Stories of American Life and Adventure - Edward Eggleston

Kidnapped Boys

In the days when our country belonged to England, white people were brought here to be sold. Some of these were poor people who could not get a good living in England. They came over to this country without any money. The captain of the ship in which they came sold them in this country to pay their passage.

Men and women who were sold had to serve four years; and boys and girls, a longer time. The person sold was just like a slave until his time was out. The man who had bought him might beat him, or sell him to another master. Many of these white slaves did not get enough to eat.

Here are some stories of boys who were brought to this country and sold before the Revolution. They are all true stories.

The Story of Peter Williamson—Twice a Slave

One day a boy named Peter Williamson was walking along the streets of Aberdeen in Scotland. The little fellow was eight years old. Two men met him, and asked him to go on board a ship with them. When he got on board, he was put down in the lower part of the ship with other boys. The ship sailed to America with twenty boys. Like Peter, the other lads had been stolen from their parents. They were taken to Philadelphia and sold, to work for seven years.

Little Peter was lucky enough to fall into the hands of a kind master. Among those who came to buy boys off this ship was a man who had himself been stolen from Scotland when he was young. He felt sorry for little Peter when he saw him put up for sale. The price the cruel captain asked for him was about fifty dollars. The Scotchman paid this money, and took Peter for his boy. He sent him to school in the winter, and treated him kindly. Peter, for his part, was a good boy, and did his work faithfully. He staid with his master after his time was out.

When Peter was about seventeen years old, this good master died. He left to Peter about six hundred dollars in money for being a good boy. He also gave him his best horse and saddle and all his own clothes. Some years after this, Peter married, and went to live in the northern part of Pennsylvania. He was by this time a man of property.

One night, when his wife was away from home, the Indians came about his house. He got a gun and ran upstairs. He pointed the gun at the Indians, but they told him that if he would not shoot they would not kill him. So he came down, and gave himself up as a prisoner.

The Indians treated him very cruelly. He was with them more than a year. His sufferings were so great that he wished sometimes that he was dead. He knew that if he ran away the Indians would probably catch him, and kill him in some cruel way. But one night, when the Indians were all asleep, he resolved to take the risk. You may believe that when he had started he ran with all his might.

When daylight came, he hid himself in a hollow tree. After a while he heard the Indians running all about the tree. He could hear them tell one another how they would kill him when they found him. But they did not think to look into the tree.

The next night he ran on again. He came very near running into a camp of Indians. But at last he came in sight of the house of a friend. He was tired out, and starving. He had hardly any clothes left on him. He knocked at the door. The woman who saw him thought that he was an Indian. She screamed, and the man of the house got his gun to kill him. But he quickly told his friend that he was no Indian, but Peter Williamson. Everybody had given him up for dead. But now all his friends were happy to see him alive once more. He had twice been carried into slavery,—once by cruel white men, and once by yet more cruel red men.

Sold Like Joseph—Stories of Two Kidnapped Boys

You have heard the beautiful story of Joseph in the Bible. You remember that he was sold by his brothers. Then he was carried into Egypt, where he became a great man.

In 1730 there was a little English lad at sea with his uncle, who was the captain of a ship. Whether the boy's father and mother were dead or not, history does not tell. But the boy was sailing on his uncle's ship, as though he were the captain's son.

One day the captain was taken ill at sea. After a while he died. The mate and the sailors thought that they would like to steal the ship and all the captain's property. But it now all belonged to the little boy. Like Joseph's brothers, the sailors laid a plan to get the boy out of the way. You remember that Joseph's brothers saw some slave traders going by. These traders were Arabs, like the Arabs that carry off slaves to-day. Joseph's brothers stopped the Arabs, and sold little Joseph to them. The Arabs took Joseph to Egypt and sold him.

Just so the mate and his men saw a ship coming toward them. This ship had a great many people on board. They were Irish people, who were being taken to America to be sold as servants.

The mate hailed the ship, and made a bargain with the captain and the mate. He sold the poor little boy, who had no friends, to this captain.

Then the mate and his men sailed away. What became of them we do not know; but the ship, loaded with white servants, sailed to Boston. It landed at the Long Wharf, a pier running far out into the water. The servants were obliged to run up and down this wharf. The people who came to buy watched them to see how strong they might be.

The little boy sold by the mate was there. He ran up and down with the others, to show how nimble his legs were. He was bought by a Mr. Willard.

