Estimates of Debtor-Prisoners in England Before 1775

face of a prisoner
Reference point: sheet: Defoe account

Contemporary claims before 1775 about the number of prisoners for debt before 1775. Daniel Defoe’s figures for debtor prisoners about 1709. Debtors counts by prison, 1691 and 1779.

Imprison for debt was a major public issue and a significant risk in men’s lives in early modern England. The prevalence of imprisonment for debt in England about 1670 was roughly double the prevalence of imprisonment for any reason in 2009 in England and worldwide. Gender roles imposed on men and gender discrimination against men in debt law (coverture) made debt imprisonment more male-biased then crime imprisonment.

Dataset sheets:

  • various estimates: contemporary claims of number of debtors-prisoners, with full context of claim
  • Defoe account: Daniel Defoe’s detailed enumeration of prisoners for debt in “A Review of the State of the British Nation” (1709)
  • gaols 1691 & 1779: data for number of debtors in specific prisons, where available, in 1691 and 1779

Related datasets:

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