Corrected above measure: indentured servants and domestic abuse in Maryland, 1650-1700
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This study utilizes seventeenth-century Maryland court records to address the questions of what options were available to indentured servants who were physically abused and how they made use of them, how local and provincial courts defined and adjudicated cases of abuse, and how communities responded. The complicated story of Sarah Taylor and her repeated attempts at relief is interspersed throughout the analysis to demonstrate the competing interests and options involved in the plight of abused servants. This study finds that the courts' responses to complaints of ill-usage were consistent and reflected conflicting concerns. Courts were under competing pressure to sustain the household hierarchy essential to social and economic order but to also protect the rights of servants, who would soon become active participants in the free community, from excessive abuse. Similarly, although Maryland communities had unique social and physical characteristics that hindered the development of strong support networks, concerned community members actively aided servants in informal ways that were appropriate for the social context, like testifying on their behalf in court or by providing food and shelter to runaways. Although both officials and neighbors displayed their intolerance of the physical abuse of servants, they were aware of the economic and social importance of the hierarchical system that framed their society and acted accordingly.