Serf (?), n. [F., fr. L. serus servant, slave; akin to servare to protect, preserve, observe, and perhaps originally, a client, a man under one's protection. Cf. Serve, v. t.]
A servant or slave employed in husbandry, and in some countries attached to the soil and transferred with it, as formerly in Russia.
In England, at least from the reign of Henry II, one only, and that the inferior species [of villeins], existed . . . But by the customs of France and Germany, persons in this abject state seem to have been called serfs, and distinguished from villeins, who were only bound to fixed payments and duties in respect of their lord, though, as it seems, without any legal redress if injured by him.
Syn. -- Serf, Slave. A slave is the absolute property of his master, and may be sold in any way. A serf, according to the strict sense of the term, is one bound to work on a certain estate, and thus attached to the soil, and sold with it into the service of whoever purchases the land.
© Webster 1913.