April 20, 2021

Pages 1548-1549
Whole Number 81


by Paul E. Sparks

In 1717, the English Parliament enacted a law which permitted the government to sentence persons convicted of certain crimes to serve that period of time in the American colonies. Records of a small portion of the total number of persons transported to America under this law have been edited by Marian and Jack Kaminkow and have been published by the Magna Carta Book Company, Baltimore, Maryland, The title of the book is Original List of Emigrants in Bondage from London to the American Colonies, 1719 -1744. The Kaminkows hope eventually to publish all known names of these transportees.

The Act of 1717 provided that a person could contract with the English government to transport certain law offenders to America for a fee which would be paid by the government. In addition, the contracting person would have a vested interest in the services of the transported person for a period of time ranging from seven to fourteen years. These services could be sold to a third party after reaching America.

The fee paid by the English government for transporting a person to America was originally set at three pounds, but eventually the fee was increased to five pounds. The fee remained at this figure until the law passed out of existence in 1773.

At the destination, an ordinary male person was sold for about ten pounds, while his female counterpart brought slightly less. A skilled worker, such as a carpenter or a blacksmith, might bring as much as fifteen to twenty-five pounds.

The offenses for which these unfortunate persons were banished from their native land ranged from trivial misdemeanors, such as cutting down a tree on an avenue, to a major crime, such as murder. The list totaled at least 150 different crimes.

The voyage to America was generally a miserable one for the transportees. Inadequate food, clothing and ventilation, coupled with the cruelty of the overseers, caused many to perish on the long journey. An interesting sidelight of the voyage is that some offenders could arrange to pay the ship's owner for their passages and thus have a cabin to themselves. In addition, these persons were free to pursue their own fortunes after landing. These people were the exception, however, and not the rule.

One-third of the transportees were women. In some instances, an entire family was involved. The list of banished persons obviously contains a large number of aliases and nicknames.

After the transportee had served his or her period of service, he or she was given a suit of clothes, the necessities of life for a year, and seeds and tools. Many of them became farmers and planters in their own accounts. Many became useful citizens of a new society.

Five persons named Sparks were transported to America under this law during the period 1719 -1744. Three of these came from Newgate which was the jail for London and Middlesex. Records of the five are as follows:

ALICE SPARKES. From: Surrey. To: Maryland. Name of Ship: Alexander.
  Name of Captain: John King. Number of Persons: 14.
  Date Received on Board: 4 July, 1723,
  Public Records Office Number T53/30, Page 340.
JOHN SPARKES From: Newgate. To: Maryland. Name of Ship: Forward, Firgate.
  Name of Captain: Dan Russell. Number of Persons: 97.
  Date Received on Board: 10 October 1721.
  Public Records Office Number P53/31, page 376.
MARGARET SPARKES From: Newgate. To: Maryland. Name of Ship: Patapscoe.
  Name of Captain: Darby Lax. Number of Persons: 53.
  Date Received on Board :18 April 1734
  Public Records Office Number T53/37, page 304.
WILLIAM SPARKES From: Newgate. To: Maryland or Virginia. Name of Ship: Forward.
  Name of Captain: John Magier. Number of Persons: 120.
  Date Received on Board: 2 June 1738.
  Public Records Office Number T53/39, page 248.
WILLIAM SPARKES From: Surrey. To Maryland or Virginia. Name of Ship: Essex.
  Name of Captain: Ambrose Cock, Number of Persons: 20
  Date Received on Board: 4 June, 1710.
  Public Records Office Number T53/40, page 205.