Indentured Servants

For European indentured servants, the guarantee of eventual freedom was significant, but many still collaborated with enslaved Africans and American Indians to run away, resist cruel treatment from shared masters, or to form rebellions. The close proximity of social status sometimes led to intermarriage between European indentured servants and enslaved Africans, and the exchange of cultural traditions and skills in the form of food, music, spirituality, and craft.

Indentured Servants

The situation was particularly difficult for indentured women, because in both low social class and gender, they were believed to be particularly prone to vice, making legal redress unusual. Indentured servants are people who sign a bond to work for another for a specified time in order to repay an indenture or loan. Generally, these people worked in return for payment of transportation costs, food, clothing, and shelter. When a person wanted to move to a new location but didn’t have the money for the transportation or accommodation, he or she agreed to work for a wealthy person in that location for a period of time. Indentured servants did not receive regular payment for their work. Indentured servants were white Europeans of modest means who for various reasons wanted to go to the British colonies but could not pay the cost of their passage.

From Servitude to Slavery

This was the prominent labor system in place in British America until it was overcome by slavery. While many came from England, Ireland, and Germany, individuals from all over the world were affected. In many countries today, the system has been outlawed and has been banned by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I would start by checking local and state archives, such as the Library of Virginia, for John Oldham’s papers, then searching court records in hope that the documentation exists.

What did female indentured servants do?

Indentured servants were men and women who signed a contract (also known as an indenture or a covenant) by which they agreed to work for a certain number of years in exchange for transportation to Virginia and, once they arrived, food, clothing, and shelter.

The life of a slave revolved around work and obedience; they were often beaten by their owners or overseers if they were slow working, insolent or defiant. Being private property, slaves could be sold off at the master’s whim, causing the separation of families and communities. Young female slaves were often subject to sexual assault from their owners or overseers.

Records of indentured servants

With no slave laws in place, they were initially treated as Indentured Servants, and given the same opportunities for freedom dues as whites. However, slave laws were soon passed – in Massachusetts in 1641 and Virginia in 1661 –and any small freedoms that might have existed for blacks were taken away. For those that survived the work and received their freedom package, many historians argue that they were better off than those new immigrants who came freely to the country. Their contract may have included at least 25 acres of land, a year’s worth of corn, arms, a cow and new clothes. In some cases, female servants became pregnant as the result of relationships with male servants. Beginning in 1619, the assembly attempted to limit such relationships by preventing indentured women from marrying without permission.

Why were indentured servants bad?

Indentured servants could not marry without the permission of their master, were sometimes subject to physical punishment and did not receive legal favor from the courts. Female indentured servants in particular might be raped and/or sexually abused by their masters.

The search results will give you references to that surname by page number but will not show you the actual page. Here is a sample of a search from this text, using the surname Spencer. Some of these resources can be accessed online, while others reference physical texts. If the book you want does not include an online database, you can still check to see if the book has been scanned for online access.

Did they have rights?

While still serving their time, servants were under the total authority of their masters and they could be bought and sold like slaves. A person under contract to work for another person for a definite period of time, usually without pay but in exchange for free passage to a new country. During the seventeenth century most of the white laborers in Maryland and Virginia came from England as indentured servants.

The American Revolution did not challenge the institution of slavery, at least not directly – however focus on liberty and natural rights raised many questions about the future of slavery in a land of supposedly free men. For their part, masters had to provide their servants with a “Competent Dyet, Clothing & Lodging,” and they could “not exceed the Bounds of moderation in correcting them.” By all accounts, life for indentured servants was difficult. Many died of disease before the end of their contracts, and most who survived were poor. Indenture contracts were written between British agents and Ridgely indenture purchasers. Non-convict servants served terms of 4 to 6 years, while convicts had to serve at least 7 years.

More from Merriam-Webster on indentured servant

Sometimes abused servants took the law into their own hands or ran away. When apprehended, the servant was subject to the same courts to which he or she might have appealed. However, the more remote a plantation or settlement was, the more opportunity for abuse was possible.

  • Private investors who, alongside the company, had shipped servants at their own expense continued to do so while the company rid itself of its role as rental agent.
  • The Indian Immigration Act of 1883 prevented women from exiting India as widowed or single in order to escape.
  • Idi Amin’s expulsion of the “Asians” from Uganda in 1972 was an expulsion of Indo-Africans.
  • Many slaves were chained to plank beds, others were shackled to walls or masts; in either case, the slaves were given little or no room to move or access to sunlight.
  • The cargo holds of Atlantic slave ships were filled to bursting, often containing hundreds of people in a small space.