Slaves & Indentured Servants

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During the 17th and 18th centuries throughout the English colonies, indentured servants and slaves made up the main workforce for land-owning colonists. For a long period of time, both indentured servants and slaves seemed to stand on the same status and were treated about the same. However, as time progressed, changes in the colonies also brought changes between these two different groups. The path to the Revolution brought about new ideologies concerning freedom and liberty, causing colonists to question their own ideas of freedom and liberty, as well as the idea of what freedom and liberty should mean to slaves and indentured servants. Indentured servants and slaves were similar in many ways in both their lifestyles, the way they were treated themselves, and the way their children were treated; however, their differences become very evident when discussing their progression into slavery or servitude, and their progression to freedom.

Throughout the majority of time during the 17th and 18th century, indentured servants and slaves were considered to be of the same rank and were treated fairly the same. For a while, most colonists adhered to English common law, which did not acknowledge chattel slavery or the ownership of a human being as property. While indentured servants had to bind themselves in writing to their owner for about three to seven years, many of the early African slaves worked for their masters for life, although they were not legally enslaved (Henretta and Brody, 49). Because of this, and the fact that many slaves had converted to Christianity, some of the earlier slaves were able to escape their bondage and become freemen, therefore having white colonists look upon them differently than later African slaves. Similarly, indentured servants and their masters were both aware that after their three to seven year contract was up, they would be released from their bondage and would receive their “freedom dues” (“Complaint of an Indentured...
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