Sunday, 12 January 2014

Indentured Servitude in colonial America.

A great many Ulster-Scots (Scotch-Irish) went to America during the colonial period as Indentured Servants. This was in lieu of payment of passage which could sometimes be the equivalent of three years earnings for a farm labourer. It's estimated almost half of European emigrants to America in the colonial period were indentured. These contracts lasted on average three to seven years in which the unpaid servant (or rather his labour) was owned by whomever buys it on arrival at port. 

Servants were not allowed to marry without permission from their master, could be subjected to physical punishment such as whipping, their labour could be sold on to another master for the length of the contract and women who fell pregnant had their servitude extended. Their is some evidence to suggest that a few owners worked indentured servants harder than the slaves they owned as chattel slaves (and any children) were their lifelong 'property' whereas servants would be freed after a matter of years. 

An indentured Scotch girl's contract is sold in a colonial newspaper

Many did run away in an attempt to to escape servitude (as can be seen in the image from the newspaper ads of the 1700's). Money and goods were offered for their capture and return. If caught their servitude would be greatly extended. Once the contract was completed indentured servants were given 'freedom dues', which would be a small sum of money or a parcel of land. Many Ulster-Scots headed for the frontier were land was cheap or where they would claim it for free..

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