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Indentured Servitude
Digital History ID 87

Author:   Javin Toby


Colonial Americans were extremely familiar with various forms of unfree labor. Many youths served a term of years apart from their families as servants or apprentices. At the age of 12, Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) was indentured to his much older brother for a nine-year term, and was only supposed to receive wages the last year.

The prevalence of various forms of voluntary and involuntary servitude gave a highly charged meaning to words like "liberty," "freedom," and "tyranny." Franklin would later write in his autobiography that his brother's harsh treatment "might be a means of impressing me with that aversion to arbitrary power that has stuck to me through my whole life." It seems likely that their familiarity with servitude contributed to the colonists' suspicions of power and their fear that America would be subjected to slavery as a result of arbitrary British rule and autocratic trade and tax policies.


This Indenture Witnessesth that Hannah Toby Indian Woman of So[uth] Kingstown Colony of Rhode Island...hath put her son Javin Toby, Molatto of her own free will & accord an apprentice or servant of John Steadman of South Kingstown yeoman & to Purthany his Wife...after the manner of an apprentice from of Day of ye date hereof for and during ye Term of fifteen years & five Months which Will be compleat on ye Seventh day of June 1763. During all which Term of apprentice of servant his master & mistress faithfully shall serve their secrets keep their Lawful Commands of labor & every Where obey he shall do no damage to his s[ai]d Master & Mistress nor see it done by others. Without giving notice thereof to his s[ai]d Master & Mistress he shall not waste his Master & Mistresses goods nor lend them unlawfully to any. He shall not use any unlawful games nor contract matrimony nor commit Fornication During s[ai]d Term he shall not absent himself either by day or by night Without Leave nor Haunt Taverns ale Houses...but in all things behave as a faithful servant out to do during the s[ai]d term and his s[ai]d Master & their Parts are to find and provide sufficient apparel meat Drink Washing & Lodging Suitable for Such an apprentice. During s[ai]d Term at ye Expiration thereof to Dismiss Him With one new Suit of apparel fitting for his body besides his usual wearing Clothes.

Source: Gilder Lehrman Institute

Additional information: Indenture Apprenticing Javin Toby

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