James Revel’s Poem

The Poor Unhappy Transported Felon’s Sorrowful Account of His Fourteen Years Transportation, at Virginia, in America. In Six Parts. Being a Remarkable and Succinct History of the Life of James Revel, the Unhappy Sufferer Who Was Put Apprentice by His Father to a Tinman, Near Moorfields, Where He Got into Bad Company and Before Long Ran Away, and Went Robbing with a Gang of Thieves, but His Master Soon Got Him Back Again; Yet Would Not Be Kept from His Old Companions, but Went Thieving with Them Again, for Which He Was Transported Fourteen Years. With an Account of the Way the Transports Work, and the Punishment They Receive for Committing Any Fault. Concluding with a Word of Advice to All Young Men




MY loving countrymen, pray lend an ear,
To this relation that I bring you here,
My sufferings at large I will unfold,
Tho’ strange ’tis true as e’er was told.
Of honest parents I did come, tho’ poor,
Who besides me had children never more,
Near Temple Bar was born their darling son,
In virtue’s paths he for some did run.
My parents in me took a great delight,
And sent me unto school to read and write,
And cast accounts likewise, as it appears,
Until that I was aged thirteen years.
Then to a tinman I was apprentice bound,
My master and my mistress good I found,
They lik’d me very well, my business I did mind,
From me my parents comfort hop’d to find.
My master near unto Moorfields did dwell,
Here into wicked company I fell;
To wickedness I quickly was inclind,
So soon it tainted my youthful mind.
I from my master then did run away,
And rov’d about the streets both night and day,
Did with a gang of thieves a robbing go,
Which fill’d my parents hearts with grief and woe,
At length my master got me home again,
And used me well in hopes I might reclaim,
My father to me tenderly did say,
My dearest child, why did you run away?
If you had any cause at all for grief.
Why came you not to me to seek relief?
Well do I know you did for nothing lack,
Food for the belly, and cloaths for the back.
My mother said, son, I do implore
That you will from your master go no more,

Your business mind, your master don’t forsake,
Lest you again to wicked courses take.
I promis’d fair but yet could not refrain,
But to my old companions went again;
For vice, when once, alas! it taints the mind,
Is not soon routed out we find.
With them a thieving I again did go,
But little did my tender parents know,
I follow’d courses that were most wild,
My absence griev’d them, being their only child.
A wicked life I liv’d I must confess,
In fear and dread, and great uneasiness,
Which do attend those actions most unjust,
For thieves can never one another trust.
Strong liquor banish’d the thoughts of fear,
But justice stopp’d us in our career;
One night was taken up one of our gang,
Who five impeach’d, and three of them were hung.
I was one of the five that was tried and cast,
Yet transportation I did get at last,
A just reward for my vile actions base;
So justice overtook me at last.
My father vex’d, my mother she took on,
And said, alas! alas! my son;
My father said, it grieves me to the heart,
To think in such a cause as this we part.
To see him grieve pierc’d my very soul,
My wicked case I sadly did condole,
With grief and shame my eyes did overflow,
I did much rather chose to die than go.
In vain I griev’d, in vain my parents wept,
For I was quickly sent on board a ship,
With melting kisses and a heavy heart,
I from my dearest parents then did part.

In a few days we left the river quite,
And in short time, of land we lost the sight;
The captain and the sailors us’d us well.
But kept us under lest we should rebel.
We were in number much about threescore,
A wicked lousy crew as e’er went o’er,
Oaths and tobacco with us plenty were,

Most did smoak, but all did curse and swear
Five of our number in the passage dy’d,
Who burry’d were within the ocean wide
And after sailing seven weeks and more,
We at Virginia all were put ashore.
Then to refresh us we were all made clean,
That to our buyers we might better seem,
The things were given that did to each belong,
And they that had clean linen put it on,
Our faces shav’d, comb’d out wigs and hair,
That we in decent order might appear,
Against the planters did come us to view,
How well they lik’d this fresh transported crew.
The women from us separated stood.
As well as we by them to be thus view’d,
And in a short time some men up to us came,
Some ask’d our trade, others ask’d our name,
Some view’d our limbs turning us round,
Examining like horses if we were sound,
What trade, my lad? siad one to me,
A tin-man sir. That will not do for me.
Some felt our hands others our legs and feet,
And made us walk to see we were complete.
Some view’d our teeth to see if they were good,
And fit to chow our hard and homely food.
If any like our limbs, or looks, or trades,
Our captain then a good advantage makes,
But they a difference make it doth appear.
‘Twix [printed too lightly] those for seven and those for fourteen years.
Another difference there is allow’d,
Those who have money shall have favour shew’d;
But if no cloaths nor money they have got,
Hard is their fate and hard will be their lot.
At length a grim old man unto me came,
He ask’d my trade likewise my name,
I told him tinman was my trade,
Not eighteen years of age I said
To him I told the cause which brought me here,
And for fourteen years transported were,
And when from me this he did understand,
He bought me of the captain out of hand.

