Indentured servitude

An indentured servant or indentured laborer is an employee (indenturee) within a system of unfree labor who is bound by a signed or forced contract (indenture) to work for a particular employer for a fixed time. The contract often lets the employer sell the labor of an indenturee to a third party. Indenturees usually enter into an indenture for a specific payment or other benefit, or to meet a legal obligation, such as debt bondage. On completion of the contract, indentured servants were given their freedom, and occasionally plots of land. In many countries, systems of indentured labor have now been outlawed, and are banned by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a form of slavery.

An indenture signed by Henry Mayer, with an "X", in 1738. This contract bound Mayer to Abraham Hestant of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, who had paid for Mayer to travel from Europe.

The Americas

North America

Until the late 18th century, indentured servitude was very common in British North America. It was often a way for poor Europeans to immigrate to the American colonies: they signed an indenture in return for a costly passage. After their indenture expired, the immigrants were free to work for themselves or another employer. It has been argued by at least one economist that indentured servitude occurred largely as "an institutional response to a capital market imperfection".[1]

In some cases, the indenture was made with a ship's master, who sold on the indenture to an employer in the colonies. Most indentured servants worked as farm laborers or domestic servants, although some were apprenticed to craftsmen.

The terms of an indenture were not always enforced by American courts, although runaways were usually sought out and returned to their employer.

Between one-half and two-thirds of white immigrants to the American colonies between the 1630s and American Revolution had come under indentures.[2] However, while almost half the European immigrants to the Thirteen Colonies were indentured servants, at any one time they were outnumbered by workers who had never been indentured, or whose indenture had expired, and thus free wage labor was the more prevalent for Europeans in the colonies.[3] Indentured people were numerically important mostly in the region from Virginia north to New Jersey. Other colonies saw far fewer of them. The total number of European immigrants to all 13 colonies before 1775 was about 500,000; of these 55,000 were involuntary prisoners. Of the 450,000 or so European arrivals who came voluntarily, Tomlins estimates that 48% were indentured.[4] About 75% of these were under the age of 25. The age of adulthood for men was 24 years (not 21); those over 24 generally came on contracts lasting about 3 years.[5] Regarding the children who came, Gary Nash reports that "many of the servants were actually nephews, nieces, cousins and children of friends of emigrating Englishmen, who paid their passage in return for their labor once in America."[6]

Several instances of kidnapping[7] for transportation to the Americas are recorded such as that of Peter Williamson (1730–1799). As historian Richard Hofstadter pointed out, "Although efforts were made to regulate or check their activities, and they diminished in importance in the eighteenth century, it remains true that a certain small part of the white colonial population of America was brought by force, and a much larger portion came in response to deceit and misrepresentation on the part of the spirits [recruiting agents]."[8] One "spirit" named William Thiene was known to have spirited away[9] 840 people from Britain to the colonies in a single year.[10] Historian Lerone Bennett, Jr. notes that "Masters given to flogging often did not care whether their victims were black or white."[11]

Indentured servitude was also used by various English and British governments as a punishment for defeated foes in rebellions and civil wars. Oliver Cromwell sent into enforced indentured service thousands of prisoners captured in the 1648 Battle of Preston and the 1651 Battle of Worcester. King James II acted similarly after the Monmouth Rebellion in 1685, and use of such measures continued also in the 18th Century.

Indentured servants could not marry without the permission of their master, were sometimes subject to physical punishment and did not receive legal favor from the courts. To ensure that the indenture contract was satisfied completely with the allotted amount of time, the term of indenture was lengthened for female servants if they became pregnant. Upon finishing their term they received "freedom dues" and were set free.[12]

The American Revolution severely limited immigration to the United States, but economic historians dispute its long-term impact. Sharon Salinger argues that the economic crisis that followed the war made long-term labor contracts unattractive. His analysis of Philadelphia's population shows how the percentage of bound citizens fell from 17% to 6.4% over the course of the war.[13] William Miller posits a more moderate theory, stating that "the Revolution (…) wrought disturbances upon white servitude. But these were temporary rather than lasting".[14] David Galenson supports this theory by proposing that the numbers of British indentured servants never recovered, and that Europeans from other nationalities replaced them.[15]

The American and British governments passed several laws that helped foster the decline of indentures. The UK Parliament's Passenger Vessels Act 1803 regulated travel conditions aboard ships to make transportation more expensive, so as to hinder landlords' tenants seeking a better life. An American law passed in 1833 abolished imprisonment of debtors, which made prosecuting runaway servants more difficult, increasing the risk of indenture contract purchases. The 13th Amendment, passed in the wake of the American Civil War, made indentured servitude illegal in the United States.


