Children Bound to Labor

Children Bound to Labor: The Pauper Apprentice System in Early America

Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 280
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    Children Bound to Labor
    Book Description:

    The history of early America cannot be told without considering unfree labor. At the center of this history are African and Native American adults forced into slavery; the children born to these unfree persons usually inherited their parents' status. Immigrant indentured servants, many of whom were young people, are widely recognized as part of early American society. Less familiar is the idea of free children being taken from the homes where they were born and put into bondage.

    As Children Bound to Labor makes clear, pauper apprenticeship was an important source of labor in early America. The economic, social, and political development of the colonies and then the states cannot be told properly without taking them into account. Binding out pauper apprentices was a widespread practice throughout the colonies from Massachusetts to South Carolina-poor, illegitimate, orphaned, abandoned, or abused children were raised to adulthood in a legal condition of indentured servitude. Most of these children were without resources and often without advocates. Local officials undertook the responsibility for putting such children in family situations where the child was expected to work, while the master provided education and basic living needs.

    The authors of Children Bound to Labor show the various ways in which pauper apprentices were important to the economic, social, and political structure of early America, and how the practice shaped such key relations as master-servant, parent-child, and family-state in the young republic. In considering the practice in English, Dutch, and French communities in North America from the mid-seventeenth century to the mid-nineteenth century, Children Bound to Labor even suggests that this widespread practice was notable as a positive means of maintaining social stability and encouraging economic development.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-5876-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xi)
  4. [Map]
    (pp. xii-xii)
  5. Part I: Overviews

    • CHAPTER ONE ʺA Proper and Instructive Educationʺ: Raising Children in Pauper Apprenticeship
      (pp. 3-18)

      Today, children born to unwed mothers, abandoned children, abused children, and orphans all move through government systems of care. How did early Americans deal with similarly vulnerable children? Orphans and “bastards” (as they were then called) constituted a significant proportion of these unfortunate youngsters, because in those days adult mortality rates and social disapproval of unwed mothers were greater than in our own. Child abuse was not generally recognized as a problem then, because adults were expected to use violence when disciplining their children. But community-constructed ideas about “proper parenting” prompted official intervention then, as it does today. And education...

    • CHAPTER TWO Recreating Proper Families in England and North America: Pauper Apprenticeship in Transatlantic Context
      (pp. 19-36)

      The American colonies did not invent the practice of binding out poor children; they inherited it. From the early 1600s until well into the 1800s, local authorities in both England and North America regarded pauper apprenticeship as an acceptable, even a desirable, way to raise the children of the poor. Communities on both sides of the Atlantic shared similar assumptions about the powers of the local authorities—to decide whether a poor family was able to maintain its children; to identify (and to negotiate terms with) an appropriate master; to place the child in the master’s home. There were, however,...

  6. Part II: Binding Out as a Master/Servant Relation

    • CHAPTER THREE ʺProperʺ Magistrates and Masters: Binding Out Poor Children in Southern New England, 1720–1820
      (pp. 39-51)

      Records of binding out in eighteenth-century Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island show that magistrates and masters cooperatively worked out the terms under which the least powerful members of the community were put to work and prepared for adulthood. Although theoretically on opposite sides of a bargaining table, magistrates and masters shared common assumptions about the proper place of poor children in a hierarchically organized society. To perpetuate that organization and maintain community stability, magistrates and masters joined forces in pauper apprenticeship, placing at-risk children into households that would train them to take up their place in society. Benevolence was not...

    • CHAPTER FOUR Orphans in City and Countryside in Nineteenth-Century Maryland
      (pp. 52-70)

      Orphan apprenticeship sprang into being in Maryland in the 1630s and survived into the early twentieth century. It originated as an adaptive response to maintaining families in an immigrant society racked by high mortality. Colonists drew on English apprenticeship in husbandry, pauper apprenticeship, laws regulating orphans’ estates, and legal forms governing relations between employers and laborers to cobble together practices to care for parentless children. Orphans’ courts monitored estate administration for the fortunate and bound out poorer children to caregivers who benefited from the children’s labor. In the eighteenth century, as Jean B. Russo and J. Elliott Russo show in...

    • CHAPTER FIVE Bound Out from the Almshouse: Community Networks in Chester County, Pennsylvania, 1800–1860
      (pp. 71-84)

      In 1804, four of Mary Derborough’s five children were bound out by the Trustees of the Poor at different times after their ailing mother entered the Chester County, Pennsylvania, almshouse; the youngest child temporarily remained with Mary. The five children’s fates were decided separately by the trustees, who considered the children’s capabilities, the mother’s needs, and the potential masters’ suitability.¹ In 1856, N. Linton, a Chester County inhabitant, wrote to almshouse steward Thomas Baker about a “little colored girl” whom Linton and his wife were considering taking on as an apprentice. Baker responded that the girl “has not been raised...

