by Sally Gunning

Reviewed by Margaret Donsbach

Bound, by Sally Gunning, book cover Bound begins aboard ship in 1756 with the deaths of seven-year-old Alice Cole's mother and siblings and, upon landing in Boston, her father's decision to sell her into indentured servitude to pay the cost of the family's passage from London.

"Alice's father came back and kicked the trunk. Alice remembered that—he kicked the trunk—but she couldn't remember that he said any words to her…. He took her hand, led her up on deck to a line of worn-down, bleached-out passengers, and pushed her onto the end of it. After a time a stream of finely dressed men and ladies walked up the gangway and down the line of passengers, looking them over with what seemed to Alice an odd amount of interest."

The novel skims quickly over Alice's years with her first master, who treats her reasonably well. When his daughter marries, fifteen-year-old Alice's remaining term of three years is transferred to the daughter's husband. Alice needs all of her courage to cope with what follows.

Though taught to read and write, Alice comes across as a simple girl, intellectually slow and relatively unimaginative. The author's crisp and unembellished prose style reflects this, and the story moves in a fairly predictable arc. Though some readers may grow impatient with how slowly Alice reaches conclusions they drew many pages ago, Bound offers a convincing portrayal of an indentured servant, most of whom probably suffered from nutritional deficits and had minimal education. (2008, 307 pages including an historical note)

More about Bound from Powell's Books

Other novels about indentured servants and white slaves:

A Mercy by Toni Morrison (2008), about slaves of various races in a seventeenth century Maryland household. More info

Calligraphy of the Witch by Alicia Gaspar de Alba (2007), about a Mexican servant in Salem, Massachusetts, during the witch persecutions. More info

Testimony of an Irish Slave Girl by Kate McCafferty (2002), about an Irish girl sold into indentured servitude in Barbados. More info

Nonfiction about indentured servants in America:

To Serve Well and Faithfully: Labor and Indentured Servants in Pennsylvania, 1682-1800 by Sharon V. Salinger (1987) More info

Bound Over: Indentured Servitude and American Conscience by John Van Der Zee (1985) More info

The Infortunate: The Voyage and Adventures of William Moraley, an Indentured Servant by William Moraley (1743), the autobiography of an Englishman who became an indentured servant in the American colonies. More info


Seventeenth century laws covering indentured servants in Jamestown from

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