Through its introduction, the details regarding indentured labor varied across import and export regions and most overseas contracts were made before the voyage with the understanding that prospective migrants were competent enough to make overseas contracts on their own account and that they preferred to have a contract before the voyage.[16]

Most labor contracts made were in increments of five years, with the opportunity to extend another five years. Many contracts also provided free passage home after the dictated labor was completed. However, there were generally no policies regulating employers once the labor hours were completed, which led to frequent ill-treatment.[16]


Coolie woman
Indian woman in traditional dress

In 1838, with the abolition of slavery at its onset, the British were in the process of transporting a million Indians out of India and into the Caribbean to take the place of the African slaves in indentureship. Women, looking for what they believed would be a better life in the colonies, were specifically sought after and recruited at a much higher rate than men due to the high population of men already in the colonies. However, women had to prove their status as a single and eligible to emigrate, as married women could not leave without their husbands. Many women seeking escape from abusive relationships were willing to take that chance. The Indian Immigration Act of 1883[17] prevented women from exiting India as widowed or single in order to escape.[18] Arrival in the colonies brought unexpected conditions of poverty, homelessness, and little to no food as the high numbers of emigrants overwhelmed the small villages and flooded the labor market. Many were forced into signing labor contracts that exposed them to the hard field labor on the plantation. Additionally, on arrival to the plantation, single women were 'assigned' a man as they were not allowed to live alone. The subtle difference between slavery and indenture-ship is best seen here as women were still subjected to the control of the plantation owners as well as their newly assigned 'partner'.[19] Their status was closer to chattel property than human beings.

A half million Europeans went as indentured servants to the Caribbean (primarily the English-speaking islands of the Caribbean) before 1840.[20][21]

In 1643, the white population of Barbados was 37,200[22] (86% of the population).[23] During the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, at least 10,000 Scottish and Irish prisoners of war were transported as indentured laborers to the colonies.[24]

There were also reports of kidnappings of Europeans to work as servants. During the late 17th and early 18th centuries, children from England and France were kidnapped and sold into indentured labor in the Caribbean.

Indian indenture system

The Indian indenture system was a system of indenture, a form of debt bondage, by which 3.5 million Indians were transported to various colonies of European powers to provide labour for the (mainly sugar) plantations. It started from the end of slavery in 1833 and continued until 1920. This resulted in the development of large Indian diaspora, which spread from the Indian Ocean (i.e. Réunion and Mauritius) to Pacific Ocean (i.e. Fiji), as well as the growth of Indo-Caribbean and Indo-African population.

The British wanted Indians to work in Natal as workers. But the Indians refused, and as a result, the British introduced the indenture system. On 18 January 1826, the Government of the French Indian Ocean island of Réunion laid down terms for the introduction of Indian labourers to the colony. Each man was required to appear before a magistrate and declare that he was going voluntarily. The contract was for five years with pay of ₹8 (12¢ US) per month and rations provided labourers had been transported from Pondicherry and Karaikal. The first attempt at importing Indian labour into Mauritius, in 1829, ended in failure, but by 1834, with abolition throughout most of the British Empire, transportation of Indian labour to the island gained pace. By 1838, 25,000 Indian labourers had been shipped to Mauritius.

After the end of slavery, the West Indian sugar colonies tried the use of emancipated slaves, families from Ireland, Germany and Malta and Portuguese from Madeira. All these efforts failed to satisfy the labour needs of the colonies due to high mortality of the new arrivals and their reluctance to continue working at the end of their indenture. On 16 November 1844, the British Indian Government legalised emigration to Jamaica, Trinidad and Demerara (Guyana). The first ship, the Whitby, sailed from Port Calcutta for British Guiana on 13 January 1838, and arrived in Berbice on 5 May 1838. Transportation to the Caribbean stopped in 1848 due to problems in the sugar industry and resumed in Demerara and Trinidad in 1851 and Jamaica in 1860.

