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airship wreck
05-28-2014, 02:19 AM
I have a few questions about white European indentured servants who came to North America in the late 17th (or early 18th) century. My novel isn't set in a real location, but information about this time period suits it best.

I'm having trouble finding details about the minutiae of daily life during the early days of their indenture. Where exactly would a person go to sign a contract? How long would it take, and how much time would pass between then and the moment they board a ship? Would a ship dedicated to transporting servants take them, or might a trading ship carry them? What would their living quarters aboard the ship look like?

Upon arrival, will someone be there to take possession of them? Do any additional matters need to be discussed, or will they be put right to work? I'm sure this varies, but where exactly will they live until they're free?

I'd very much appreciate being pointed toward resources on the subject. I know I've asked a lot of questions and may not be able to find anyone who can answer them directly. This is my first time trying to dig deep into an unfamiliar topic, and any jumping-off point you can give me would be a big help.

milkweed
05-28-2014, 02:55 AM
Have you googled indentured servants yet?

melindamusil
05-28-2014, 02:56 AM
Where exactly would a person go to sign a contract? How long would it take, and how much time would pass between then and the moment they board a ship?

The early earliest indentured servants came through the Virginia Company, and would probably have gone to the Virginia Company headquarters.

Later, the indentured servants were often arranged by a ship's captain. The captain would either "buy" servants, which he would then sell after arriving in the new world, or he would arrange in advance to acquire servants for a particular landowner.

They'd advertise in pubs and markets; if you wanted to become an indentured servant, you'd probably go down the docks. Time until the ship sets sail=however long it takes the captain to fill the ship.

Also, it wasn't at all uncommon to kidnap people who became indentured servants.



Would a ship dedicated to transporting servants take them, or might a trading ship carry them? What would their living quarters aboard the ship look like?

Strictly speaking, passenger ships carried passengers and cargo ships carried cargo. This was a pretty fuzzy line however. For example, the Mayflower was built to be a cargo ship but was used to transport passengers to the new world.



Upon arrival, will someone be there to take possession of them? Do any additional matters need to be discussed, or will they be put right to work? I'm sure this varies, but where exactly will they live until they're free?

If the captain had arranged to bring the servants for a particular individual, that's where they'd go. If not, the captain would sell them - in a market or by advertising in a newspaper.

milkweed
05-28-2014, 02:58 AM
I have a few questions about white European indentured servants who came to North America in the late 17th (or early 18th) century. My novel isn't set in a real location, but information about this time period suits it best.

I'm having trouble finding details about the minutiae of daily life during the early days of their indenture. Where exactly would a person go to sign a contract? How long would it take, and how much time would pass between then and the moment they board a ship? Would a ship dedicated to transporting servants take them, or might a trading ship carry them? What would their living quarters aboard the ship look like?

Upon arrival, will someone be there to take possession of them? Do any additional matters need to be discussed, or will they be put right to work? I'm sure this varies, but where exactly will they live until they're free?

I'd very much appreciate being pointed toward resources on the subject. I know I've asked a lot of questions and may not be able to find anyone who can answer them directly. This is my first time trying to dig deep into an unfamiliar topic, and any jumping-off point you can give me would be a big help.

Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indentured_servant) is your friend, check out the bibliography at the bottom of the page for your minutiae, lots of really good information to get you started.

milkweed
05-28-2014, 03:02 AM
The early earliest indentured servants came through the Virginia Company, and would probably have gone to the Virginia Company headquarters.

Later, the indentured servants were often arranged by a ship's captain. The captain would either "buy" servants, which he would then sell after arriving in the new world, or he would arrange in advance to acquire servants for a particular landowner.

They'd advertise in pubs and markets; if you wanted to become an indentured servant, you'd probably go down the docks. Time until the ship sets sail=however long it takes the captain to fill the ship.

Also, it wasn't at all uncommon to kidnap people who became indentured servants.


Strictly speaking, passenger ships carried passengers and cargo ships carried cargo. This was a pretty fuzzy line however. For example, the Mayflower was built to be a cargo ship but was used to transport passengers to the new world.


If the captain had arranged to bring the servants for a particular individual, that's where they'd go. If not, the captain would sell them - in a market or by advertising in a newspaper.

especially women who were then told they were going to be indentured servants but were infact kidnapped and sold to become someone's wife. Check out the linky (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indentured_servant) I gave you to wikipedia you could pretty much write a book from the information there alone!

ULTRAGOTHA
05-28-2014, 03:13 AM
There's an indenture shown on the Wikipedia page for Indentured Servants (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indentured_servant).

Here's a page with a newspaper ad (http://ncpedia.org/indentured-servants) offering indentured servants for 'sale' in Hanover Town, Virginia in 1774.

I was at a talk the other day from a forensic anthropologist. He studied a Colonial-era skeleton that had been buried in a shallow grave in the basement of a house after having been beaten to death. The historical consensus was this was probably an indentured servant and the master most likely gave out that the servant had run away.

