Fifty percent of the White immigrants and a very small
number of Negroes entered the United States between 1720 and 1776 as indentured
laborers, with the largest percentage found in Pennsylvania. They entered
through the Port of Philadelphia, and were the main source of farm help until
long after the Revolution. The demand for them increased yearly as more and
more people, especially Quaker farmers, steadily opposed slavery and those few
slaves that were owned in Pennsylvania were freed.
Most who arrived in this manner were voluntarily indentured
and known as redemptioners. They came on ships whose conditions rivaled those
of the African slave ships - overcrowded, filthy, poor food, and poor and
insufficient water supplies. Thousands died. In many cases, whole families
became indentured in order to pay for passage here. Children over five years of
age were sold for a period of five or ten years, or until they reached age 21.
The families and individuals with no prior agreement to serve a definite master
were sold in port by the ship's captain two weeks or so after arrival to cover
payment for passage. Those not sold in port were driven inland by "soul
drivers" in and put in service there.
There were many vicious features of the practice - families
were separated and often never reunited and a man's body might've been his own,
but not his time. But, on the other hand, it enabled many to escape European
oppression, and it brought to this new Country many thousands of sturdy,
thrifty settlers who became substantial citizens. The position was not
necessarily a degraded one and many of those indentured were considered
temporary family members and treated as such. Some were actually "poor
relations" of their masters. They were protected by law from abuse and
injustice by their masters, but laws weren't always obeyed and some were
mistreated, or found the condition of servitude unbearable and ran away. The
following ad appeared in the "Pennsylvania Gazette:"
"Run away, on the night of the 6th of April instant, from
the subscriber, in Newgarden township, Chester County, an Irish servant woman,
named Anne Crage, about 40 years of age, red faced and sandy hair; had on, when
she went away, an old quilt and black under petticoat, an old calicos bedgown,
a spotted blue and white handkerchief, and supposed to have taken a red mop
ditto with her, and neither shoes nor stockins; she was brought from
Philadelphia by one Steel, she says she has a husband Called John Crage.
Whoever takes up said servant and brings her to her master, or secures her in
any gaol, so that her master may have her again, shall have twenty shillings reward,
and reasonable charges paid by
April 17, 1776"
Anne Crage's master was probably the traitorous Stephen
Anderson who owned the "Hammer and Trowel Inn" of which more is written in the
section entitled "Toughkenamon." If this was fiction, we could probably write
that Mrs. Crage found her husband and they were happily reunited, but in fact,
a woman of forty years was then considered elderly. Fleeing in early Spring
with so few possessions and no shoes was difficult. She was probably
apprehended and returned. Hopefully, the following youngster found a
sympathetic family who provided for him. His value to his master was small:
"Six Cents Reward - Runaway from the subscriber on the
first of April last, an indented Servant Boy to the Cordwaining (shoemaking)
business, named Mifflin Greenfield - had on when he went away a leather apron.
The above reward will be given but no charges paid.
N .B. - I do forewarn all persons from trusting him on my
account or harboring him.
Newgarden, May 12, 1819"
"The Village Record"
Though many people were voluntary redemptioners, there were
others who were indentured involuntarily. Pennsylvania adopted the English
system of selling convicted criminals, usually debtors, into servitude. This
was almost necessary for jails were few and nobody wanted to pay the prisoners'
keep. Chester County sold debtors, unmarried and under 53 years old, for a term
not over seven years. Married ones under 46 years of age were sold for five
years, and children were sold to pay a father's debts. After the Revolution
debt laws eased somewhat, but debtors continued to be imprisoned and sold into
servitude until the mid-1800s. Orphans and children without support were
apprenticed by Chester County Court, or by a parent or guardian. Their plight
was better than that of an indentured servant. They were considered members of
a family and few are believed to have been abused. Boys were usually bound
until age 21; girls until age eighteen. As you can see from the following
Agreement, when they left a master, they were equipped to begin a career:
"This indenture made this 6th day of July in the yr. of
our Lord 1776 between John Armstrong of Mill Creek Hundred in County of New
Castle on Delaware, of one part, and Moses Montgomery of Township of New Garden
in county of Chester and Province of Pennsylvania of the other part: Witnesseth
that the said John Armstrong of his own free will and record and by and worth
the free consent and approbation of his Mother Margaret Armstrong (Widow) doth
hereof bind himself an apprentice unto the said Moses Montgomery and his Heirs,
from the date of date hereof for and during the full term of 14 years at the
expiration of which term he will be full and just 21 years of age. During the
whole of which term he the said John Armstrong shall and will behave himself as
becometh an obedient apprentice, and his said master or his heirs serve
honestly and faithfully.
In consideration whereof the said Moses Montgomery doth
hereby bind and oblige himself and his heirs to provide and procure to the said
John Armstrong sufficient meat, drink, apparel, washing and Lodging befitting
such an apprentice during the affs'd term and also to teach or cause him to be
taught the "Coopers Trade" within the said Term, until he can make a sufficient
Cyder or Beer Barrell and to have him Taught to Read and Write a legible hand
and Decipher the five common rules of Vulgar arithmetic and at the expiration
of the said term to give him 40 shillings worth of "Coopers" tools and a new
suit of cloaths from head to foot as good as is customary in the like cases."
John Armstrong was seven years old when he was apprenticed.
Only three cents reward was offered on October 20, 1835 when Jacob Peirson ran from his master:
"Ran away in June last from the dwelling of the subscriber
in New Garden Twp., Chester Co., Pa., an indented apprentice to the tailoring
business named Jacob Peirson. He is about 5'5" high and had on when he went
away a brown cloth coat, gray pantaloons, and fur hat, all persons are
forbidden to harbor or trust him on my account as they would avoid the penalty
of law. Whoever returns him shall receive the above reward but no charges.
The apprentice system continued until the rise of the
factory system in the 1800s. Undoubtedly, many citizens entered our Township as
indentured laborers or apprentices.