The Indian indenture system was finally banned in 1917.[25] According to The Economist, "When the Indian Legislative Council finally ended did so because of pressure from Indian nationalists and declining profitability, rather than from humanitarian concerns."[25]


Convicts transported to the Australian colonies before the 1840s often found themselves hired out in a form of indentured labor.[26] Indentured servants also emigrated to New South Wales.[27] The Van Diemen's Land Company used skilled indentured labor for periods of seven years or less.[28] A similar scheme for the Swan River area of Western Australia existed between 1829 and 1832.[29]

During the 1860s planters in Australia, Fiji, New Caledonia, and the Samoa Islands, in need of laborers, encouraged a trade in long-term indentured labor called "blackbirding". At the height of the labor trade, more than one-half the adult male population of several of the islands worked abroad.

Over a period of 40 years, from the mid-19th century to the early 20th century, labor for the sugar-cane fields of Queensland, Australia included an element of coercive recruitment and indentured servitude of the 62,000 South Sea Islanders. The workers came mainly from Melanesia – mainly from the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu – with a small number from Polynesian and Micronesian areas such as Samoa, the Gilbert Islands (subsequently known as Kiribati) and the Ellice Islands (subsequently known as Tuvalu). They became collectively known as "Kanakas".

It remains unknown how many Islanders the trade controversially kidnapped. Whether the system legally recruited Islanders, persuaded, deceived, coerced or forced them to leave their homes and travel by ship to Queensland remains difficult to determine. Official documents and accounts from the period often conflict with the oral tradition passed down to the descendants of workers. Stories of blatantly violent kidnapping tend to relate to the first 10–15 years of the trade.

Australia deported many of these Islanders back to their places of origin in the period 1906–1908 under the provisions of the Pacific Island Labourers Act 1901.[30]

Australia's own colonies of Papua and New Guinea (joined after the Second World War to form Papua New Guinea) were the last jurisdictions in the world to use indentured servitude.


A significant number of construction projects, principally British, in East Africa and South Africa, required vast quantities of labor, exceeding the availability or willingness of local tribesmen. Coolies from India were imported, frequently under indenture, for such projects as the Uganda Railway, as farm labor, and as miners. They and their descendants formed a significant portion of the population and economy of Kenya and Uganda, although not without engendering resentment from others. Idi Amin's expulsion of the "Asians" from Uganda in 1972 was an expulsion of Indo-Africans.[31]

The majority of the population of Mauritius are descendants of Indian indentured labourers brought in between 1834 and 1921. Initially brought to work the sugar estates following the abolition of slavery in the British Empire an estimated half a million indentured laborers were present on the island during this period. Aapravasi Ghat, in the bay at Port Louis and now a UNESCO site, was the first British colony to serve as a major reception centre for slaves and indentured servants for British plantation labour.[32]

Legal status

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948) declares in Article 4 "No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms".[33] More specifically, It is dealt with by article 1(a) of the United Nations 1956 Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery.

However, only national legislation can establish the unlawfulness of indentured labor in a specific jurisdiction. In the United States, the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (VTVPA) of 2000 extended servitude to cover peonage as well as Involuntary Servitude.[34]

