See also H-1B program for a modern version.
Indentured servitude consisted of a worker (the "indentured servant"), usually from a foreign country, agreeing to work for a specific time, usually about 7–8 years, to pay off his costs of travel to the new country. Pay would be minimal during those 7–8 years, and might only include housing, food and training. The worker might also receive land for himself at the end.
The term "indentured" comes from the type of legal contract that the employer and employee would sign (an indenture), obligating the employer to pay the cost of passage across the Atlantic and provide room and board while the servant was obligated to work for up to seven years.
Indentured servitude was most popular in the early Virginia colony in the 1600s, when many workers were needed to farm tobacco. But a violent uprising by indentured servants in the Virginia colony, known as Bacon's Rebellion, made indentured servitude unpopular. Moreover, pressure from Britain sought to reduce the amount of indentured servants that would make their way to the new world and replace them with slaves from Africa.
The slowness with which African slavery was adopted shows a conscious effort on the part of Virginia, so long as it was permitted to act freely, to resist the encroachment upon servitude. At the same time that English policy was forcing slavery upon the colony it cut off the supply of indented servants, and the decline of the system after the last quarter of the seventeenth century was very rapid.
- Ballagh, White servitude in the Colony of Virginia, pp. 90-92