Captivity and the British Subject in Colonial America

Time Period
1623 to 1763
Media Type
Domestic Life
Politics & Government
Catherine Ingrassia

On August 11th, 2022, Catherine Ingrassia held a fascinating discussion of her latest book, “Domestic Captivity and the British Subject, 1660–1750.”

Indentured servitude was common in colonial America. When voluntary, it allegedly offered dispossessed British subjects the opportunity to improve their situation after their term. However, the practice of kidnapping or “spiriting away” people into involuntary indentured servitude occurred with great regularly. This talk discusses two fictional representations of the case of James Annesley (1715–1760). The heir to an Irish barony, Annesley’s uncle had him secretly kidnapped as a child and sold as an indentured servant in Virginia where he labored for fourteen years. When Annesley finally returned to England, he was the subject of more than sixty publications in London all of which emphasized his role as an “indentured slave.” These British narratives about colonial America give voice to persistent anxieties about the potential captivity of British subjects on colonial soil. More forcefully, they also reveal a concern about the potential erosion of male British identity within a corrosive climate where ignorant Americans masters hold them captive. The narratives strategically represent the American masters as particularly brutal to compensative for the vast British financial interests in the West Indies, the site of notoriously horrific conditions for enslaved people. In addition to discussing Annesley’s captivity, the talk will also consider other states of domestic captivity common within England and elaborate upon the especially threatening conditions for women held captive within a colonial, domestic space.

Catherine E. Ingrassia is Professor and Chair in the Department of English at Virginia Commonwealth University. In addition to her most recent book Domestic Captivity and the British Subject, 1660–1750, she is the author or editor of six other books including Authorship, Commerce and Gender in Eighteenth-Century England: A Culture of Paper Credit and the Cambridge Companion to Eighteenth-Century Women Writers.

The content and opinions expressed in these presentations are solely those of the speaker and not necessarily of the Virginia Museum of History & Culture.

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