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Indentured Servitude

Indentured Servitude

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Servitude . Many Europeans came to North America under the condition that they perform several years of in-voluntary labor to pay for their transportation to the New

World. These men and women were known as indentured servants, or in the case of the Germans, redemptioners. In the major port cities of Great Britain many jobless individuals signed contracts to work for a term of years, at the end of which time they might be paid a freedom wagea small amount of money, some tools, or simply the clothes on their back. Conditions of servitude varied widely; some servants were able to become independent farmers or artisans at the end of their terms. Others, unable to improve their fortunes, simply signed on for another term. Indentures had been quite common in the 1600s, and servants formed the backbone of the labor force in the Chesapeake region. But as slave prices declined in the late 1600s and early 1700s, white servants were gradually displaced as the main source of plantation labor. Even so, many artisans, displaced farmers, and young people without prospects signed on for terms of four to seven years. The port cities served as great clearinghouses for these servants. They waited by the docks or in boardinghouses to be taken to interior farms, where they were put to work.

German Redemptioners . More than seventy thousand German redemptioners arrived in Philadelphia before U.S. independence. They swarmed around the wharf area and as they were taken away to work on farms were quickly replaced on the docks by newer arrivals. German servants were called redemptioners because the captain of the ship that brought them over had to personally sell their labor contracts, thereby redeeming the cost of their passage. In 1775 hundreds of desperate redemptioners were packed into dockside boardinghouses run by German widows, waiting for someone to purchase their labor. Warehoused under these conditions for months, they suffered greatly, and many died of malnutrition and diseases. They also passed diseases to the natives and increased the death rate in the city.

Decline of White Indentures . Only the dynamic birth-rate among the youthful population of the colonies offset these horrendous losses. As Patriots began to demand an end to their slavery to the British Crown, many North Americans, black and white, were working in conditions

of servitude. Indentured servitude came to an end only gradually in the nineteenth century as the fares for the transatlantic crossing decreased. Immigrants could then save enough money to travel to America without a price on their heads.

AN IMMIGRANTS TALE

A story of a typical immigrant of the 1770s reflects the circumstances of a man leaving his isolated rural home in search of work, with no intention of going to America, and with every intention of returning to his native place after finding work away from home. The North American colonies became another stop on the ever-widening circuit of the unemployed of Europe. John Harrower, a Scot, found work on the New World periphery but did not live to return home. Harrower was a shopkeeper and tradesman from the town of Lerwick in the Shetland Islands. He left home in search of business carrying eight and one-halfpence in cash and three pounds worth of wool stockings he hoped to sell along the way. He hoped to find work in the cities of Great Britain or Holland, earn some money, and return home. He tramped unsuccessfully around Scotland, finding nothing, then made his way south, walking eighty miles from Portsmouth to London.

The English capital was overflowing with skilled but unemployed workers like himself, many of them reduced to beggary. Having exhausted his meager funds, Harrower sold himself into four years of indentured servitude on a Virginia plantation.

After a month at sea on the ship Planter Harrower was handed over to a merchant who dealt in indentured servants. The tobacco planter Col. William Daingerfield, needing a tutor for his children, bought Harrowers four years. Harrower was relatively fortunate; he was treated with kindness and respect. Harrower apparently liked the New World, for he put aside some money and planned to bring his wife and children over to Virginia. But his plans came to naught, and he was still a servant when he died in 1777.

Source: Bernard Bailyn, The Peopling of British North America: An Introduction (New York: Knopf, 1986).

Sources

Bernard Bailyn, The Peopling of British North America: An Introduction (New York: Knopf, 1986);

Aaron S. Fogleman, Hopeful Journeys: German Immigration, Settlement, and Political Culture in Colonial America, 1717-1775 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1996);

David W. Galenson, White Servitude in Colonial America: An Economic Analysis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981).

