Indentured Servants and Slaves

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The English colonies were constructed by an incredible work fore of considerable size and diversity. Indentured servants and slaves were systematically utilized by the English Crown to expand its economic pursuits and solve domestic issues. Endless American land and cheap labor were to ensure a prosperous and flourishing economy that would propel England from a small island nation to a global imperial power. However, both indentured servants and slaves demonstrated characteristics that may alter one’s perception of each of their respective labor systems. Indentured servitude was not a simple path to fortune, and slavery was not an impenetrable system comprised of masters and brainless slaves. These laborers – although culturally different – endured similar hardships as pawns under command of the financially ambitious English Crown, laying the foundations for the colonies’ economic and social structures throughout the 1600s and 1700s. The English Crown’s land-oriented economic goals dictated the travels and experiences of these laborers. During this time, English land’s high value played a significant role in the progression and aspirations of its occupants. Political and public office privileges for landowners, such as having the right to vote in local elections or hold office as a sheriff, added incentives for citizens to pursue land ownership. Therefore, colonists increasingly focused on American land, which was high in abundance, yet low in monetary value. However, ambitious colonists and typical farmers soon found themselves struggling to maintain their land without assistance from the sizable work force English property owners were accustomed to operating (Gray, 97-100). Heavy importation of indentured servants and slaves thus followed, beginning the transformation of British North America’s social and economic complexion. For example, worsening relations between Blacks and Whites questioned the morals behind the latter’s religious convictions and economic pursuits. This is evident in various historical documents, including three Virginia statues enacted between 1662 and 1669. The first one, enacted in December of 1662, ensured that all children born in the country were either “held in bond or free only according to the condition of the mother…” (“Who Built the Colonies?” 111). The second one, enacted in September of 1668, declared that the “conferring of baptism does not alter the conditions of the person as to his bondage or freedom…” (“Who Built the Colonies?” 111). The third one, enacted in October of 1669, addressed that if a slave “should chance to die” by his master “correcting him,” the master will be “acquit from molestation” and the death “shall not be accounted felony…” (“Who Built the Colonies?” 112). The statue attempts to justify this by claiming “it cannot be presumed that prepensed malice, which alone makes murder felony, should induce any man destroy his own estate.” (“Who Built the Colonies?” 112). This essentially made it legal for a White man to kill an African, as it is clearly expressed that slaves were not perceived as human beings with inherited rights under the colonists’ god, but as “estate” within a transatlantic economic system. Further north, numerous historical documents illustrate how many masters mirrored this mind state in relation to their indentured servants.

Indentured servitude was not such a direct and easy process to colonial prosperity, as accounts describing the treatment of its servants even draw parallels with themes of slavery. It was, however, still a major contributor to the economic and social development of the English colonies. Gottlieb Mittelberger, a German tutor and choirmaster, laid out the themes of the passage for incoming indentured servants. They were purchased and sold in congruence with standard products with minimal concern for their health, depicting the cruelty surrounding English social and economic practices. Mittelberger...
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