PEONAGE (Span, peon; M. Lat. pedo (pes), primarily a footsoldier, then a day-labourer), a system of agricultural servitude common in Spanish America, particularly in Mexico. In the early days the Spanish government, with the idea of protecting the Indians, exempted them from compulsory military service, the payment cf tithes and other taxes, and regulated the system of labour; but left them practically at the mercy of the Spanish governors. The peons, as the Indian labourers were called, were of two kinds: (i) the agricultural workman who was free to contract himself, and (2) the criminal labourers who, often for slight offences, or more usually for debt, were condemned to practical slavery. Though legally peonage is abolished, the unfortunate peon is often lured into debt by his employer and then kept a slave, the law permitting his forcible detention till he has paid his debt to his master.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)