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Convict Transportation to America: Epilogue

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

Almost as soon as British convict transportation to America ended, Americans began to downplay the numbers and significance of convicts sent to the colonies. In 1786, Thomas Jefferson led the way by claiming,

The Malefactors sent to America were not sufficient in number to merit enumeration as one class out of three which peopled America. It was at a late period of their history that the practice began. I have no book by me which enables me to point out the date of its commencement. But I do not think the whole number sent would amount to 2000 & being principally men eaten up with disease, they married seldom & propagated little. I do not suppose that themselves & their descendants are at present 4000, which is little more than one thousandth part of the whole inhabitants.

Jefferson should have known better. The British were sending nearly 1,000 convicts to America each year around the time he wrote the Declaration of Independence, and about half of them ended up in his own home state of Virginia.

Much Higher Numbers

Nineteenth-century historians participated in this cover-up as well. Most of them ignored the institution of convict transportation to America, and those who did recognize it usually claimed that most of the people who were transported were political prisoners. Not until 1896, when an article on convict transportation by J. D. Butler appeared in the American Historical Review, did this thinking begin to change. Butler pointed out that the majority of convicts shipped to America during the colonial period were decidedly not political prisoners and that their numbers were much higher than previously reported. After the appearance of Butler’s essay, historians in the twentieth century finally began to research convict transportation to America in a serious and systematic way.

Today, historians of convict transportation to America have settled on much higher numbers than those cited in the nineteenth century. Of the 585,800 immigrants to the thirteen colonies during the years 1700-1775, about 52,200 were convicts and prisoners (9 percent of the total). During these same years, slaves by far constituted the largest group of immigrants (278,400; 47%), followed by people arriving with their freedom (151,600; 26%) and indentured servants (96,600; 18%). Note that almost three quarters of all the people arriving in the American colonies during this time period did so without their freedom.

These numbers account for immigrants arriving in America from all countries during these years. When the numbers arriving in America from Great Britain are examined in isolation, the percentage of immigrants who were convicts is of course much higher. From 1718 to 1775, when the Transportation Act was in full force, convicts accounted for one-quarter of all immigrants arriving in the American colonies from the British Isles. Either way, the numbers are much higher than the “one thousandth part of the whole inhabitants” cited by Jefferson.

Short Stories, Momentous Events

This series on convict transportation to the American colonies began with the story of James Bell, who in 1723 was caught stealing a book and was sentenced to transportation for a 7 year term. Other than the description of his criminal act at his trial in the Proceedings of the Old Bailey and the appearance of his name on a convict shipping list, we do not know much more about his story. More well-known and hardened criminals were certainly transported to America, but Bell’s story is more typical of the thousands of petty thieves who received a sentence of transportation for their crime.

Even though Bell’s story of petty theft is short and lacks detail, the event turned out to be a momentous one for him. In being sentenced to transportation, he joined the ranks of thousands of others who could tell a similar story. Transportation to the American colonies constituted a major transformation in the lives of the people who received this punishment–a transformation so profound that they probably never could have conceived of what was in store for them before it actually happened to them. For what could very well have been an impulsive act, Bell was sent on an epic journey across the ocean and into the unknown.

Modern Resonances

The history of convict transportation has modern resonances that are hard to ignore. In recent years, drug crimes in the United States have soared and strict sentencing laws meant to contain such activity have led to a dramatic increased in the prison population. Today, more than 1 out of every 100 adults is now locked away behind bars in the United States. Convicts who have committed a wide range of offenses are housed in overcrowded and dangerous conditions, often with nothing to do all day. Prison gangs are rampant, and violent clashes between rival gangs and guards are common. Many prisoners have become institutionalized and see prison as their only and most comfortable way of life. This description of the state of the criminal justice system in the U.S. today is not far from what characterized England’s in the eighteenth century.

The United States is in dire need of finding new solutions to its prison problem. The cost of housing convicts is draining government coffers, and some states have even tried to contract out the management of its criminal offenders to private prisons. In the eighteenth century, England took the radical step of partnering with private firms to create a new form of criminal punishment that was surprisingly efficient in its administration. The result was convict transportation to America. Can the history of convict transportation to colonial America help the United States to rethink the way it handles its criminal offenders today? The answer to this question hinges on evaluating the success of Britain’s new system of punishment in the eighteenth century.

