Indentured Servitude in Colonial America
During American colonization, the economy of the south became predominantly dependent on the tobacco plant. As the south continued to develop, they shifted their focus to cotton. Indentured servants as well as African slaves were used for these labor-intensive crops because their labor was decent and cheap (Shi and Tindall 39). Young British men were promised a life of freedom in America if they agreed to an exchange between a free voyage and labor for a fixed number of years. Many willing, able-bodied, and young men signed up with the hopes of establishing a bright future for themselves in America. Unbeknownst to them, indentured servitude was not as easy as it was made out to be. Many servants endured far worse experiences than they had ever imagined. The physical and emotional conditions they faced were horrible, their masters overworked them, and many had to do unprofessional work instead of work that enabled them to use their own personal skills. Young British men felt that because they faced such horrible circumstances, the exchange between a free voyage to America in exchange for servitude was not a proper trade.
One struggle that indentured servants faced was adjusting to the unfamiliar physical conditions they met upon arriving in America. William Moraley, an indentured servant in Burlington, wrote a memoir about his many experiences throughout his servitude. One thing he remembered was the way civil leaders ignored his complaints against his master regarding the contract he signed in England. Moraley recalled, “The condition of bought servants is very hard, notwithstanding their indentures were made in England, wherein it is expressly stipulated, that they shall have, at their arrival, all the necessaries specified in those indentures, to be given ‘em by their future masters, such as clothes, meat, and drink; yet upon complaint made to a Magistrate against the master for nonperformance, the master is generally heard before the servant” (Mayer and Shi 75). Because the contract was signed in England, many American civil leaders felt it unnecessary to enforce or regulate the laws associated with indentured servants. As a result, many owners were able to get away with disobeying the contract that required them to provide the basic necessities for their servants. Servants had to live without these vital necessities and consequently, many servants attempted to escape the horrible conditions. However, they were usually found, returned to their masters, and punished with a longer term (Mayer and Shi 75).
Richard Frethorne, an indentured servant in Jamestown, also experienced challenging conditions, but his were more emotional than physical. In a letter he wrote to his parents, he said, “We came but twenty for the merchants, and they are half dead just; and we look every hour when two more should go” (Mayer and Shi 23). Upon arriving to America, many servants were instantly met with disease and many...