In the 1600s most "bonded" laborers in the British mainland colonies were not black Africans but white Europeans, mostly poor men and women from England who contracted to work for several years in the colonies in return for free passage to America and basic clothing and provisions. As "indentured servants," they had few freedoms while in service to their "masters"; but when their contracts were fulfilled after four to seven years, they were free. No such "contract" existed for enslaved Africans, of course, whose numbers escalated in the 1700s as British America craved more laborers.
The personal experience of those in servitude is explored in other sections of this toolbox. (See GROWTH: Servants and Slaves, and Coming to America; and PEOPLES: The British.) The institutional reality of servitude is our topic here: its economics and legalities. Sounds dry, but what gives intensity to these readings is the divergent views they reveal—from two southern planters, two European clergymen, and an English indentured servant. The southern planters insist slaves and servants are treated well and protected by the law; the servant says not so. The clergymen give detached accounts, devoid of the theological or ethical comments we might expect: why? Each man compares the two forms of servitude from a unique perspective for a unique audience. Be sure to determine the perspective and audience for each selection. Also consider the two works by former indentured servants in the 1600s, in the toolbox American Beginnings. (11 pages.)
- Overall, what impressions do you gain about the two forms in servitude in eighteenth-century British America?
- Each man compares the two forms of servitude from a unique perspective for a unique audience. Determine the perspective and audience for each selection. What patterns do you find?
- What do we learn about servitude from the indentured servant that we don't learn from the elite white men? Why?
- What do we learn about servitude from the elite white men that we don't learn from the servant? Why?
- Study what is not said in each selection, e.g., about runaways, punishments, mortality rates, and ethical aspects of servitude.
- What arguments are given for having more servants and fewer slaves, and vice versa?
- Are any arguments given for abandoning servitude?
- Create a dialogue between Robert Beverley, the Virginia slaveholder, and William Moraley, the indentured servant, using quotations from their selections, e.g., on the issue of legal protection for slaves.
|Beverley: ||The laws do assure that slaves "be used as tenderly as possible."|
|Moraley: ||Sir, there are "no Laws made in Favour of these unhappy Wretches."|
- To what extent does each man take servitude for granted (even the indentured servant)? Why?
- In your analysis, include selections by slaves and indentured servants in other sections of this toolbox and in the toolbox American Beginnings (1492-1690). (See links above).
|Five perspectives on servitude: ||11 pages
- Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson, A map of the most inhabited part of Virginia containing the whole province of Maryland with part of Pensilvania, New Jersey and North Carolina, 1751, two details of cartouche. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Geography & Map Division, #G3880 1755 .F72 Vault
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