Children at the Birth of Empire, c. 1600-1760

Lashua, Kristen, History - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Halliday, Paul, Department of History, University of Virginia

Thousands of British children helped to build colonies and sail naval vessels during the first phase of British imperialism, from the rocky foundation at Jamestown to the victory in the Seven Years’ War that left Britain the premier power in Europe. Often, we think of young men as the agents of empire, but the story is far more complex. It is only when we focus on children specifically, rather than lumping them together with adult migrants, that we realize that children have their own story. Telling that story offers new ways of understanding law, labor, poverty, charity, race, and migration in the early modern world. I argue that there were cultural and legal understandings that childhood was distinct from adulthood; that children—even poor and unattached ones—mattered to early modern Britons; that concerns over kidnapping led to an increased valuation of children’s consent; and that issues of slavery, consent, and the legal definition of childhood helped to form English ideas of liberty and identity. Children were not merely commodities to be bought and sold, nor were they pawns to be deployed and sacrificed without thought or remorse. Instead, obtaining their consent to overseas employment became an important emblem of English liberty, a way to distinguish free English Selves from bound African Others.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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