Bound with an Iron Chain: The Untold Story of How the British Transported 50,000 Convicts to Colonial America

In 1723, James Bell stole a book from a London bookstall. As punishment, he was loaded on a ship and sent to colonial America, where he was sold as an indentured servant. In telling the epic story of how thousands of British convicts like Bell were separated from families and transported to America in the 18th century, Anthony Vaver challenges the way we think about immigration to early America. More

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About Anthony Vaver

I am the author and publisher of Early American Crime (, and I have broad expertise in the social and cultural history of crime and punishment. My current scholarly interests are the transportation of British convicts to colonial America and early American prisons. I am the former Special Collections Librarian and Humanities Librarian at Brandeis University.


Review by: Ed Belcher on Jan. 23, 2013 : (no rating)
When I asked my Dad about our ancestors, he smiled and said not much was known. He said our ancestors may have come over from debtors' prison. "Bound with an Iron Chain" looks at immigration from the 1600's to 1776. It points out that 75% of immigrants by 1775 were either slaves (47%), transported convicts (9%) or indentured servants (18%). Only 25% were "Freeman" that paid their way over and started off as farm or plantation owners, government workers, or business owners. Convicts and Indentured Servants got a small amount of money and sometimes land when their service (or term) was complete. As land was taken in Virginia, South Carolina, and Maryland where the majority of them worked on tobacco plantations, the convicts and servants moved west including Kentucky where my ancestors were farmers with plots of tobacco as a cash crop.

The work is well documented and the narrative is far from dry for it weaves individuals' stories taken from newspapers, books, and records to illustrate the flow from crime in Britain, transportation by ship and work in the colonies. A history I had never known, found fascinating and possibly a view of my past.
(reviewed within a month of purchase)

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