Servitude, in one form or another, was a central, unavoidable, and shared aspect of life in the eighteenth-century British world. From permanent slavery to indentured servitude to convict servants, it was an inescapable truth that a substantial portion of the peoples who made up British society were owned — for a year or seven years or forever — by another person. Occasionally challenged on both sides of the Atlantic (based most frequently on arguments of natural equality and the basic injustice of the practice) servitude — and slavery, its most extreme and repugnant form — was a commonly accepted, although rarely justified, dimension of British culture. As Patrick Henry put it in 1773, "Would anyone believe I am Master of Slaves of my own purchase! I am drawn along by the general inconvenience of living without them. I will not, I cannot justify it."

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