Columbus landing on Hispaniola, Dec. 6, ; greeted by Arawak Indians. Engraving by Theodor De Bry, 1594. Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-59702.

Documents Related to Labor, Servitude and Slavery in Early America

BySarah A. Morgan Smith
On August 22, 2019

In a post earlier this week, we marked the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in the English colonies.

Today, we want to highlight some of the documents in our collection that you might use to explore the varieties of unfree labor in early America, ranging from indentured servitude to the enslavement of native and African populations.

These documents, which are taken from Chapters 2-3 of Documents and Debates in American History, Vol. 1, 1493-1865 will allow you and your students to discuss the similarities and differences in the ways laborers of various racial and religious backgrounds were treated by Spanish and English colonizers, and to consider the role of religion in both justifying and condemning injustice and oppression towards unfree persons in both regions of early America.

As a reminder, when you become a member of Teaching American History, you can save these and any other document in our library to your personal collections, creating customized reading packets for use in your own classroom. Check out our quick start guide below for tips on how to get started with this feature.


400th Anniversary of Landing of African Slaves at Jamestown


Documents in Detail: Federalist 1

Join your fellow teachers in exploring America’s history.