Captured Consent: Bound Service and Freedom of Contract in Early Modern England and English America
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CitationTycko, Sonia. 2019. Captured Consent: Bound Service and Freedom of Contract in Early Modern England and English America. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractThis dissertation studies consent to perform labor in seventeenth-century England and its American colonies, with a focus on contracts between masters and servants that were formed under violent coercion or legal compulsion. Topics include forced service of the poor in the guise of parish apprenticeship, “spirited” or kidnapped colonial indentured servitude, military impressment, and labor conscription of prisoners of war. In bringing these systems together, the dissertation builds upon English social and economic histories of master-servant relationships, Anglo-American legal histories of contract, and Atlantic histories of forced labor and migration. Sources include court records; indentures; colonial promotional pamphlets; and company, municipal, and state papers. The thesis embarks from the quandary that poorer people’s right to refuse labor contracts was greatly limited by material deprivation, the ideology that held the poor to be natural laborers, and the codification of compulsory consent in the poor law. Masters nevertheless increasingly characterized such laborers’ consent as “willing” or “free.” Masters extracted or presumed consent from forced laborers in order to protect themselves from accusations of impropriety and illegality in recruitment; to strengthen their power over workers for the duration of their contract terms; and to demonstrate the civility and orderliness of their social relations.
Through an examination of contractual social practices, the dissertation shows how consent, far from promoting equality, tended to reinforce the status quo. Entirely different standards applied to a lower-status laborer’s potential consent to work than to that of his or her better-off neighbor. Pressed foot soldiers, for example, were considered to have consented to serve their sovereign. But middling-status men could buy a substitute to take their place in the army, while the laboring sort had no choice but to serve or be accused of desertion. Even disputes over certain individuals’ capacity to consent, which invoked the concept of enticement, cast certain instances of contractual labor procurement as aberrations in an otherwise functional system. However, this contractual worldview did not go unchallenged. For instance, war captives claimed that the laws of war protected them from hard labor and removed their capacity to form labor contracts at all.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:42029720
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