American History

Dutch Colonial Indenture Service, 1600’s in New Amsterdam


This document contains an historical account of Dutch colonial Indenture Service, during 1600’s in New Amsterdam, United States of America. Specific aspects related to how and when it began will be highlighted. Ultimately, an evaluation pertaining to the course of indentureship will be given leading to how and when it ended.

Topic 1:– What does indenture servant mean?

Indenture servant is a classification given to immigrant workers who sell their labor to planters in another country. During the 16th and 17 centuries those countries were identified as colonies. The process indenture servant was also referred to asdebt bondage being a system adapted by American colonies to recruit cheap labor. During this period indenture servants were paidno wages. However, according to their contract, planters were expected to provide them adequate food, accommodation, clothing and training.

The contract contained clauses specifically related to their type, length and constitution of duties. After serving the agreed period they were free to participate normally on the external labor market. There were various models of indenture servant emerging after slavery. As such, it could have one meaning in North American territories such as New Amsterdam and another in the Caribbean. The post slavery era when indentured servants were used in India and West Indies they were not treated almost like slaves. Instead their contract provided them with privileges similar to one received by their masters’ children. They could have acquired property. In essence the meaning or what does indenture servant mean has to be taken within the context of time and geographic location in which it existed. 

Topic 2:- Where did it originate?

In the American context indenture servant began with colonialism and farm labor. There was difficulty in retaining farm workers in American colonies as many parts of the new world. Therefore, farmers and entrepreneurs hired indentured servants as laborers.The first indentured servants arrived in 1607 in Jonestown. They came as workers to the Virginia Company. By 1619 the first black skinned Africans arrived in Virginia. There were no laws pertaining to slavery in America at the time. As such, black Africans were considered indentured servants, with the same rights as whites. However, by 1641 and 1661when slave laws were passed in Massachusetts and Virginia, respectively blacks lost their freedoms (Galenson, 1984).

Besides these organized indenture servant labor recruitment procedures, as the demand for farm workers escalated, many whites were kidnapped in Europe and transported to the Americas as farm workers. This was a forced indentureship program. For some time it was quite a lucrative endeavor operating alongside the legal indentureship system. Meanwhile many other Europeans travelled to American colonies as redemptioners. This was a system of offering themselves as indentured servants (Galenson, 1984).

As time went by indentured servants were recruited from various parts of the world. It could be said regarding New Amsterdam indentured servants originated when the Dutch inhabited the colony and set up trading ports. 80% of indentured servants came from Europe. However, as the farming business developed American born children of impoverished families joined this growing workforce population. By the late 17th century two thirds of indentured servants arrived from the British Isles. Due to high death rate many indentured servants did not live out end of their term (Galenson, 1984)

Topic 3: Who were indenture servants?

Indentured servants were predominantly male teenagers or young adults. They were classified farmer, artisan, (unskilled) laborer, or domestic servant. Further classifications of redemptioners and prisoners were the other two dominant social groups from which indenture servants emerged (Dinnerstein, Nichols & Reimers, 2003).

Even though many immigrants were Europeans the entry of Germans, was different from that of English immigrants. Germans were called as redemptioners. This category of indentured servants was recruited by captains. They were privileged to pay for their passage after arrival. This was done by designing a sub- category of indenture servants which formed the child labor quota. English servants came as single men and women, but Germans brought their families, personalsupplies and movable property (Dinnerstein, 2003).

Prisoners defined the other major category of indentured servants. They were sold into indentureship at docksides. The seven-year slogan, ‘His Majesty’s seven year passengers’ was applied to this group. Importantly, they happened to be the most notorious convicts from Europe having committed more than 300 crimes, which was punishable by death in England. Repeated effect to counteract the recruitment this quality of indentured immigrant was unsuccessful for many years. When laws were eventually applied preventing the influx of convicts as indentured servants Australians were substituted. At this point screening measures were instituted debarring violent criminals entry into the system (Dinnerstein, 2003).

The whole idea could be considered as an invention of Dutch planters when viewed from the perspective of how New Amsterdam was developed. While this type of labor was adapted in other regions it was not until the Dutch settled in New Amsterdam that they brought this strategy to the colony.