This Google Search (https://www.google.com/search?hl=en&as_q=&as_epq=indentured+servant&as_oq=&as_eq=&as_nlo=&as_nhi=&lr=&cr=&as_qdr=all&as_sitesearch=archive.org&as_occt=any&safe=images&tbs=&as_filetype=&as_rights=) will get you books and other documents from the Internet Archives that mention indentured servants.

Alessandra Kelley
05-28-2014, 03:18 AM
Seven years of eating lobster, ugh.

... It's kind of lighthearted, but I do recall hearing that as a complaint of indentured servants. Lobster was so plentiful along the coasts at the time that it was cheap, or so they said.

ULTRAGOTHA
05-28-2014, 03:21 AM
Yes, lobster was trash food and some servants had it in their contracts they could be fed it no more than three times a week.

I imagine without lashings of drawn butter it might not be as good. ;)

airship wreck
05-28-2014, 03:35 AM
Thanks for all the responses! I've definitely Googled and checked Wikipedia, and that Internet Archive search should be a lot of help in getting access to the books I've seen listed as sources, or to similar information.

Melindamusil, is there a specific place where you've gotten your information? Your post more or less answers all of my questions for now, and I'd be curious to see if reading the source raises any questions I haven't thought of before.

(I should have specified that I'm not writing about any characters who were kidnapped this time around, but that would make an interesting story in itself, wouldn't it?)

milkweed
05-28-2014, 03:48 AM
Melindamusil, is there a specific place where you've gotten your information?


It's in the wikipedia article I linked to!

airship wreck
05-28-2014, 03:54 AM
It's in the wikipedia article I linked to!

I must have not read it thoroughly enough, then! I do remember seeing a few pieces of it, but not all. I'll have to take another look.

milkweed
05-28-2014, 03:58 AM
I must have not read it thoroughly enough, then! I do remember seeing a few pieces of it, but not all. I'll have to take another look.

Please do, as far as wikipedia articles go this one is actually has quite a bit of useful information in it especially regarding the changes in how servents were purchased etc., all with links to supporting articles, etc.

King Neptune
05-28-2014, 03:59 AM
Yes, lobster was trash food and some servants had it in their contracts they could be fed it no more than three times a week.

I imagine without lashings of drawn butter it might not be as good. ;)

Anything gets boring if you have to eat it every day. Scots used to complain about getting salmon more than three times a week.

ULTRAGOTHA
05-28-2014, 04:13 AM
King Neptune, don't tell my wife. Lobster three times a week with lashings of butter would put her in Heaven.

King Neptune
05-28-2014, 04:26 PM
King Neptune, don't tell my wife. Lobster three times a week with lashings of butter would put her in Heaven.

Three times, sure, but what about six times? I think that even the greatest lovers of lobster would get sick of it after a few weeks.

melindamusil
05-28-2014, 07:00 PM
Melindamusil, is there a specific place where you've gotten your information? Your post more or less answers all of my questions for now, and I'd be curious to see if reading the source raises any questions I haven't thought of before.


My knowledge comes mostly from years of curiosity about history. Read that Wikipedia article; it has tons of info, possibly everything you will need.

Orianna2000
05-30-2014, 02:33 AM
Not sure if this is helpful, but in one of the Outlander books, set in the mid-18th century, the MC's daughter is taking a ship to America from Scotland and they go down to the docks to hire a servant/companion for her. The girl they select is "bought" with a contract and after the voyage, she basically moves in with the family for the next few years.

RN Hill
06-05-2014, 07:18 AM
I wrote a paper about this some time ago. The sources I used:

Farley Grubb – “Fatherless and Friendless: Factors Influencing the Flow of English Emigrant Servants.” – The Journal of Economic History, 1992

Farley Grubb – “The Transatlantic Market for British Convict Labor” – The Journal of Economic History, 2000

Farley Grubb – “Bound for America: The Transportation of British Convicts to the Colonies, 1718 – 75” – Journal of Economic History, 1988 (review)

Farley Grubb – “The Market for Indentured Servants: Evidence on the Efficiency of Forward-Labor Contracting in Philadelphia, 1745 – 73” – Journal of Economic History, 1985

David Galenson – “British Servants and the Colonial Indenture System inn the 18th Century” – The Journal of Southern History, 1978

David Galenson – “White Servitude and the Growth of Black Slavery in Colonial America” – Journal of Economic History, 1981

David Galenson – “The Rise and Fall of Indentured Servitude in the Americas: An Economic Analysis” – Journal of Economic History, 1984

Kenneth Morgan – “The Organization of the Convict Trade to Maryland” – William & Mary Quarterly, 1985

Roger Ekirch – “Bound for America: Profile of British Convicts Transported to the Colonies, 1718 – 75” – William & Mary Quarterly, 1985

TH Breen, James Lewis, Keith Schlesinger – “Motive for Murder: A Servant’s Life in Virginia, 1678” – William & Mary Quarterly, 1983

Lawrence W. Towner – “’A Fondness for Freedom’: Servant Protest in Puritan Society” – William & Mary Quarterly, 1962

