Digital History>eXplorations>Servitude and Slavery

Image: Cumberland Landing, Va. Group of "contrabands" at Foller's house. Library of Congress. 1862 May 14. LC-B811- 383

You may wish to view our Digital Story about Slavery and Indentured Servitude by Michael Ray as an introduction to this section.

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South of New England, half of all immigrants arrived in various forms of unfreedom: as indentured servants, apprentices, tenants, convicts, or slaves. George Washington's namesake--a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses named George Erskine, who served as Washington's mother's legal guardian--had been kidnapped as a boy in Wales and sold as a servant in Virginia. Thomas Paine (1737-1809) arrived in Philadelphia in 1774 on a vessel carrying 122 indentured servants.

About a third of eighteenth-century Germans came as "redemptioners," who sold themselves or their children for a term of years in return for transportation to the American colonies. By 1750, when Gottlieb Mittelberger, a schoolteacher from the Duchy of Wurttenberg left his wife and children to travel to America, recruitment and transportation of German settlers was controlled by Dutch shippers, who charged the emigrants by the day. Upon arrival in Philadelphia, the emigrants were kept on shipboard until someone agreed to pay the costs of their transportation. To obtain payment, many redemptioners agreed to serve a three or more years term of service and bound out their children until the age of 21.

In this eXploration, you will analyze primary sources in order to understand life in colonial slavery and indentured servitude.

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