See also


  1. ^ Whaples, Robert (March 1995). "Where Is There Consensus Among American Economic Historians? The Results of a Survey on Forty Propositions". The Journal of Economic History. 55 (1): 139–154. CiteSeerX doi:10.1017/S0022050700040602. JSTOR 2123771. ...[the] vast majority [of economic historians and economists] accept the view that indentured servitude was an economic arrangement designed to iron out imperfections in the capital market.
  2. ^ Galenson 1984: 1
  3. ^ John Donoghue, "Indentured Servitude in the 17th Century English Atlantic: A Brief Survey of the Literature," History Compass (2013) 11#10 pp 893–902.
  4. ^ Christopher Tomlins, "Reconsidering Indentured Servitude: European Migration and the Early American Labor Force, 1600–1775," Labor History (2001) 42#1 pp 5–43, at p.
  5. ^ Tomlins (2001) at notes 31, 42, 66
  6. ^ Gary Nash, The Urban Crucible: The Northern Seaports and the Origins of the American Revolution (1979) p 15
  7. ^ "trepan | trapan, n.2". OED Online. June 2017. Oxford University Press
  8. ^ Richard Hofstadter (1971). America at 1750: A Social Portrait. Knopf Doubleday. p. 36. ISBN 9780307809650.
  9. ^ Lerone Bennett, Jr. (November 1969). White Servitude in America. Ebony Magazine. pp. 31–40.
  10. ^ Calendar of State Papers: Colonial series. Great Britain. Public Record Office. 1893. p. 521.
  11. ^ Calendar of State Papers: Colonial series. Great Britain. Public Record Office. 1893. p. 36.
  12. ^ Eric Foner: Give me liberty. W.W.Norton & Company, 2004. ISBN 978-0-393-97873-5.
  13. ^ Salinger, Sharon V. (1981). "Colonial Labor in Transition: The Decline of Indentured Servitude in Late Eighteenth‐Century Philadelphia". Labor History. 2. 22 (2): 165–191 [181]. doi:10.1080/00236568108584612.
  14. ^ Miller, William (1940). "The Effects of the American Revolution on Indentured Servitude". Pennsylvania History. 3. 7: 131–141 [137].
  15. ^ Galenson, David (1984). "The Rise and Fall of Indentured Servitude in the Americas: An Economic Analysis". Journal of Economic History. 1. 44: 1–26 [13]. doi:10.1017/s002205070003134x.
  16. ^ a b Walton, Lai. Indentured Labor, Caribbean Sugar. pp. 50–70.
  17. ^ [1]
  18. ^ Bahadur, Gaiutra (2014). Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture. United States: Chicago Press. p. 22. ISBN 9780226211381.
  19. ^ Bahadur, Gaiutra (2014). Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture. United States: University of Chicago Press. p. 123. ISBN 9780226211381.
  20. ^ Michael D. Bordo, Alan M. Taylor, Jeffrey G. Williamson, eds. Globalization in historical perspective (2005) p. 72
  21. ^ Gordon K. Lewis and Anthony P. Maingot, Main Currents in Caribbean Thought: The Historical Evolution of Caribbean Society in Its Ideological Aspects, 1492–1900 (2004) pp 96–97
  22. ^ Cutler, Cecilia (12 July 2017). Language Contact in Africa and the African Diaspora in the Americas: In honor of John V. Singler. John Benjamins Publishing Company. p. 178. ISBN 978-9027252777.
  23. ^ Population, Slavery and Economy in Barbados, BBC.
  24. ^ Higman 1997, p. 108.
  25. ^ a b "The legacy of Indian migration to European colonies". The Economist. 2 September 2017. Retrieved 2 September 2017.
  26. ^ Atkinson, James (1826). An account of the state of agriculture & grazing in New South Wales. London: J. Cross. p. 110. Retrieved 2012-11-14. On Sir Thomas Brisbane assuming the Government, it was ordered, that all persons should, for every 100 acres of land granted to them, take and keep one convict until the expiration or remission of his sentence.
  27. ^ Perkins, John (1987), "Convict Labour and the Australian Agricultural Company", in Nicholas, Stephen (ed.), The Convict Workers: Reinterpeting Australia's Past, Studies in Australian History, Cambridge University Press (published 1988), p. 168, ISBN 9780521361262, retrieved 2012-11-14, A feature of the Australian Agricultural Company's operation at Port Stephens was the simultaneous employment [...] of various forms of labour. The original nucleus of the workforce consisted of indentured servants brought out from Europe on seven-year contracts.
  28. ^ p.15 Duxbury, Jennifer Colonia Servitude: Indentured and Assigned Servants of the Van Diemen's Land Company 1825-1841 Monach Publications in History 1989
  29. ^ Fitch, Valerie Eager for Labour:The Swan River Indenture Hesperian Press 2003
  30. ^ "Documenting Democracy". Archived from the original on October 26, 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-04.
  31. ^ Patel, Hasu H. (1972). "General Amin and the Indian Exodus from Uganda". Issue: A Journal of Opinion. 2 (4): 12–22. doi:10.2307/1166488. JSTOR 1166488.
  32. ^ "History". Government Portal of Mauritius. Retrieved 22 January 2015.
  33. ^ "Universal Declaration of Human Rights". United Nations. Retrieved 2011-10-14.
  34. ^ "US Peonage and involuntary servitude laws". Retrieved 2011-10-14.


