Indentured labour emigration

People who could not afford the fare to emigrate to North America chose the indentured labour option. An American master would advance their fare in return for a contract to work for him for four years or more. If they were not 'redeemed' by this master on arrival, the captain of the ship could secure the fare by selling them off at the port to the highest bidder. They might be bound to trades, labouring or domestic work and some were as young as ten years old.

Opinions differ on how many chose this method of emigration: up to 100,000, according to some authorities. Most of these emigrants were single males but it is estimated that about 10-15 per cent were female.

Women indentured labourers could not marry until their debt was paid off so they tended to make later marriages and have fewer children. Up to one fifth became pregnant while indentured servants. They might have entered into voluntary relationships or been exploited by employers or by other males. They could be prosecuted and forced to work extra time to compensate their employers for the inconvenience of their pregnancies unless they could find a man to buy the remainder of their time.

For many reasons indentured labourers soon became assimilated and often an Irish surname is the only indication nowadays of Irish ancestry. It is believed that the poorest Irish women were more inclined to seek out Irish partners than were the poorest Irish men.


  1. What were the advantages of using the indentured labour method to emigrate?
  2. What were the disadvantages of the indentured labour method for men who wished to emigrate?
  3. What were the disadvantages of the indentured labour method for women who wished to emigrate?

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