Indentured Servitude and Slavery
For those who were wealthy and could pay their passage, the sky was the limit in Jamestown. Even the poor could find a way to the New World—through indentured servitude. Indentured servants would enter into a contract, or indenture, in which their passage, shelter, and food would be provided for them by a wealthy master. In return they would agree to work for the nobleman for a certain period of time, usually seven years. Once the period was over, they were free to go. Many times, masters would award their servants a plot of land when their service was over. Indentured servants were a source of labor for wealthy masters and ultimately for the tobacco industry.
Another source of labor during this period was slavery. The Portuguese had been introduced to slavery when they established trading posts off the coast of Africa. In 1619, a Portuguese ship carrying slaves to Mexico was attacked by Dutch and English vessels. The two ships captured some of the slaves and brought them to Jamestown, where they were sold. Although there are no clear records regarding the details of slavery in Jamestown during that period, there is more significant documentation beginning in 1640. It can be assumed that this initial group of Africans were put to use in the tobacco plants.