Friday, January 15, 2010

First Indentured Servants in the New World?

by Janet Crain

By all accounts Fort St. George, in present day Maine, should have succeeded. It was well financed and expertly planned.Established in 1607, it was intended to contain thick battlements, great crenellated gates, several mansions, a church, fifty other buildings, and a walled garden. A dozen cannon pointed toward the sea.

The fort was the brainchild of Sir John Popham, one of the most important and powerful men in England during Queen Elizabeth I's reign. He intended to solve one of England's biggest problem; a huge surplus population of destitute people with no means of support.

Convinced this situation was the primary cause of crime, Sir Popham wanted to sweep up the "dregs" of England and put them to work in the new world earning their keep.

At this time tinkers, vagabonds, gypsies, and wandering artists and actors were considered as prime candidates for this "benefit" to be bestowed upon them, along with felons, and prostitutes, pickpockets and highway men.

Fort St. George was built entirely with enforced transported labor. Later called indentured servitude, this system is American history's best kept secret. Later the European servants were joined by Africans and Indians. There was no difference in their treatment or status. Some had kind masters, many had harsh cruel masters. Only after Bacon's rebellion would the races be treated differently.

Even Thomas Jefferson was deluded when he wrote that only about 2,000 convicts were transported to America and they were mostly sickly men who soon died and left no descendants. In truth there many many more. Add to them those transported for trivial reasons, those sold into servitude by captors, masters or themselves and the unknown number dumped here by Cromwell and it's clear that most of us have these people numbered among our ancestors. Rather than deny them, we should celebrate their will to survive and honor them.

Everything we learn about Jamestown and Fort St. George sheds light on the First Colony at Roanoke. This map is therefore of great interest. The men who planned these settlements, sailed the ships, explored our shores and inland areas were contemporaries. Back in England they knew each other well. They may have schemed and plotted against each other in the Elizabethan Court and later that of King James, but they were cut from the same cloth. And their motives were similar. It was not altruism that brought about this new nation.

Fort St. George (Popham Colony)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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John Hunt's map

Fort St. George, named for the patron saint of England, was built in 1607 by Popham Colony near Sabino Head, ten miles/15 kilometres south of what is now Bath, Maine, United States. It was abandoned after a year of occupation and is now an archaeological site. [1] [2]

John Hunt, a draughtsman present at the fort when it was built, drew a map showing[3] a star-shaped fort including ditches and ramparts, a storehouse, a chapel and more than fifteen structures. It contained nine guns that ranged in size from demi-culverin to falcon. As a result of espionage by the Spanish ambassador to London, Pedro de Zuniga, the map was passed to King Philip III of Spain, in 1608.[4] It was found in 1888 in a Spanish archive. [5] It is unique as the only plan of an initial English settlement in the Americas known to survive.


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