As people traveled to the Americas to build new lives—to experience freedom of religion and have the opportunity to become economically successful— indentured servants and slaves made up a large part of the work force to galvanize these efforts forward, not only with the settlement of towns, but also the development of industry (providing goods and services) which offered a lifestyle either similar to or superior than what the settlers were accustomed to.
Slavery existed in North America almost from the beginning of British colonization.
While slavery eventually settled more to the South, it was valuable to the early settlers of the British colonies.
Slavery was practiced throughout the American colonies in the 17th and 18th centuries, and African slaves helped build the economic foundations of the new nation.
Unfortunately, owning men and women to build, establish farms, provide services, and so on, was more economically sound than hiring people for a wage. In this way, the overhead of developing a colony was lower, and those able to purchase and keep slaves realized greater wealth and social recognition.
Indentured servants, like slaves, were often treated quite badly, and often they lived lives of drudgery; the biggest difference, however, was that people willingly sold years of their lives and their skills or services for a specific amount of time, with the understanding that after the agreed upon number of years, the indentured servant would be free. For slaves, freedom (at the time) was not an option.
The idea of indentured servitude was born of a need for cheap labor. The earliest settlers soon realized that they had lots of land to care for, but no one to care for it. With passage to the Colonies expensive for all but the wealthy, the Virginia Company developed the system of indentured servitude to attract workers. Indentured servants became vital to the colonial economy.
This was often what poorer people did in order to travel to America. In exchange for transportation across the ocean, men and women would agree to work for the person or persons that purchased their fare, for a term of years—often four to seven.
What the slaves and indentured servants had in common was the degree to which landowners and business owners relied upon them. Not only was their work absolutely necessary for towns to develop and thrive in the wilderness of the Americas, but they also played a key role in supporting the growing economy of Colonies that would one day become perhaps the most powerful nation in the world.