White Servitude in Colonial South Carolina

By Warren B. Smith | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

IN 1911, WHILE I WAS A GRADUATE STUDENT, majoring in history at the University of Chicago, Dr. Marcus W. Jernegan recommended to me, as a possible subject for my doctoral thesis, "White Servitude in Colonial South Carolina."

Authoritative monographs which dealt with the presence of such an institution in colonies to the north had already appeared. In 1895 Ballagh had made a study of the institution in Virginia;1 in 1896 Bassett had done the same for North Carolina;2 in 1901 Geiser for Pennsylvania;3 and in 1904 McCormac for Maryland. 4

Ballagh had dismissed white servitude in colonies to the south with the remark that "Georgia and the Carolinas also encouraged the importation of servants of the better class."5Bassett summed up his findings in the following words: "As for the indented servants . . . they never were a serious factor in the history of the colony. They came into it along with the earliest settlers, but the acceptance of slavery in Virginia had already sealed their fate."6 Geiser, in his review of McCormac's work, wrote: "Dr. McCormac's work may be said practically to complete the history of the institution of indentured service in America." This remark he backed up by adding that " Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland were the great servant-importing colonies."7 A. Maurice Low summed up the work in this field by writing: "In Virginia and Maryland, great as the evils of slavery were in degrading free white labor, there was still room for the white indented servant and the freeman, but in South Carolina that was impossible."8

One perceptive student of South Carolina history had tried in October 1911 to refute Low's statement that having white indentured servants in South Carolina was an impossibility. Theodore Jervey presented as evidence of the existence of the institution the fact that thirty-two Scottish servants had been purchased in 1716 by the governor for the protection of the frontier.9 However, when Elizabeth Donnan was investigating the subject in 1920, she went back to the Bassett thesis that white indentured servants had been brought in originally but had been outnumbered very soon by the

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