In a slave economy, with free work opportunities—short of selling one’s self—rare, those without the assets to begin a small business would soon go into debt to keep from starving and get sucked back into the debt cycle. Of course, there are also opportunities to live beyond one’s means for those who are employed, with the eventual collection of the debt being by auction of the debtor’s person or placing him in bondage for the period necessary for his “redemption.” Protestant America was a deeply materialistic, religious society, in which debt was a cardinal sin. This is well illustrated in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, written two generations later.
November 24, 1763
The Pennsylvania Gazette
Earl Township, Lancaster county, November 14, 1763.
A Fellow, who calls himself JOHN YOUNG (which Name he will probably change) has, for about three Months past, resided and worked in this Township and Neighbourhood, during which Time he run considerably in debt, particularly with the Subscriber; and on Saturday, the 12th inst. thought proper to abscond;
He is about 25 Years of Age, born in Ireland, of a small Stature, thin Visage, and smooth Face, speaks English in a pretty good Dialect:
had on, when he went away, an old brown Coat and
Breeches, a new striped Shirt, new ribbed blue Stockings, and took with him the Pattern of a Coat and Waistcoat of blue Broadcloth, two Yards and an half of a yellowish Fustian, five Yards of white Shaloon, a new Hat, and other Things not known.
Whoever secures him, by Virtue of a Warrant, in the Name and behalf of the Subscriber, in any Goal, so that he may receive that Justice which the Law entitles him to, shall have Forty Shillings Reward, and reasonable Charges, paid by DAVID DAVIS, Storekeeper, in Earl Township.
A Partial Exhumation of the American Dream