Colonial Indentured Servants Project

The project began in January 2020, intending to determine the number of colonial indentured servants in the British colonies of America. Over the past three years, we have uncovered thousands of names. Our initial research concentrated on Maryland and Virginia. The records first appear in the early years of the 17th century. As we broadened our search, the focus steered to the major ports. Documents from Philadelphia, New York, Boston, and Charleston offered more proof and more names. The servants were people, not merely adult men and women, but children too. Their ages ranged from six to forty. Many were families seeking freedom in the colonies. Often, the families were separated soon after their arrival. Many would not see their loved ones again. As the project continues researching, Maryland and Virginia’s records, thus far, reveal an overwhelming number of indentured servants compared to the other 11 colonies. Documents prove the unusual tactics used to lure these people to the colonies by offering their labor for four to seven years. Orphans were quickly added to the list and kidnappings from community villages are known to occur. Many times, the contracts would be extended in the colonies due to discipline issues, or inability to work such as in health problems. Thousands died and others stayed indentured for fifteen, twenty, and even thirty years. The British investors relished in the soaring profits gained by the initial sale of these individuals. We seek the truth. What are the facts about the events leading up to these people sailing for the colonies? We have researched the ships, the captains, the ship owners, the indenture sales, the masters, and the indentured. We have researched the lives and retraced the steps of these indentured servants as much as possible. The goal of the project is to share their voices, share their lives and for the truth to be recognized. We hope to preserve history for the future.

We are in the process of uploading research materials from the project on the website. In doing this, we’ve created new pages to hold the data. Please note that some links will not work until the information is complete on the new pages. We hope to finalize this phase by the end of May 2023. The research for the project is ongoing, and we will continue adding information for the remainder of this year. A few notes from the project as you search for your ancestor. First, many indentured servants changed their names after they became free from their masters. There are several reasons why this occurred. We have found this to happen more with children as they entered into servitude, and after being released at twenty-one or later, they would change their names. Second, many who died after their contracts ended are recorded only in parish records. These records may not list the name of the person. Instead, the entry may give a brief description with a list of their belongings. Third, you may find documents that prove the person reentered servitude after several months and even years. Contact us if you have questions about the project. Thank you so much for your kind words of support over the years.

Why Are Ships Important?

The ships are critical in determining families versus individuals traveling to the colonies. The logbooks have proven to be essential to our research. Often, mistakes were made with name spellings, and age. The voyages were difficult and hard on the passengers. Many died during the crossing and were tossed overboard. Ship records for these deaths are mainly revealed at the time of arrival. Ships are also important in determining the number of indentured servants who arrived in the colonies. Many did not survive their first year of servitude. In some cases, without the shipping records, we would not be able to determine this length of time between arrival to death.

More About The Research Materials

The numerical listing references the documents used during the project’s research. The numbers appearing next to the servant names pertain to the sourcing material listed on the Research Materials page. For some cases, we have traced the individual after servitude and the sources may include census, tax, land deeds, estate records, and county court records. For those persons, we have created family files here at the Attic and will include those files with our online library collection.