Essay Sample on Indentured Servants in Colonial America: Human Chattel & Runaways

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  6
Wordcount:  1479 Words
Date:  2023-02-22


Runaway indentured servants reflect the poor people and way of life in colonial rule in America. Indentured servants were migrated to America seeking for jobs. Before the emergence of the civil war, the indentured servants were proved as an individual's property. Their children could be sold, but those who owned them, they could as well be inherited like any property. At this period, human chattel was runner under strict laws, and each state had its laws governing these operations. Indenture servants came to America in the early 1600s following the establishment of the Virginia Company and the settlement of the Jamestown (Coclanis, 2016). The establishment of indenture servants was aimed at providing cheap labor for the earliest settlers in America who had explored the lands and need more workers to run their projects. These subjects were their primary source of labor. It was a regular experience for the advertisements of runaway indentured servants to appear on the pages of Virginian Gazette. Subscribers began to post advertisements in the 1730s, seeking the apprehension of the runaway indentured servants. The owners did not recode all the runaways, and instead, those who were posted in the advertisement were skilled workers who were highly in demand. This paper, therefore, analyses the advertisements concerning the runaway indentured servants.

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Origin of Runaway Indentured Servants

The origin of runaway indentured servants originated from Europe, 70% of them are English, 25% are Irish, 5% are from Scotland, and Dutch. Their existence in this country, so traced back to medieval serfdom, as a result of the rising population in Europe, the government provided an order that any person who had not skilled in craftmanship must accept to work for anyone who needs labor. England realized the opportunities in American colonies, and so the source of labor was not sufficient. The laborers had to provide job opportunities for the people who need, and this process marked the evolution of the indentured servants making their way to America. The idea of indentured servants was established as a result of the demand for labor with low wages. There was an economic crisis in the United Kingdom; there were many skilled and unskilled people and the job opportunities were very scarce. America, therefore, gave a new rise of economic advantage for the indentured servants. This paved the way for the immigrants in the new world; they arrived in America as indentured servants. They include male adults and female of middle age and children. They served in different Fields based on their skills. From the advertisements, male servants were many as compared to female e and children (Cutter, 2016).

The runaway indenture servants had different skills, and their masters posted their appearance and the items they to on their departure. The advertisements posted about 100 runs away servants. They were middle-aged servants. Thomas Reynolds, the firs run way servant, took way items associated with shoemaking, he must have been a shoemaker. Richard Kibble was a skilled carpenter; his master fancied him. His subscriber highlighted the tools used for making horseshoes that the servant took from his firm. The run items that the runway servant stole from their subscribers reflects their field of specialization. They were all serving different subscribers from different companies. The companies specialized in different areas of production and manufacturing. This shows that the servants were specialists in various fields. They include women, men, and youths who signed contracts with their subscribers. The female runway indenture servants served in the following laundry, sewing, and housekeeping while male servants served as a gardener, clerk, coachman, butcher, plaster, joiner, and musician. There were so many servants to serve in these occupations in the 1730s because of a lack of job opportunities. The number of skilled workers exceeded the number of jobs available.

The indentured servants consisted of men and women. Twelve of the runaways were female. They were all taken by their subscribers to work in their firms under specified rules and time. The subscribers recorded the information concerning age, sex, and appearances in the adverts. The runaway women include Anne Harmon, aged 20, Sarah Mires, Jane Shepherded, Jane Hallett, Mary Barners, Anne Relee, and many others. They all ran away from their subscribers, stealing some of the items and bragging their images. These women migrated to the colonial territory, thinking that they would make a better life, but their masters were abusive (Hodges & Brown, 2019).

The run-away indentured servants ran way because of different reasons, some of them ran away because they wanted to steal from their masters, and others ran way because of harsh treatment in Virginia. Based on the information about their life experience in their subscriber's firms, the servants were most likely to runways are those who worked under strict rules and living in poor conditions. Most of the runaways took horses and boats belonging to their subscribers for escape. Twenty boats were stolen by the runaways and 16 horses as well. It is clear they used these vessels to flee; these were the most successful methods they used to escape. Some of the servants were mistreated, but their masters, they worked for long hours and received little pay. Also, the savants who were beaten while working, overworking was one of the challenges experienced by the indentured servants, this motived their move to escape from choirmasters. Savants who were apprenticing sexual arrestments, especially women, are the group of servants who were at a high risk of running away (Hodges & Brown, 2019).

Based on the records of their appearance, the runways seem to be highly valued servants, they looked neat and health. The subscribers gave a positive record of their appearance. The advertisements revealed the most remarkable qualities of the runaways. The physical characteristics and remarkable skills about them were recorded with a purpose. It was an act of illustrating their usefulness to mobilize society to peruse the runways and report to their subscribers. From their dressing styles and distinctive deception of the runaways, it is possible to say that the servants served critical roles in their firms and houses. There were fewer female runaways, and this was a result of the type of work they were doing. Most of the women were doing domestic duties, making it hard for them to escape.

The information given indicates the essence of their skills in running most of the operations in the firms. The runaways were decently dressed, and this means that they were highly considered despite the case of mistreatments and overwork. The runaways took various items, some of which were highly valuable for their subscribers. Some of the items they took include. Thomas Reynolds took Shoemaking tools, Anne Harmon took eleven yards of Scotch Pled, and Thomas Field took a Bay (Horse Handler & Reilly 2017). These and many other runaways took essential items from their subscribers for various reasons. One of the reasons is that their masters did not pay their wages, and so they took them in for compensation. Based on the types and value of items, they took them to help them continue doing their work, most of the runaways took items that are associated with their occupations, some took tools, this means that they needed to use them in their place of escape.


From the information provided by the subscribers in the advertisements, the runaways escaped using different means, some of them mysteriously escaped, however, most of them were known to have escaped from the items they took from their subscribers and the neighbors (Cutter, 2016). Out all the runaways, 23% of the runaways used boats to flee of the land. Most of them escaped in a group using boats. For example, John Coleman, Richard Martin, Richard Kibble, and Edward Ormsby escaped by a boat. 20% escape by horses that they also stole from their masters. The rest planned to escape mysteriously without living a trace, for example, a young boy who is called John Turner was sent by his subscriber to Williamsburg, and he was never seen again from then. Based on sex, most of the runaways were men, 87% percent were male, and the rest were female (Handler & Reilly 2017). 18 percent were considered as convicts; William-Cole Barnet, Daniel young, Joshua Dean and John Coleman are some of the runaways who were mentioned as convicts


Coclanis, P. A. (2016). Desertion in the Early Modern World: A Comparative History. Edited by Matthias van Rossum and Jeannette Kamp (New York, Bloomsbury Academic, 2016) 213 pp. 112.00cloth 29.95 paper.

Cutter, M. J. (2016). " As White as Most White Women": Racial Passing in Advertisements for Runaway Slaves and the Origins of a Multivalent Term. American Studies, 54(4), 73-97.

Handler, J. S., & Reilly, M. C. (2017). Contesting "White Slavery" in the Caribbean: Enslaved Africans and European Indentured Servants in Seventeenth-Century Barbados. New West Indian Guide/Nieuwe West-Indische Gids, 91(1-2), 30-55.

Hodges, G. R. G., & Brown, A. E. (Eds.). (2019). " Pretends to be Free": Runaway Slave Advertisements from Colonial and Revolutionary New York and New Jersey. Fordham

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Essay Sample on Indentured Servants in Colonial America: Human Chattel & Runaways. (2023, Feb 22). Retrieved from

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