Free labor.—The preponderance of agriculture and the abundance of cheap land made a continual demand for laborers. The climatic and soil conditions determined the labor system of each area. In the north the small farm was usually tilled by the owner and his sons, aided by hired help especially during harvest time. The men of a neighborhood frequently combined to do important pieces of work, such as clearing land, house-building, haying, harvesting, and corn-husking.
Indented servants.—The great plantations of the south demanded large forces of laborers, and there the bond servants and slaves formed the important elements of the laboring classes. The indented servants were of two classes, voluntary and involuntary. The voluntary servants were those who, for transportation and maintenance, willingly bound themselves to a master for a term of years. In the seventeenth century the usual term had been seven years, but in the eighteenth the demand for labor was so strong that the limit was usually four years. At the end of the term of service the servant either worked for hire or "took up" land. Many moved to the frontier where they soon became prosperous farmers.
The involuntary bond servants were paupers, disorderly persons, and criminals. The harsh penal laws of England at that time recognized three hundred capital crimes. Imprisonment for debt and for political offenses swelled the numbers in confinement. To relieve the situation parliamentary acts were passed which allowed the commutation of the death penalty to a service of fourteen years in the colonies, and seven years in place of branding and whipping. We have no data for exact numbers of indented servants, but a careful student of industrial life in the colonies has estimated that they probably constituted one-half of all English immigrants, the middle colonies, Maryland, and Virginia, receiving the larger numbers.
Slavery.—In the seventeenth century negro slavery was of minor importance in the mainland colonies, but as the plantation system developed slaves became an ever-increasing element. In the New England colonies and Pennsylvania they were used principally as house servants. In New York and New Jersey they formed from eight to ten per cent. of the population. It has been estimated that in 1760 there were four hundred thousand slaves south of Pennsylvania. In Maryland they constituted about thirty per cent. of the population, probably forty per cent. in Virginia, and sixty per cent. in South Carolina.
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