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Lesson F - Why Did Delawareans Use Slaves?


  • Economics Standard One: Students will analyze the potential costs and benefits of personal economic choices in a market economy.
  • Economics Standard Three: Students will understand different types of economic systems and how they change.
  • Geography Standard Four: Students will develop an understanding of the character and use of regions and the connections between and among them.
  • History Standard Three: Students will interpret historical data.
  • History Standard Four: Students will develop historical knowledge of major events and phenomena in world, United States and Delaware history.


  • The students will complete a chart comparing slaves and indentured servants.


  1. Copy of "Gottlieb Mittelberger: On the Misfortune of Indentured Servants".
  2. Lesson E, Delaware Public Archives, Court Record, RG 4000 (Overhead)
  3. Lesson F, Delaware Public Archives, Apprentice Indenture, Series Number 2555.32
  4. Worksheet comparing slaves and indentured servants.
  5. Lesson F, Delaware Public Archives, Worksheet Overhead (Overhead)


  1. Read aloud "Gottlieb Mittelberger: On the Misfortune of Indentured Servants." Discuss the article with the class. Would you make the voyage?
  2. Why did Delawareans need these people to come to America? (They needed workers - especially in the tobacco fields.) Display the overhead from the Tobacco Road lesson. Review the importance of tobacco in the colonial economy at the time [late 17th century - mid-18th century]. This information can be found in the background information for the Tobacco Road lesson and the tobacco production section of this lesson.
  3. Pass out the indenture of John Price to John Booth. Allow the students several minutes to familiarize themselves with the document. Although this indenture does not concern tobacco farming it does represent the type of indentured servant agreement that was in effect throughout the eighteenth century. Read the document aloud. Afterward, point out details of interest.
  4. Since there was a shortage of indentured servants where would Delawareans get their labor? (Slaves!) [Review this lesson's background for more complete information.]
  5. Hand out the worksheet with two columns - one column headed by the words "Indentured Servant" and the other column headed by "Slave". The "Indentured Servant" column will already be completed.
  6. Display the overhead of the same worksheet or copy the worksheet on the chalkboard. Work through each listed item for "Indentured Servant". Ask for student predictions concerning the slave column. After the students have orally presented their opinions for each numbered item, fill in the correct answer. Instruct students to fill in the slave side after you have completed writing each correct answer. See answer key for this lesson.
  7. After visually checking to see if all the students have filled out their sheets instruct them to review the worksheet for homework. On the following day, list both words "Indentured Servant" and "Slave" on the blackboard. Read each of the ten notes in random order, included on the worksheet answer sheet. On a blank sheet of paper each student must write if the statement applies to either "Indentured Servant " or "Slave".

Transcription of Document

This indenture made the 24th March in the year of our Lord one Thousand Seven Hundred Seventy Nine witnesth that John Price son of James Price Deceased. Hath of his own free and voluntary will by and with the consent of Joseph Enos and Jane his wife bound and placed himself apprentice unto John Booth of the Town and County of Newcastle Blacksmith to be Taught the Trade of a Blacksmith which he the said John Booth now useth, and with him as an apprentice to dwell Continue and serve him from the day of the date hereof unto the full end and term of four years and a half from thence next ensuing, and fully to be complet and ended. During which term of four years and a half the said apprentice his said master will and faithfully shall serve, his secrets keep, his lawfull commands everywhere gladly do. Hurt to his said master he shall not do nor wilfully suffer to be done by others, but of the same to his power shall forthwith give notice to his said master the goods of his said master he shall not imbezel or waste, nor them lend without his consent, at cards, dice, or any other unlawfull games he shall not play, Taverns or alehouses he shall not frequent


Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth century, many of the immigrants who came to America were extremely poor with little hope for the future. These people saw America as a fresh start in the world. However, this fresh start came with a price. Without the financial means to pay for the long voyage to America, many people volunteered for a labor system known as indentured servitude. In this system, a person would come to the colonies with the knowledge that a farmer or other established individual in America would pay for their travel expenses once they had arrived. In return for having his/her fare paid, the new immigrant would have to work a set amount of years for the person who paid for their voyage. The time of servitude could range anywhere from four to fifteen years. Once their time was completed the indentured servant was free. However, indentured servants suffered the same problems as other colonists - including harsh living conditions and a high mortality rate because of disease.

Although thousands of people were being recruited in England to come to America as indentured servants, the system was unable to provide the large quantity of workers needed to farm the ever-growing number of tobacco fields. To keep up with England's demand for more tobacco, many more workers would be needed in America. Who would make up for this labor shortage? The answer was slaves.

Tobacco production and slavery went hand in hand for many English colonists. Since tobacco farming was extremely labor intensive (see Tobacco Production article) there was the constant need for people to work the crop. Unlike the set amount of time for indentured servants, slaves were the lifetime property of the owner. In addition, the offspring of the slaves were also the property of the slaveowner - thus adding to his wealth and his workforce

Tobacco Production

Tobacco production started in late winter or early spring when the tobacco seed was planted in a special seedbed. In mid-spring the seedlings were transplanted to the fields. For each individual seedling, the soil was pulverized and placed in a circle with the loose soil built into a small hill. The seedling were then placed within the hill and watered. To care for these plants the workers would hoe the plants daily and tend them by hand. The top flower bud of the tobacco plant would be pinched off to force the plant's growth into the leaves. At the end of the summer, the mature tobacco leaves were cut and the curing process began. The leaves were hung in barns to give them a dry, but pliable, texture that was necessary to survive the trip across the Atlantic Ocean. To ship the product, the cured tobacco leaves were tightly packed into wooden casks known as hogsheads. These containers could weigh more than 1,000 pounds when full. With the hogsheads ready for shipping, they were either rolled overland or carried by small boat to riverfront landings. From there the tobacco was loaded on ships bound for England.

Document Background

This document is a New Castle County Apprentice Indenture from the year 1779. It is part of the New Castle County Recorder of Deeds, Apprentice Indenture Collection, 1746 - 1827 (Series Number 2555.32). In this indenture, John Price was placing himself as an apprentice to John Booth. A blacksmith by trade, Booth was responsible for teaching his occupation to Price. Both parties to the agreement had certain responsibilities to fulfill. Unfortunately, the fate of these individuals is unknown.

***Why is it called an "indenture"? An indenture gets its name because there were originally two identical documents that were on the same sheet of paper - one above the other. When the two identical documents were completed they were cut in half. However, the cut was completed in a wavy (indented) manner instead of a straight cut. Both parties to the agreement got a copy. If there was the need to authenticate the documents both portions could be put back together like a jigsaw puzzle. ***

Answer Key

What's the Difference between an Indentured Servant and a Slave?
# Indentured Servant Slave
1 European Descent African Descent
2 Worked for a specific amount of time Worked entire life for owner unless he/she freed him
3 Had an agreement with his/her master There was no agreement
4 Children were not part of the agreement Children were also slaves
5 Came to America by choice Forced to come to America


What's the Difference between an Indentured Servant and a Slave?
# Indentured Servant Slave                                                                         
1 European Descent
2 Worked for a specific amount of time
3 Had an agreement with his/her master
4 Children were not part of the agreement
5 Came to America by choice