Children at the Birth of Empire British Law, Liberty, and the Global Migration of Destitute Children, c. 1607–1760
This is the first study to focus specifically on destitute children who became part of the early British Empire, uniting separate historiographies on poverty, childhood, global expansion, forced migration, bound labor, and law.
Britons used their nascent empire to employ thousands of destitute children, launching an experiment in using plantations and ships as a solution for strains on London’s inadequate poor relief schemes. Starting with the settlement of Jamestown (1607) and ending with Britain’s participation in the Seven Years’ War (1756–1763), British children were sent all around the world. Authorities, parents, and the public fought against the men and women they called "spirits" and "kidnappers," who were reviled because they employed children in the same empire but without respecting the complexities surrounding children’s legal status when it came to questions of authority, consent, and self-determination. Children mattered to Britons: protecting their liberty became emblematic of protecting the liberty of Britons as a whole. Therefore, contests over the legal means of sending children abroad helped define what it meant to be British.
This work is written for a wide audience, including scholars of early modern history, childhood, law, poverty, and empire.
Introduction: Children at the Birth of Empire
Part 1: Understanding Early Modern Childhood
1. "To Stock the Next Generation with Noble Plants": Cultural Concepts of Childhood
2. "The Law is their Guardian": English Legal Concepts of Childhood
Part 2: Destitute Children Abroad
3. Destitute Children and "Nursing Fathers": Caring for London’s Youngest Vagrants
4. A Global Answer to the Poore Orphan’s Cry: Children and the Growth of Empire
Part 3: The Legalities of Child Migration
5. Spirited, Convicted, or Compelled: The Forced Migration of Children, 1607–1700
6. Charity, Consent, and "Kidnapping": Stolen Children and the Rise of Children’s Self-Determination, 1680–1760
Conclusion: Britain’s Children, Britain’s Liberty