Most indentures were voluntary, although there were some who were coerced or tricked into servitude. Those who voluntarily entered into a seven year contract did so to increase their odds of a better life. Most were immigrants who had no hope of ever owning land or property in their home countries. But there was a pressing need for labor in the new world, with the opportunity to learn a trade and own property.
As harsh as it sounds to us, it wasn’t uncommon for poor people to indenture their children to give them a chance to learn a trade and to offer them a better life. Sometimes a child was indentured close to home and could still visit their parents on occasion. But there were times a child was sent away to the new world to become an indentured servant, some as young as six and seven years old. I can’t imagine the desperation parents felt when making such a decision. But for the price of their passage, they had the assurance of learning a trade, lodging, food, and clothing for the next seven years. That was probably more than they’d have in an overcrowded tenement with no prospects of bettering themselves.
The reason that they had that assurance was because contracts were drawn giving them certain rights. It was in the best interests of the merchants, landowners, bakers, blacksmiths, coopers, etc., for the system of indentured servitude to work. Their small towns and burbs depended on this system of labor to thrive. The local magistrates didn’t look kindly on one of their own abusing this system. Of course, there were exceptions and situations of abuse, but by-and-large, the system of indentured servitude worked quite well.
At the end of the term (usually 7 years), an indentured servant was free to go his own way. He could stay in the community and become part of the community where he’d been indentured, or he could move to another town and hang out his shingle. He now had a trade that he could offer to others.
For convicted felons, becoming an indentured servant was preferable to going to prison, and since the prisons in London and other European cities were overflowing, convicts were encouraged (and I use that term loosely) to accept the offer to become indentured servants in the new world. Many weren’t criminals by nature, but were forced to steal to simply stay alive. In more than one case, convicts turned their lives around and became upstanding and well-respected citizens in their new locations.
|The Promise of Breeze HillAvailable Now|
Connor O’Shea in The Promise of Breeze Hill was first forced to become an indentured servant after running afoul of a powerful woman and her father in Ireland. After serving his forced 7 year indenture in the colonies, Connor willingly indentures himself for an additional four years to bring his brothers over from Ireland, and is very specific and concerned that his contract reflects the terms that he’s set forth.
And, yes, he gets his freedom — and so much more — by book’s end.
CBA Bestselling author PAM HILLMAN was born and raised on a dairy farm in Mississippi and spent her teenage years perched on the seat of a tractor raking hay. In those days, her daddy couldn't afford two cab tractors with air conditioning and a radio, so Pam drove an Allis Chalmers 110. Even when her daddy asked her if she wanted to bale hay, she told him she didn't mind raking. Raking hay doesn't take much thought so Pam spent her time working on her tan and making up stories in her head. Now, that's the kind of life every girl should dream of. www.pamhillman.com
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