Written in Bone: Difficult Lives

ID: SIA Acc. 16-150 [SIA16-150_D00077]

Creator: Virginia Historical Society

Form/Genre: Born digital

Date: 2008

Citation: Virginia Historical Society

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G-0444 This is the indentured contract of Richard Lowther, 1627. During the 1600s, from 70 to 85 percent of the colonists came as bondservants. They signed an indenture, or contract, to work for a fixed number of years for masters who paid their passage to America. Most were young men between the ages of 15 and 24, though there were some women and even orphaned or vagrant children. More than a quarter of indentured servants did not survive. If they made it through this "seasoning time" and completed their contract, they received freedom dues. Four to seven years of grueling labor earned a new set of clothes and tools, three barrels of corn and the right to acquire fifty acres of land. Later, as fewer whites were willing to sign indentures, race-based slavery grew. Bones (and the evidence that surrounds them) can often reveal who was a landowner, an indentured servant, or a slave. Specimen from Virginia Historical Society, Richmond, Virginia.


  • National Museum of Natural History (U.S.)
  • National Museum of Natural History (U.S.) Department of Anthropology
  • Written in Bone: Forensic Files of the 17th-Century Chesapeake (Exhibition) (2009-2014: Washington, D.C.)


This image was for Dr. Douglas Owsley's exhibit "Written in Bone." "Written in Bone" was a popular exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History that ran from February 7, 2009 to January 6, 2014. The exhibit examined history through forensic anthropological investigations of 17th-century human skeletal remains including those of colonists teetering on the edge of survival at Jamestown, Virginia; those living in the wealthy and well-established settlement of St. Mary's City, Maryland; and farmers located in Leavy Neck in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. Original filename: G444_VHS_-_Mss1.D2856a2.tif

Cite as

Virginia Historical Society

Repository Loc.

Smithsonian Institution Archives Capital Gallery, Suite 3000, MRC 507; 600 Maryland Avenue, SW; Washington, DC 20024-2520


  • 2008
  • July 9, 2008

Restrictions & Rights

  • Restricted All requests for duplication and use must be submitted in writing and approved by the Smithsonian Institution Archives. Contact SIA Reference Staff for further information (email OSIAREF@si.edu)
  • Personal/Educational Use Virginia Historical Society


  • Forensic anthropology
  • Physical anthropology


Born digital

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SIA Acc. 16-150 [SIA16-150_D00077]

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