Servants and Servitude in Colonial America
by Russell M. Lawson
January 2018, 205pp, 6 1/8x9 1/4
1 volume, Praeger

Hardcover: 978-1-4408-4179-8
$55, £43, 48€, A76
eBook Available: 978-1-4408-4180-4
Please contact your preferred eBook vendor for pricing.

Half of the inhabitants of Colonial Virginia in the 1620s and 1630s were indentured servants.

The dispossessed people of Colonial America included thousands of servants who either voluntarily or involuntarily ended up serving as agricultural, domestic, skilled, and unskilled laborers in the northern, middle, and southern British American colonies as well as British Caribbean colonies.

Thousands of people arrived in the British-American colonies as indentured servants, transported felons, and kidnapped children forced into bound labor. Others already in America, such as Indians, freedmen, and poor whites, placed themselves into the service of others for food, clothing, shelter, and security; poverty in colonial America was relentless, and servitude was the voluntary and involuntary means by which the poor adapted, or tried to adapt, to miserable conditions. From the 1600s to the 1700s, Blacks, Indians, Europeans, Englishmen, children, and adults alike were indentured, apprenticed, transported as felons, kidnapped, or served as redemptioners.

Though servitude was more multiracial and multicultural than slavery, involving people from numerous racial and ethnic backgrounds, far fewer books have been written about it. This fascinating new study of servitude in colonial America provides the first complete overview of the varied lives of the dispossessed in 17th- and 18th-century America, examining colonial American servitude in all of its forms.


  • Illustrates how a majority of residents in Colonial America at any given time from 1607 to 1776 were dispossessed of basic freedoms
  • Explains how the dispossessed Colonial American, deprived of basic rights, generated principles of freedom and equality that resulted in the American Revolution
  • Shows that the basic rights of children were ignored in Stuart and Georgian England, which resulted in their transportation to America
  • Describes how thousands of inhabitants of Colonial America were felons reprieved of the death penalty and prisoners of war
Russell M. Lawson, PhD, is professor of history at Bacone College. In 2010, Dr. Lawson was Fulbright Visiting Research Chair in Transnational Studies at Brock University. He earned his PhD in American History from the University of New Hampshire and lived in New Hampshire from 1982 to 1991, during which time he researched and wrote on New England history. He has taught at schools in Oklahoma and Ontario and now teaches and writes on scientists and explorers; the history of America, Europe, and the world; the history of ideas; and American social history.


“Russell M. Lawson has performed a valuable public service by shattering some popular myths of America’s origins as a 'Land of the Free.' More so than any other work on the subject, Servants and Servitude in Early America details the many forms of servitude that were tightly and broadly woven into the fabric of early American economy and society. In vibrant and elegant prose, Lawson brings to life the myriad and various servant experiences, allowing readers to feel their desperation, their hope, their exploitation, their abuse, their hunger, their sickness, their failures, and their successes. Lawson’s compelling study will reward readers with its edifying insights into the social values that supported and defended the commodification and often times cruel exploitation of human beings, many of them children, in early America.” —Keith Krawczynski, Distinguished Research Professor of History, Auburn University at Montgomery, and Author of Daily Life in the Colonial City

"Russell M. Lawson’s Servants and Servitude in Colonial America provides an impressive introduction to the multifaceted world of unfree labor in colonial America. This well-written and thoroughly-researched book serves as a resource for students and scholars alike, and Lawson’s comprehensive coverage of servitude involving groups that are oftentimes themselves marginalized in other studies—children, women, and Indians—are judiciously treated in this book, making it one of the better single-volume treatments of the unfree to appear in many years."—James E. Seelye Jr., Associate Professor of History, Kent State University at Stark
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