Abstract

Data from ship manifests and servant auctions can clarify the extent to which German immigrant families in early America resorted to intra-family debt shifting by selling their children into bondage. This evidence is at odds with the standard descriptions presented in literary sources, which exaggerate and stigmatize the practice. Market competition provided German immigrant parents with a financial opportunity that colonial welfare law constrained them to take. This debt shifting, however, affected only children within a particular, and narrow, age range, and German immigrant parents were not callously treating their children as salable assets by taking advantage of it.

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