Winners and Losers

When convict transportation to America had reached its height after mid-century, the British government was ambivalent about the success of this enterprise and sought alternatives, although none of them proved satisfactory enough to displace it. The stories and experiences of the various groups involved in convict transportation offer different shades of light on the success of convict transportation. All of them must be taken into account when evaluating how effective the punishment ultimately was in diminishing the crime rate, rehabilitating the offenders, and establishing new lives for the convicts.

There were many winners in the practice of transportation. Convict merchants, who specialized in moving this form of human cargo across the Atlantic, made a fortune. Plantation owners were also beneficiaries of this form of punishment by taking advantage of the cheap labor that convicts provided. There were risks, to be sure. Convicts with ill temperaments could disrupt plantation life, and many convicts jeopardized plantation owners’ investment in them by escaping and running away. Even so, planters quickly bought up convicts almost as soon as they arrived in port, because they were such a bargain. The British government probably benefited the most. Not only was it able to empty its jails of convicts at minimal cost, but it could pass their convicted felons off on someone else and forget about them as soon as they set foot on American shores.

The convicts, for the most part, were the losers. Some of the transported convicts ended up thriving in their new setting. Many, however, died during their trip overseas before they even arrived in America. Others were mistreated by their new masters once they did arrive. Most of them, uprooted from their family and friends in England and shipped off to a strange land, either ran away or served out their terms before disappearing into obscurity.

Convict transportation played a significant role in the workings of colonial America. In the same way that Australia has learned to acknowledge and embrace its criminal legacy, America needs to come to terms with its similar criminal past. The history of convict transportation to colonial America asks Americans to re-examine their roots and compels them to recognize the contribution of British convicts such as James Bell in establishing and populating what would eventually become the United States.

Resources for this article:

  • Butler, James Davie. “British Convicts Shipped to American Colonies.” American Historical Review 2.1 (1896): 12-33.
  • Fogleman, Aaron S. “From Slaves, Convicts, and Servants to Free Passengers: The Transformation of Immigration in the Era of the American Revolution.” The Journal of American History 85.1 (1998): 43-76.
  • Jefferson, Thomas. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson. Ed. Paul Leicester Ford. Vol. IV. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1894.
  • Liptak, Adam. “More Than 1 in 100 Adults Are Now in Prison in U.S.” The New York Times Friday, February 29, 2008, National Report: A14.
  • Morgan, Kenneth. “Convict Transportation to Colonial America (Review of A. Roger Ekirch, Bound for America: The Transportation of British Convicts to the Colonies, 1718-1775).” Reviews in American History 17.1 (1989): 29-34.
  • Old Bailey Proceedings. (, 7 April 2008), January 1723, trial of James Bell (t17230116-9).

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. 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.


  1. Jennifer Lodine-Chaf wrote:

    I have greatly enjoyed your site. Recently an article I wrote concerning female convicts transported to Colonial America was published in the Early America Review. I thought you might be interested.
    Have a wonderful day.
    Jennifer Lodine-Chaffey

    Thursday, February 11, 2010 at 8:34 pm | Permalink
  2. Andy wrote:

    How many percent of Americans today are descendants of those convicts? 50 % ? probably more?

    Monday, June 21, 2010 at 5:17 pm | Permalink
  3. I am not a statistician, so I can’t really hazard a guess. Convicts accounted for nine percent of the immigrants coming to the thirteen colonies from 1700-1775. Their representation of the total population would have been much lower, since there were a substantial number of people already living and procreating in America before this time.

    Many of the convicts probably died before they could start a family, and a few probably returned to England. Even so, the raw numbers are so great that they had to have contributed significantly to the American gene pool. Certainly, people with family heritage from colonial Maryland, Virginia, and possibly the Carolinas have a greater chance of having a convict in their ancestry. But since many convicts went out of their way to cover their tracks after servitude, tracing these roots is difficult. Some people, for some reason, don’t want to discover that they are descended from a convict, and such denial can also hinder efforts to trace the convicts’ legacy.

