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Children Bound to Labor

The Pauper Apprentice System in Early America

Ruth Wallis Herndon, John E. Murray

Publication Year: 2009

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.

Published by: Cornell University Press


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pp. 1-2

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 3-8


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

This project began in 1998 with our first discussion of the fate of illegitimate children in colonial America. Over the intervening decade, the project has acquired many friends and many debts, rich evidence that it takes a community to produce a book. ...

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Part I: Overviews

This book describes pauper apprenticeship, the system used widely in early America to redirect the lives of poor children who were illegitimate, orphaned, abandoned, abused, or otherwise considered by authorities to be at risk. Bound out to masters, these children were raised to adulthood in a legal condition of servitude. ...

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1. “A Proper and Instructive Education”: Raising Children in Pauper Apprenticeship

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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, ...

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2. Recreating Proper Families in England and North America: Pauper Apprenticeship in Transatlantic Context

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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. ...

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Part II: Binding Out as a Master/Servant Relation

Binding out was a labor relation, for it put pauper apprentices in a legal condition of servitude. Both servant and master were obligated by an indenture that governed the exchange of labor ( by the child ) for daily maintenance and education ( by the master). Binding out was one more means of putting children to work. ...

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3. “Proper” Magistrates and Masters: Binding Out Poor Children In Southern New England, 1720–1820

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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. ...

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4. Orphans in City and Countryside in Nineteenth-Century Maryland

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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, ...

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5. Bound Out from the Almshouse: Community Networks In Chester County, Pennsylvania, 1800–1860

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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, ...

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Part III: Binding Out as a Parent/Child Relation

Binding out took children from their birth homes and placed them in other households. As Ruth Herndon and John Murray show in chapter 1, a child’s parents were replaced with overseers of the poor and then with a master. ...

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6. Preparing Children for Adulthood in New Netherland

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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. ...

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7. Mothers and Children in and out of the Charleston Orphan House

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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. ...

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8. The Extent and Limits of Indentured Children’s Literacy in New Orleans,1809–1843

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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. ...

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9. “To Train Them to Habits of Industry and Usefulness”: Molding the Poor Children of Antebellum Savannah

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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. ...

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Part IV: Binding Out as a Family/State Relation

As Steve Hindle and Ruth Herndon show in chapter 2, pauper apprenticeship descended from English poor law and gave local magistrates explicit authority to rearrange a family. The practice of binding out thus reveals the relationship between the family and the state as represented by local authorities in early America. ...

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10. Responsive Justices: Court Treatment Of Orphans And Illegitimate Children In Colonial Maryland

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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.” ...

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11. The Stateless and the Orphaned among Montreal’s Apprentices, 1791–1842

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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. ...

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12. Apprenticeship Policy in Virginia: From Patriarchal to Republican Policies of Social Welfare

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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 ...

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Conclusion: Reflections on the Demand and Supply of Child Labor in Early America

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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. ...


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pp. 213-254


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pp. 255-258


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pp. 259-260


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pp. 261-264

E-ISBN-13: 9780801458767
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801446245

Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 2009

Edition: 1