Kinsearching July 10, 2011




Marleta Childs
P. O. Box 6825
LUBBOCK, TX 79493-6825

     To trace family pedigrees successfully, experienced genealogists realize they must know the history of the various eras during which their forebears lived. Knowing the circumstances that affected their ancestors helps modern-day researchers understand why and how people in the past did what they did. An interesting reprint that explains the situation of many early immigrants in what became the United States is WHITE SERVITUDE IN PENNSYLVANIA: INDENTURED AND REDEMPTION LABOR IN COLONY AND COMMONWEALTH by Cheesman A. Herrick.

     Herrick’s book is a comprehensive study on the causes and conditions of white servitude in Pennsylvania primarily in the eighteenth century. Due to the rapid growth of the colony, the demand for labor increased dramatically. Because William Penn, a Quaker, was against slavery, indentured servants from the British Isles helped to fill the need for a work force. Since Quakers favored religious toleration, Pennsylvania also put out the welcome mat for German redemptioners, who came in great numbers.

     As the author explains in his first chapter, the terms “indentured servant” and “redemptioner” are often confusing as they can be used in either a broad or narrow context and at times were used interchangeably. Generally, indentured servants were poor or unfortunate individuals (transported felons of British descent, for instance) who could not afford the cost of passage. Agreeing to work as servile laborers for whoever would pay for their passage to America, they signed a legal document which bound them to that person for a specified amount of time, usually five to seven years. After the agreement was fulfilled, the individuals were free from any further obligations.

     Often referring to immigrants from all parts of Germany, redemptioners agreed to pay the ship’s captain or owner the price of their passage upon arrival in the American colonies or within a specified time (usually thirty days) after they landed. The cost may have been paid by friends or relatives already in the colony or by sale. Once their credit was purchased, the individuals were free from obligations. If the amount was not repaid, they were required to bound out their services or be prosecuted for debt.

     Among the topics Herrick discusses are the influence of labor on colonial development; indentured labor in colonial America prior to 1700; causes for the demand for white servitude in Pennsylvania; origins, transportation, sale, and distribution of servants; runaway servants; the enlistment of servants for colonial wars; the history and disappearance of redemption labor; the results of white servitude; and laws affecting white servitude in what became known as the Keystone State. Because Pennsylvania was a major gateway for colonial immigration, many Americans today are descendants of indentured servants or redemptioners who spent time there. To gain a better understanding of this fascinating aspect of history, genealogists will want to read the well-documented WHITE SERVITUDE IN PENNSYLVANIA: INDENTURED AND REDEMPTION LABOR IN COLONY AND COMMONWEALTH.

     The 330-page paperback has annotated footnotes, two appendices (one of which is an 18-page bibliography), facsimile illustrations of various types of documents, and a subject index. To the book's price of $32.50, buyers should add the cost for postage and handling charges. For U. S. postal mail, the cost is $5.50 for one book and $2.50 for each additional copy; for FedEx ground service, the cost is $7.50 for one copy and $2.50 for each additional book. The volume (item order #9182) may be purchased by check, money order, MasterCard, or Visa from Clearfield Company, 3600 Clipper Mill Rd., Suite 260, Baltimore, Maryland 21211-1953. For phone orders, call toll free 1-800-296-6687; fax 1-410-752-8492; website

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