Our Week 1 Lesson tells us that the first English settlement in North America was founded in 1607 in Jamestown, Virginia. Establishing profitable plantations in this new land required significant labor. In order to meet their labor needs, wealthy colonists were willing to pay passage, board, and freedom dues in exchange to approximately 4-7 years of indentured servitude for persons wanting to emigrate from Europe to North America (Oregon Public Broadcasting, 2014). The contracts between indentured servants and the wealthy colonists could be quite profitable for the servants in the long-run. After their contacts expired, the servant would be free and might be given land, a cow, clothes, a yearâ€s worth of corn, and arms (OPB, 2014). There were laws protecting some of these indentured servantsâ€ rights, however, their contracts could be extended in consequence for bad behavior such as running away or becoming pregnant (OPB, 2014). According to the 2014 article by Oregon Public Broadcasting, approximately one-half to two-thirds of immigrants started out as indentured servants.
In 1619, the first black Africans began arriving in Virginia and worked as indentured servants like European immigrants, however slave laws were soon passed, and their protective freedoms were stripped. In response to increased labor demands, presumably because more and more immigrants arrived in North America, the price of indentured servants rose. Increased prices made slavery the more appealing option and was a â€œmore profitable and ever-renewable source of laborâ€ (OPB, 2014, para 7). By 1700, slaves had become the main source of labor in the upper South colonial region, edging out indentured servitude (Keene, Cornell, & Oâ€Donnel, 2013). 1661 marked the year that Virginia passed slave laws, which meant that any freedoms the servants once had were gone.
To clarify, slaves had no rights and no hope of eventual freedom in exchange for labor. They were often separated from their families and abused before being boarded onto large ships bound for North America where 14% of them perished en route (Keene et al, 2013), Alternatively, indentured servants were afforded some freedoms and protections in exchange for their labor and were working to pay off a debt. At the termination of their contract they might be rewarded with land and goods that would help them get off to a good start in establishing their own plantations or at least enjoying a modest beginning (OBP, 2014).
Chamberlain College of Nursing. (2019). HIST405N Week 1: Toward an American republic: the colonial period. [Online lesson]. Downerâ€s Grove, IL: DeVry Education Group.
Oregon Public Broadcasting (2014). Indentured servants in the U.S. Retrieved from
http://www.pbs.org/opb/historydetectives/feature/indentured-servants-in-the-us/ (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.
Keene, J., Cornell, S. & O’Donnell, E. (2013). Visions of America: A History of the United States (2nd ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.
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