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convict labor

convict labor, work of prison inmates. Until the 19th cent., labor was introduced in prisons chiefly as punishment. Such work is now considered a necessary part of the rehabilitation of the criminal; it is also used to keep discipline and reduce the costs of prison maintenance. The main types of work in prison communities are maintenance activities, outdoor public works (farming, road building, reforestation), and industrial labor. Considered a source of cheap labor, convicts were formerly put to work on contract, lease, or piecework bases for private industries. Convict labor played an important role in the settlement of Australia, and in the development of some of the Middle and Southern colonies established by Britain in America. In recent decades these methods have been condemned, and prison industries are devoted to the production of goods used in state institutions. Because of competition with nonprison labor, interstate commerce in the products of convict labor has been restricted in the United States since 1934. Wages are paid in many state and federal prisons in the United States and in many European countries. The notorious chain gangs of some Southern states, in which convicts engaged in physical labor outside the prison were shackled together, no longer exist, but Alabama briefly and unsuccessfully attempted to revive the chain gang in the mid-1990s. Work-release programs have been introduced with some success in France, Norway, Sweden, and the United States, whereby convicts are allowed to work outside prisons in private industry during the latter part of their prison terms; for this work the convict receives the same wages as a regular civilian worker. Although U.S. law bans the importation of goods produced by convict labor, a sizable percentage of China's exports is alleged to come from labor camps.

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earnest

ear·nest1 / ˈərnist/ • adj. resulting from or showing sincere and intense conviction: an earnest student. PHRASES: in earnest occurring to a greater extent or more intensely than before: after Labor Day the campaign begins in earnest. ∎  (of a person) sincere and serious in behavior or convictions. DERIVATIVES: ear·nest·ly adv. ear·nest·ness n. ear·nest2 • n. a thing intended or regarded as a sign or promise of what is to come: the presence of the troops is an earnest of the world's desire not to see the conflict repeated elsewhere.

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earnest

earnest1 †ardour in battle; seriousness. OE. eornust, -ost = MLG. ernest, OHG. ernust (G. ernst); cf. ON. ern brisk, vigorous, Goth. arniba safely; of unkn. orig.
So earnest adj. OE. eornost(e) = MLG. ernest. earnestly OE. eornostlīċe.

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earnest

earnest2 money paid as an instalment. XIII. Earliest forms (e)ernes; prob. alt., with assim. to -NESS, of synon. and contemp. erles — OF. *erles :- Rom. *arrulas, dim. (pl.) of L. arra pledge; assim. to prec. appears XV.

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earnest

earnest •Hispanist • Zenist • pyrotechnist •Jainist • liberationist •machinist, tambourinist •hygienist • trampolinist •mandolinist, violinist •unwitnessed •misogynist, philogynist •Stalinist • Hellenist • feminist •illuminist • determinist • Leninist •alpinist • larcenist • Latinist •Byzantinist • Calvinist • chauvinist •Darwinist •honest, monist •corniced, hornist •trombonist • vibraphonist •sousaphonist •balloonist, bassoonist, cartoonist, lampoonist •opportunist • communist • pianist •Fabianist • accordionist • alienist •unionist • Zionist • urbanist •hedonist • modernist • telephonist •symphonist •saxophonist, xylophonist •agonist, antagonist, protagonist •tobogganist • organist • revisionist •diffusionist, exclusionist, fusionist, illusionist •religionist • tobacconist • mechanist •Africanist • Vaticanist • colonist •Mammonist •harmonist, shamanist •humanist • Germanist • canonist •expansionist • onanist • timpanist •accompanist • ironist • Saxonist •Jansenist • arsonist • abstractionist •expressionist, impressionist, progressionist, secessionist •insurrectionist, perfectionist, projectionist, protectionist, rejectionist, vivisectionist •interventionist • receptionist •accommodationist, associationist, collaborationist, conservationist, creationist, deviationist, educationist, federationist, isolationist, preservationist, representationist, restorationist, revelationist, salvationist, situationist, vacationist •abolitionist, coalitionist, demolitionist, exhibitionist, intuitionist, nutritionist, partitionist, prohibitionist, requisitionist, traditionist •fictionist, restrictionist •abortionist, contortionist, extortionist •Confucianist, devolutionist, elocutionist, evolutionist, revolutionist •constructionist, percussionist •obstructionist, reductionist •excursionist •Neoplatonist, Platonist, satanist •botanist •earnest, Ernest

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