xvi Prologue
All were bound to the system of labor, servants as well as masters. Ser-
vants of all ethnic and racial groups engaged in all types of work. In Dutch
New Netherland and, after 1664, English New York, Dutch and English
worked as servants to pay off indebtedness. In the Middle Colonies, white
servants from all places, particularly the Rhineland, joined blacks, Mulat-
toes, and Indians working the large plantations of the South and Caribbean
throughout the 1600s and 1700s until the growing demand for slaves
replaced them. The conditions were such that many tried to escape, some-
times successfully; but those who were caught faced corporeal punishment
and additional time of service. Those who lived to be released from bondage
were given something euphemistically called “Freedom Dues,” consisting of
money, clothing, or land, depending upon the ability and willingness of the
master. Sometimes freedom was its own reward. Masters were bound to the
system as well. Some gloried in it and thrived at the expense of others; those
of a more sensitive moral nature, as it were, became trapped in a system of
exploitation for the sake of profit. Servants and masters alike experienced
“the times that try men’s souls” during the latter half of the 18th century,
when in America a revolutionary movement occurred that tested the idea of
human bondage and the limits of human freedom: this is the subject of
Chapter 13, “Servants and the American Revolution.”
Poverty is, like war, difficult to understand, seemingly ubiquitous through-
out time and place, impossible to eradicate, a plague upon humankind yet a
phenomenon that often brings out the best responses from humans. In this
book these stories are told: of suffering and triumph; of untimely death and
survival; of sorrow; and, even at the worst of times, contentment.
1. Estimates found in Christopher Tomlins, Freedom Bound: Law, Labor, and
Civic Identity in Colonizing English America, 1580–1865 (New York: ­ Cambridge
University Press, 2010), 35.
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