Indentured Servitude as Colonial America's "Semi-Slavery Business" in Sally Gunning's Bound

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While slavery has long been a subject of intense popular and scholarly interest, the comparatively unfamiliar institution of indentured servitude—or the sale of an individual's labor rather than his person—was, according to historian David Galenson, actually of "greater quantitative importance than slavery" as a labor institution in colonial America.1 Fellow historian John Wareing concurs with Galenson's assessment, adding that indentured servitude became the "backbone of the whole migratory movement in colonial times."2 Available data support these claims. Most historians agree with Abbot Emerson Smith's estimate that between one-half and two-thirds of white immigrants to the British colonies between the Puritan migration of the 1630s and the Revolution came under some form of indenture.3 Given the centrality of indentured servitude to colonial history and labor practices, this institution clearly merits greater attention from scholars in numerous fields.

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