Voices of Labor in the Atlantic World

An Interactive Tour of Servitude, Commerce, and Travel in the 1600s and 1700s

Step 2: Read a Traveler's Story

Slavery and indentured servitude were isolating experiences. Relatively few of those who were caught up in these labor systems gained the time or the means to write about their experiences. Yet the following four individuals produced memoirs and letters that give us insight into the lives of laborers in the 1600s and 1700s. Click each name to read biographical details, skim two excerpts, and then write a short comparison of them.

a page from Relation of Virginia by Henry Spelman

Henry Spelman,

a 14 year old traded by Capt. John Smith to the Powhatans


Excerpt from "Relation of Virginia, 1613"


1771 Advertisement for Indentured Servants

Elizabeth Sprigs, a teenager whose father sent her to Maryland on an indentured contract


Letter to Mr. John Sprigs (her father), 1756

Portrait of Olaudah Equiano in 1789

Olaudah Equiano,

a Nigerian man who was sold into the English slave trade at a young age and became an abolitionist after freeing himself


Excerpt from The Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavas Vassa, 1789

A sketched image of a Maroon Fighter in Jamaica

John Jarrett,

a leader of the Maroons, a militant community of escaped Africans who were expelled from Jamaica to Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone


The Second Maroon Petition, May 10th, 1796

 (from Nova Scotia and the Fighting Maroons: A Documentary History)

Now that you know more about two of these individuals, use this space to compare a few details about their lives: Toggle open/close quiz question

Answer each question in one or two sentences:

A) What difficulties did each of these individuals face?



B) How did they relate to the people in their new environment?