How and why two German men, became runaway white slaves, in Nassau, in 1805, is not so strange as one might first think.
There were slaves, indentured servants, apprentices, and the pressed. All were graduated forms of forced service or slavery.
Negro and coloured slaves, were on the lowest rung, of the forced servitude totem pole. Slaves were simply chattel, which could be bought and sold at will. Slaves owned nothing, not even themselves or their offspring.
Indentured servants were, by 1805, mostly convicts, vagrants, orphans, prostitutes, the unwanted and those turned out of the slum workhouses of Europe. Some were sold into servitude by their parents or carers in order to pay off debts. Remember, that debt was an imprisonable offence. People sold whatever they could not to go to prison. The first British Governor, Woodes Rogers, was sent to debtor’s prison in London. After prison, he returned to New Providence, for a second term, as Governor.
Indentured servants, if criminals, or debt ridden, often found themselves sentenced to transportation to penal colonies like Australia or slave colonies like West Indies, Cuba, or South America.
On the 13th October 1806, in the Nassau papers, the death of an indentured apprentice, Clemson, was recorded onboard the ship John of Liverpool. The ship had probably docked in Nassau.
Apprentices served terms like seven or fourteen years. Employers, as the owners were often called, could buy or sell, the unworked portion of an apprenticeship. This was really just another form of slavery. Many Liberated Africans, upon arriving in Nassau, would become fixed term apprentices.
Pressed or Impressed was an altogether maniacal form of white slavery. If enough people didn’t volunteer for service, men (mostly) were pressed. To press (someone or something) into service meant to use physical force, or otherwise coerce someone into doing a job or fulfilling a function.
In the 1700s and 1800s, pressed meant grabbing drunks out of taverns or the streets; or clobbering men over the head as they walked unassumingly around dark corners; or kidnapping young men as they slept in boarding house or whore houses – then quickly carting them onboard ships and sailing away. By the time these boys and men woke up, it was either work or be thrown overboard in the middle of the ocean.
Pressing was at various times in history given British parliamentary authority. Impressment was common during the naval wars of the 18th century by Acts passed in 1703, 1705, 1740 and 1779.
A gang of men known as a ‘press gang’, would roam the streets looking for likely ‘volunteers’.
“White negroes” or “White slaves” comprise the British Navy says the Member for Aberdeen as most had been pressed into service – 1824
“Sir I. Coffin said, he “should not have spoken on this subject if the Hon. Member for Aberdeen had not called the Navy the “white negroes.” (A laugh). The moment an impressed man was brought on board ship, there was no difference between him and a volunteer, and more volunteers ran the ships of war than pressed men. He could enumerate a number of eminent persons in the navy who had been pressed men. There was Admiral Bowater, he was a white slave. There was Admiral Mitchell, who was the first lieutenant in the Foudroyant, in the action with the Pegase, he was a white slave. There was Captain Butterfield, who was impressed in 1793, and captain in 1798. There was Captain Cook, one of the first navigators, he was another; and there were no doubt, 20,000 of those white slaves. If the men were not otherwise to be had, it was necessary to press them, and if they had a good belly full of victuals, coats on their backs, and medicine if they were sick, they could not be called slaves.”
Were Frederick Muller and Wilhelm Nieman “white negroes” pressed or forcibly brought to work Nassau?
Frederick Muller, a carpenter, and Wilhelm Nieman, a baker, were from the dutchy of Brunswick Wolfenbuttel, in Germany. Both had only arrived in Nassau, just three short days, prior to them suddenly disappearing. They came abroad the Sloop Sally from Baltimore in the United States.
Muller only spoke a few words of broken English and Wilhelm spoke none. Somehow, just three days after arriving in Nassau, they managed to escape the clutches of their would be masters.
Were they indentured servants or clobbered over the head and shipped to Nassau? Were they debtors, owing money to someone, then sent to the colonies to work off what they owed?
In any event, their disappearance sparked a large ten dollar reward by James Hollywood (house carpenter) and Bernard Forment, the men Muller and Wilhelm, were sent to work for.