Few were able to pay for their passage
In many instances, men and women who had little active interest in a new life in America were induced to make the move by
the skillful persuasion of promoters. William Penn publicized the opportunities awaiting newcomers to the Pennsylvania colony
in a manner more than suggestive of modern advertising techniques. Ship captains, who received large rewards from the sale of
service contracts of impecunious migrants, used every method from extravagant promises to out-and-out kidnapping to secure
as many passengers as their vessels could transport.
Judges and prison authorities were encouraged to offer convicted persons
an opportunity to migrate to America in lieu of a prison sentence.
Of the mass of colonists who crossed the ocean, relatively few could finance the cost of passage for themselves and their families and of making a start in the new land. For the earliest colonists, the expenses of transport and maintenance were provided by colonizing agencies such as the Virginia Company and the Massachusetts Bay Company. In return, the settlers agreed to work for the agency as contract laborers. But a colonist who came to the new world under such an arrangement soon discovered that, since he was expected to remain a servant or tenant, he would have been better off in England without adding the hardships and dangers of a wilderness frontier to his dependent lot.
The system soon proved a handicap to successful colonization. In consequence, there developed a new method of encouraging settlers to come to America. Companies, proprietors, and independent families entered into a negotiable contract with the prospective settler. In exchange for passage and maintenance, the emigrant was bound to labor for the contract-holder for a given period of time-usually from four to seven years. Free at the end of this term, he would receive freedom dues, sometimes including a small tract of land, usually fifty acres. The emigrants so involved were called "indentured servants." It has been estimated that fully one-half of the immigrants to the colonies south of New England came to America under this system. Usually they fulfilled their obligations under the contracts faithfully. A few, however, ran away from their employers at the first opportunity. They, too, were able to secure land easily and to set up homesteads either in the colony where they had originally settled or in a neighboring one.
No social or other stigma attached to the family which had its beginnings in America under this semibondage arrangement. In every colony, in fact, many of the leading personages were either former indentured servants or their children. They, like all other colonists, were the most valuable assets of a country whose greatest need was population. Indeed, the colonies and all groups interested in their success prospered in direct ratio to the number of settlers who migrated. For land and other natural resources were practically unlimited, and progress was entirely dependent on the size of the population available to develop them.
Of the settlers who came to America in the first three quarters of the seventeenth century, the overwhelming majority was English. There was a sprinkling of Dutch, Swedes, and Germans in the middle region, a few French Huguenots in South Carolina and elsewhere, and here and there a scattering of Spaniards, Italians, and Portuguese. But these represented hardly ten per cent of the total population.