  • Bahadur, Gaiutra: Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture. The University of Chicago (2014) ISBN 978-0-226-21138-1
  • Higman, B. W. (1997). Knight, Franklin W. (ed.). General History of the Caribbean: The slave societies of the Caribbean. 3 (illustrated ed.). UNESCO. p. 108. ISBN 978-0-333-65605-1.
  • Galenson, David W. (March 1981). "White Servitude and the Growth of Black Slavery in Colonial America". The Journal of Economic History. 41 (1): 39–47. doi:10.1017/s0022050700042728.
  • Galenson, David W. (June 1981). "The Market Evaluation of Human Capital: The Case of Indentured Servitude". Journal of Political Economy. 89 (3): 446–467. doi:10.1086/260980.
  • Galenson, David (March 1984). "The Rise and Fall of Indentured Servitude in the Americas: An Economic Analysis". The Journal of Economic History. 44 (1): 1–26. doi:10.1017/s002205070003134x.
  • Grubb, Farley (July 1985). "The Incidence of Servitude in Trans-Atlantic Migration, 1771–1804". Explorations in Economic History. 22 (3): 316–39. doi:10.1016/0014-4983(85)90016-6.
  • Grubb, Farley (Dec 1985). "The Market for Indentured Immigrants: Evidence on the Efficiency of Forward-Labor Contracting in Philadelphia, 1745–1773". The Journal of Economic History. 45 (4): 855–868. doi:10.1017/s0022050700035130.
  • Grubb, Farley (Spring 1994). "The Disappearance of Organized Markets for European Immigrant Servants in the United States: Five Popular Explanations Reexamined". Social Science History. 18 (1): 1–30. doi:10.2307/1171397. JSTOR 1171397.
  • Grubb, Farley (Dec 1994). "The End of European Immigrant Servitude in the United States: An Economic Analysis of Market Collapse, 1772–1835". The Journal of Economic History. 54 (4): 794–824. doi:10.1017/s0022050700015497.
  • Tomlins, Christopher. "Reconsidering Indentured Servitude: European Migration and the Early American Labor Force, 1600–1775," Labor History (2001) 42#1 pp 5–43. new statistical estimates
  • Khal Torabully,Coupeuses d'azur, Aapravasi Ghat Trust Fund, Mauritius, 2014.
  • Jackson, Gaines Bradford (June 2014). "Indentured Servitude Revisited" Xlibris Corporation

Further reading

  • Abramitzky, Ran; Braggion, Fabio. "Migration and Human Capital: Self-Selection of Indentured Servants to the Americas," Journal of Economic History, (2006) 66#4 pp 882–905, in JSTOR
  • Ballagh, James Curtis. White Servitude In The Colony Of Virginia: A Study Of The System Of Indentured Labor In The American Colonies (1895) excerpt and text search
  • Brown, Kathleen. Goodwives, Nasty Wenches & Anxious Patriachs: gender, race and power in Colonial Virginia, U. of North Carolina Press, 1996.
  • Hofstadter, Richard. America at 1750: A Social Portrait (Knopf, 1971) pp 33–65 online
  • Jernegan, Marcus Wilson Laboring and Dependent Classes in Colonial America, 1607–1783 (1931)
  • Morgan, Edmund S. American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia. (Norton, 1975).
  • Nagl, Dominik. No Part of the Mother Country, but Distinct Dominions - Law, State Formation and Governance in England, Massachusetts und South Carolina, 1630-1769 (LIT, 2013): 515–535, 577f., 635–
  • Salinger, Sharon V. To serve well and faithfully: Labor and Indentured Servants in Pennsylvania, 1682–1800. (2000)
  • Tomlins, Christopher. Freedom Bound: Law, Labor, and Civic Identity in English Colonization, 1580–1865 (2010); influential recent interpretation online review
  • Torabully, Khal, and Marina Carter, Coolitude: An Anthology of the Indian Labour Diaspora Anthem Press, London, 2002, ISBN 1-84331-003-1
  • Torabully, Khal, Voices from the Aapravasi Ghat - Indentured imaginaries, poetry collection on the coolie route and the fakir's aesthetics, Aapravasi Ghat Trust Fund, AGTF, Mauritius,November 2, 2013.
  • Wareing, John. Indentured Migration and the Servant Trade from London to America, 1618-1718. Oxford Oxford University Press, February 2017
  • Whitehead, John Frederick, Johann Carl Buttner, Susan E. Klepp, and Farley Grubb. Souls for Sale: Two German Redemptioners Come to Revolutionary America, Max Kade German-American Research Institute Series, ISBN 0-271-02882-3.
  • Zipf, Karin L. Labor of Innocents: Forced Apprenticeship in North Carolina, 1715–1919 (2005).