 Topic 4:- indenture servants in New Amsterdam

New Amsterdam now renamed New York was discovered by the French in 1529. However, economic activity did not begin until 1609 when Europeans settled on that territory being attracted by the extensive beaver cultivation. Thus, this imitated the establishment of Dutch Trading coloniesin which New Amsterdam, now New York became a primary trading port (Burrows & Gotham, 1999).

With the development of such an enterprise Dutch planters as the order of that day was turned to indentured servants/slaves to supplement their labor force. First African slaves were used in preference to indentured servants. However, as the demand for labor increased and lobbying to abolish African slavery continued indentured servants were used on the plantations. Similar laws regarding indentureship were applied and penalties imposed in cases of violations. Frequently, just as slaves didindentured servants tried deflecting from duty. The penalty when found was an extension of the indentureship period (Jackson, Keller & Flood, 2010).

In New Amsterdam, comparatively, more severe penalties were imposed for various crimes as each colony had the right to execute whatever measures suitable for them. The case of an indentured lad was reported in 1671 whereby he was imprisoned for stealing a ring and refusing to reveal where it was hidden. The court ordered that he be privately whipped. After this punishment he still refused to reveal where he had hidden the stolen property. The court then order that one year be added to his period of indentureship. His master was then given the liberty of selling him to another owner. It was not often that this happened. However, with the influx of prisoners form Europe planters had to be very vigilant over indentured laborers since they were many instances of theft (Geiser, 1921).

Topic 5:-when/what indentured servants in other country

Various forms of indentureship existed in many parts of the world. These include other parts of Europe and mainly in the Caribbean. As colonization spread across the world so did slavery and indentureship. For example, as Australian colonies emerged for 40 years between the mid-19th centuries into very early 20th century, indentured servant labor provided workforce onQueensland sugar plantations. It involved coercion of some 62,000 indigenous South Sea Islanders being recruited from Melanesia, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Polynesian, Micronesian, Samoa, the Gilbert Islands and the Ellice Islands. In modern times this area is called ‘Kanakas’ (Lewis & Maingot, 2004).

Private projects conducted in Africa and the Indian Ocean created a need for indenture labor also. These were mainly construction work managed by British engineers. Collies recruited from India created a new culture of indentureship, which was later transported to the Caribbean. Main participating counties were Trinidad & Tobago, British Guiana, Grenada, Barbados and Jamaica. Collies indentured servants met great hostility in Africa (Lewis & Maingot, 2004).

Before 1840 half a million European men/indentured servants called indentured immigrants went to the Trinidad, French Guiana, and Surinam. This was soon after the abolition of slavery in the English speaking Caribbeanin 1833 and subsequent abrupt ending of apprenticeship in 1834. Most of them were from Portugal and ambitious young men with ho becoming landlords and selling their labor for privileges of social mobility. This system worked for the planters since it provided them with cheap labor. It continued until it was no longer profitable or when sugar and cotton production declined in the Americas as well as when the projects they were executing ended (Lewis & Maingot, 2004).

Topic 6: who indentured servants in the Caribbean?

         Indentured servants were brought to the Caribbean after African Slavery was abolished. Recruiters paid the servant’s passage subsequently providing food, clothes, shelter while conditions of their contract were explained.The contract entailed a specified period of work in terms of daily duties as well as years of service. Even though they were given a similar status to the master’s son or daughter no marriage could have been performed without the permission as if the servant were an underage child (Lewis & Maingot, 2004).

Servants were protected from mistreatment by law and could have filed a complaint in the magistrate court regarding unfavorable conditions. Their contract could be sold while enforced depending on whether the master regards the servant’s services to be beneficial to the planation or not. When the contract is over the servant is discharged with the agreed terms of payment. One of the conditions provided in was a returnpassage totheir homeland. Many masters due to financial constraints bargained with servants to take land instead of their return passage (Lewis & Maingot, 2004).         .

Many took the offer and remained in the colonies. However, with still a large ex-slave population there was not enough land to give each indentured immigrant a fair share. A situation arouse in colonies such as Trinidad & Tobago and British Guiana planters levied heavy taxes on plantations managed by ex-slaves so that there could lose their property and it be given to the indentured immigrants working on their plantations(Lewis & Maingot, 2004).

