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Discuss your impressions of the state of indentured servants in early Virginia.
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A Letter From an Indentured Servant in Virginia, 1623
New charters did not solve the problems of Virginia’s English settlers, who continued for many years to die in great numbers
of disease and malnutrition. In the spring of 1623, the following letter was written from Martin’s Hundred, a plantation
about ten miles upriver from Jamestown. Its author was Richard Frethorne, who had been indentured by his Anglican
parish with the permission of his parents.
The Poor Law of 1601 in England dictated the responsibilities of the parishes for providing for the poor. The law would not
allow the parish to support the parents until they indentured their children. His parents were probably too poor to take
care of their own needs and even less able to care for their family. Sending Frethorne to work in Virginia would relieve the
local population from supporting him, the parish, and his parents. From the perspectives of both the parents and the church
leaders, Frethorne would have his basic needs met under the terms of his indenture and even gain new
opportunities in Virginia.