Down to the harbour I was took again,

On board of ship bound with an iron chain,
Which I was forc’d to wear both night and day,
For fear I from the sloop should run away.
My master was a man but of ill fame,
Who first of all a transport thither came,
In Rapahannock country we did dwell,
In Rapahannock river known full well.
When the ship with lading home was sent,
An hundred miles we up the river went,
The weather cold, and hard my fate.
My lodging on the deck both hard and bare.
At last to my new master’s house I came,
To the town of Wicowoco called by name,
Here my European cloaths were took from me,
Which never after I could see.
A canvas shirt and trowsers me they gave,
A hop-sack frock, in which I was a slave,
No shoes or stockings had I for to wear,
Nor hat, nor cap, my hands and feet went bare.
Thus dress’d unto the field I next did go,
Among tobacco plants all day to hoe.
At day break in the morn our work begun,
And lasted till the setting of the sun.
My fellow slaves were five transports more,
With eighteen negroes, which is twenty-four,
Besides four transport women in the house,
To wait upon his daughter and his spouse.
We and the negroes both alike did fare,
Of work and food we had an equal share;
And in a piece of ground that’s call’d our own,
That we eat first by ourselves was sown.
No other time to us they will allow,
But on a Sunday we the same must do,
Six days we slave for our master’s good,
The seventh is to produce our food.
And when our hard day’s work is done,
Away unto the mill we must begone.
Till twelve or one o’clock a-grinding corn,
And must be up by day-light in the morn.
And if you get in debt with any one.
It must be paid e’er thence away you come,
On public places they’ll put up your name,
As every one their just demands must claim.

But if we offer once to run away,
For every hour we must serve a day,
For every day a week, they’re so severe,
Every week a month, and every month a year.
But if they murder, rob, or steal, when there,
They’re hang’d direct the laws are so severe;
For by the rigour of that very law,
They are kept under, and do stand in awe.

AT last it pleased God I sick did fall,
Yet I no favour did receive at all,
For I was forc’d to work while I could stand,
Or hold the hoe within my feeble hand.
Much hardship then indeed I did endure,
No dog was ever nursed so before,
More pity the poor negro slaves bestow’d,
Than my brutual and inhuman master would,
Oft on my knees the Lord I did implore,
To let me see my native land once more,
For through his grace my life I would amend,
And be a comfort to my dearest friend.
Helpless and sick, and left alone,
I by myself did use to make my moan,
And think upon my former wicked ways,
That brought me to this wretched case.
The Lord who saw my grief and woe.
And my complaint, knew my contrite heart,
His gracious mercy did to me afford,
My health to me again it was restor’d,
It pleas’d the Lord to grant to me such grace,
That tho’ I was in a barbarous place.
I serv’d the Lord in fervency and zeal,
By which much inward blessing I did feel.
Now twelve years had pass’d thus away,
And but two more I had by law to stay,
When death did my cruel master call,
But that was no relief to me at all.
The widow would not the plantation hold,
So me and all therein was to be sold,
A planter who at James’s Town did dwell.
Came down to view, and lik’d it very well.
He bought the negroes, who for life are slaves,

But no transported felons would he have,
So we were put like sheep into the fold,
Unto the best bidder for to be sold.

A Gentleman, who seem’d very grave,
Said unto me, how long are you a slave;
Not two years quite. I unto him reply’d,
That is but very short indeed he cry’d,
He ask’d my trade, name, and whence I came,
And what vile act had brought me to this shame,
I told him all at which he shook his head,
I hope you’ve seen your folly now he said.
I told him yes, and truly did repent.
But what makes me the most of all relent,
That I should to my parents prove so vile
Being their darling and their only child,
He said no more but short from me did turn,
While from my eyes the tears did trickling run,
To see him to my overseer to go.
But what he said to him I did not know,
Then straightway he to me did come again,
And said no longer here you must remain,
For I have bought you of this said he,
Therefore prepare yourself to go with me,
I went with him, my heart opprest with woe.
Not knowing him or where I was to go,
But was surpris’d very much to find,
He used me so tenderly and kind.
He said he would not use me as a slave,
But as a servant if I’d well behave;
And if I pleas’d him, when my time expir’d,
He’d send me home again if I requir’d.
My kind new master at James’s Town did dwell,
By trade a cooper and liv’d very well,
I was his servant on him to attend,
Thus God, unlook’d for, raised me a friend.

Thus did I live in plenty, peace, and ease,
Having none but my master to please,
And if at any time he did ride out,
I with him rode the country round about.

And in my heart I often griev’d to see,
So many transport felons there to be;
Some, who in England had liv’d fine and brave,
Were like horses made to trudge and slave.
At length my fourteen years expir’d quite,
Which fill’d my very soul with fond delight,
To think I should not longer there remain,
But to Old England once return again,
My master for me did express much love,
And as good as his promise he did prove;
He got me shipp’d, and I came home again,
With joy and comfort tho’ I went with pain.
My father and my mother well I found,
Who to see me with joy did abound;
My mother over me did weep for joy,
My father cry’d once more [hole in page] see my boy.
Whom I thought dead but does alive remain,
And is turn’d to me now once again;
I hope God has so wrought upon thy mind,
No more to wickedness thou’it be inclin’d
I told him all the dangers I went through,
Likewise my sickness and my hardships too,
Which fill’d their tender hearts with sad surprise,
While melting tears ran trickling from her eyes.
I begg’d them from all tears now to refrain,
Since God had brought me to their home again,
The Lord unto me so much grace will give,
To work for you both whilst I do live,
My countrymen take warning e’er it be to late,
Lest you should share my hard unhappy fate,
Altho’ but little crimes you here have done,
Think on seven or fourteen years to come;
Forc’d from your country for to go
Among the negroes to work at the hoe,
In different countries void of relief
Sold for a slave because you prov’d a thief.
Young men all with speed your lives amend,
Take my advice as one that was your friend,
For tho’ so light of it you do make here,
Hard is your lot if you do once get there.



Printed and sold by C. Croshaw, Coppergate, York.

[ © This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill]

Added June 9, 2015

Scroll to top