INDENTURED SERVITUDE Indentured servitude (or "bonded servitude") was a form of contract labor most often associated with the labor supply of the English colonies in North America during- the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Generally speaking, there were two rather broad categories of indentured servants in colonial America: voluntary servants (often called "redemptioners") and involuntary servants.
Redemptioners were those British and western Europeans who literally sold themselves for limited terms of labor service (usually three to seven years) in exchange for ship passage to the colonies.Involuntary servants, on the other hand, included individuals kidnapped by shipmasters in Europe and then sold at the end of the Atlantic voyage, as well as convicts from English prisons whose sentences were commuted into specific lengths of labor service (usually five to fourteen years) in the colonies.
The twenty Africans who landed at Jamestown, Virginia in 1619 were indentured servants, not slaves. Although it is true that black indentured servitude (unlike white indentured servitude) ultimately evolved into a system of chattel slavery, it is incorrect to assume that slavery automatically began in the English colonies the moment these twenty blacks stepped ashore. To the contrary, this group of Africans was merely absorbed into the prevailing indentured servitude labor system which existed in early seventeenth century Virginia.