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Once the West Indies were settled there was a high demand for cheap labour. This was met initially by indentured servants from Britain, and then later by African slave labour. After slavery was abolished in 1834 other labourers were encouraged, such as Portuguese from Madeira, Asian Indians, and Chinese, and to a lesser extend Africans, French, German, Scots and English.
Indentured servants were people who agreed to work in the West Indies for periods of between seven and ten years. For this they received free passage and a promise of land once their servitude was completed. In theory, they already had masters to work for but many found that once they arrived they were sold at auction.
After their period of servitude they were supposed to be allocated 10 acres of land, but in the more densely populated islands, such as Barbados, this did not always occur.
There are no comprehensive lists of indentured servants but where they survive they are to be found in British county record offices, especially for London, Liverpool and Bristol, where the transport agents resided. See www.virtualjamestown.org/servantcontracts.html a database of indentured servants transported from Bristol to the American colonies in the 17th century.
Unfortunately many did not survive the climate or working conditions and planters sought cheaper and more robust labourers to work the plantations and from the 1660s looked to African slaves instead.
Creators: Guy Grannum
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