In search of convict ancestors who were shipped overseas.
Sometimes criminals and debtors weren’t simply sent to prison—they were shipped to another continent. Britain began exiling convicts to the Americas, including Virginia and Maryland, in the 1700s. James Oglethorpe advocated the establishment of a colony, which in 1732 became Georgia, as an alternative to the teeming debtors’ prisons of England. Though promoted as a destination for the “worthy poor,” Georgia was never exclusively a penal colony.
Historian Peter Wilson Coldham puts the total number of convicts conveyed from the British Isles to America at almost 50,000, which would represent as much as one-quarter of all 18th-century British emigration. France also shipped some of its convicts abroad to its territory in Louisiana.