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‘Your Poor Betty’
A Letter From A Maryland Slave, September 22nd 1756: Appendix 15


The forests of Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and the notorious Carolinas, were cleared, and the land farmed, by kidnapped Irish, Scottish, and English children from 1607 until at least 1783. The terms of indenture [enslavement] were originally 31 years, beginning at kidnapping or birth [for a baby born to a servant girl]. This term was reduced to 21 years around the time Maryland slave Elizabeth Sprigs wrote her letter [below]. The life expectancy of these people was less than 35 years, with most dying in their teens and twenties. My paternal ancestor on my mother’s side of the family was a Maryland slave indentured out of Ireland under Lord Baltimore in 1654.

“Honored Father:

"…O Dear Father…I am sure you’ll pity your distressed daughter. What we unfortunate English people suffer here is beyond the probability of you in England to conceive.

“Let it suffice that I am one of the unhappy number toiling day and night, and very often in the horse’s druggery, with only the comfort of hearing me called, ‘You, bitch, you did not do half enough.’

“Then I am tied up and whipped to that degree that you’d not serve an animal. I have scarce any thing but Indian corn and salt to eat and that even begrudged. Nay, many negroes are better used…

“…after slaving after Master’s pleasure, what rest we can get is to wrap ourselves up in a blanket and lay upon the ground. This is the deplorable condition your poor Betty endures…”

-from letter 30: 258; no. 106, Public Record Office, London, England, High Court of Admiralty, courtesy of Michael a Hoffman II, page 69, They Were White and They Were Slaves, 1991

Betty had to be a tough girl to survive the Atlantic crossing. In 1638 the ship that bore Thomas Rous to the colonies along with 349 other kidnapped children arrived with only 80 alive. In 1685 The Betty, out of London, sailed with 100 kidnapped children and arrived in the colonies with 49 alive.

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