Barbery Pirates


The boy served out his time, and became free. He became a well-known officer in the Indian wars. His name was Johnson. He did not become so great as Joseph in Egypt, but, like Joseph, he gained honor in the country into which he had been sold as a slave.

Here is another story of the same kind. A little boy six years old got lost in London. After he had wandered about a good while, a ship captain met him, and told him that he would take him to his father. The captain took him into a boat, put him on board his ship, carried him to Maryland, and sold him. After the boy had served out his time and grown to be a man, he became a rich farmer.

The wicked ship captain who carried off the boy was caught stealing many years afterward. In that day, thieves were often sold into America for seven years, as a punishment. This captain who had sold others was now put on a ship and sent to be sold in Maryland. The man who bought him was the very person whom he had carried off when he was a boy.

You remember how much Joseph's brothers were afraid of him when they found themselves in his power. This wicked old sea captain was frightened when he saw that he was now a slave to the boy he had stolen. He was so much alarmed that he killed himself.

A Little Lord Sold into Bondage

There lived in Ireland a long time ago a certain Lord Altham. The time was about sixty years before our American Revolution. This Lord Altham was a weak and foolish man. He quarreled with his wife, and sent her away. He wasted his money in wicked living, and got into debt. He had a little son named James Annesley. "Jemmy," as he was called, was sent to a boarding school; but the father grew more wicked, and more careless of his son. He sent the boy away, and pretended that he was dead. He did this because he wanted to sell some property that he could not sell if Jemmy were alive.

Jemmy found himself badly treated where he lived. When he complained, he was told that his father did not pay his board: so he ran away. He lived in the streets with rough boys. He ran on errands for pay, like the other little street boys. But still the boys knew that Jemmy was the son of a lord. Strangers were surprised to hear a little ragged boy called "my lord" by his playmates.

When he was about thirteen years old, his father died. Then Jemmy Annesley became Lord Altham in place of his father; but his uncle Richard, who was a cruel man, took Jemmy's property, and called himself Lord Altham.

The wicked uncle was afraid that people would find out that Jemmy was alive, and he sent a man to see where the boy was. When the boy was found, his uncle accused him of stealing a silver spoon. He hired three policemen to arrest the boy and put him on a ship. Poor Jemmy wept bitterly. He told the people he was afraid his uncle would kill him. The ship took him to Philadelphia, where he was sold to a farmer to serve until he should be of age.

[Illustration] from American Life and Adventure by Edward Eggleston


One day, when he was about seventeen years old, he came into his master's house with a gun in one hand and a squirrel in the other. There were two strangers sitting by the fire. They had found the door open, and had walked in.

One of the men said, "Are you a servant in this house?"

"I am," said James.

"What country did you come from?"


"We are from Ireland ourselves," said one of the strange men. "What part of Ireland are you from?"

"From the county of Wexford."

"We are from that county. What is your name?"

"James Annesley."

"I never heard that name there," said the traveler.

"Did you know Lord Altham?" asked the boy.


"Well, I am his son."

"What!" cried the stranger, "you the son of Lord Altham! Impossible!"

But the young man insisted that he was Lord Altham's son.

"Tell me how Lord Altham's house stands," said the stranger.

The young man told him enough to show that he knew all about the place. Then the stranger said, that, if James ever came to Ireland to claim his estate, he would do what he could to help him.

James Annesley was badly treated by his master. At length he ran away, but he was retaken, and put into a jail in Lancaster. He was kept in prison a good while. He had a fine voice, and he amused himself by singing. The people used to stand outside of the jail to hear him sing.

For running away he was obliged to serve a still longer time. He spent thirteen years in slavery.

When he got free at last, he told Mr. Ellis of Philadelphia about his case. This kind-hearted man gave him a passage on a ship going to the West Indies. An English fleet was then in the West Indies. It was commanded by the famous Admiral Vernon. When the brave admiral heard James Annesley's story, he took him to England. In England James found friends ready to help him.

There was a long lawsuit, but James's old friends and schoolmates came to court as witnesses for him. One of the men who had talked with him while he was a servant in Pennsylvania told the Court about it. Two of the policemen that had helped to put little Jemmy on shipboard confessed the dreadful act they had done.

Then the jury gave a verdict that James Annesley was the true Lord Altham. There was great joy among the people, and everybody detested the cruel uncle. The people made songs about him, and sang them under his windows. James Annesley was now called Lord Altham. But before the young lord came into possession of his title and his property, he was taken ill and died.

I am glad that we live in better times. Children are not kidnapped and sold now.