Describe the conditions indentured servants endured. How did the indentured servants rebel?

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Jessica Pope | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

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Indentured servants endured harsh conditions in the British North American colonies. Terms of indenture were highly exploitative. The contract involved a wealthy benefactor/master on the one hand, and an extremely poor British subject on the other. Most indentured servants voyaging to the New World were either destitute (to the point of homelessness and starvation), or were convicts forcibly shipped out of Britain to be "sold" in the colonies. The wealthy master would pay a servant's boat passage and meet their basic needs in exchange for a period of 7 years of bonded labor. 

Indentured servants were generally treated poorly by their masters. They were overworked in the fields and were given just barely enough to eat. Indentured servants were coerced, terrorized, and physically beaten by their masters. Women were vulnerable to harassment and sexual assault. Colonial laws were in place to offer some protection, but indentured servants' access to fair effective law enforcement was limited. The one strong protection indentured servants had was the contractual obligation of masters to release them at the end of term. 

Indentured servants rebelled and resisted mistreatment in many ways. Some ran away before their end of term, escaping into swamp lands or secluded Native American camps. Others committed violence against their masters, in self-defense or revenge. 

Naturally, only a minority rebelled so openly. Most indentured servants rebelled in small ways in daily life: stealing extra food for example, or secretly working a small bit of land for themselves. Through these dedicated acts of subtle rebellion, indentured servants worked to protect their own interests, and to make the best of available resources.

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