  • Donoghue, John. "Indentured Servitude in the 17th Century English Atlantic: A Brief Survey of the Literature," History Compass (Oct. 2013) 11#10 pp 893–902, DOI: 10.1111/hic3.12088

External links

Credit-ticket system

The credit-ticket system was a form of emigration prevalent in the mid to late nineteenth century, in which brokers advanced the cost of the passage to workers and retained control over their services until they repaid their debt in full. It generally refers to the immigration of Chinese to California, but migrants to Hawaii, British Columbia, and Australia participated in a similar process. Controversy exists over whether or not the credit-ticket system was actually voluntary. The association of Chinese laborers with involuntary contract labor during a time in which it was illegal exacerbated the public’s anti-Asian sentiments. However, because of the lack of documentation regarding the credit-ticket system, it is difficult to prove whether or not Chinese laborers were truly free agents.


From the 18th century, an engagé (French: [ɑ̃ɡaʒe], engagee) was a French-Canadian man employed to canoe in the fur trade, usually as an indentured servant. He was expected to handle all transportation aspects of frontier river and lake travel: maintenance, loading and unloading, propelling, steering, portaging, camp set-up, navigation, interaction with indigenous people, etc. The term was also applied to the men who staffed the pirogues on the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Their role can be contrasted with the free, licensed voyageurs, the independent merchant coureurs des bois, as well as seafaring sailors.

Can also refer to a person socially or politically engaged, especially in the arts and culture.

Fugitive Slave Clause

The Fugitive Slave Clause of the United States Constitution, also known as either the Slave Clause or the Fugitives From Labor Clause, is Article IV, Section 2, Clause 3, which requires a "person held to service or labor" (usually a slave, apprentice, or indentured servant) who flees to another state to be returned to the owner in the state from which that person escaped. The passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which abolished slavery except as a punishment for criminal acts, made the clause mostly irrelevant.


Girmityas or Jahajis are descendants of indentured Indian labourers brought to Fiji, Mauritius, South Africa, East Africa, and the Caribbean (mostly Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Suriname, and Jamaica) to work on sugarcane plantations for the prosperity of the European settlers and save the Fijians from having to work on these plantations and thus to preserve their culture. "Agreement" is the term that has been coined into "Girmit", referring to the "Agreement" of the British Government with the Indian labourers as to the length of stay in Fiji and the Caribbean, and when they would be allowed to go back to India.


A headright is a legal grant of land to settlers. Headrights are most notable for their role in the expansion of the thirteen British colonies in North America; the Virginia Company of London gave headrights to settlers, and the Plymouth Company followed suit. The headright system was used in several colonies, including Maryland, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. Most headrights were for 1 to 1,000 acres (4.0 km2) of land, and were given to anyone willing to cross the Atlantic Ocean and help populate the colonies. Headrights were granted to anyone who would pay for the transportation costs of a laborer or enslaved people. These land grants consisted of 50 acres (200,000 m2) for someone newly moving to the area and 100 acres (0.40 km2) for people previously living in the area. By giving the land to the landowning masters the indentured servants had little or no chance to procure their own land. This kept many colonials poor and led to anger between the poor enslaved people and wealthy landowners.

Indentured servitude in Pennsylvania

Indentured servitude in Pennsylvania (1682-1820s): The institution of indentured servitude has a significant place in the history of labor in Pennsylvania. From the founding of the colony (1681/2) to the early post-revolution period (1820s), indentured servants contributed considerably to the development of agriculture and various industries in Pennsylvania. Moreover, Pennsylvania itself has a notable place in the broader history of indentured servitude in North America. As Cheesman Herrick stated, "This system of labor was more important to Pennsylvania than it was to any other colony or state; it continued longer in Pennsylvania than elsewhere."