    Wednesday, June 23, 2010 at 10:10 am | Permalink
  4. Jonathan Sage wrote:

    I greatly enjoyed your book on Convict Transportation and have a question.
    James Sage, my distant relative was sentenced to 7 years transportation by the “Old Baily” for petty theft and we believe arrived in Williamsburg on the Tayloe in October 1773. He disappeared for about 4 years (I assume he was sold or had been presold) and then reappeared in late 1777 in Valley Forge as part of Capt. Crockett’s 7th Virginia Regiment fighting with the Continental Army under General Washington. I am researching how/when he was drafted for service and how he might have been relieved of his “7 year committment”. I am assuming that after 1776 the need for soldiers was great and that the states used incentives or other ways to meet the recruitment needs set by the Continental Congress. I am curious whether the Virginia Legislature might have provided some incentive for convict prisioners that might relieve them of the remainder of their contracts if they were willing to serve for a year or two in the army. Any help with this question would be greatly appreciated. It is believed that James Sage was trained in England as a baker and could read and write.


    Tuesday, August 31, 2010 at 3:33 pm | Permalink
  5. I was able to verify that James Sage was transported to Virginia on the Tayloe in July 1773 with John Ogilvy serving as captain. Sage was convicted of grand larceny at the Old Bailey, and you can read about his trial at the Proceedings of the Old Bailey Online. He may have been lucky to receive transportation as punishment, because according to the trial report he committed burglary as well, which was a much more serious offense.

    Unfortunately, few records record where convicts ended up in America. Convicts tend to disappear from the historical record once they leave the ship, and the fact that you are able to trace your ancestor to Valley Forge is unusual.

    I highly doubt that the Virginia Legislature passed any law that specifically addressed convict servants, although it is possible that they provided incentive for the release of servants in general to serve in the Continental Army. I am not an expert on the America Revolution, so I just don’t know. Convicts with identifiable skills and who could read and write, which was the case with Sage, would have been given positions of greater authority on plantations, and consequently they generally had more control over their own destiny. Sage could have run away, although he probably would not have shown up in the army under his own name if that were the case. He could have struck a deal with his owner to let him go before his term had run out. If he brought any money with him from England, he could have “bought” reduced service time from his master at the point of sale. Or perhaps his master was such a patriot that he let Sage go in order to serve in the war.

    Thank you for sharing the story of your ancestor. I wish you luck in finding more information.

    Wednesday, September 1, 2010 at 9:48 am | Permalink
  6. In reply to the journey of James Sage, sentenced for transportation on July 7, 1773. He was placed on the Tayloe under Captain John Ogilvy as a “prisoner to be transported on July 16t, 1773. Coldham states that he Tayloe was bound for Virginia. The “Virginia Gazette” dated October 7th states; “The Tayloe, Ogilvie from London arrived in James River with 130 servants.” James was listed on the passenger manifest. This port was Williamsburg Virginia.

    The Tayloe was owned by John Tayloe and he also owned a large plantation know as Mount Airy located near Williamsburg. John was listed as one of the wealthiest planters in America and was a friend to a number of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Tayloe had interests in mining of both iron and copper. He also raised some of the finest horseflesh in the country. There is no record of sale of the 7 years of James Sage’s indentured servanthood. I feel that with James’ ability to read and write, his mastery of baking and perhaps horse skills that he had prior to his passage from England, he may have been taken to Mount Airy rather than being sold.

    The next place that we have record of James Sage is in 1780 in what was then Montgomery County Virginia (about 300 miles west of Williamsburg) on Cripple Creek. This was both a mining community and was engaged in smelting of iron ore. Sage later purchased land on Elk Creek, about 15 air miles from Cripple Creek. His primary money crop on Elk Creek was raising fine riding horses.

    Tuesday, February 1, 2011 at 1:02 pm | Permalink
  7. laurie menna wrote:

    hi there: i am eaglery awaiting your new book re: convict transportation… my mothers maiden name was oakley, and i was able to trace the oakleys in america very far back. i am 99 percent certain that my relative, thomas oakley -or oakly- was on the convict ship patapasco merchant that landed in baltimore in 1730. what an amazement to me! now i cannot wait to find out more… he shows up as an indentured servant on a tobacco plantation!

    my question is- my records indicate that thomas oakley married and had children while an indentured servant -lucky for me since hes my direct ancestor!- have you heard of convicts being sent to plantations, product the amount of tobacco per lb that they were required to pay, while marrying and having children and free men?

