The Infortunate: The Voyage and Adventures of William Moraley, an Indentured Servant

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9780271008288: The Infortunate: The Voyage and Adventures of William Moraley, an Indentured Servant

William Moraley's autobiography, originally published in 1743, provides a rare view of life among the lower classes in England and the American middle colonies during the early eighteenth century. In 1729, Moraley ventured as an indentured servant from England to the "American Plantations," where he worked in various jobs, rambled about the countryside, and mingled with white and black bonds people, laborers, artisans, Indians, and other common folk. His account brims over with observations about the geography and climate, the flora and fauna, and the customs, politics, religions, superstitions, material conditions, and daily lives of the inhabitants of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York. Of special interest are his comments about servants, slaves, and Native Americans—groups frequently ignored by early travelers. Moraley's experiences were similar to those of many other eighteenth-century European immigrants who sold themselves into servitude, but he is among only a handful of people at the bottom of society who left memoirs of their lives.

Smart, sassy, and articulate, Moraley narrates a take of adventure designed primarily to entertain. At times a rogue, a drunkard, a liar, a vagabond, and a petty thief, he boasts that he could "rake with the best of them." But the autobiography has considerable historical value as well. It depicts the life of a down-and-out artisan whose fortunes, like so many other bound laborers, did not substantially improve. The reasons for the different career paths of such working people have been the subject of much scholarly debate, and these memoirs can more firmly ground that controversy in actual human experience.

The substantial introduction by Klepp and Smith reconstructs Moraley's life, relates the autobiography to the literary developments of the era, compares the careers of Moraley and Franklin, and discusses the author's social, political, and religious worlds. It also identifies and leaves open to differing interpretations a host of issues and paradoxes about eighteenth-century life raised by Moraley's account.

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About the Author:

Susan E. Klepp is Associate Professor of History at Rider College and author of The "Swift Progress of Population": A Documentary and Bibliographic Study of Philadelphia's Growth, 1642–1859 (1991).

Billy G. Smith is Professor of History at Montana State University and the author of The "Lower Sort": Philadelphia's Laboring People, 1750–1800 (1990).

From Publishers Weekly:

This memoir, the editors argue in their insightful introductory essay, offers a contrast to the colonial-era writings of wealthy European visitors and rising successes like Benjamin Franklin. Moraley who indentured himself for money and came to the U.S. from England in 1729, spent nearly five years on the lower rungs in the American colonies. His brief, readable account, designed both to inform and entertain, is both an adventure and an ambiguous morality tale: his preface suggests a Calvinist call for individual responsibility, while elsewhere in the narrative he proclaims himself the ``Tennis-ball of Fortune.'' He is something of a scamp: while Franklin, upon arriving in Philadelphia, discovered the locals loved reading, Moraley praised the city's ``many Houses of Entertainment.'' He also describes here his childhood, his failed attempt to clerk for an attorney, his study of the watchmaking trade and his trip to the New World, where he was indentured to a clockmaker and performed diverse tasks. In America, he offers brief descriptions of geography, flora and fauna, and religious practices. As the editors note, Moraley's memoir helps fill some historical gaps; unlike him, most early travelers ignored the role of servants, slaves and Native Americans. Klepp wrote Philadelphia in Transition ; Smith edited Blacks Who Stole Themselves. Illustrated.

Copyright 1992 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Published by Penn State University Press (1992)
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