Indentured servitude in Virginia

Indentured servitude in continental North America began in the Colony of Virginia in 1609. Initially created as means of funding voyages for European workers to the New World, the institution dwindled over time as the labor force was replaced with enslaved Africans. Servitude became a central institution in the economy and society of many parts of colonial British America. Abbot Emerson Smith, a leading historian of indentured servitude during the colonial period, estimated that between one-half and two-thirds of all white immigrants to the British colonies between the Puritan migration of the 1630s and the American Revolution came under indenture. For the colony of Virginia, specifically, more than two-thirds of all white immigrants (male and female) arrived as indentured servants or transported convict bond servants.

Indentured servitude in the Americas

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. Half a 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.

Indian indenture system

The Indian indenture system was a system of indentured servitude, by which 2 million Indians were transported to labour in European colonies, as a substitute for slave labour, following the abolition of the trade in the early 19th century. The system expanded after the Slavery Abolition Act 1833 in the British Empire in 1833, and in the French Colonies in 1848, and continued until the 1920s. This resulted in the development of a large Indian diaspora in the Caribbean, Natal, Réunion, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Myanmar, to Fiji, as well as the growth of Indo-Caribbean and Indo-African populations.

Irish indentured servants

Irish indentured servants were Irish people who became indentured servants in territories under the control of the British Empire, such as the Caribbean (particularly Barbados, Jamaica and the Leeward Islands), British North America and later Australia.

Indentures agreed to provide up to seven years of labor in return for passage to the New World and food, housing, and shelter during their indenture. At the end of this period, their masters were legally required to grant them "freedom dues" in the form of either land or capital.

Those transported unwillingly were not indentures. They were political prisoners, vagrants, or people who had been defined as "undesirable" by the English state. Penal transportation of Irish people was at its height during the 17th century, during the Cromwellian conquest and settlement of Ireland (1649-1653). During this period, thousands of Irish people were sent to the Caribbean, or "Barbadosed", against their will. Similar practices continued as late as the Victorian period, where Irish political prisoners were sent to imperial British penal colonies in Tasmania.. Indentures and transportees have been conflated, though they were distinct.

Irish slaves myth

The Irish slaves myth concerns the use of the term Irish "slaves" as a conflation of the penal transportation and indentured servitude of Irish people during the 17th and 18th centuries. Some white nationalists, and others who want to minimize the hereditary chattel slavery experience of Africans and their descendants, have used the myth to attack contemporary African American efforts for equality and reparations. The Irish slaves myth has also been invoked by some Irish activists, to highlight the British oppression of the Irish people and to suppress the history of Irish involvement in the transatlantic slave trade.The myth has become increasingly prominent since the 1990s and has been prominent in online memes and social media debates. This has led a large number of historians to publicly condemn it.

List of Indian indenture ships to Fiji

Between 1879 and 1916, a total of 42 ships made 87 voyages, carrying Indian indentured labourers to Fiji. Initially the ships brought labourers from Calcutta, but from 1903 all ships except two also brought labourers from Madras and Mumbai. A total of 60,965 passengers left India but only 60,553 (including births at sea) arrived in Fiji. A total of 45,439 boarded ships in Calcutta and 15,114 in Madras. Sailing ships took, on average, seventy-three days for the trip while steamers took 30 days. The shipping companies associated with the labour trade were Nourse Line and British-India Steam Navigation Company.

The most important man on these ships was the Surgeon-Superintendent, who supervised the medical care, ventilation, clothing, cleanliness and exercise of the passengers and his authority extended over the Captain. He inspected the stores before departure and reported on any defects during the trip. The Surgeon-Superintendent also intervened to prevent passengers from being mistreated by the crew. He was paid a bonus for each labourer landed alive.

Nepal Youth Foundation

Freeing 12,000 girls from indentured servitude has been a major accomplishment of the Nepal Youth Foundation (NYF) a U.S.-based nonprofit organization. The mission of NYF is to provide children in Nepal with education, housing, medical care, and support.

