Convicted, Kidnapped, or Compelled: Age as a Category of Analysis in Early Modern Migration
Between the settlement of Jamestown in 1607 and their victory in the Seven Years’ War in 1764, the British sent many thousands of child migrants across the globe. Some labored on plantations, while others became members of ships’ crews and trading companies. Others were young convicts who were spared the hangman’s noose due to their age; still more were employed globally in the name of Christian charity. So many were stolen and sold in a growing global black market for child laborers that the English invented a new verb, “to kidnap,” to describe what was happening to their children.
By taking children out of the domestic setting to which they are so often confined in early modern historiography, this paper argues that children should be understood on a different scale, that of the early modern global migrant. By using age as a category of analysis, it argues that children traversed across the globe for different reasons than adults and that their experiences were particular in many ways because of their youth. Telling their story offers new ways of understanding law, labor, poverty, charity, and migration in the early modern world.
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