannot find where the LC might be now? Also, if that had no further info, such as ship etc., where might I find some extra details??
    Also, is your next book out now?
    Best wishes JCR.

    Friday, April 19, 2013 at 4:41 pm | Permalink
  20. Judy Rowse wrote:

    I am reading your “Bound with an Iron Chain” with great interest. I have found reference by Coldham to Landing Certificates at Queen Anne’s County June 1739 from Devon, but where on earth would those documents be found now??
    Is your next book out yet?
    Best wishes, JCR.

    Friday, April 19, 2013 at 4:46 pm | Permalink
  21. Hi Judy, These references certainly can be cryptic! The landing certificates in question are most likely back in England. I would try contacting the Devon Records Office (http://www.devon.gov.uk/index/councildemocracy/record_office/) or the British National Archives (http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk).

    Sunday, April 21, 2013 at 12:25 pm | Permalink
  22. Lori wrote:

    Mary Slider is also an ancestor of mine. It was interesting to find actual reference to her from that far back.

    Monday, December 16, 2013 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

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