Slavery and Servitude in the Colonies

Start Free Trial

Were there white slaves in the US?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In order to answer this question a clarification needs to be made. There was a legal institution of slavery in the United States and in the American colonies. This legal institution allowed for the ownership of African and Native American slaves as chattel. White people were not included in this...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

In order to answer this question a clarification needs to be made. There was a legal institution of slavery in the United States and in the American colonies. This legal institution allowed for the ownership of African and Native American slaves as chattel. White people were not included in this legal institution. However, outside of the legal institution of slavery, there is a possibility that individuals illegally held slaves, and these individuals may have been white. Therefore, it is impossible to claim that there were no white slaves in the American colonies or the early United States. It is, however, true to state that there were no legally held white slaves in the American colonies or early United States.

The confusion over this issue is generally related to the paucity of discussions of indentured servitude. Irish and British emigrants were frequently impoverished, forcing them to seek out means of paying for their transport despite having no real means of obtaining money. Wealthy individuals could fund the transport of an individual in exchange for a period of servitude upon arrival. The transporter could also pay for the transport and auction the indentured servant off to bidders, which was frequently the procedure for criminals who were exiled to the colonies for a term of years. While both indentured servants and slaves acted as unpaid and unfree laborers, there are significant differences between these two institutions. Indentured servants were only obligated to a limited term and held legal protections that slaves did not.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team