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Indentured servant facts for kids

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An indentured servant was a worker in a contract with an employer for a certain length of time. Usually a laborer or craftsman would have to work three to seven years in exchange for the cost of transportation across the ocean, food, clothing, land, a place to live and other things they needed to live or work during their contract. This kind of contract was called "indenture." Indentures were quite common in Colonial America in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Indenture contract signed with an X by Henry Meyer in 1738

Colonial America

Many immigrants arrived in Colonial America as indentured servants. Their new master paid a ship's captain for the worker's trip across the Atlantic Ocean. Most were young men and women from England, Scotland and Germany under the age of 21. Their parents often made the arrangements. In the 17th and early 18th century, most people who came to America were indentured servants.

Indentured servants often had to do very hard labor on a farm or in a household. Often, they were no more than slaves for their indentures. During the 17th century, over half of indentured servants died before their indentures ended.

In the 17th century, when a person had served an indenture, they usually received a piece of land, usually 40 acres. However, by the 1690s, indentured servants were not getting land as much. This to led an attack on the Virginia government by Nathaniel Bacon and other indentured servants called Bacon's Rebellion. After Bacon's Rebellion, the number of indentured servants decreased, and the South turned to slaves for its labor.

This type of contract has been common throughout world history in different forms. Usually the worker became an indentured servant by choice.

Indenture today


Some people claim that practices in the United Arab Emirates are examples of modern-day indentured servitude. Many workers from India and Pakistan must pay agents in their own countries for jobs in the Emirates. The recruiting agents take the workers passports after they enter the country. The workers do not know when they will get their passports back. The indentured servants get basic food and housing and transportation to the work place.

Laws about indenture

The United Nations passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948. Article 4 of the Declaration says that indenture, or servitude, is illegal. However, only laws in each country can stop it. In America, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000 expanded the definition of servitude.

  • Abramitzky, Ran; Braggion, Fabio. "Migration and Human Capital: Self-Selection of Indentured Servants to the Americas," Journal of Economic History, Dec 2006, Vol. 66 Issue 4, pp 882–905,
  • Brown, Kathleen. Goodwives, Nasty Wenches & Anxious Patriachs: gender, race and power in Colonial Virginia, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996.
  • Frethorne, Richard. The Experiences of an Indentured Servant in Virginia (1623)
  • Jernegan, Marcus Wilson Laboring and Dependent Classes in Colonial America, 1607-1783 Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1980.
  • Morgan, Edmund S. American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia. New York: Norton, 1975.
  • Salinger, Sharon V. 'To serve well and faithfully': Labor and Indentured Servants in Pennsylvania, 1682-1800. New
  • Khal Torabully and Marina Carter, Coolitude: An Anthology of the Indian Labour Diaspora Anthem Press, London, 2002, ISBN: 1-84331-003-1
  • Zipf, Karin L. Labor of Innocents: Forced Apprenticeship in North Carolina, 1715-1919 (2005).
  • 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.
  • Marion, Pascal. Dictionnaire étymologique du créole réunionnais, mots d'origine asiatique, Carré de sucre, 2009, ISBN: 978-2-9529135-0-8

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