Russell Menard – “From Servant to Freeholder” --- WMQ, 1973

Aaron Fogleman – “From Slaves, Convicts, and Servants to Free Passengers: The Transformation of Immigration in the Era of the American Revolution” – Journal of American History, 1998

David Eltis – “Emigrants in Chains: Social History of Forced Immigration to the Americas 1607 – 1776” – Journal of Southern History, 1993 (book review)

Abbot Emerson Smith – “Indentured Servants: New Light on Some of America’s ‘First’ Family” – Journal of Economic History, 1942

Robert Heavner – “Indentured Servitude: The Philadelphia Market 1771 – 73” – Journal of Economic History, 1978

GE Aylmer – “Colonists in Bondage: White Servitude and Convict Labour in America 1607 - -1776” – English Historical Review, 1984 (review)

Sharon Salinger – “The Infortunate: The Voyage and Adventures of William Moraley, an Indentured Servant” – Journal of American History, 1993 (review)

Sorry, I just copied/pasted my Works Cited page . . .:) As you'll see some of these are reviews of actual books, and these were some of the most recent articles I could find at the time I was writing my paper. I remember a few years ago there was an excavation at a plantation in Virginia in which they uncovered a slave/servant cemetery. The injuries and diseases they had were atrocious. One skeleton was riddled with arthritis and had several healed broken bones, and they estimated he was only about 30 when he died.

I'm also playing with a novel about this; I find this subject fascinating, so I will shush now. :) Good luck!

Telergic
06-05-2014, 07:32 AM
As a more or less irrelevant aside, lobster has actually been trash food -- sorta -- around New England not all that long ago, too. By which I mean the usual price collapsed due to a population surge combined with excessive trapping. It got to the point that a number of fast food chains in the region were offering lobster rolls and similar foods to deal with the surplus. I think that's been over for a couple of years now though.

King Neptune
06-05-2014, 04:21 PM
As a more or less irrelevant aside, lobster has actually been trash food -- sorta -- around New England not all that long ago, too. By which I mean the usual price collapsed due to a population surge combined with excessive trapping. It got to the point that a number of fast food chains in the region were offering lobster rolls and similar foods to deal with the surplus. I think that's been over for a couple of years now though.

Not they way it was before about 1900. Lobster was a nuisance that wandered around the shallows, so people could walk up and catch them by hand. They weren't just cheap but free for cleaning up the beach.

airship wreck
06-06-2014, 02:04 AM
Oh wow, this thread is still going! Thank you, everyone. I've been through the Wikipedia article quite a few times now, checked out some of the sources, and those of you who posted unsourced information gave me amazing jumping off points for confirming the exact details of what I needed to know.

Thanks so much, RN Hill, and good luck with your novel too! I'm sure I'll be able to track down at least a few of the books you've listed.

Also, this conversation about lobster is making me want to figure out a way to work lobsters into my story. I've heard that people used to complain because the lobster would be served with shards of shell stuck in it, but I've got no idea whether there's any truth to it.

King Neptune
06-06-2014, 02:38 AM
Also, this conversation about lobster is making me want to figure out a way to work lobsters into my story. I've heard that people used to complain because the lobster would be served with shards of shell stuck in it, but I've got no idea whether there's any truth to it.

WHere is the setting? Be careful with lobsters in the South; there weren't as many, and they are different. In New England they were very plentiful, but I don't know how far south they were.

airship wreck
06-06-2014, 06:33 PM
WHere is the setting? Be careful with lobsters in the South; there weren't as many, and they are different. In New England they were very plentiful, but I don't know how far south they were.

As fun as it would be to have characters complaining about lobsters, you're right, it's definitely not possible for me to actually pull it off. My setting is based on areas much farther south.

Xelebes
06-06-2014, 06:40 PM
Seven years of eating lobster, ugh.

... It's kind of lighthearted, but I do recall hearing that as a complaint of indentured servants. Lobster was so plentiful along the coasts at the time that it was cheap, or so they said.

Yep. Cape Breton up until the mid 60s had a few communities where children would go to school with lobster sandwiches because lobster was much cheaper than jam or jelly. And so the kids all hated it.

This year there is so much lobster in Cape Breton being caught that they either have to throw them back into the sea or find themselves eating lobster every day until the numbers go down, all because the processing plants in Prince Edward Island can't keep up. If you love lobster, now is the time to book your vacation.

milkweed
06-08-2014, 10:44 PM
As fun as it would be to have characters complaining about lobsters, you're right, it's definitely not possible for me to actually pull it off. My setting is based on areas much farther south.

there are other garbage fish, etc., in the south that was plentiful, read up on what indentures and slaves were fed down south. Crawdads come to mind for one such critter.

benbenberi
06-09-2014, 06:24 AM
Especially in the 17th cent., the only real difference between indentured servants and slaves in the North American colonies was that eventually an indentured servant who lived long enough was freed & would want to be paid or given land then - until that happened, indentured servants and slaves lived and worked side by side, and were treated the same by their masters. Servants were bought & sold just like slaves. (And they rebelled together in the 1670s, a very alarming development for the landowning elite.)