80% of American colonists

You remember the history lesson/s: how “our forefathers came to the New World searching for religious and political freedom” and so forth? Ain’t necessarily so, or if so, those lofty yearnings were tangential. In fact 80% of all white (mostly British & German) immigrants before 1800 came as indentured servants. That is, they sold their freedom to masters for three to seven years. In return they received passage to America (worth 4-5 years of unskilled labor), room, board and clothes. Those who survived (many didn’t) got a new suit of clothes and a small payment called “freedom dues.” Women who had the misfortune to become pregnant, willingly or not, had their terms increased to discourage this practice. Contracts could be bought and sold, so the difference between indenture and slavery was pretty darn slim.

I remember reading about indentured servants in history class as a kid. I assumed they were a small group of unfortunates. But no. And many U.S. citizens who trace their ancestry here generations back may assume that their ancestors were so very different from those today who take desperate measures to come to the U.S. Statistically, probably not. People left home because they had to, and they did what it took to survive.

Pamela Schoenewaldt, historical novels of immigration and the search for self in new worlds: WHEN WE WERE STRANGERS, SWIMMING IN THE MOON, and UNDER THE SAME BLUE SKY (all HarperCollins).

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“Absorbing and layered with rich historical details, in Under the Same Blue Sky, Schoenewaldt weaves a tender and at times, heartbreaking story about German-Americans during World War I. With remarkable compassion, the author skillfully portrays conflicted loyalties, the search for belonging, the cruelty of war, and the resilience of the human spirit.”—Ann Weisgarber, author of The Promise and The Personal History of Rachel Dupree

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