Spotlight: Indentured Servants

Published:June 28, 2012 by Brendan Wolfe

Our entry on indentured servants in colonial Virginia has been published for awhile, but I wanted to spotlight it now because a) it’s a really good entry, I think; and b) it’s just plain full up with links to primary sources. It’s been at least a year, maybe two, since we came up with the idea to populate the encyclopedia with documents in addition to entries. And over that time it has taken the entire encyclopedia staff—but especially Emma Earnst, who so good-naturedly proofs page after page of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century prose—to make it possible.

Now, in this one entry more than others, perhaps, you can really see that effort paid off.

Examples of what you’ll find in the entry:

  • Numerous examples of indentures, or contracts, including this one from September 1619;
  • An excerpt from The Whole Duty of Man, a Protestant devotional work published anonymously in 1658, in which the English author reminds readers that all servants owe their masters, as a matter of conscience, “obedience,” “Faithfulness,” “Patience and Meekness,” and “Diligence”;
  • Testimony in a court case involving a servant who felt he’d been cheated by his master; and
  • The text of numerous laws, including this one, from 1662, designed to protect the limited rights of Virginia Indian servants.

We believe including these documents will make the encyclopedia especially useful in the classroom. But it also makes entries richer and more interesting for everyone.

Or at least we hope so.

IMAGES: The front and reverse of an indenture, or contract, in which twenty-two-year-old William Buckland, of Oxford, England, agrees to work four years in the service of George Mason.