  7. Part III: Binding Out as a Parent/Child Relation

    • CHAPTER SIX Preparing Children for Adulthood in New Netherland
      (pp. 87-101)

      In their daily lives, the children of seventeenth-century New Netherland were expected to contribute to the household economy at an early age, thereby emulating their counterparts in the Republic of the Seven United Provinces of the Netherlands.¹ Current opinion dictated that it was good for children to work (according to their strength) from their seventh year onward. Child labor without some element of training was frowned upon, however, for the primary goal of work was to prepare children for the future so that, as adults, they would make a positive contribution to the community.²

      Preparation for a lifetime of labor...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN Mothers and Children in and out of the Charleston Orphan House
      (pp. 102-118)

      Destitute, abandoned, and orphaned children faced grim futures in early America, as the essays in this volume testify. But not all poor children were equally vulnerable, and not all futures were equally grim. For poor white children in Charleston, South Carolina, the Orphan House provided some promise of a better life. The Orphan House’s walls were not an impermeable barrier that sealed young residents off from the outside world. Rather, the Orphan House, the first public orphanage in America, was the site of numerous interactions among children, surviving parents, city officials, and masters. Most children who entered were eventually bound...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT The Extent and Limits of Indentured Childrenʹs Literacy in New Orleans, 1809–1843
      (pp. 119-132)

      Literacy is a special dimension of the general topic of children bound to labor in early America. The studies in this book reveal that removing poor children from their natal home and placing them in another household or institution where they were expected to work was as variable a practice as it was ubiquitous. In some settings, it was little more than a means to supply employers with cheap labor from a particularly vulnerable element of the population and offered scant protection from exploitation or abuse. In other situations, it represented a genuine attempt to provide children of the poor...

    • CHAPTER NINE ʺTo Train Them to Habits of Industry and Usefulnessʺ: Molding the Poor Children of Antebellum Savannah
      (pp. 133-148)

      To suggest that the antebellum elite conceived of benevolence as a tool that would help to control the behavior of the poor no longer raises eyebrows among historians of antebellum reform movements. The debate sparked by the work of Clifford Griffin in the 1950s and continued by historians such as Lois Banner and Lawrence Kohl seems to have run out of steam. Griffin and others argued that “social control” was the main motivating force behind nineteenth-century benevolence as elites sought to check poor people’s “rampant propensities to low and vicious indulgence.” Banner countered this by stressing the genuine desires of...

  8. Part IV: Binding Out as a Family/State Relation

    • CHAPTER TEN Responsive Justices: Court Treatment of Orphans and Illegitimate Children in Colonial Maryland
      (pp. 151-165)

      In November 1734, concern for James Taylor’s orphans prompted John Murray to petition the court of Somerset County, Maryland. Murray told the court that Taylor’s three sons “have been hitherto neglected as to learning and . . . he thinks it is his duty to inform your worships who are the father of orphans that care may be taken for their education.” The court responded by calling the masters of the Taylor orphans into court and instructing them to put the boys to school by the following March. The justices emphasized that the children would “be removed if there is...

    • CHAPTER ELEVEN The Stateless and the Orphaned among Montrealʹs Apprentices, 1791–1842
      (pp. 166-182)

      In early Anglo-America, as other essays in this volume show, official (“state”) responsibility for orphaned children rested in the hands of local magistrates such as overseers of the poor. In contrast, families in Quebec had official (“state”) responsibility for those children of their relatives who had become orphaned or destitute, until at least the mid-nineteenth century. In that sense, the line between state and family was very poorly defined indeed.¹ Peter Moogk explains: “A council of paternal and maternal relations was convened to determine the future of the orphans. Contributions for their upkeep might be apportioned among the kin who...

    • CHAPTER TWELVE Apprenticeship Policy in Virginia: From Patriarchal to Republican Policies of Social Welfare
      (pp. 183-198)

      In February 1751 the churchwardens of Frederick County, Virginia, bound Hester Ryan, a month-old infant, to the man her mother had declared to be her father—Joseph Roberts. Her mother of the same name was already indentured to Roberts. Hester was apprenticed to him in lieu of his providing a guarantee to the parish that he would reimburse them if they had to pay for her nursing and care in her first few years of life. The churchwardens bound Hester without her mother’s consent. Instead of custody of her daughter, Hester’s mother received 25 lashes on her bare back. While...

  9. CONCLUSION: Reflections on the Demand and Supply of Child Labor in Early America
    (pp. 199-212)

    Surely the first observation to be made about child labor in early America is that children worked as a matter of course. The vast majority of parents needed their contribution for the household income, and all wanted their children to be active and productive. Society as well as parents worried that children who weren’t put to useful labor would get into trouble, go bad, and lose their souls if they weren’t kept so busy the Devil couldn’t get to them. Even well-off parents sent their teenage children away to work. Commenting on this custom in New England, Edmund Morgan speculated...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 213-254)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 255-258)
  12. Contributors
    (pp. 259-260)
  13. Index
    (pp. 261-264)