As the North American colonies grew, so did the demand for labor. One type of unfree laborers in the colonies was indentured servants, men and women who signed a legal contract called an indenture that bound them to work for a certain individual for a certain number of years, in exchange for which they received room, board, and some type of education or training. During their indenture, the servant was legally subject to the rule of their master; although there were laws to protect servants, working conditions in actuality varied widely. No matter how oppressive their master, however, at the end of their indenture period, the individual servant was free to leave (usually with a set of supplies and a sum of money adequate for starting out on his or her own way in the world).

Below are two documents, each a first-hand account of life from an indentured servant. Richard Frethorne was an indentured servant in the Virginia colony in the 1620s. Elizabeth Ashbridge became an indentured servant in New York in the 1730s.