The Involuntary American: A Scottish Prisoner’s Journey to the New World

Written by Carol Gardner
Review by Edward James

Thomas Doughty was born into a poor farming family in the Scottish Lowlands during the run of bad harvests of the Little Ice Age of the mid-17th century and was drafted, malnourished and untrained, into the Scots army, which Cromwell annihilated at Dunbar in 1650. Having survived the Death March to Durham and transportation to New England, he was sold for £30 as an ‘indentured servant’. He died wealthy and respected over fifty years later, but only after seeing his first fortune as a saw mill owner go up in smoke in the Indian wars.  Thomas may have been an involuntary American, but he lived the American Dream.

Unfortunately Thomas never learned to write, so the story of his life has to be inferred largely from other people’s experience in similar situations in the same period.  There is a wonderful historical novel to be written here, and not without romantic interest.  Thomas’ future father-in-law took him to court and had him fined for ‘fornicating’ with his daughter, whom he cut out of his will.

Gardner has used the limited material available to good effect, and we are left wishing Thomas could have told us more about himself.