Hubert Patey - an Indentured Servant

by Ragtimelil

I just discovered that one of my ancestors was an indentured servant from England. I had to find out what an indentured servant really was.

Hubert Patey was born in Yorkshire, England in 1640. At about the age of seven, he became an indentured servant to the family of William Turner and came to Maryland with them in 1651 or 1652. Turner applied for a headright grant in 1654. A headright grant was land given to anyone immigrating to the colonies. More land was given if they paid for the passage of a laborer or indentured servant.

"William Turner Demandeth three hunred acres of Land for Transporting himself, his wife , William, Edward and John Turner his sons, and Hebart Pitty (sic), his servant into this province since June 1652."

In 1654 Hubert's term of indenture was up, but he wasn't just granted his freedom. .Turner wanted him to stay another year but Hubert declined. Herbert sued Turner for his freedom and called Turner's witnesses liars. They counter sued for libel.


 We don't know how Hubert came to be an indentured servant but it was a common practice in the 17th century for even young children to be shipped to the colonies to work. Sometimes parents died. Sometimes they just couldn't afford to feed another mouth. Some were kidnapped. Whatever the reason, many were transported to the colonies as a source of labor. Their contracts were usually from four to seven years, enough to pay for their passage. Sometimes a father would sign legal documents with a ship captain. The captain would transport the youth and sell his contract to someone who needed laborers.

Sometimes young men and women were attracted by higher wages and opportunities that awaited them after their term of indenture was over.

The majority of white settlers came to the colonies as indentured servants, some say as many as 70-80%. The colonies were short of labor and England laborers were seeing low wages because of the surplus of workers. The population of England had doubled from 2.3 to 4.8 million in little more than a century between 1520 and 1630.  Rising prices and declining wages squeezed the poor and working class while sporadic crop failures led to misery and hunger. 
Peasant Family in an Interior, circa 1643
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The Voyage

Many immigrants sold themselves as indentured servants to pay for their passage on a ship to the colonies. Most were young adults from Great Britain and Germany but there were children and families as well.  
The ships that transported indentured servants were overcrowded and the hold where the servants rode had such a low ceiling that the passengers could not stand up straight. There was one ladder leading to the deck but they were not allowed to go outside. The captains feared mutiny.
There were two buckets for toilets that were emptied once a day. They did not have enough food or water and what they did receive often was dirty and contaminated. Many died during the six to eight week voyage, and many of them young children. 
There's a dramatic account about the transporting and sale of indentured servants,HERE.

Being an indentured servant was very much like slavery, with the notable exception of freedom after the contract was up. The holder of the contract had all the rights of a slaveholder. He could punish the servant by whipping. He could add time to his indenture as punishment. He could sell, barter or gamble the contract away. As many as 40% of indentured servants did not survive until the end of their service. Female servants often were at the mercy of male masters. Women who became pregnant while in servitude often had years added to their service time. Many had such a hard life that they ran away or committed suicide. Those that were caught were punished and had more years added to their service. 


The Pettey ReunionHubert Patey won his court case and his freedom in 1654 and, as the record says, he" took off" for Norfolk County, Virginia where he worked as an overseer on an estate. He is the first Patey (or Pettey as it is now spelled) on record in Virginia. He went on to own his own property and to found what is considered the largest branch of Petteys in the United States. Some of the Petteys found their way to Texas and that's where my personal story begins.


There are also some interesting historical reinactors who have a great web site portraying the live of an indentured servant at The video clips are especially interesting.
Updated: 11/09/2013, Ragtimelil
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Historic Comments

Ragtimelil on 07/29/2016

Well, howdy, cousin! I've recently found that one branch headed for Utah and another branch (my line) ended up in Texas.

S Petty on 07/29/2016

I did some searching and found that Hubert Patey is a direct great grandfather of mine. Very nice to then find your article.

Ragtimelil on 10/06/2015

Not it my line, but it's possible.

R.Petty on 10/06/2015

Did Hubert have a grandson by the name of William, who married a Mildred Phelps?

Ragtimelil on 03/02/2014

It's amazing what you discover tracing your family roots. I started to feel like they were real people, not just names and dates. I got to know some of them very well.

Rose on 03/02/2014

Wow what a story. Good for Hubert that he sued for freedom and won. Reading stories like this make me feel glad I live in the civilized 21st century!

Ragtimelil on 01/22/2014

Yes, a lot did come that way. I did find a record (somewhere) that listed him as an orphan. He was pretty young to be a convict - :)

michael petty on 01/22/2014

good article so now we have a idea that Hubert was already in service with the turners when he arrived so that pretty much removes the convict possibilities a lot of convicts were being sent over & land owners would buy their sentences

Ragtimelil on 08/05/2013

Thank you. It was an education for me too!

cmoneyspinner on 08/05/2013

This was certainly an educational article.

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