    Saturday, July 2, 2011 at 8:25 pm | Permalink
  8. Lorraine Dormer wrote:

    Your page and book have been of such historical value in my research. I still cannot tie up some records for my own book on my family history. Joseph Holliday and Jane Wedgewood gave birth to my G-grandmother, Mary Anne Holliday in Hanover, CT in 1846. How could it be possible that Joseph was somehow in a penal colony in NSW, Australia? It seems none of the historians I have asked can give me any idea about this. Regards. Lorraine Dormer, Ireland

    Tuesday, November 8, 2011 at 9:39 am | Permalink
  9. karl lambley wrote:

    I loved reading your site, I stumbled upon it whilst researching an article I am writing. It didn’t help me with my research, but it was fascinating nonetheless. The research I was doing was trying to ascertain the likelihood of a transported convict returning home. I am writing a piece about a man who claimed to have been transported in 1698, and yet was back in London in 1700. Was such a claim likely to be true? I know the punishment for returning from transportation was death, but the man who made the claim was under the sentence of death anyway, so he may have made the claim to impress his peers. Thanks for your time

    Saturday, March 24, 2012 at 11:53 am | Permalink
  10. Hi Karl,

    Thank you for your kind words about my website. Yes, some transported convicts did make it back to England. The ones that did tended to belong to gangs, which kept “reserve funds” to help any member who received a transportation sentence make it back to England. Most convicts, however, stayed in America, even after their term expired. The death threat for returning before the terms was too great, and returning was quite expensive. After they finished their term, many of their connections back in England would have disappeared anyway.

    Here are a couple posts that go into more detail on this topic:

    Thanks again for reading Early American Crime.

    Saturday, March 24, 2012 at 12:03 pm | Permalink
  11. Mary Nicholas wrote:

    I am delighted to have stumbled across your site. A cousin with whom I share a GGGreat Grandfather recently shared the story that our first American Carey ancestor, who lived and married into the Cherokee Nation, had been transported for the crime of murder. I have read lots of English fiction based in the 1700’s Britian and never heard of anyone being transported for so serious a crime. I am aware of the Cherokee welcoming people of such marred backgrounds but still wonder if it was possible to get off so easy. As an aside, I married into an African American family which descends from Sally Heming’s sister Betty Brown Hemings. It has been fascinating to uncover how committed the allies and family of Thomas Jefferson were, after TJ’s death, to help them get back to Afica. Putting the right spin on things is nothing new. Thank you.

    Sunday, April 15, 2012 at 10:26 pm | Permalink
  12. What a fascinating family history! Do you know the full name of the Carey who was transported and when?

    Friday, April 27, 2012 at 10:17 am | Permalink
  13. Mary Nicholas wrote:

    Thanks Anthony,
    I really appreciate your reply. Regarding my Carey ancestor. I believe my 4th Great Grandfather was named John Carey (born circa 1775-80), a licensed trader in the Cherokee Nation. He is listed in the Pendleton District of South Carolina in 1820 federal census records, and Pickens Co, South Carolina in the 1830 census. He came to Alabama with his adult sons and several daughters between 1830 and 1840 when the former Creek lands in Northeastern Alabama were opened to settlement. I believe it would have been John’s father who was transported, and that his given name may have been James or John. I have nothing more than an oral history passed down by my 2nd Great Grandfathers son-in-law. If he were transported I assume it would have been to either SC of GA. I base this assumption on the huge amount of Indian land which existed in Georgia at the time, his assimilation into the native culture by constant contact, and where his descendants lived. As an aside, the African American Virginian I married is descended from the slaves of “The Nicholas Family” of Virginia. His 3rd Great Grandfather appears in Rockbridge Co, VA as soon as slavery ends and by 1880 his younger brother has also returned to the area. I was curious about the stories I read of the original white Nicholas ancestor being “removed to the Colony of Virginia for fiduciary indescretions”. In addition to nailing down the Carey ancestor I would love to find out more about the Nicholas’. Again thanks for the reply.
    Mary Benton Nicholas

    Saturday, April 28, 2012 at 9:42 am | Permalink
  14. Hi Mary, Unfortunately I am unable to identify your convict ancestry with any certainty given the information. There was a John Carey transported from Buckinghamshire in 1766, a James Carey transported from Gloucestershire in 1750, and another James from just outside London in 1752. But they seem a little early to fit into your ancestry. The records I have are mostly for London, which had better record-keeping, so it is possible that your ancestor came from somewhere else in Great Britain.

