E/MS Unit II

Activity 1: The Need for Labor

Read aloud or share key points from the Mass Moments essay on the first slaves in Massachusetts and share information from the essay on the Saugus ironworks.


  1. Why was there such a need for labor in the early colonies?
  2. Why didn’t more English people come to the new colonies?
  3. How did the New England colonies meet the need for labor?

Explain that another way the English settlers addressed the labor shortage was by encouraging individuals to come to the colonies as indentured servants. Men and women, many of them still in their teens, who had no means of support and few prospects at home would agree to emigrate and then work for a period of about seven years in exchange for the cost of their passage, room, and board.

Print out and distribute copies of the 1645 letter. Remind students that in 1641 Massachusetts adopted a “Body of Liberties.” This document guaranteed many civil rights, but at the same time it made it legal to enslave individuals “taken in just wars, [or who] willingly sell themselves or are sold to us.” Read the letter aloud, stopping to discuss the meaning of each sentence.

  1. How does this letter confirm what students have learned from other sources?
  2. What new information does it provide?
  3. What is the letter writer’s attitude toward black slaves?

Make the most complete list possible of the different strategies Massachusetts colonists used to deal with the labor shortage.

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