1. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Racial Laws/Slavery/Indentured Servitude in Colonial America

    Discussion in 'Research' started by Link the Writer, Dec 13, 2015.

    OK, I tried posting this in another writing forum but they said to take it to a history professor or a history forum. I took it to a history forum and they went off tangent about something vaguely related to, but not answering my questions, so I'm hoping I'll luck out here. :D :p

    -----

    Basically, after a long, long break from my old Colonial mystery I decided to dust it off and tweak some of the details. No longer is he a tavern boy, Amos is now an indentured servant living in the home of a magistrate. One of his friends is a white, biracial boy named David, born of a slave mother and a plantation-owning father. The whole thing revolves around the theme of liberty and what it means to certain groups of people.

    A few questions:

    1) From my research seminar on American slavery, there were a bunch of laws regarding mixed-race children, specifically on their status based off of what skin color their mother had. Were there laws like this back in the 1770s? Or did that not come until the mid-1800s?

    1.5) Speaking of which, would most people back then have been OK with a biracial person running around doing whatever? Like hanging out with a French indentured servant like Amos? Would it have been possible for David's father to sell him off to the slave markets if he felt like it?

    2) How commonplace was indentured servitude? What were the expectations? All I understand is that Amos would have had to sign a contract (or have someone do it for him 'cause he's blind), binding himself to the magistrate's house for a certain number of years before he would then be released. Apparently he would have the incentive to own his own land once he completes his term of servitude, which is something interesting for me to think about.

    2.5) The history forum did raise an interesting observation. Apparently Amos would need to be Irish instead of French because indentured servants being the latter nationality wasn't all that commonplace. Would it still be OK if I kept him as a French instead of Irish?

    3) There's a scene coming up where Amos is abducted and he soon finds himself in a plantation near Boston. What were the punishments for abducting an indentured servant? When he's found by the slaves of the plantation and it's determined that he is an indentured servant, what would the laws have expected the owners of the plantation do about him? What would happen if, say, the slaves took him into their cabin and treated his injuries first, then they were all discovered by the overseer?
    ----
    I appreciate any thought you may have. :D
     
  2. PrincessSofia
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    PrincessSofia Active Member

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    I learned and studied a lot about indentured servants so I may help a little :). Indentured servants signed a contract, but often, their masters basically added more years just because they felt like it, and since people did not live long back then, many died while still servants. Also, it was more common for people coming from Ireland/ UK and germany/holland to be indentured servants, but our professor told us that some also came from France. Apparently, some children were even abducted and sold to be indentured servants . Also, from the testimonies of the indentured servants, they say that slaves were treated better, which is obviously because the owners had to Pay for the slaves and that they would own them forever. I dont remember the Name of that woman, but I read a letter from an English indentured servant who said she lived with the horses with no shoes barely even clothes, and was given cornbread and water as food and was regularly raped by her master. Im on my phone, but a quick research should lead you to a website with testimonies. Also, servants and slaves often fell in love or were friends and tried to run away together. Apparently, irish indentured servants did not speak good English because on the ads written by the master to find their runaway servants it was often written " speaks good English" so it probably means most didn't.. I'm sorry I don't know much else, but I can suggest a book , white cargo, about the history of indentured servants .
     
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  3. PrincessSofia
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    PrincessSofia Active Member

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    Also, when people in Europe heard about the horrible life the servants had, way less people wanted to go, but I dont remember which decade it was exactly, but yeah people felt like it was better to be poor but in their own country than basically a slave far away
     
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  4. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    If this takes place in 1770, children born to slaves, fathered by owners (or other free white men) were slaves. An owner could free his slaves, but they were not free automatically and, yes, his children by slave women could be sold.

    Slaves were a valuable commodity, thus free slaves, unless under the protection of an owner, would need to head north to avoid having their papers taken away and sold back into slavery.

    If you want an accurate representation of slavery in the antebellum south, read Octavia Butler's Kindred.

    Though this is a bit later, it illustrates the difference between slavery in the antebellum south vs harsher slavery in the deep south:
    Conditions of antebellum slavery, 1830 - 1860

    Historical Background: Slavery and Emancipation in American History

    Slave codes (laws)

    Remember, laws differed by state:
    SLAVE LAWS PASSED IN VIRGINIA:

    It looks like you can find exactly what you are looking for with a simple Google search.
     
