Captured Consent: Bound Service and Freedom of Contract in Early Modern England and English America


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




Masters, commanders, and planters in seventeenth-century England and the English American colonies required impoverished or captured peoples’ consent to serve them, even while deprivation, ideology, and law denied these people the chance to choose or refuse. This dissertation studies the rise of consent as a determinant of legitimate master-servant relationships. Topics examined include parish apprenticeship, colonial indentured servitude, military impressment, and prisoner of war conscription and transportation. The project shows that compulsory service relationships included a component of consent that grew in importance over the course of the seventeenth century, driven by migration, warfare, and colonization. The practices by which masters obtained and documented their servants’ consent came to create a dominant concept of consent, one that changed over time and that poor commoners themselves increasingly had to use to contest their treatment. These changes affected the terms of morality and legality in social relations, not always for the better.