How were slaves and indentured servants different?

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The first difference between the two was how they got to the colonies. Indentured servants came with an agreement with the employer to work toward their future freedom. Slaves were forcefully brought to the colonies against their will. They did not have an agreement for freedom after a certain number of years of work. Most indentured servants came from the distressed economy of Europe, while slaves came from Africa.

Another difference was the treatment they received. Indentured servants were treated much better than slaves. They were given better housing and, upon release, often given food and some property. The contract usually spelled out the exact length and the benefits the indentured servant would receive at the end. Slaves lived a harsh life compared to the indentured servant. Their living conditions were crowded, and they were not given as many benefits as servants. Enslavement simply meant a rougher treatment than a contractual agreement.

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Slaves and indentured servants both made up a significant portion of the workforce during the early days of the English Colonies. Both slaves and indentured servants worked without pay, but they had many differences.

Slaves were brought from Africa to the New World against their will. Once they arrived, they were usually sold at a slave auction to the highest bidder. Once sold, a slave would have to spend the rest of his or her life working for a master. The slaveowner provided housing, food, and other basic necessities, but no wages.

Indentured servants were typically from Europe. They willingly entered into a contract with an employer in which they would work without pay for a set term. These terms were usually not more than seven years. In exchange for their years of service, the employer would provide housing, food, and often passage by ship across the Atlantic Ocean.

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How were indentured servants and African American slaves different?

Indentured servants came to the colonies after signing a contract, known as an "indenture" that committed them to anywhere from three to five years of service (usually as agricultural labor). In return, the owner of an indenture would pay for passage to the colony and what were called "freedom dues" to be supplied at the end of the indenture. "Freedom dues" might include a small parcel of land, clothing, a gun, or farming implements. Indentures could be sold from one person to another, and they could be extended close to indefinitely if the servant violated the terms of the agreement by running away, refusing to work, or becoming pregnant. The owners of indentures also possessed the power to discipline their workers, often by physical violence. Early in the history of the colonies, particularly in Virginia, the indentured labor force was composed of Irish people, poor urban English people, and African-Americans. By the end of the seventeenth century, however, Virginians increasingly turned to enslaved labor. In a process similar to what had occurred in Barbados, the legislature defined slavery in ways that differed from indentured servitude. As a result of this "terrible transformation," as it was described by one historian, slavery was permanent, racial, and hereditary. The children of enslaved women were by law slaves themselves, and would remain so for the rest of their lives. This was the biggest and most significant difference between slavery and indentured servitude, and the fact that it was attached to race had even more tragic consequences.

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