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Difference Between Slaves and Indentured Servants

Slaves vs Indentured Servants

The difference between slaves and indentured servants has been blurred because of the changes that happened across various points in time. And so their respective characteristics or roles may appear different when you look at them from different historical perspectives.

Generally speaking, though, slaves appear to be more pitiful than indentured servants. One of the reasons for this is because they are not given freedom even after many years of toil and hard work. They are, therefore, slaves for as long as they live. As such, they literally become the property of their master and have no rights.

Indentured servants differ because they can be granted freedom after a specified period of time. There is an agreed-upon term of labor wherein the servant will serve someone as remuneration for getting to foreign lands (i.e. like the U.S.) or other similar terms. The servant’s services can be in exchange for food, lodging, clothing, transportation, and other amenities during the indentured years. Most of these individuals are young (below 21 years old) and work on farms doing the majority of the manual work. Others were asked to serve at homes doing some domestic services. All of these jobs will not be paid anything nonetheless.

Once the obligation has been completed, the agreement will then be terminated, and the servant can once again have the chance for a more liberal life. Some servants will even receive a monetary incentive known as “freedom dues” upon the completion of their service. Thereafter they are now regarded as free members of the society. In this connection, they are already entitled with the right to own real estate or properties. They can also find themselves a noteworthy job and even cast a vote. However, there are some instances wherein their services are extended by their masters because of an infraction to the agreement such as when they have violated some of the set rules and regulations. As a result, the normal indentured years of four to six years can be extended to as long as seven years or more.

Historically speaking, before the American Civil War, both indentured servants and slaves were regarded as the property of the master or the owner. However, laws that were enacted (post Civil War era) to protect the servants’ rights removed the stigma that servants are their master’s personal property.

Like all other types of property, slaves can be sold, exchanged, bargained for, and even be included as one of the assets in a will. By contrast, it is only the contract of the indentured servant (but not the actual servant), which can be bought or bargained for by an interested third party. It is only after the closing of this deal when the right to the servant’s labor services changes hands.


1.Slaves are treated as the personal assets of their master unlike servants.
2.Being a slave is like a state for your life. A servant is more of a business arrangement.
3.Slaves are enslaved for eternity while servants have the chance to become free members of society upon completion of their services.
4.Slaves are never remunerated for their services while servants are working in exchange for a previously agreed upon amenity, free accommodation, or passage to another country. Some are also given “freedom dues” after their term as servants.
5.Servants work under their master for a specified period of time.

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  1. slaves and servants are different because slaves were sold and bought by their owners. Servants are used in the house while slaves are manly outside. servants do what the owner wants them to do around the house and saves do what the owner wants hem to do outside the house like work in the field. Servant probably had freedom and slaves didnt.

    • Hey Gena…did you even read the article?

    • Actually indentured servants were also considered property and could also be sold to another master just like slaves or even inherited.

      • The SERVICES of an indentured servant could be sold, not really the servant. Also indentured servitude was a voluntary situation, or semi-voluntary if the servant were indebted and did so to pay it off. African slaves had no choice. They were stolen from their homes sometimes even by other tribes in Africa ,which they were enemies of. African women were raped often to make more slaves (suuuure), “teach “ the owners sons, and “relieve” their wives of that “undignified duty”. Slaves were beaten for numerous things including trying to escape. Not the same.

    • Have you even read the article? Servants were used for both. They were both under contracts and not given freedom unless the master says so. They can extend the “contact” of the indectured servant if they wish. They can also be sold and traded.

  2. Indentured servants consisted mostly of the uneducated and poorest Irish, Scottish and Welch peons and peasants that were FORCED or tricked into indentured servitude.

    Most were not freed. The laws were supposed to protect them, but like the civil rights laws of today, were generally ignored, not enforced and manipulated by the land owning Aristocracy who controlled the local law enforcement and government officials.

    Indentured servants and their children were physically and mentally abused, including beatings, rape, execution and summary extension of their indentured service, for bogus violations and inflated cost of living and incidentals not covered under their original contracts.

  3. Many indentured servants were bought from debtor prison or given to remove someone from debtor prison.The often occurrence was a ship captain purchased the debt brought them here advertised and sold them. Great great great grand father was indentured servant.

  4. Many women indentured servants were beaten, raped, and forced to give up the child that they gave birth to, stemming from the rape. They were given cold, damp rooms in the house, and a lot of times men were promised land parcels and freedom, but never granted it. The servants worked long, hard days in the tobacco fields, with very little to eat and drink. They might have been promised a few civil rights, but when masters did not fulfill the agreements, the courts would never listen to a case. This was not every situation of course, but it was many,and to not have that awful treatment was rare! With slavery and indentured servitude the treatment of the person was very affected by who the owner was. My point is that there was not much of a difference in these two unfortunate fates.

    • The difference is one had hope, the other “no hope”. Also, one in some way contributed in their becoming a servant, the other never had a say nor play any part in their plight! Those are profound differences.

  5. The US Government states that being forced to work to pay off a debt is slavery, plain and simple.

    • Jason, really? You use the definition from the very source this evil and brutal perpetuater/government. What else do you expect them to say reguarding the deeds of their own hands? Minimizing the evil of slavery by associating it with paying off a debt! Anything but face up to the ugly, disgusting truth! A truth that has left a bloody trail throughout history, that cannot be rewritten, obscured, or hidden. It’s left a stench that permeates as hoplessly as the fate of that slave that prayed a lifetime for a compassion that never appeared!

  6. it was an awesome story

  7. Many indentured servants were bought from debtor prison or given to remove someone from debtor prison.The often occurrence was a ship captain purchased the debt brought them here advertised and sold them.

  8. Many indentured servants were bought from debtor prison or given to remove someone from debtor to prison

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