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  5. Robert Musil
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    Robert Musil Contributing Member

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    Colonial America isn't really my specialty, so I wish I could help you out more, but about this in particular I would say to leave him French, if that's what you want. Unless it's absolutely impossible for him to be French, the probability doesn't matter, I think. We aren't talking about all indentured servants in general, we're talking about this one, specifically. I really hate it when people read a period piece and are like "That would never happen!" when what they mean is "That is statistically unlikely, but to conclude that it is therefore impossible would be to commit the fallacy of division."

    Were there actually plantations in Massachusetts? Based on my dimly-recalled AP US History class, New England was more yeoman farmers who owned smallholdings, while the South was where all the massive plantations were.

    Other than that, I guess I would just second @GingerCoffee 's advice to remember that laws probably varied a lot by state. I do wonder how inter-state crimes (like kidnapping across state lines, whether slave or free) would've been handled in the absence of a federal government?
     
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  6. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Before and after 1776 is was a source of conflict. As one would expect over a practice that 90 years later led to a civil war.
     
  7. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Thanks for the quick responses everyone. :)

    @PrincessSofia - Wow, there's a lot about indentured servitude I didn't know about. I actually figured it was the other way around, that the slaves were treated worst than indentured servants. Very interesting. I'll have to look into that.

    @GingerCoffee - I must've been out of college for too long because I had completely forgotten about that all ready. :[ Thanks for the links, they'll prove to be very useful.

    @Robert Musil - Good point about the yeomen farmers. I've heard/read that people up North didn't own a whole lot of slaves, just a few very wealthy people if that. And don't worry, Colonial America isn't my expertise either. :D There's a lot about this period I don't know about.

    Again, thanks for the responses everyone. Most helpful.
     
  8. Lew
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    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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    I recommend reading the Outlander series by Diane Gabaldon, which very much captures the sense of the mid-1700s America (in the later books when the protagonists arrive here from Scotland). The interesting thing is the wide range of environments slaves and indentured servants could find themselves in, ranging from the expected abysmal to nearly that of a chief of staff for the household. And written well enough to see/smell/taste the life in the colonies. It is a bit of fantasy, in that a WWII female combat nurse walks through some standing stones in Scotland in 1946 and finds herself in 1743 Scotland, but it was an interesting device to put 20th century eyes on an 18th century environment. I can vouch for her research, having fact checked a number of things like the pre-revolutionary Regulators in North Carolina.... having grown up there, I had never heard of them.
     
  9. KhalieLa
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    KhalieLa It's not a lie, it's fiction. Contributor

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    In American in "black blood" makes you black.
    Most plantation owners set requirement for serving in the household, such as Quadroons could work in the kitchen, Octoroons and Quintroons were desired for other household service or childcare.
     
  10. Fighting Kentuckian
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    Fighting Kentuckian New Member

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    My Colonial era history is a little rusty, you ever want to know about the Old West though, hit me up.
    Anyways, back to the topic, the other answers provided here seem to cover all that info better than I can. What I will add, cause I didn't see this mentioned elsewhere, is there weren't plantations near Boston. Plantations were usually a fixture of the South and historically Boston is not a farming town, the soil there is too rocky to sustain crops. Granted, Virginia is 'near' Boston. That's just my geographical input. Take it or leave it.
     
  11. storystitcher
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    storystitcher Member

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    Here is a timeline of slavery in the US from the 16th century until 1865: https://sharondraper.com/timeline.pdf . I used it in my A-level project, but I don't know how accurate it is, I'm afraid. It also doesn't say much about indentured servants, but it has a few useful facts.

    In answer to your 1st and 1.5th question, from the timeline: "1662 Hereditary Slavery Virginia law decrees that children of black mothers “shall be bond or free according to the condition of the mother.”". Presumably other states/colonies would have passed similar laws at similar times, so unless David was freed by his father, he would be a slave, and would absolutely not have been allowed to run around 'doing whatever'. That's not to say his father wouldn't have given him special privileges - owners often had their slave-children work in the house rather than the plantation, for example. Also, following on from KhalieLa's post, whether a slave was an octoroon/quadroon/whatever was very important to slaves and white people alike. As a biracial slave, David may have considered himself superior to fully black slaves (depending on how old he is, of course).

    Also bear in mind that the 1770s was around the time Northern colonies started freeing their slaves, eg. Vermont in 1777.

    Sorry I can't be of help with the indentured servants thing... but just to add an opinion, I think that a French indentured servant would be made more interesting by the fact that it was uncommon, as it would give him more of a story behind how he got there etc. :)
     
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