The shift from indentured servitude to slavery.

The shift from indentured servitude to slavery.

Thos Pursell vs. Robt Brassure

7th October 1640

In the case of Thos Pursell vs. Robt Brassure, Thos Pursell petitioned the court to be set free from servitude to Robt Brassure. Thos claimed that his length of service was complete but Brassure claimed that Thos had been absent from work for three months and did not have the right to be free. Pursell was released from service but lost all rights to his payment and his belongings that were in the care of Brassure. The decision in this case shows a clear bias towards the owner of indentured servants. On nothing other than the word of Brassure, Thos lost all of his payment and belongings.

This case represents the deterioration of the indentured servant system as slavery became more favorable. It was typical in many of these types of cases that land owners were often sided with above indentured servants. Especially in light of the fact that the economy of this time period was dependent upon indentured servants (Finkelman, 1985).

An important result of rulings was the idea that courts would slowly adopt attitudes that would impose harsher restrictions on servants. These attitudes would eventually set the stage for slavery laws that were designed to keep individuals enslaved. By the 1700’s the ability to become a freed person from slavery would be almost impossible (Finkelman, 1985).


Finkelman, P. (1985). Slavery in the courtroom. Washington DC: Library of Congress.


Triola Vincent. Fri, Feb 05, 2021. The shift from indentured servitude to slavery. Retrieved from

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