........ Conjecture, noun, the formation of judgments or opinions on the basis of incomplete or inconclusive information. Source: Encarta Dictionary

Friday, May 31, 2013

What is an Indentured Servant?

An indentured servant was a person who signed a contract (also known as an indenture or a covenant) by which he agreed to work for a certain number of years in exchange for monetary compensation upfront. The term was often four to seven years for adults and younger for children if they were apprenticed to learn a trade. Often the monetary compensation paid off a debt or paid for transportation to America. I was not previously aware that indentured servitude was common in England at the time but that explains why no one thought it unusual for bringing workers to America.

Below is the format that Lord Baltimore recommended to use for indentured servants coming to Maryland. He suggested 5 years as a typical length of service.

The Indenture made the ____ day of ____ in the ____ yeere of our Sovereign Lord King Charles, etc between ______ of the one party and ________ on the other party, witnesseth that the said _____ doth hereby covenant promise and grant to and with the said ____ his Executer and Assinge, to serve him from the day of the date hereof, untill his first and next arrival in Maryland, and after for and during the term of ____ years in good service and employment, as the said ________ or ssigns shall him empoy him, according to the custome of the country. In consideration whereof, the said _______ doth promise and grant, to and with the said ______ to pay for his passage and to find him with Meat, Drinke, Apparell and Lodging with the necessaries during the said term; nad at the end of the said time, to give him one whole yeeres provision of Corne, and fifty acres of land, according to the custome of the Country. In witness whereof, the said _____ hath put his hand and seale, the day and yeere above written.
Sealed and delivered in the presence of __________
The most common problem with the whole process was cruel treatment (such as whippings and poor food) by the master (owner of the contract), thus leading to numerous runaways. The common punishment for runaways was more beatings and extension of the period of service.


  1. Indenture is still alive and well in many parts of the world. In the 1960's, from age 7- 17 my wife(Vietnamese) spent a lot of her childhood as an indentured servant and the practice is still alive and well in today's Viet Nam.

  2. Thank you for your in-depth research on Penelope Stout. I am working on my step-dad's family history. His mother was a Stout and she passed along Penelope's story. My step-dad related it to me on a few occasions but only the bare bones, if there were details in his mother's version he didn't remember them. In fact, he thought it was apocryphal.
    In pursuing Penelope's story, I found all sorts of different versions - not surprising for an oral tradition - like that old game of "telephone." I thought there must be something to it and attempted to compare the different versions I had read. You did a MUCH better job than I did! Thank you.
    The runaway indentured servant story is very intriguing and I find myself wondering if Penelope made up the story about being married and the shipwreck in order to justify being a woman alone in the wilderness.
    The story about being disemboweled and nursed back to health seems likely to be true. However, I did get to thinking that she told her grandson who felt the scar to remember her story in order to back up her whole story. Could the scar have been due to something else? A C-section that she somehow survived?

    I see that your last post here was back in Jan 2014 and wondered if anything more had been learned between then and now (Dec 2017). Or perhaps you just moved on to other things?