First slaves from Britain to the "Colonies" were WHITE
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Revealed: Britain's white child slaves
Last updated at 15:42pm on 4th April 2007
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The first batches of slaves sent to the British colonies in America were not black Africans but whites, including children as young as 10, according to new research.
The findings challenge well established beliefs at the height of events marking the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade.
They come amid demands that Britain apologises for its part in the trade.
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Convicts, including children, are put on a ship on the Thames at Blackfriars.
The Queen is due to visit America next month to mark the 400th anniversary of the first British colony, at Jamestown, Virginia.
A new book by writers and documentary makers Don Jordan and Michael Walsh reveals Europeans were being enslaved in America several months before the first shipment of African captives arrived in 1619.
They included hundreds of waifs and strays rounded up from streets around St Paul's and held in the Bridewell, situated off Fleet Street, near Blackfriars Bridge.
The scheme was supported by James I, who believed the homeless and itinerant of London were spreading plague.
A PR offensive was launched to promote the round-up as giving the underprivileged a chance of a new life. Convicts were also transported and sold, supposedly to give them a second chance.
In fact, the City of London burghers wanted to be rid of street children while the merchants behind the company colonising Virginia wanted slave labour, so a deal was done that suited both.
Among those taken in by the spin was poet John Donne, the Dean of St Paul's although he did not take part in the child transportation.
The child slaves, known as Duty Boys after the first ship to take them out (even though a quarter were girls), suffered inhumane treatment.
Of the first 300, only 12 survived four years. The others died of ill treatment, disease, attack by native Americans or overwork.
According to Walsh, contemporary records show that one child victim, Elizabeth Abbott, was beaten to death when her master ordered her to be given 500 lashes for running away.
The Bridewell, a lucrative source of slaves, was a workhouse and prison for men, women and children.
At least 70,000 adult convicts and uncounted children were shipped from there, and from other gaols, to be sold in America during the 170 years of British rule.
Also sold in America were dissidents, vagrants, orphans, prisoners of war and unwary settlers who signed away their liberty for years just to get to the New World.
They were not called slaves, but they had the status of chattels who were subject to the brutalities usually associated with black slavery branding, whipping, manacling and endless toil.
Deep into the 18th century these white slaves were the main labour force on the Virginia and Maryland plantations. They outnumbered Africans by as many as four to one.
Established colonists came to hate and fear the convict slaves, who were disease-ridden as jail fever was rife.
On one day alone 50 people prisoners, lawyers and judges died of it at the Old Bailey.
Benjamin Franklin suggested the American authorities should send rattlesnakes back to England in return for such unwelcome imports. After American independence, Lord North, encouraged enthusiastically by George III, sent over convicts disguised as ordinary settlers.
'The Americans cannot expect any favours from me,' said the monarch, who lost the American colonies.
'But permitting them to obtain men unworthy to remain in this island I shall certainly consent to.'
White Cargo: The Forgotten History Of Britain's White Slaves In America, by Don Jordan and Michael Walsh, is published by Mainstream this month.