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Tea Party Winners: Carla Gade's winner is Becky Dempsey, Andrea Boeshaar's winner Caryl Kane, Gina Welborn's winner Jasmine A., Carrie Fancett Pagels' winners book copy -- Lynda Edwards, teacup and saucer -- Wendy Shoults

Friday, January 27, 2017

INDENTURED SERVANTS IN COLONIAL AMERICA

In my guest post for Colonial Quills, Coming To America, September 16, 2011, I delved into the subject of immigrants coming to the colonies as indentured servants.

Indentured Servants were emigrants who signed contracts, or “indentures,” committing themselves to work for a fixed number of years, usually four to
seven, in payment for their passage. The captain would transport the indentured servants to the American colonies, and sell their legal papers to colonists; farmers, planters, and shopkeepers, thereby providing them a labor force.

That post examined some of the reasons people left their homeland to start a new life in the young colonies. It also detailed some of the challenges they endured to cross the Atlantic and what they experienced upon arrival.

Indentured servitude was a subject that has interested me for a long time and was the basis for the story I wrote, A Heart Set Free, a tale of an indentured servant who travels from Scotland to the Virginia colony in 1770.

The research I did for the story was fascinating. Since my character, Heather Douglas emigrated from Scotland; I primarily studied the people signing indentures from the British Isles.

Poverty and unemployment were rampant in early seventeenth century Britain, which prompted many to seek a better life in the colonies. Poor crop years in the eighteenth century also brought people from there and northern Europe to the colonies.

The Enclosure Acts, a series of Parliamentary Acts in England passed between 1750 and 1860, and the high cost of rents caused many from England and Scotland to emigrate. Impoverished Ireland also caused many to emigrate for what they hoped would be a better life.

The ages of men and women who indentured themselves varied in ages from the teens through those in their sixties. They came from rural areas and cities throughout England, Scotland and even Ireland.

Most indentured servants were laborers and often uneducated. As the slave
trade became more common, particularly in the south, many indentured servants learned trades. They did wool spinning, tailoring, hat making, retailing, baking, brewing, butchering, leather processing and smithing of all sorts, and the construction trades also apprenticed bondservants in carpentry, joinery, masonry, plastering, wheel-righting, and shipbuilding.

It was not uncommon for bondservants to prosper once their term of service was over.

I was surprised to learn that as many as 48% of European immigrants to all 13 colonies before 1775 were indentured. The onset of the American Revolution reduced the entry of indentured servants significantly.


If your ancestors came from Western Europe before the Revolution, It is likely that some may have been indentured.

18 comments:

  1. Interesting post Janet as is your book!
    Blessings, Tina

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    1. Thanks. And thank you again for your review on Colonial Quills, Tina.

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  2. I loved your book Janet! Thanks for sharing this bit of your research.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Andrea. The number of people who came to our shores through indenture was what surprised me the most.

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  3. I admit I thought that indentured servants had a master before they left. Did the four to seven year period vary because of the cost set by the captain's doing the transport?

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    1. The period served was based on the cost of passage and as demands for labor grew, so did the cost of indentured servants. I suspect their points of departure may also have played a role in evaluating the time served.

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    2. This is really interesting. Thanks for all the work you put into it!

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  4. How very interesting! I grew up in Hampton, Virginia and lived most of my adult life in Yorktown. There is so much history in that area. We used to find bits of pottery and such in the garden. I look forward to reading and reviewing your book. Thanks for sharing this great information!

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    1. Thanks for coming by, Connie. Did you know that indentured servants also came to Jamestown back in the early 1600's?

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  5. Great post, Janet. It still amazes me that indentures were so common in the colonies but it certainly makes sense. I'm certain most travelers did not have the money for transport and the colonies were such an opportunity to eventually prosper once the indenture was paid. Thanks for this post but also for writing your book!

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  6. I have also been fascinated by the subject of indentured servants, and the fact that some children and young people were kidnapped from various places in the British Isles and sold in the colonies. The fate of the indentured varied greatly. My book, A Mistake of Consequence, follows the story of a young woman taken from Edinburgh and sold in Philadelphia.

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    1. It is a fascinating subject, Terri.
      Voyagers to The West By Bernard Bailyn is a wonderful resource.

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  7. I'm going to look up your story, Terri!

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Thanks for commenting, please check back for our replies!