Indentured Servants in the USA and Canada

Categories: Slavery And Freedom

Indentured servants were a crucial piece of developing colonies in The United States and Canada. They first arrived in America in the decade following the settlement of Jamestown by the Virginia Company in the sixteenth century (PBS, n.d.). The development of tobacco and other crops produced an incredible requirement for labor in the early nests. With this need came lots of changes, issues and unintended repercussions of utilizing indentured servants.

The Start

Indentured servants were colonists that exchanged numerous years of labor for the cost of passage to America and the grant of land (Tindall & & Shi, 2013, p.

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38 ). The idea of indentured servants was born when colonists recognized that they had a remarkable quantity of land to care for, however nobody to take care of it. This became extremely prevalent when tobacco became successful, as it was labor extensive and the need for servants was quickly growing (PBS, n.d.). At this time the European economy was depressed, which left numerous laborers searching for work.

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The chance of brand-new life in America used hope; which describes how one-half to two-thirds of the immigrants who concerned the American colonies arrived as indentured servants. (PBS, n.d.). Usually, an indentured servant would work for numerous years. This was in exchange for space, board, passage and liberty to America. Work as an indentured servant might be harsh, but if they survived they would receive "liberty dues" set by custom-made and law. This consisted of money, tools, clothes, food and sometimes little tracks of land (Tindall & & Shi, 2013, p. 75).

Modifications, Issues and Issues with Indentured Servants

Indentured servants brought obstacles to colonists from numerous prospective. First, basic supply and demand produced problems with indentured servants-- if the need for labor grew, so did the cost of the servants. These servants were not always brought willingly, so you dealt with the struggles of runaways and kidnappings. The servant's masters would often whip them for bad habits. There were high death rates, due to illness and fatigue. Lots of servants did not live to the end of their terms. The ones that did live posed the most significant problem for lots of colonists.

When the indentured servants were free they posed unintended consequences for the already established colonists. They demanded political recognition, and land. (Tindall & Shi, 2013) They eyed and moved to the indigenous land that caused trouble for the colony, as that land was inhabited by the Indians. They started their own farms or pursued a trade, which allowed them to acquire servants of their own. Many colonists also felt threatened by freed indentured servants as they were competition for the land and future wealth for their families.

The Decline

When the prospects for upward mobility dimmed, indentured servants were willing and ready to participate in violent rebellions and to demand wealthier colonist’s property. The threat posed by the increasing number of indentured servants might have been one of the reasons this type of servitude diminished. (Dictionary of American History, 2013) Another reason for the decline of indentures servants what that many farmers and plantation owners began to rely on the labor of enslaved Africans. Slaves were more costly than servants, but they served for life and by the 1660s colonial legislative assemblies had legalized lifelong slavery (Tindall & Shi, 2013, p.75).


Indentured servants were an integral part of the early colonies. They provided a means to aid the farmer’s in providing labor to produce an abundance of crops such as tobacco, rice and indigo. Although, the job proved harsh, it provided an opportunity for depressed European’s to start a new life in the Americas.


  1. Dictionary of American History. (2013). Indentured Servants. Retrieved from _servants. aspx
  2. PBS. (n.d.). History Detectives Special Investigations. Indentured servants in the U.S. Retrieved from
  3. Tindall, G. & Shi, D. (2013). America: A Narrative History. (9th ed.). New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company
Updated: Nov 01, 2022
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Indentured Servants in the USA and Canada. (2016, Sep 15). Retrieved from

Indentured Servants in the USA and Canada essay
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