Life in the Thirteen Colonies

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Were the American colonists criminal?

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Some colonists were criminals, but not all. Colonists made their way to America for religious freedom and economic opportunities, though many did not have sufficient means to travel to the colonies without some economic support. In order to make the trip, many colonists had to enter into indentured servitude, which allowed for a company or wealthy individual to front the cost of transportation for a colonist in exchange for a term of uncompensated service once the colonist reached America.

Some of these indentured servants were criminals who had been sentenced to a term of exile. In Britain, felonies were generally punished with death. Even minor felonies would result in the death penalty. However, sentencing reform meant to lower the number of executions resulted in the new punishment of exile. These individuals were sent to America as indentured servants for a term of years with the option to return to Britain, assuming the individual could pay for it at the end of their term.

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