True or False? In Virginia, the ruling classes eventually bequeathed to the white indentured servants a “number of benefits” ranging from land, corn, guns, and monetary compensation. Their African slave counterparts eventually received the same benefits by 1640.

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In the first part of the statement you want to assess, it is true that the Virginia’s General Assembly passed laws designed to regulate the contract terms, behavior, and treatment of indentured servants. In their Virginia Encyclopedia article online, “Indentured Servants in Colonial Virginia,” Brenden Wolfe and Martha McCartney write,

As indentured servants poured into Virginia, they came to account for fully half of Virginia's population. Such rapid change caused problems, however, and the General Assembly passed numerous statutes designed to address them. These laws served several broad purposes, including regulation of servants' contract terms, behavior, and treatment.

Nevertheless, the regulations were written to benefit the masters, not the indentured servants. Contract terms were granted based on the age of the servant, and primarily aimed to cover the costs incurred by the master for transportation to America, upkeep and health care, as well as to prevent “disruptive turnover, labor shortages and an unstable workforce.”

An indenture labor contract often, but not always called for “freedom dues” which were to be given when the contract expired. Freedom dues generally meant corn, clothing, and tools. Though masters did not always comply with freedom and the freedom dues, an indentured servant could take his master to court. Following are some examples of masters refusals to follow the rules as set by the Virginia General Assembly:

In 1675, an indentured servant who charged his master with cheating him asked the General Court to free him "and pay him corne & clothes." The judges ruled in his favor,…

Occasionally the owners of indentured servants refused to release them or give them their freedom dues. At Jamestown, when a male indentured servant who had fulfilled his contract insisted on receiving his "corn and clothes," his master exploded in rage and struck him on the head with his truncheon.      -Wolfe and McCartney

The second part of the true/false statement says, “Their African slave counterparts eventually received the same benefits by 1640.” If this part of the statement is true, the answer you should give is true. If it is false, the answer you should give is false.

No laws were passed by the Virginia General Assembly giving the right of freedom dues to African slaves by 1640 or anytime before the Civil War (1861-1865). It is interesting to note, however, that the 1675 court case above was brought by a black indentured servant, but he was not a slave.

Nonetheless, there were some individual slaveholders who gave what can be called “freedom dues” to slaves they freed. For example, an excerpt from the will of Charles Bagwell, who lived in Accomack Co, VA, says, “[t]o negro Daniel his freedom & 6 acres in Robins Hole for life.” This was a generous slaveholder who gave his slave freedom and land, but these instances were not, in general, “benefits conferred on African slaves” by the ruling class in Virginia by 1640.

Given this information, is the scenario true or false? Before deciding that a statement is true or false, keep in mind that if any part of the statement is false, the whole statement is false. In other words, all parts of the statement or scenario must be true for the answer to be true.

 

 

 

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