A People Between: Servitude in Colonial Virginia, 1700-1783
Boles, John B.
Doctor of Philosophy
This dissertation recasts how historians and scholars have come to understand bound labor in eighteenth-century Virginia. Servants—including indentured servants, customary servants, convicts, Virginia-born servants, and apprentices—remained a part of Virginia’s work force throughout the eighteenth century. Servants were a people between and navigated the worlds of freedom and unfreedom on a daily basis, working alongside slaves, negotiating with their masters, and attempting to make sense of their place in Virginia society as an alternative source of bound labor. Some historians, however, dismiss servants, claiming that by the end of the seventeenth century they had all but disappeared and that a general solidarity existed between all whites by the early eighteenth century. Other scholars acknowledge the presence of servants after the turn of the century, but rarely discuss their significance outside of economic analyses or migration studies. Throughout the eighteenth century Virginia masters failed to find common cause with this white labor force—despite its largely European origins and temporary bondage—and servants were constantly ensnared in the power relationships dictated by race, gender, and labor in colonial Virginia. The presence of servants throughout the eighteenth century suggests a need to reconsider colonial society not only across the lines of color but also along the lines of condition.
Servitude; Colonial Virginia; Eighteenth century; Virginia; Servants