1675 Petition by an Indentured Servant
Original Author: Unknown
Created: June 16, 1675
Medium: Handwritten legal document
Publisher: Library of Virginia

1675 Petition by an Indentured Servant

Phillip Cowen, an African American indentured servant, petitions Virginia governor Sir William Berkeley and his Council in a document dated June 16, 1675. Doubtless drawn up by an attorney, the petition outlined how Cowen's master, using threats, had fraudulently induced the indentured servant to sign a document that would extend his term of service for another twenty years—which, given the life expectancy at the time, would probably translate into a lifetime of servitude.

The court subsequently ruled against the master, forcing him to free the indentured servant and to pay the injured party three barrels of corn and a suit of clothes that had been promised to him, as well as legal fees.