    It is unlikely that your ancestor was transported for murder. Only a handful of convicts were transported for this crime during all the years that convicts were sent to America. Theft was by far the most prevalent crime, so perhaps there has been some embellishment as the story of your ancestor has been handed down. It is also unlikely that he was sent to SC or GA, since neither place served as a destination for convicts. More likely is that your ancestor was transported to MD or VA, and then made his way down to SC or GA, since it is speculated that many convicts migrated to that area once their terms were completed in MD or VA.

    Sunday, April 29, 2012 at 9:37 am | Permalink
  15. Mary Nicholas wrote:

    Thank You Anthony,
    I am glad that you confirmed my initial impression that few found guilty of murder would be transported. Would the 3 Carey men you did mention have been from The Old Bailey records for London? I just stumbled onto that site this past week. I realize that most who suffered this type of beginning in America would put distance between themselves and the area they served their sentences in. Would there be an average age for those transported and a minimum age too? Would you please direct me to your, “best place to start book”, for locating convict ancestors. Again, thank you so much for your site and your published works. Mary Nicholas

    Sunday, April 29, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Permalink
  16. Gene Spence wrote:

    Why were criminals transported to VA & MD rather than SC & GA?

    Thursday, August 23, 2012 at 7:31 am | Permalink
  17. That’s an excellent question. There are basically two reasons. The first is that Jonathan Forward, the first merchant contracted by the government to oversee convict transportation, had business connections in Maryland and Virginia, so he naturally sent the convicts he had to transport there. The merchants who succeeded him in this position came out of the convict transportation business and maintained connections in the Chesapeake region. So in some ways, it was a matter of precedence.

    The second reason is that the plantation owners in Maryland and Virginia were wealthier than the ones in the Carolinas or Georgia, so convict merchants could command higher prices (and profits) by sending convicts to the Chesapeake.

    You can read more about why convicts were specifically sent to Maryland and Virginia here:

    Thursday, August 23, 2012 at 9:08 am | Permalink
  18. Gene Spence wrote:

    Were convicts & debtors housed in different facilities in England?
    Can you name 2 or 3 famous Americans who were known progeny of debtors? of convicts?
    Can you name 2 or 3 IN-famous Americans who were known progeny of debtors? of convicts?

    Thursday, August 23, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Permalink
  19. Gene Spence wrote:

    Were debtors &/or convicts sent to North America by French? by Spanish? by Swedes? by other countries?

    Thursday, August 23, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Permalink
  20. MARK WRIGHT wrote:

    This is all incredibly interesting! As the descendant of Australian convicts (sent from Ireland by the Brits) – as is my wife – we find this covering up of convict background curious – because Australians are (these days at least) very proud of their convict heritage! We live in New Brunswick Canada now and are amused by how “quietly shocked” Canadians often are when we tell them of our origins. Brits react in the same way.

    Having read a fair bit about transportation over the years (not at an academic level of course) we feel no shame at all for the fact that Britain decided to basically eliminate an entire class of people by sending them to the other side of the world mostly for trivial property related offenses committed by desperately poor people just struggling to survive.

    Of course some of my ancestors really were Irish rebels too.

    I researched the prison records of my great great great etc grandfather and learned he was flogged repeatedly by the Brits for insubordination – the first time he received 150 lashes with the cat o’ nine tails. You have to be proud of a man tough enough to survive that and yet go on to raise a family and make a living in a harsh land.

    Yes we are proud.

