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.
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.
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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.
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