Until the laws caught up governing human bondage in the English New World, several systems were in place. One was outright slavery which included political prisoners, criminals, innocent kidnapped individuals, the homeless and orphans sold into bondage. Once shipped to the Caribbean, Virginia or Maryland colonies, many simply disappeared.
Another was the “indentured servant” which was different than outright slavery, however, this is a technicality if the servant didn’t survive. They were basically slaves for a contracted period of time in exchange for either passage over or for promised land. A study of white bondage using England as the focus reveals the following comparison between indentured servants, transported convicts and free immigrants in the colonial period:
Variable Indentured Servants Transported Convicts Free Immigrants
Terms of service 4-5 years 7 or 14 years no labor term
Emigration Reason escape poverty imposed punishment varies
Average age 15-24 years 20-30 years varies
Companions rarely family/friends rarely family/friends family/friends
Social status lower/lower middle lower class middle/upper middle
Select master could not could not not applicable
Marriage none none not applicable
The America before 1776 was a complex time as human slavery fueled the economy. The line between who was a slave and who wasn’t became thin. It took a century for the laws to be put into place that defined who had rights and what those rights were.
Irish Catholics were an important part of this colonial trade. By the 1600s English began to colonize a conquered Ireland. They planted Ireland with Scots and English. Workers left Ireland not only by force as convict slaves, but also were persuaded to leave as indentured servants. Ireland was so bad at the time that many gladly took up the offer to be enslaved for a set number of years. This went on for at least 100 years. The Caribbean islands, Virginia and Maryland were where most of the Irish were transported. Indentured servants would later go in large numbers to the Pennsylvania and New York colonies.
In tomorrow’s blog, I will discuss the laws which governed the practice of bondage and defined human rights, and what constituted slavery. Once the laws were in place, then slavery and servitude became color based.