Indentured servitude saw its heyday from 1619 until 1775, but lasted into the early 20th century.
Poor people from Great Britain and, later, the German States frequently indentured themselves for passage to the Colonies.
The indenture was a contract whereby the person agreed to work for a set number of years in return for passage. At the end of the indenture, the servant was free to go on his or her way. Often the contract was made with a ship's master, who sold the indentures to colonial farmers, merchants or craftsmen in need of servants.
The indenture contract varied. In some cases, people over 24 were indentured for 1-3 years. More common were contracts of 5 or 7 to 8 years. The indentured servant received room, board, clothing and training during the indenture. Movement was restricted. Permission was needed to marry. They were subject to often harsh punishment and hunted down if they tried to escape. The contracts were generally enforced by the local courts. Women who became pregnant were subject to having their contracts extended. At the end of the term, the newly freed colonist would receive "freedom dues," which might include a new set of clothes, tools of his/her new trade, a small amount of money, or even land.
In addition to the poor, other group sold into servitude were debtors, kidnap victims, prisoners of war and victims of unscrupulous recruiters.