Differences Between Slavery and Indentured Servitude


The transatlantic trade, which started in the 15th century, greatly introduced slavery into the British colonies. European nations such as Portugal would trade manufactured goods in exchange for captured people on the coast of West Africa. The majority of the African captives were from Benin, Senegal, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Angola. The growth of the slave trade in the British settlements was highly fueled by increased demand for cash crops in Europe, a lack of indentured servants, and challenges in enslaving the natives.

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Slavery was introduced in the American colonies in 1619 when the British colonists brought enslaved Africans to Virginia. The captives had been apprehended from Sao Jao Bautista, a Portuguese slave ship. This brought about the start of human trafficking from Africa to North America. The main reason why slavery advanced in these territories was the need for a robust labor force (National Geographic, 2020). The African slaves were sent to work in sugarcane and tobacco plantations to meet the growing demand for cash crops in Europe. Additionally, some Native American slaves began to die due to diseases, leaving the African slaves as the primary labor source. Therefore, slaves became the base of the economy in these colonies. The British colonists relied on slaves to produce goods that they would then sell to get profits.

Slavery grew on a much larger scale in the southern colonies compared to the northern settlements. The New England territories were more reluctant to accept African slaves because they mostly relied on indentured servants and the natives. However, the soil and climate of the southern regions were suitable for agriculture, thus necessitating a high demand for African slaves. The southern colonies, including Virginia, South, and North Carolina, produced and exported labor-intensive crops, such as rice, tobacco, and indigo, creating harsh conditions for the slaves. Nevertheless, although the largest number of slaves were located in the South, slavery also existed in the Northern and middle colonies. The slaves were employed as craftsmen, domestic workers, sailors, and artisans (Zagarri, 2018). Their working environments were less harsh compared to slaves who worked on agricultural farms in the South. Even though slavery became common in the American settlements, there were differences in how the slaves were treated. For instance, in the New England territories, such as Rhode Island, slaves would be set free after working for ten years (National Geographic, 2020). Thus, some colonies limited slavery while others supported its spread.

Both the slaves and indentured servants worked for the British settlers but under different circumstances. Indentured servants originated from England, while slaves were captured from Africa or among the natives. In addition, indentured servants agreed to provide labor in exchange for the costs of immigrating to America. Alternatively, slaves were subjected to hard work and did not have any right to object. The indentured servants were not considered property and could gain their freedom after 5 to 7 years. Conversely, slaves were regarded as property for their entire lives and were rarely granted freedom (Wareing, 2017). In most cases, even children born to slaves were never freed. Thus, the indentured servants enjoyed some privileges which the slaves did not.


In conclusion, slavery was introduced in the American settlements due to the demand for labor. Most of the slaves were of African descent, while others were natives. Slavery was widespread in the southern regions due to the vast agricultural farms compared to the northern parts. The key difference between the indentured servants and slaves is that they could obtain their freedom after working for several years while the slaves worked their entire lives. Nonetheless, slavery was later abolished, freeing thousands of enslaved Africans.


National Geographic. (2020). New England colonies’ use of slavery. Web.

Wareing, J. (2017). Indentured migration and the servant trade from London to America, 1618-1718:’There is great want of servants’. Oxford University Press.

Zagarri, R. (2018). Slavery in Colonial British North America. Teaching History. Web.

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