Servants, Slaves, and Apprentices

During the 1700s, slavery was something that was very common with the thirteen colonies.  Many of the slaves that were part of the thirteen colonies were African American.

Much of the slavery started with indentured servants.  An indentured servant was someone that would work for so many years to have freedom.


A servant, or an indentured servant, was the beginning of slavery.  An indentured servant was a person that came into a home and agreed to work for a certain amount of years in order to be able to become an American.

Many of the indentured servants were from Britain and most of them were some type of laborer.  They had skills and were able to do many things.

Some of the indentured servants became servants because they owed a debt or were criminals and they were forced to be a servant until their debt was paid off.

It wasn’t until around 1619 that African indentured servants came to America.  These were the first African colonies that came to Virginia and they would work for seven years to become citizens.

Beginning of Slavery

Slavery began to get popular when manual labor was needed.  Getting indentured servants was expensive and many people could not afford to have an indentured servant.

In the 1600’s, more African people began to move into the land and so there became more African indentured servants.  Soon, new laws were passed with the African people and there were new “slave codes” that passed in the colonies.

The slave codes made it cheaper for people to own slaves and now indentured servants now became slaves and this means that they would not be freed in seven years, sometimes the slaves died under their owners.

In the 1700’s, owning a slave became legal and owning a slave was easier and much less expensive than owning an indentured servant.

Slavery Jobs

A slave could have all sorts of jobs.  Some slaves worked on the farms and many of them learned to plant and grow tobacco.  Since this crop was very important, having slaves was important and helped people to run larger farms.

With the slaves, farmers were able to make more money and were able to get their crops cultivated faster and to sell them easier.

Slaves also were given jobs of tutoring, working in the house, doing chores and selling for their master at the trade shop.

How Were Slaves Treated?

Many slaves were treated badly and many of them were beaten and starved.  Sometimes, a slave would die under their master because their master would beat them or would refuse them to eat.

Most of the time, slaves were not able to be around their families because the people were afraid that they would form groups and then try to take over the master’s and so hanging out together was usually something that the master’s would not allow.

Slaves that had good masters were usually treated better and some were even allowed to learn to read and write.  A slave that worked in the fields were made to work long hours and were not given much time to rest and very little free time.

Slaves that worked in the homes were usually treated better and they were able to have free time, of course this depended on how kind their master was.

Homes of the Slaves

The slaves that worked on farms usually lived in a small house that was close to the field.   These homes were very small and usually a lot of people lived in one home.  Even though the homes were cramped, it was usually okay for the slaves because this was the time where they had freedom from their master.

Slaves that lived in the home of their master had less privacy than a farm slave had.  They usually lived in the house all the time and slept in a room above the kitchen or outside in the barn.

Clothing of the Slaves

The slaves were given a set of clothes and the clothes had to last them.  Most of the clothing looked similar to what the farmer wore.

The women that were slaves had long dresses and the men wore pants and loose shirts.

The slaves that worked inside the homes usually dressed better and sometimes wore their master’s old clothing that they no longer had.

Outlawing Slavery

After the American Revolution, many of the people in the north decided that they would outlaw slavery.  This made many of the southern people angry because they wanted to have slaves so that the slaves could work in the fields and on the farms.

But, by 1840, most of the areas that were north of the Mason-Dixon line had stopped slavery, but the southern states kept having slaves until after the American Civil War ended.


There were many people in Colonial times that had a specific trade.  Some of them were apothecaries, blacksmiths, candlemakers, cabinetmakers, shoemakers, gunsmiths, copper makers, millers, printers, tailors, wheel writes, wigmakers and more.

Facts About Servants, Slaves and Apprentices:

  • Sometimes, Native Americans were put into slavery.
  • Slaves were usually only purchased by rich people.
  • Not all Africans were slaves during Colonial America and in 1790, there were around 7% of Africans that were free.
  • During the 1700’s, more than half of the people that lived in the south were slaves.
  • John Oglethorpe founded Georgia and made this state illegal to own slaves, but it was overturned in 1751.
  • A miller was someone that helped to sew and make clothing and hats.
  • A printer would print things such as newspapers and books.
  • A tailor would be used to make custom clothing.
  • Someone that was a wheelwright would make wheels for wagons and other machines.
  • A wigmaker was important because people in the Colonial times would wear wigs and they would make them with different sizes and styles.

What Did You Learn?

What was the difference between an indentured servant and a slave?
An indentured servant was someone that would work to pay back a debt or to become a citizen and a slave would work until death.

What kind of jobs did a slave have?
A slave would work on plantations, in homes and would do different types of chores and work.

Were slaves treated well?
Some slaves were treated okay by their master and other slaves were treated terribly.

What is an apprentice?
An apprentice is someone that had a trade and was able to use their trade to make money by selling and making things.

Was an apprentice different than a slave?
An apprentice was someone that learned their own trade to make money, even if they had to work under someone to learn and a slave was someone that was bought and forced to work under someone.