Landscapes of Indenture: Scottish Prisoners of War in 17th Century New England

Award-winning historian Emerson “Tad” Baker takes a rare and insightful look at the little-known story of around 400 Scottish prisoners of war, shipped to New England as indentured servants by Oliver Cromwell’s government after its victories in the battles of Dunbar and Worcester in 1650 and 1651. This talk was originally given on Tuesday, June 27, 2023. Click here for the 89-minute YouTube recording.

Emerson “Tad” Baker (above, left) is a professor of history at Salem State University and has previously served as vice provost and dean of the graduate school. He is the award-winning author or co-author of six books on the history and archaeology of early New England, including A Storm of Witchcraft: The Salem Trials and the American Experience. Moderating the discussion for the Partnership of Historic Bostons is Lori Rogers-Stokes (above, right)

In Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine, these Scots POWs served five-to-seven year indentures – one of the first major groups of unfree labor to help build colonial New England. But once their indentures expired, they were not welcome back in Britain. So the Scots built new lives on New England’s frontier, with their former comrades-in-arms becoming their new extended family. As Presbyterians and royalists whose native tongue was Scots or Scottish Gaelic, these men stood out in a Puritan-dominated New England.

Most of these young men served their indentures at the Saugus ironworks, the sawmills of Maine and New Hampshire, or in other hard and dangerous jobs that no free labor wanted to do. The last of the Scottish prisoners’ indentures expired between 1657 and 1659, leaving New England merchants with a need to find a more reliable and inexpensive source of labor. Given that global colonialism relied on the dispossession of both land and labor, it is not surprising that the first records of enslaved Africans in Maine date to the 1660s, just after the Scots indentures expired.