    Saturday, September 29, 2012 at 8:12 am | Permalink
  21. Candice wrote:

    Mark Wright , why do you keep saying “the Brits” did this “The Brits ” did that ? . It was The British people who all this was happening to.
    The vast majority of people transported or flogged were British .
    You say your ancestor was flogged “150 times” the first time , what record do you have of that please , what is your source ? . Yes some Irish did get transported but it is as if you are trying to hijack British Working Class history and make it Irish . It is not

    Tuesday, November 27, 2012 at 5:49 am | Permalink
  22. my great aunt told me that my 4 or 5th genaration grand father was a convict.he stoled something and came by transport greyhound to virgina ,his was lewis d lewis if i got it right could you see if he was she said his father paid is fine his nane i think was william lewis

    Thursday, December 27, 2012 at 11:50 am | Permalink
  23. Hi James, Lewis Lewis was transported from London to Maryland on the Greyhound under Capt. William Gracie in December 1752. He was found guilty of highway robbery on October 26, 1752, and you can read the details of what happened here: It is quite an amusing story.

    Thanks for visiting my website!

    Thursday, December 27, 2012 at 3:38 pm | Permalink
  24. Leslie wrote:

    I have been trying to claim a convict as my ancestor but have not succeeded in finding the trial record. Am doing something wrong when I search the National Archives. Can you find my relative, Richard Kite, convicted of stealing in 1760, Oxford Circuit, and transported in 1760. I am hoping to eventually find out how he got to Tennessee in 1785.

    Friday, January 18, 2013 at 8:26 pm | Permalink
  25. Ronald Martin wrote:

    My ancestor was most likely the bastard son of a Mary Watson indentured to William Johnston in Augusta County, Virginia. I have been searching for a Mary Watson that might have been on one of the ships from England carrying convicts and found a Mary Watson on the Lichfield (Litchfield) Captained by John Johstoun that sailed from London in June 1748 bound for Virginia. Where would the port of call have been in Virginia for this ship and how could I find the original indenture to William Johnston?

    Wednesday, June 19, 2013 at 12:55 pm | Permalink
  26. Bart Dale wrote:

    If Britain was only shipping a 1,000 convicts a year to America, then Thomas Jefferson was right in what he said. The population of the American Colonies was around 2 million around the time of the Declaration of Independent, only 0.05% of population, a truly insignificant amount. The rest of the article is equally as bad and distorted.

    Saturday, November 2, 2013 at 4:13 am | Permalink
  27. Jefferson was saying that the TOTAL number of convicts sent to America only amounted to 2,000, and if you included their descendants, 4,000. He was indeed wrong in his numbers.

    Saturday, November 2, 2013 at 8:02 am | Permalink
  28. Tammy wrote:

    Hi! I happened to stumble upon this site tonight and was excited that someone had mentioned a Thomas Oakley that was on the convict ship “Patapsco Merchant.” Could this be the same Thomas Oakley that turns up in North Carolina?

    Saturday, November 9, 2013 at 12:19 am | Permalink
  29. Jerry A. Kuehn wrote:

    I am very impressed with your website and dialoguing with those of us endeavoring to find our transported convict ancestors, Mr. Vaver! My ancestor, Hugh Steers, was convicted in Devon on March 15, 1773 for receiving stolen goods and transported to the American colonies to serve 14 years of servitude. I haven’t been able to uncover where he ended up between his arrival in 1774 and his recruitment in the Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania Militia in 1781. He ended up on the Pennsylvania frontier, so I’m assuming he was never sent to labor in the tobacco plantations of Maryland or Virginia. What sort of enforced labor were most transported convicts who ended up in Pennsylvania relegated to, keeping in mind he was serving a 14 year sentence? I’ve read that some were sent to labor in Pennsylvania ironworks, for instance. What do you think the likelihood is that he would have been put to labor clearing forests for use as arable farmland during those years on the frontier? Were many convicts used in that manner? I haven’t been able to trace the convict ship or port of entry of my ancestor, so I’m trying to construct some likely scenarios that might explain how he ended up in the Pennsylvania militia during the tail-end of the Revolutionary War, seven years shy of the completion of his servitude. Were many convicts serving sentences freed when the Revolutionary War commenced? They were essentially servile “property” for the duration of their sentences, so that’s not a likely scenario, is it? I keep referring back to your excellent book “Bound with an Iron Chain” and appreciate all the helpful information and research tips you so generously share with your readers!

    Saturday, February 8, 2014 at 10:04 pm | Permalink
  30. Kathy Holler wrote:

    My ancestor Benjamin Elsden stole a pig when he was 16 was was sent to New York City in 1772 for 7 years. In 1777 he married Elizabeth Grey in Trinity Church in Manhattan. Although NYC remained in control of the British it seems that he was able to marry. Does anyone have information about convicts being sent to NYC?

