"Servitude in Virginia's tobacco fields approached closer to slavery than anything known at the time in England," the historian Edmund S. Morgan wrote. "Men served longer, were subjected to more rigorous punishments, [and] were traded about as commodities" beginning in the 1620s. For much of the seventeenth century, those servants were white English men and women—with a smattering of Africans, Indians, and Irish—under indenture with the promise of freedom. By 1705, and the passage of "An act concerning Servants and Slaves," slavery had become ensconced at all levels of Virginia society and was well on its way to completely replacing indentured servitude as the primary source of bound labor in the colony.
Most historians have explained this shift by citing either social or economic shifts in Virginia beginning around the 1670s. Morgan and others, for instance, have argued that (1676–1677) was, in part, the result of discontent among former servants. By harnessing that discontent and, in the name of racial solidarity, pointing it in the direction of enslaved Africans, white elites could create a more stable workforce and one that was less likely to threaten their own interests. Other historians have observed that the flow of English servants began to dry up beginning in the 1660s and fell off dramatically around 1680, forcing planters to rely more heavily on slaves. Slavery did not end indentured servitude, in other words; the end of servitude gave rise to slavery.
Continuing to focus on the crimes of the past, I think is counterproductive. If every culture had to repay their “debt” to all of those who they at one time oppressed, where would it end? Would the Italians repay all of Europe for the Roman empire? Should the north repay the south for destroying their economy? Given the levels of poverty we see in the south, I think a good case could be made for wealth transfers. And look at the poor whites of the appalachia, who are almost all descended from poor white indentured servants from England. Who pays for their multigenerational poverty?
Initially, when the Indentured servants were recruited from England to work on the plantations in the Americas, they were offered a contract with had the following terms: 1.
The historian John C. Coombs has suggested a third possibility: "There was no 'trigger' cause for the conversion." Instead, slavery expanded gradually as the English empire grew, its role in the slave trade matured, and enslaved Africans became more available throughout Virginia. By the 1670s, slaves had begun to replace white indentured servants among the —before both Bacon's Rebellion and the sharp decline in new servants. By 1690, slaves accounted for nearly all of the gentry's bound workforce but only 25 to 40 percent of the non-elite's. Over time, as the supply of enslaved Africans increased and their prices decreased, farmers and planters agreed that they preferred a slave for life to a servant who had the hope of freedom. Even so, indentured servants—particularly those with specialized skills—and convict servants continued to be imported to the colony throughout the eighteenth century.
The decline of servitude took place mainly in three time periods: in the 1650s with the rise of slavery in the New World, from 1818-1840 in the United States, and in 1917 when indentured servitude was outlawed in the Americas.
Servitude had a long history in England, dating back to medieval serfdom. The Ordinance of Labourers, passed in June 1349, declared that all men and women under the age of sixty who did not practice a craft must serve anyone requiring their labor. Parliament updated the law in 1495 and 1563, with the latter version, the , still being in effect when the English founded . Between 1520 and 1630, England's population more than doubled, from 2.3 million to 4.8 million, and Parliament hoped its 1563 statute might "banishe Idleness[,] advance Husbandrye," and so deal with the near-overwhelming number of poor and unemployed citizens. In fact, the founding of Virginia itself was partially in response to this problem. In his (1584), argued to that new American colonies would energize England's "decayed trades" and provide work for the country's "multitudes of loyterers and idle vagabondes."
In England, an indenture, or contract for labor, was known as a "covenant merely personal," and could apply either to farm laborers or apprentices learning a trade. Contracts generally lasted a year, after which terms were renegotiated. As the merchant and adventurer Sir George Peckham noted in 1583, many English men and women willingly became servants "in hope thereby to amend theyr estates," and young children were sometimes bound to service by parents who might not otherwise be able to afford their upbringing. While there was not necessarily a strong stigma attached to indentured servitude, the institution—first in England and then in Virginia—temporarily transformed free men and women into chattel, or property to be bought and sold.
The labour-intensive cash crop of tobacco was farmed in the American South by indentured labourers in the 17th and 18th centuries. Indentured servitude was not the same as the apprenticeship system by which skilled trades were taught, but similarities do exist between the two mechanisms, in that both require a set period of work....
Historical backgrounds of indenture servants, first slavery laws of 1661, slave trade, Nathanial’s rebellion, and slave act of 1705, slave code are few of the main central points that will be mentioned within the internal assessment....
Although it most famously appeared during the 17th century as a means for facilitating transatlantic migration and providing labor in England’s early American colonies, indentured servitude has manifested itself in many forms during its long history. Indentured servants were individuals who bargained away their labor for a period of four to seven years in exchange for passage to the New World. In the 17th century, indentured servants made up the mass of English immigrants to the Chesapeake colonies and were central to the development of the tobacco economy. Large numbers of indentured servants could also be found in the English West Indian colonies, but they were replaced by enslaved African laborers by the end of the century as cash-crop agriculture (particularly sugar) and plantation slavery gradually minimized the overall demographic and economic importance of indentured servitude as a labor system. Regardless, indentured servitude continued to be an important institution in the Atlantic world through the 19th century. Debates persist about the general characteristics of early indentured servants, but they were certainly primarily younger English men in search of new opportunities for wealth and advancement that were unavailable to them at home. Some people achieved this goal, but many more either died before their contract expired or were unable to rise above a relatively moderate status in the colonies. In the 17th century, most indentured servants were of English origin and migrated to the Chesapeake and West Indies. Of the 120,000 emigrants to the Chesapeake during this era, roughly 90,000 arrived as bound laborers. Another 50,000 to 75,000 white indentured servants went to the islands, although these numbers included many Irish servants, political prisoners, and convict laborers. A few indentured servants, or , appeared in the French colonies, but the institution was much more common in the British colonies. Indentured servitude did eventually become much more diverse, particularly during the 18th century when increasing numbers of German redemptioners arrived and an increasing percentage of people chose to locate themselves in nonplantation zones, especially Pennsylvania. Perhaps 150,000 non-English migrants arrived as servants during the late colonial period. After the American Revolution, however, the system virtually disappeared in the United States. In the West Indies, however, indentured servitude revived in many places after the abolition of slavery in the 1830s and 1840s. During the 19th century, large numbers of Indian and Chinese migrant laborers were bound into servitude to perform tasks once the responsibility of enslaved Africans. Scholars disagree about whether or not this new system was simply a new form of slavery. Regardless, as late as the first decades of the 20th century, unfree laborers—effectively the descendants of the mass of indentured servants who first appeared nearly four hundred years earlier—could still be found toiling in subjugation in the old plantation zones of North America and the Caribbean.