European indentured servants were among the first settlers of the English Colonies in Jamestown in 1607! At that time “indentured” meant [Under Contract].
Indenture was a part of English Common Law which was probably borrowed from an ancient custom of tearing, ripping or breaking a contact document into two parts, which, when fitted back together to proved authenticity.
When the first Africans were introduced into Jamestown prior to or at least by 1619, the Africans were treated as “indentured servants”, because there were no colonial laws defining slavery. That all changed in 1641 (Massatuchettes) and 1661 (Virginia). For the most part, after these dates, Africans in the English Colonies never were treated as equals in matters of release from indenture, land ownership, citizenship, etc.
In 1661, Virginia passed their slave law, which stated that: Africans were slaves, and the children of African mothers belonged to her owner, regardless of the status of their father.
European indentured servant women sometimes had children with African fathers. Initially these mulatto children were born “free”, but around 1700, another law was passed which punished white women that had children by African men. Their children were often taken away from their mothers and sold off as “indentured servants” until age 21, under the guise of protecting the county from liability for supporting the “poor”. All the English colonies had similar laws and policies.
BROKENLINK - http://www.curry.edschool.virginia.edu/socialstudies/projects/jvc/unit/econ/msstatemsg.html
By 1790 when Keziah was born, bonding was administrated by the “Overseers of the Poor.” Each community had a council of several that would serve at the county level to oversee the circumstances and administration of the poor. Poor people who were residents of the county, could be placed under indenture to another to work for an pay the cost of housing and feeding them.
Children who were from families that could not care for their children or generally, according to the Overseers” not be raised appropriately, could be taken from parents and placed in an indentured situation. When this happened, the family could keep all the labor of the child until released at adulthood. This child was supposed to be clothed, fed and housed. In addition they were supposed to be raised and educated, although the performance if these expectations seem sketchy today.
Keziah and her brother James, were placed in families with some respect and were also known in the community. We can only hope she was treated well. Many farmers needed labor. If they had too few children and could not afford slaves, indenture could be used to satisfy the gap. This was most likely the case for Keziah. However, for reasons unknown, her own son, Armstead was also indentured at the age of seven or eight. As a single woman in the early 1800’s she was unable to care for her son, and the cycle continued.