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17 Jan 2018


Indentured servitude in the Americas was a means by which immigrants, typically young Europeans under 25, came to the Americas from the early 17th to the early 20th centuries. Immigrants would contract to work for an American employer for a time period, usually between one and seven years, in exchange for the employer paying for their passage to the Americas.

The employer provided subsistence for his indentured servants, but no wages; he could restrict some of their activities such as marriage, could sell or transfer their contract to another employer, and could seek legal sanctions, such as prison, if they ran away. At the end of the agreed time period, the servant would become free to go his own way or demand wages for his work. In some cases, the newly freed person also received an item of value such as a small parcel of land or a new suit of clothes.

The consensus view among economic historians and economists is that indentured servitude became popular in the Thirteen Colonies in the seventeenth century because of a large demand for labor there, coupled with labor surpluses in Europe and high costs of transatlantic transportation beyond the means of European workers.

Between the 1630s and the American Revolution, one-half to two-thirds of white immigrants to the Thirteen Colonies arrived under indentures.  A half million Europeans, mostly young men, also went to the Caribbean under indenture to work on plantations. Most indentures were voluntary, although some people were tricked or coerced into them. A debt peonage system similar to indenture was also used in southern New England and Long Island to control and assimilate Native Americans from the 1600s through the American Revolution.

Indentured servitude continued to be used in North America into the early 20th century, but the number of indentured servants declined over time.  Although experts do not agree on the causes of the decline, some possible factors for the American colonies include changes in the labor market and the legal system that made it cheaper and less risky for an employer to hire African slave labor or paid employees, or made indentures unlawful; increased affordability of travel to North America that made immigrants less likely to rely on indentures to pay travel costs; and effects of the American Revolution, particularly on immigration from Britain.

In the Caribbean, the number of indentured servants from Europe began to decline in the 17th century as Europeans became aware of the cruelty of plantation masters and the high death rate of servants, largely due to tropical disease. After the British Empire ended slavery in 1833, plantation owners returned to indentured servitude for labor, with most servants coming from India, until the British government prohibited the practice in 1917.


Gnostic Matriarchal Bishop, Templar Priestess, Energetic Therapists and Interior Temple Decorator, Logo and Web Developer for Virtual Environments. Sustainable Technology Consultant.

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