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Overheard in GenForum: Scottish Prisoners - Ship John and Sarah
by Rhonda R. McClure

Each week Rhonda answers a question from the GenForum message boards and gives her expert answer here. We'd love to hear anything you have to add. Go ahead and leave your comments on GenForum with the original message.

June 22, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Q: I am looking for info on the fates of the Scottish soldiers who were transported to New England as indentured servants after the Battle of Worcester in 1651. In particular, I am looking for info on one of the soldiers, John Brown, who I believe later married Esther Makepeace in 1655 in Boston. Info on any of the soldiers, however, may help me make a more positive connection between the soldier John Brown and the one who married Esther. Though the info seems to point to them being one and the same, I would be interested in any info that could solidify that connection. Thanks for the help. -- Inez

A: Forced emigration was an answer to some of the problems plaguing England in the the 17th and 18th centuries. This process was often considered a reprieve from the jails in which they found themselves.

Some of those who would find themselves deported to what was then the American colonies, were actually kidnapped. Such actions took place in many of the counties, though Middlesex had one of the highest rates of "spiriting." Often such kidnapping was done on young children. These children were then sent to Virginia, among other colonies, to be used as slave labor.

Forced emigration sent many of the convicts from English jails to the colonies.

Just Who Went

When first practiced, the method of reprieving a prisoner and then shipping them to the colonies appeared to have not rhyme or reason. Often times, in the records that have survived, these individuals are not even named. And it is hard to determine what qualities were necessary for a reprieval.

However, after the Civil War in England, Parliament began to establish criteria for the deportation of those they deemed undesirable. Of course, here you have the question of just who qualifies as an "undesirable" under their laws. Not surprising the first group of individuals to qualify were those who lost in battle -- political prisoners.

Scots to New England

In the middle 1600s, at least 450 Scots would be sent to New England, primarily to Massachusetts. The first batch of 150 would travel on the Unity to Boston where they would serve out a six, seven or eight year term of servitude. This was a change from others, who were sold as slaves bound to perpetual servitude.

The next group, totaling 300, who were shipped from Worcester on the John and Sarah would be sent in September, 1651 and would arrive in New England in the spring of 1652.

John Brown

There was a John Brown who was transported to Boston on the John and Sarah of London. He was listed as a prisoner of war. A valuable resource in determining more about him can be found in The Original Scots Colonists of Early America, Supplement: 1607-1707 by David Dobson and published by Genealogical Publishing Company.

It appears that he settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He also lived in Marlboro, Massachusetts in 1662 and then in Falmouth, Maine in 1678. He died after 1697. Information on John Brown can be found in Ancestral Heads of New England, Founders of Early American Families, 1607-1657 and Suffolk Deeds.

In Conclusion

An excellent volume that offers a look at the social history of forced emigration from 1607-1776 is Emigrants in Chains by Peter Wilson Coldham, published by Genealogical Publishing Company.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at

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