The Fulton family left Rathmelton, County Donegal in the early 1720s during the colonial era when America was ruled by Britain. Slavery was allowed in all the American Colonies.
They set up home 80 miles from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in an area called Donegal Springs, a name which reflected the large number of settlers from that county in the area.
There were not as many enslaved people in Pennsylvania as colonies further south. In general the further north the colony was the less economically viable enslaved labour was. The alternative to enslaved labour was indentured servitude.
James Fulton, the son of Samuel Fulton, bought an indentured servant in 1767.
What was indentured servitude?
Many people were unable to pay the fare across the Atlantic. These people were able to sell themselves for a period of years to the ship’s captain in lieu of the fare. The captain then sold them when he arrived in the American Colonies. This period of indenture was generally between three to seven years and during this time they were the possession of their owner. They could be bought and sold within the period of indenture and they had few rights. However, at the end of the indenture period they would be free and, depending on the circumstances of the indenture, might be given some land. Many people left Ulster and Ireland under those terms and conditions.
Indentured servitude was very different from enslaved Black Africans who were forced across the Atlantic and were chattel slaves, basically meaning that they were slaves for life and any children born to them would also be chattel slaves.