Discussing slavery  in the colonial period - who were the slaves, what work did they do and how did they differ from indentured servants?

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larrygates | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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All slaves during the Colonial period were African American. The distinction between indentured servitude and slavery was a legal one: indentured servants were obligated for a number of years; slavery was for life. Children of indentured servants were free; children of slaves were themselves slaves. After the indenture was served, former servants were entitled to land of their own, typically 50 acres, as if they had paid passage across the Atlantic. Some few did quite well; in fact Benjamin Franklin's mother came to the U.S. as an indentured servant and later married her master.

Both slaves and indentured servants were treated brutally. They were ill fed and clothed, and were frequently beaten. Both tended to run away in time; but could be legally recaptured. Both were subject to horrendous treatment if captured; however the Indentured Servant might see the time of his servitude extended.

Work for both was primarily agricultural. Slavery and indentured servitude thrived in the South because of large scale production of tobacco, rice, indigo, etc. Some few slaves served as household servants, but this was rare. Others worked as tanners, blacksmiths, etc. Some few slaves were extant in all the colonies, but the practice was most prevalent in the South; because the climate, soil, and agricultural practices lent itself to slavery.

Indentured servitude had been the common practice in the early Colonial days; however with improved economic conditions in England and a rebellion of mostly former indentured servants led by Nathaniel Bacon, slavery became more commonplace, and eventually superseded indentured servitude.

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