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.
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