The American Work Ethic and the Changing Work Force: An Historical Perspective

By Herbert Applebaum | Go to book overview

4
SERVITUDE:
WHITE AND BLACK

Some people may believe that the continent on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean from England in the seventeenth century was waiting for anyone wishing to start a new life and they could easily sail over, acquire a piece of land, and become successful. No doubt some people living in England at the start of the seventeenth century had similar thoughts. The reality, however, was that people could not simply pick themselves up and go off to British America. Most Englishmen did not have the money. That is why during the seventeenth century more than half the migrants were indentured servants. In the Chesapeake, the percentage may have been as high as 70 or 75 percent.


INDENTURED SERVANTS, THEIR ROLE IN COLONIAL
AMERICA, AND THEIR WORK ETHIC

The indentured servant, both male and female, entered into a contract of
servitude called an indenture. The contract required that the migrant agree to work for a designated master for a fixed period of time. In return, the migrant received passage to a specific colony along with food, clothing, and shelter for the term of the contract. At the conclusion of the term, the indentured servant was to receive "freedom dues," that is, tools, food, a suit of clothing, and in some cases land. The contract could be sold by the master during the term of service. The indenture did not make the servant a slave, for it was the servant's labor, not his or her person, that was temporarily owned by the master. At the end of a specific term, generally three to five years, the servant was free. Still, indentured servitude was a less free and a more strict obligation to work as compared with other forms of labor contracts--apprenticeship, wage labor, and contract labor. On the other hand, indentured servitude was less strict and more free than slave labor.

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