The Journal of Economic History


The Rise and Fall of Indentured Servitude in the Americas: An Economic Analysis

David W. Galensona1

a1 Professor of Economics, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois 60637, and is a Research Associate, National Bureau of Economic Research.


Indentured servitude appeared in Virginia by 1620. Initially a device used to transport European workers to the New World, over time servitude dwindled as black slavery grew in importance in the British colonies. Indentured servitude reappeared in the Americas in the mid-nineteenth century as a means of transporting Asians to the Caribbean sugar islands and South America following the abolition of slavery. Servitude then remained in legal use until its abolition in 1917. This paper provides an economic analysis of the innovation of indentured servitude, describes the economic forces that caused its decline and disappearance from the British colonies, and considers why indentured servitude was revived for migration to the West Indies during the time of the great free migration of Europeans to the Americas.