Indentured Servants

Many of the colonial settlers came to America as indentured servants. For example, between 1630 and 1680, about two thirds of those who immigrated to Virginia were contracted in this manner.  It provided a way for those, with little or no money, to make a start in the New World and eventually own land of their own, something they likely never hoped to be able to obtain in their homeland.

A great number of the early immigrants of the time came voluntarily, contracting themselves out for a particular period of time in exchange for the cost of their passage, as occurred with Joe and his family in A Trusting Heart. Others were kidnapped from the streets and forced to make the journey, and were sold as servants against their will, as I decided to have happen to Sarah in A Willing Heart.  In some cases, these unfortunate souls were passed out from drunkenness and were, thus, easy pray to the 'spirits' (men who's job was to recruit or 'spirit away' these people from their poverty stricken neighborhoods).  There were even cases in which young children were enticed by candy to follow these men on board.  Still others were convicts, transported as a punishment for their often very minimal crimes. Malnutrition, overcrowding and disease were common during the ocean voyage and many died before reaching the shores of America.

Typically, adults could be expected to remain in service for 4-7 years, although the sentence of a convict was determined according to his or her crime.  The term of servitude, in general, could be lengthened legally for women who became pregnant during their indenture, men who impregnated a female servant, and for anyone who tried to escape before their agreed upon term was concluded.

Children served until they came of age. I don't think it's much of a stretch to assume that there were cases in which some were forced to serve past the conclusion of their contract, like Joe experienced in A Trusting Heart, since there have always been cases throughout history where people have had no regard for the laws of the land.  Indentured servants had few rights during the term of their contract since they were considered property of the man who bought their papers.  Servants were generally not permitted to leave the plantation without permission and, likely, without being under guard.  Thus, Joe would have found it very difficult to report his master's illegal conduct, which is why he finally resorted to trying to escape.

I am confident that many of them were treated relatively well during their indentured period, but there was also a great deal of abuse by some particularly brutal masters and overseers. I chose for Joe to be a victim of such violence. Though it happened long before the opening of his story, it altered the course of his life, and its effects followed him for years to come.  Women had a particularly hard go of it, sometimes suffering sexual abuse and other atrocities at the hands of their masters or others.

After their indenture was up, men might be given clothing, tools and even, in some instances, their own small plot of land. Some were fortunate enough to eventually make a good life for themselves.  Others wandered and begged for food, longing for the familiarity of home, feel as though America was not at all what they thought it would be.