Early American History
Life in the British Colonies
indentured servant
Key Concepts
The main job of the planter's family was to watch over the work of the
servants and slaves.

Many of the earliest workers in the colonies came over from Europe as
indentured servants. An indentured servant was a person who agreed to
work for another person without pay for a certain length of time. A planter or
other business owner paid for the trip. The indentured servant agreed to
work for two to seven years. Once the time was over, the servant was free.

Not all indentured servants came willingly to the British colonies. Some were
sent by British courts to work in the colonies as a punishment. Other
indentured servants were people who were kidnapped and then sold in the

At first, Africans who were brought to the British colonies had been
kidnapped and were sold as indentured servants. But by 1650, traders were
bringing thousands of African slaves to the colonies. The slaves were sold to planters at an auction, or a public sale. Slaves were not indentured servants. Slaves were not given their freedom after a certain length of time. They were enslaved for life. Laws were passed that made slaves of the children born to slaves.
Servants and Slaves
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Additional Information

Laws - Slaves were considered the property of the owner. Slaves had no basic rights. They could be punished in any way the owner saw fit. Children born to slaves were called "chattel." They were property that could be sold to other owners without the consent of the slave parents.