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In 1654 the Bristol City Council passed an ordinance requiring that a register of servants destined for the colonies be kept, the purpose being to prevent the practice of dumping innocent youths into servitude. The registers, covering the period 1654 to 1686, are the largest body of indenture records known, and they also are a unique record of English emigration to the American colonies.
Of the total of 10,000 servants in these registers, almost all came from the West Country, the West Midlands, or from Wales. Most entries give the name of the servant, his place of origin (until 1661), length of service, destination (usually Virginia, Maryland, or the West Indies), name of master, and, after 1670, the name of the ship. Four indexes have been included, one each for servants, masters, places of origin, and ships.