pe·​on·​age ˈpē-ə-nij How to pronounce peonage (audio)
: the use of laborers bound in servitude because of debt
: a system of convict labor by which convicts are leased to contractors
: the condition of a peon

Examples of peonage in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Its darkest depths -- the rise of racial terrorism, convict leasing, debt peonage and more -- are only now being reassessed by millions of Americans whose racial awakening came through the crucible of Floyd's murder and the demonstrations that followed. Peniel E. Joseph, CNN, 6 Oct. 2021 Many drivers stick around for the full year to avoid those fees, enduring what amounts to debt peonage. Andrew Kay, WIRED, 17 Jan. 2023 Redemptionists stymied Black progress toward economic independence through sharecropping and a debt peonage system that encumbered Black farmers with overwhelming financial burdens. Time, 15 Sep. 2022 For many years, prosecutions based on alleged violations of the 13th Amendment — passed in 1865 to outlaw slavery and involuntary servitude — focused on peonage cases, the use of financial debt as a loophole to enslave workers. San Diego Union-Tribune, 3 July 2022 Labor trafficking follows the same definition, except its purpose is subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery. Celina Tebor, USA TODAY, 12 Jan. 2022 Sometimes, exile was self-inflicted when people fled their homes before they could be sold off to debt peonage. Kristin Collier, Longreads, 1 Dec. 2021 Amendment prohibitions against peonage and involuntary servitude. Gabe Lacques, USA TODAY, 14 Apr. 2021 Among these players are the approximately 96% who will not go pro, and for whom a college athletic scholarship, where they are expected to subordinate education to athletic performance, is more akin to peonage. Time, 30 Mar. 2021

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'peonage.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


peon + -age

First Known Use

1844, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Time Traveler
The first known use of peonage was in 1844

Dictionary Entries Near peonage

Cite this Entry

“Peonage.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 18 May. 2024.

Legal Definition


pe·​on·​age ˈpē-ə-nij How to pronounce peonage (audio)
: labor in a condition of servitude to extinguish a debt
the holding of any person to service or labor under the system known as peonage is abolished and forever prohibitedU.S. Code

More from Merriam-Webster on peonage

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!