While in Glasgow, Scotland, I stayed with a pastor and his family that my sister knew from when she studied there. I was drinking coffee with the pastor, and I mentioned how much I liked Scottish towns and villages. They were so compact and pleasant to walk around. I also commented on how few people seemed to live between towns. The pastor explained to me that a large part of the reason for this was that much of the population of the highlands had been forcefully removed and sent to North America, Canada and later Australia, South Africa and New Zealand.
After Elizabethian times, vagabonds, the poor, criminals, and other undesirables were uprooted wholesale and sent on crowded ships as indentured servants to distant colonies. My history books always made indentured servitude sound like a benign alternative to slavery, emphasizing the seven year limits of the contract and the “freedom dues” of land, seed, livestock, and tools that were given at the end of the contract. In reality, most indentured servants were treated worse than slaves because they could easily be discarded, the master bearing no responsibility for their well being. Indentured servitude was often a punishment by the English government for poverty, intended to be as horrible as possible, or a way to get rid of unwanted peasants who stood in the way of profitable grazing land. The Irish and Scots fared the worst, often torn from their ancestral land wholesale to be shipped to distant places for British imperial projects. The descendants of these people would become the cannon fodder of the Civil War.
Make no mistake; most of these people were slaves in the truest sense.
This is a chapter of history that deserves to be known, even if it doesn’t fit with the narrative of American history we are supposed to believe.