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Harlots, Hussies, and Poor Unfortunate Women

Crime, Transportation, and the Servitude of Female Convicts, 1718-1783

Edith M. Ziegler

Publication Year: 2014

In Harlots, Hussies, and Poor Unfortunate Women, Edith M. Ziegler recounts the history of British convict women involuntarily transported to Maryland in the eighteenth century.

Great Britain’s forced transportation of convicts to colonial Australia is well known. Less widely known is Britain’s earlier program of sending convicts—including women—to North America. Many of these women were assigned as servants in Maryland. Titled using epithets that their colonial masters applied to the convicts, Edith M. Ziegler’s Harlots, Hussies and Poor Unfortunate Women examines the lives of this intriguing subset of American immigrants.

Basing much of her powerful narrative on the experiences of actual women, Ziegler restores individual faces to women stripped of their basic freedoms. She begins by vividly invoking the social conditions of eighteenth-century Britain, which suffered high levels of criminal activity, frequently petty thievery. Contemporary readers and scholars will be fascinated by Ziegler’s explanation of how gender-influenced punishments were meted out to women and often ensnared them in Britain’s system of convict labor.

Ziegler also clearly describes the methods and operation of the convict trade and sale procedures in colonial markets. Readers will travel with her to the places where convict servants were deployed and will come to understand the role these women played in colonial Maryland and their contributions to the region’s society and economy. Ziegler’s research also sheds light on escape attempts and the lives that awaited those who survived servitude.

Mostly illiterate, convict women left few primary sources such as diaries or letters in their own words. Ziegler has masterfully researched the penumbra of associated documents and accounts to reconstruct the worlds of eighteenth-century Britain and colonial Maryland and the lives of these unwilling American settlers. In illuminating this little-known episode in American history, Ziegler also discusses not just the fact that these women have been largely forgotten, but why. Harlots, Hussies and Poor Unfortunate Women makes a valuable contribution to American history, women’s studies, and labor history.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

As an Australian with an interest in the history of my own country as well as that of the United States, I have long been curious about the British penal policy of transportation. I learned early that the War of Independence curtailed the shipment of convicts to the American colonies and provided the catalyst for the British...

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pp. 1-10

This book is about eighteenth-century women—women from England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales—who committed crimes or otherwise broke the law. After their indictment, trial, and conviction, these women were punished by being transported to the American colonies, often to Maryland. The fate of these women has...

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1. Social Change, Crime, and the Law

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pp. 11-32

The women who were transported to Maryland between 1718 and 1783 were the products of a society in a state of greater than usual flux.1 In fact, for the (nearly) sixty years of the transportation period, the world the women inhabited before their deportation was undergoing major cultural, demographic, economic, and...

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2. Punishment, Pleas, and the Prospect of Exile

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pp. 33-46

The final text of the Transportation Act of 1718 implies that it was intended to achieve multiple objectives: to serve as a deterrent to crime, to offer the chance of rehabilitation to those already convicted, and to confer an economic benefit on the colonies through its provision of labor and population (see appendix 4). Yet...

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3. Bound for Maryland

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pp. 47-62

Before the implementation of the Transportation Act in 1718, the arrangements for conveying convicts to the American colonies were somewhat haphazard. While some merchants were conscious of the profits to be made by selling convicts as indentured servants, many captains were reluctant to carry them because of the dangers...

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4. Arrival in the New World

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pp. 63-81

For the Puritans who emigrated to Massachusetts and other parts of New England in the seventeenth century, the trial of the Atlantic crossing was a test of their faith and fortitude. It was a pilgrim’s progress on the way to both a promised land and a primordial garden in which they hoped to establish a new and upright...

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5. Servants and Masters

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pp. 82-106

After the sale process was completed, the factors handed over the convict women to the strangers who were to be their masters—effectively their owners—and with whom they were likely to spend the next seven, or possibly fourteen, years of their lives. Despite the interval since their sentencing in Britain, legally their punishment...

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6. Escape

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pp. 107-123

The lives of servants and rural laborers were routinely burdensome on both sides of the Atlantic during the eighteenth century, but the hardships of Maryland’s convict women were heightened by their severance from family, friends, and—for those from rural areas—familiarity with a deeply rooted culture that was rich in...

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7. Going Home and Staying On

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pp. 124-137

Eventually the convict women completed their terms of servitude (and concurrent sentences). Those who remained in Maryland then had good reasons for making themselves as inconspicuous as possible because, as William Eddis said, “the stamp of infamy” was upon them.1 Those who escaped their masters successfully and returned...

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8. Mary Nobody in the Republic of Virtue

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pp. 138-150

Until just before the outbreak of the American War of Independence, Britain continued to rely heavily on transportation as a criminal punishment. The Justitia, under the command of Captain John Kidd, departed London in February 1776 with sixty-five convicts on board, including sixteen women.1 The vessel probably...

Appendix 1: Statistical Information on Convict Women

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pp. 151-156

Appendix 2: List of Convict Women’s Occupations

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pp. 157-158

Appendix 3: Privy Council Resolution, 1615

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pp. 159-160

Appendix 4: Transportation Act of 1718

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pp. 161-166

Appendix 5: Crimes Punished by Transportation at the Old Bailey, 1718–76

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pp. 167-168

Appendix 6: Colonial Legislation Regarding Convicts

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pp. 169-170


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pp. 171-206


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pp. 207-220


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pp. 221-228

E-ISBN-13: 9780817387495
E-ISBN-10: 0817387498
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817318260
Print-ISBN-10: 0817318267

Page Count: 240
Illustrations: 23 illustrations
Publication Year: 2014

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Women prisoners -- Great Britain -- History -- 18th century.
  • Penal transportation -- Maryland -- History -- 18th century.
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