Consequently using divide and rule tactic tensions broke out between African ex-slave populations and white Portuguese as well as indentured collies. This was a political strategy developed by the British Planters to keep disruptive colonists from rebelling against the system. However it did not work out because instead riots emerged (Lewis & Maingot, 2004).

Topic 7: Comparative analysis of indentureship

Indenture servitude across the worldprovided the cheap labor farmers, entrepreneurs or engineers needed to conduct business in the new world. It is my opinion that people must be treated with human dignity whether they are hired as servant, slaves or employees. One of the challenges of early indentureship programs across America is that many prisoners were brought to the colonies. This affected the crime rate and management of human resources to some degree because indentured servitude was expected to be a labor intensive devise. However, planters and masters had to contend with disciplinary measures from time to time due to the influx of notorious European criminals within the society.

However, indenture servants introduced later in the Caribbean, Africa and Indian Ocean were less criminal in their disposition. As such, those societies progressed and evolved into more positive social structures. The motivation was different since indentured servants anticipated owning land and establishing businesses of their own, which was realized in some colonies. Significantly, indentured servants made a vital contribution towards the development of American colonies after 1600’s. Indentured servants who worked in the Caribbean are responsible for the cultural diversity found within that population in those territories.

By 1664 when the British conquered New Amsterdam and renamed it New York the flourishing beaver pelts industry had declined as Europeans continued fighting to possess the best territories in the new world as colonies. During the Dutch reign in New York many Africans were transported there as slaves. Precisely, they took priority on the labor market making indenture servitude irrelevant.  Later when there was a decline in the slave trading ventures Dutch merchants again turned to indentureship in the late 18th century. Then Africans were recruited as indentured laborers instead of slave

Topic 8: Circumstances related to ending indenture servitude in New York

Attempts at ending indenture servitude New York is in fact related to the decline in American colonieswhich began as early as 1620.At this time African slave labor was considered cheaper than indentured servants. There was a steady decline until the American Revolution began. There were various circumstances surrounding this steady loss on interest in recruiting people in this labor culture.

A major reason was linked to the expansion staple crop industry among American colonies. As such there was an increasing demand for skilled workers instead of mere laborers. This pushed the price of indentureship to a very high cost. Labor rose by a steep 60% throughout the 1680s. This made it difficult to keep costs of commodities down. Subsequently, there was also a decline in revenue incurred from production of crops. Besides, the need for captains to pay prospective indentured servants’ passages to the colonies was reduced since transportation expenditure decreased also. As such, immigrants paid their passage and were not forced to work as indentured servants before gaining a status in the country (Jackson, 2010).

However, relating this to the decline of indenture servant labor in other parts of the world was somewhat different. By this time sugar cane production declined in the Caribbean a new world commodity being replaced by substitute sugars in England. There the need for farm labor declined and indentureship ended (Lewis & Maingot, 2004).


The foregoing discussion exposed the rise and fall on indentured servitude across the world after 1600s. Obvious peaks were created with the demand for labor and rise of plantation era in the Caribbean. Perpetual declines were evident when they no longer served the purpose of cheap labor and their ability to function adequately as field workers became inappropriate 


Burrows, E., & Gotham, W.  A History of New York City to 1898, New York  Oxford University Press, 1999.

Dinnerstein, L. Nichols, R., &Reimers, D. Natives and Strangers. A Multicultural History of Americans.New York Oxford, Oxford University Press. 2003.

Galenson, D. The Rise and Fall of Indentured Servitude in the Americas: An Economic Analysis. The Journal of Economic History,  1984, 44 (1), 1–26.

Geiser, K.  Redemptioners and Indentured Servants In the colonies and Commonwealth.The Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor co.1921

Lewis, G., & Maingot. .Main Currents in Caribbean Thought: The Historical  Evolution of Caribbean Society in Its Ideological Aspects, 1492-1900. Nebraska Press. 2004

Jackson, K. Keller, L., Flood, N.. Encyclopedia of New York City. Yale University Press. 2010