    Sunday, February 9, 2014 at 12:09 pm | Permalink
  31. Hi Jerry, You ask some really interesting questions, and I unfortunately do not have many firm answers for you. Outside of Maryland and Virginia, Pennsylvania received the next highest number of convicts, and since your ancestor does not appear in Coldham’s list of convicts to Maryland and Virginia, and I think it is likely that he ended up in PA when he arrived. He could have worked in the ironworks or cleared forests–convicts were commonly used to do both. I can correct you on one account: convicts were generally employed only for 7 years, even if they were sentenced to transportation for 14 years (which means that the crime he committed was considered serious). The 14 years only meant that he could not return to England within that time. So it is possible that he signed up to serve in the war after his term came to an end and when he may not have had many other choices. Good luck on your search!

    Monday, February 10, 2014 at 7:58 am | Permalink
  32. Jerry A. Kuehn wrote:

    Mr. Vaver, as a follow-up question, I was wondering if transported convicts ever arrived in the port of Philadelphia? If my ancestor ended up in Pennsylvania in 1774, is it likely he would have arrived in Annapolis or Baltimore? Most convicts who arrived in Maryland or any port in Virginia were bound for the tobacco plantations, correct? Also, I was wondering if you a presently writing or are about to publish any more historical books? Has any author ever published biographical accounts of transported convicts and their experiences of servitude and adjustment to life in America once freed? There’s every indication that my ancestor sought to escape the stigma of his criminal record and reinvent himself on the Kentucky frontier. Can I presume that is what most convicts who survived their sentences sought to do? Do you know, did most flee westward to the frontier?

    Wednesday, February 12, 2014 at 3:04 pm | Permalink
  33. Kathy wrote:

    Seems my ancestor to America was given a reprieve by King George II to be transported as punishment for 14 years for a Robbery behind Buckingham Palace. He was sent October 1744 – January 1745 and lived in Maryland…. James Ruggles.

    “ON Wednesday the 19th of December, Report was made to his Majesty in Council, of the Twenty-one Malefactors under Sentence, lying in the Cells of Newgate, when David Saddow and James Ruggles, two Soldiers in the first Regiment of Guards, for a Robbery in St. James’s-Park, behind Buckingbam-House, and Robert Carter, for robbing Mr. Welldy of 4 Shillings and some Half-pence, received his Majesty’s most gracious Reprieve for Transportation for fourteen Years.”

    Sunday, June 1, 2014 at 1:03 pm | Permalink
  34. Shawn Lloyd wrote:

    I believe my 4th great grandfather Robert Lloyd born 1764 in Virginia is the grandson of the Robert Lloyd born 1710 in London and arrived as a convict in 1733. However, I’m wondering if it’s possible that his wife Margaret Rookes and son Robert born 1732 came with him or came separately at a latter time? Would anyone happen to know if the wife and children of Convicts came with them?

    Thursday, October 16, 2014 at 11:08 am | Permalink
  35. Maryl LeGrow wrote:

    Fascinating site! I am trying to reconcile information about a person born in France who married in Quebec in 1761, claiming to have been a prisoner of the British for the past four years, taken during a sortie off Cap-St-Domingue (possibly the battle off Cap-Francais in 1757?). He later — in 1768, after the British conquest of New France — attempted to claim a land bounty in Quebec on the basis of having served in the 3rd Battalion, Royal American Regiment (also known as the 60th Regiment), which served in Canada approx 1755-1763 when the 3rd BN was disbanded. He left Quebec in 1775 and remarried in New England only a few months later, suggesting a previous connection there. I am hoping to be able to uncover a possible connection between his captivity, his enlistment in the British military, and his settling in New England. Can you tell me if there are any records of British prisoners or convicts who were transported to New England in the 1755-59 time period?

    Sunday, October 26, 2014 at 2:27 pm | Permalink
  36. Hi Shawn, I don’t have the resources to answer your first question, but as to your second, the wife and children of convicts rarely accompanied a convict to America, mostly because they couldn’t afford to do so. The most economical way to go to America with limited resources would have been to sell yourself into indentured servitude. But if family members pursued this route, they would be sold to some other plantation owner, so the family would not be together anyway. If the family had resources to pay for all of their trips overseas, the convict most likely would never have committed the crime that send him/her to America.

