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White Indentured Servitude in Colonial New World Essay

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Updated: Jun 14th, 2022

The issue of African slavery in the colonial world has remained topical until nowadays due to its magnitude and consequences. At the same time, there were other forms of serfdom in the past, which are now discussed within the context of their relation to African slavery. Indentured servitude was one of the dominating systems of labor in the British colonies in the New World. Nevertheless, despite the nature of subjugation, there are several factors that make it inherently different in comparison to African slavery. The purpose of this paper is to examine white indentured servitude as it is portrayed in the 1935 film Captain Blood in the periods before and during African slavery.

The institute of indentured servitude existed in the 17th and 18th centuries, forming the core of the labor force in the British Colonies. Smith states that this system was primarily used for individuals who wanted to escape their old lives in Great Britain (3). Indentured servitude could provide such people with a free passage to the New World, but they would have to serve for several years or decades as a form of payback. As a rule, they willingly accepted the offer due to financial reasons preventing them from paying for the passage. In addition, those who faced capital punishment in the old world usually had indented servitude as their final option. Peter Blood had a similar destiny, as he had his execution replaced by ten years of servitude in the New World (Captain Blood). Overall, such people willingly sold their freedom for a certain period following a basic cost and benefit analysis. In the case of Peter Blood, he was ready to sacrifice his fundamental rights of a free person in order to avoid being executed for rebelling against King Jacob II. Therefore, it is possible to say that white servants had particular benefits from the system, as well.

On the other hand, both colonial leaders and Great Britain also saw significant advantages in the white servitude. Smith notes that governments of that time saw the labor force as their primary wealth (27). The effective exchange of servants between Great Britain and its colonies provided the latter with useful instruments for development for reasonable expenses. Nevertheless, as colonial territories grew, the focus of attention shifted toward even cheaper options with the emergence of African slavery. This form of servitude provided more significant advantages for the governments, as the costs were kept to a minimum. African slavery entailed fewer expenditures in terms of clothing and food, and their servitude was perpetual instead of being limited to a particular term (Smith 29). In other words, while white servants may have been better qualified for specific tasks, they required better conditions and regained their freedom once the contract expired.

In general, it is possible to say that African slaves were put in a significantly more unfortunate position than their white counterparts. As mentioned above, fewer resources were spent on African slaves, which means their living conditions in the colonies were poorer. In addition, white servants usually entered the system upon their own decision in order to reach particular and realistic goals, which was not the case for people of African origins. The latter served indefinitely and had little or no chances of gaining freedom.

In conclusion, white indentured servitude was an important instrument that contributed to the economic growth of the New World colonies. However, white servants worked in bearable conditions and had significant personal advantages from the system. African slaves did not have equal rights and demanded fewer expenditures on behalf of their owners, whereas their work was not limited to a certain term. Accordingly, the benefits of African slavery inevitably outweighed white indentured servitude and contributed to the unfortunate development of institutional racism.

Works Cited

Captain Blood. Directed by Michael Curtiz, performance by Errol Flynn, Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc., 1935.

Smith, Abbot E. Colonists in Bondage: White Servitude and Convict Labor in America, 1607-1776. UNC Press Books, 2014.

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