Initially, African slave's and indentured servants were of the same status, however as time progressed the status of these two groups changed drastically. The cause of this change is ultimately more complex than those in the seventeenth century could have ever imagined. During the greater part of this century, the colonists relied on other Europeans for labor and service. These people were labeled "indentured servants" which meant that they were to serve anywhere between 4 to 7 years as free labor, and in exchange would have free passage from Europe to America. The problem with this was that once they were free, they became competition. Because of this factor, and many others, beginning in the 1680s, colonists turned to African slaves. At first the differences between the two types of help were minor, but as time progressed the differences grew, until African slaves were the primary source of help for the colonists. .
So we ask, why and how did the change occur? Well in order to answer this question we have to look at some crucial events and changes that happened within the colonies. We also have to understand that slavery was not a monolithic institution; it varied across time and space. First we examine how European labor steadily declined throughout the latter part of the seventeenth century, being the first reason the colonists started relying heavily on African slaves. Then we see how African slaves helped to increase the colonies labor system by ending the labor shortage. Finally we see how race played an important part in keeping and maintaining slaves.
European servants prevailed as the primary source of help during the greater portion of the seventeenth century. However, these indentured servants were only temporarily bound to their masters. They only had to serve for a limited amount of time before they were let free in the colonies to live their own lives. This system worked out for a while, but soon efforts to maintain a steady flow of cheap labor from Europe became an obstacle.