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There were two major systems of forced labor that took hold in the Chesapeake colonies. These were indentured servitude and slavery.
In both systems, people were forced to work for others for no pay and had their lives completely controlled by those who owned their labor. The major difference was that indentured servitude was a contractual agreement that lasted a specific amount of time. After that, the servant became free. By contrast, a slave was enslaved for life and (eventually) the law came to say that the offspring of a slave would also be enslaved for life.
These were the two major systems of forced labor in the Chesapeake.
The first settlers in the Chesapeake tried to use native Americans as slaves initially, but they kept dying due to European diseases and those who survived quickly ran away. The settlers then used indentured servants--poorer whites from England who could not pay for their passage to the New World so they offered to work it off when they arrived. However, since much of the Chesapeake was in a mosquito haven, many of these indentured servants died before their (typical) seven year term of service was over. Those that did survive were set free, often after seven years. This meant that they could own land, and the planter was left looking for laborers again. In 1619 the first African slaves were brought to America from a Dutch trading vessel. The slaves did not get sick in the malaria season due to a genetic mutation brought from Africa. Also, the slaves would be permanent slaves, which meant that the planters did not worry about creating a new labor force. At first, owning slaves was as much a status item as it was of any real importance. However, with the growth of tobacco and ultimately cotton, the planters would claim that they needed slaves in order to maintain the stately manors and increase profits for England.
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