Indentured Servitude

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An indenture was a legal contract between a servant and master enforced by the courts. Men would sign these indentures to come to the new world and work for a master for up to seven years, to pay for their journey over, and then were set free. Also, if they paid a sum of money within a certain timeframe from his or her arrival, they would be set free. Servants were shipped over by the boatload and then advertised for sale when they arrived. They were barely given enough food to survive the trip over, and many died before they even got to the new world. A buyer would sign the indenture and agree to provide all of their necessities until they were set free. The system proved to be much less desirable than first advertised though as many masters exploited their power.

In the late 1500s, an economic depression hit England, and thousands of farmers went out on the streets. They wandered the streets unemployed and mostly became beggars. England saw this as a “surplus population” and needed to rid them from their land. Queen Elizabeth passed laws that could punish them, imprison them in workhouses without pay, or simply exile them. Anybody who was found begging could be whipped, sent to a workhouse, sent out of the city, or be sent out of the country entirely. This created a need for the now homeless and jobless farmers to escape their terrible living conditions.

Indentured servitude began as a fairly successful way of gathering much needed help to come to the new world. One planter could not get wealthy, regardless of his work efforts, unless he had others to work his fields. This fact necessitated the need for an inexpensive source of labor. Many of the unemployed, homeless, poor and exiled men and women were offered a way to get a fresh start this way. These outcasts became commodities for wealthy merchants looking for cheap labor to bring to the new world. They were offered a trip to North America, along with four to seven years of unpaid work for...
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