A 1733 painting by John Heaten depicts eighteenth-century life on the Marteen Van Bergen farm in New York's Hudson Valley. The picture, considered the earliest American genre scene, depicts a family farm set amidst the rolling hills of upstate New York. There is a house and an expansive yard populated by a well-dressed husband and wife, several young children, two black slaves tending livestock, and a white household servant, probably indentured, engaged in a transaction with a Native American. On the roadway in front of the house is a milk-wagon driver, and approaching the house is a well-dressed man followed by two lads, possibly a merchant-craftsman and his apprentices. The painting thus depicts the dominant forms of labor in the early years of the Republic – family members, slaves, indentured servants, craftsmen, and apprentices. There are no wage workers in the picture.
The picture portrays America in its formative years. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, American economic life consisted of the daily travails of people who, like those in the painting, were in relationships defined by fixed legal obligations, such as husband, wife, parent, slave, indentured servant, craftsman, and apprentice. The notion of a labor market in which individuals freely sold their labor did not exist. In fact, until the nineteenth century, there were practically no people in employment relationships. Merchants, artisans, and members of the learned professions all engaged in remunerative activities, but they did not work for wages. Merchants sold their wares, professionals charged fees for their professional services, and artisans were self employed craftsmen who manufactured items such as barrels, rope, horseshoes, bread, clothing, and glass in their own workshops.