NYF was founded in 1990 by Olga Murray after she retired from a career as an attorney for the California Supreme Court. First called the Nepalese Youth Opportunity Foundation (NYOF), the name was later changed to the current one. In 2012, Som Paneru, who joined NYF in 1993 as a program assistant, was elected president of the organization. Olga Murray is Honorary Board President and Founder. NYF rescues and supports children in Nepal through a range of programs. The Nepal Youth Foundation's partners are private foundations and individuals around the world and non-governmental organizations in Nepal. The Nepal Youth Foundation also partners with UniversalGiving, an online nonprofit organization to raise fund for its projects.

NYF has earned its eighth consecutive 4-star rating, the highest possible, from Charity Navigator for its efficient use of donations. Fewer than 1% of charities earn eight consecutive 4-star ratings. In addition, NYF has earned five stars and a spot on the "2014 Top-Rated" list at, the leading online consumer review site for charity organizations.

Our Nig

Our Nig: Sketches from the Life of a Free Black is an autobiographical novel by Harriet E. Wilson. It was published in 1859 and rediscovered in 1981 by professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. It was considered the first novel published by an African-American woman in North America, though that record is now contested by another manuscript found by Gates, The Bondwoman's Narrative.


Redemptioners were European immigrants, generally in the 18th or early 19th century, who gained passage to American Colonies (most often Pennsylvania) by selling themselves into indentured servitude to pay back the shipping company which had advanced the cost of the transatlantic voyage. British indentured servants generally did not arrive as redemptioners after the early colonial period due to certain protections afforded them by law. Redemptioners were at a disadvantage because they negotiated their indentures upon arrival after a long and difficult voyage with no prospect to return to their homelands.

Sally Brant

Sally Brant (born c.1778) was a white indentured servant in the household of Elizabeth Sandwith Drinker and Henry Drinker in Philadelphia. She gave birth out of wedlock to a child of mixed race, in defiance of legal restrictions on the sexual activity of indentured servants and strong social prejudice against interracial relationships.

Truth and Justice Commission

The Truth and Justice Commission of Mauritius was an independent truth commission established in 2009, which explored the impact of slavery and indentured servitude in Mauritius. The Commission was tasked to investigate the dispossession of land, and “determine appropriate measures to be extended to descendants of slaves and indentured laborers.” It was “unique in that it [dealt] with socio-economic class abuses" and explored the possibility of reparations. The inclusion of reparations, whether for individuals or communities, was a controversial decision within the country which aimed to correct inequality. The Commission attempted to cover more than 370 years, the longest period of time that a truth commission has ever covered.The Commission consisted of five members who were appointed by the then President Sir Anerood Jugnauth. The President selected Alex Boraine, the former deputy chair of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and four Mauritians to oversee the research and publication of a document consisting of seven volumes, and detailing over three centuries of Mauritian history.The Truth and Justice Commission documented the "economics of colonialism, slavery, and indentured servitude, the experiences of indentured Africans, Indians, and French engagés, and living and working conditions on sugar estates." In order to aid Mauritians in reconciling the past the commission recommended: "1) memorializing slavery; 2) a better understanding and more inclusive account of Mauritian history and culture; 3) a better and increased protections of Mauritian heritage; 4) a less racist and elitist society; 5) a more democratic public life, and; 6) empowerment of Mauritians of African and Malagasy origin, as well as other recommendations to increase economic and social justice, particularly related to land issues and equitable and judicious use of the environment." Many of these recommendations have yet to be acted upon.

Virginia's Indentured Servants' Plot

A sizable indentured servant's uprising occurred in Virginia in 1661 over the issue of adequate food. The customary ration for servants at the time included meat three times a week. When a planter named Major Goodwin decided to keep his servants on a diet of cornbread and water, discontent followed. Leaders of the servants named Isaac Friend and William Cluton determined to petition the king for redress.

According to one witness, the plot became more troublesome to the plantation owners when Isaac Friend stated, "they would get a matter of Forty of them together and get Gunnes, and he (Cluton) would be the first and lead them and cry as they went along 'who would be for liberty and freed from bondage?' and that there would enough come to them, and they would goe through the country and Kill those that made any opposition, and that they would either be free or die for it". (Punctuation editor's.)

The York county court settled the case by bounding William Cluton over for inciting servants to rebellion, but after several witnesses testified to his good character, the judges discharged him. Isaac Friend escaped punishment as well. The court admonished the masters and magistrates to keep a close watch on their servants. In 1662 a law was passed which restrained servants from "unlawful" meetings under heavy penalties.

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