    Monday, October 27, 2014 at 8:01 am | Permalink
  37. Hi Maryl, The vast majority of convicts transported between 1755-1759 were sent to Maryland or Virginia. True, some convicts during the course of convict transportation’s history either were sent to New England or eventually made it there, but they would have been isolated cases. However, it appears that your ancestor was a political prisoner, who may have been treated differently from the petty criminals who were slated for transportation.

    Monday, October 27, 2014 at 8:11 am | Permalink
  38. Heidi Smith wrote:

    My ancestor, Joshua Cockran came to Baltimore in August 1773 on board the Hercules. How do I find out what crime he had committed ? He was born in Ireland but I find no information there.

    Tuesday, January 27, 2015 at 9:42 pm | Permalink
  39. Hi Heidi, unfortunately information on Irish convicts is not as plentiful as that for English convicts. I would try contacting the Maryland Historical Society and see what they suggest.

    Monday, February 2, 2015 at 10:53 am | Permalink
  40. Karen Cochran wrote:

    We believe that my husband’s ancestor, Nathaniel (Nathan) Cockram/Cockerham/Cochran was a thief transported along with 23 other convicts to American in 1738 aboard the FORWARD captained by John Magier. My questions are 1) where might we find information about his sentence and where he worked it off (we believe it was at least partly in Charles County, MD)and 2) may I quote a small portion of your online article in the genealogy being prepared for our family? I’d like to include what you have to say about the number of convicts exported by the British.

    Friday, December 4, 2015 at 7:23 am | Permalink
  41. Hi Karen, The sources I have say that Nathaniel Cockran was transported to Virginia on the “Forward” by Capt. John Magier in June 1738. Luckily, the account of his trial in the Proceedings for the Old Bailey (under the name Nathan Cockran) is quite detailed: Unfortunately, it is quite difficult to track down where convict servants served out their terms, because detailed records with this information were not kept. If you suspect Maryland, then I would try contacting the Maryland Historical Society and/or the Maryland State Archives. And yes, you have permission to quote from my article. Good luck, Anthony

    Tuesday, December 8, 2015 at 10:44 am | Permalink
  42. Victoria Whitelaw wrote:

    We now consider our convict ancestors Australians, not British and that the ” Brits” did flog Australians.

    Monday, February 29, 2016 at 7:47 am | Permalink
  43. Joan Lee wrote:

    I am searching for William Binmore, transported to Virginia in 1756. Can you help, please?

    Tuesday, March 22, 2016 at 11:44 am | Permalink
  44. Hi Joan, Unfortunately that name, or any name that might be similar, does not appear on any of my lists. Sorry.

    Saturday, March 26, 2016 at 10:47 am | Permalink
  45. joan wrote:

    thank you very much for checking.

    Saturday, March 26, 2016 at 10:57 am | Permalink
  46. Rachel Hanlon wrote:

    Hello Anthony,
    During my family history research, I’ve discovered that my 5xgtgrandfather was sentenced to death for stealing a sheep(in Wiltshire, Eng)in Aug 1773. His name was Adam Lawford – 2 years later,March 1775, his wife, Sarah, was similarly convicted for stealing 2 sheep. Both were reprieved and transported to the Americas. I wonder if you have come across any reference to them in your researches. Their daughter, Mary – aged 14 – was charged at the same time as her mother, but the assize records show that she was acquitted. Thank goodness, as she was my 4xgtgdmother!!
    Thank you very much, if you can help in this.
    Regards, Rachel

    Monday, August 22, 2016 at 9:29 am | Permalink
  47. Doug Bullen wrote:

    Great article Anthony. The first questions and comments relating to how many people could today trace their ancestry to American convict transportees are interesting. It is estimated that approximately 2 million current Australians can trace their origins to the total of c.162,000 convicts transported there, ceasing in 1868. Considering that transportation to America ceased about 95 years earlier than to Australia, the multiplier would be substantially larger and a statistician may be able to make a reasoned estimate from this.

    Tuesday, October 18, 2016 at 7:08 am | Permalink

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