Images de page

and brought from sixteen to twenty-four pounds. Children began the period of their service sometimes at the early age of ten. The abilities of these imported servants varied greatly: many were laborers, others were artisans and tradesmen, and a few were trained workmen possessed of exceptional skill. Among them were dyers, tailors, upholsterers, weavers, joiners, carpenters, cabinetmakers, barbers, shoemakers, peruke makers, whitesmiths, braziers, blacksmiths, coachmen, gentlemen's seryants, gardeners, bakers, house waiters, schoolteachers, and even doctors and surgeons. Many could fence or could perform on some musical instrument, and one is described as professing "dancing, fencing, writing, arithmetic, drawing of pictures, and playing of legerdemain or slight of hand tricks." Benjamin Harrower, who served in America as clerk, bookkeeper, and schoolmaster, was an indentured servant, and so was Henry Callister, a Manxman, who was an assistant to the merchant Robert Morris, of Oxford, Maryland, and whose account books, preserved in the Maryland Diocesan Library, are today such a valuable source of information. Many of these servants were well-born but for offenses or for other reasons had to leave England:Jean Campbell, for instance, was related "to the very best families in Ayrshire"; William Gardner was the son of a Shropshire gentleman; John Keef claimed to have been an officer in the British Army; William Stevens and Thomas Lloyd of Virginia, who wrote home with regret of their former "follies,” were evidently of good families; while the “light finger'd damsel” who ransacked the baggage of William Byrd, 2d, was a baronet's daughter sent to America as an incorrigible. Doubtless there were many such, though the total number could hardly have been large enough to affect the general statement that the indentured servant was of humble origin.

Many of these servants came over with the expectation that relatives or friends would redeem them, and in cases where these hopes were not realized the captain would advertise that unless some one appeared to pay the money the men or women would be sold. The indenture was looked upon as property which could even be bought by more than one purchaser, each of whom had a proportionate right to the servant's time, which could be sold, leased, and bequeathed by will, and which in the case of the sale or lease of a farm or plantation could be transferred to the buyer or tenant. Sometimes a colony, through the Governor, would buy the time of white servants for service in the militia or for work on the defenses of the province. It not infrequently happened that a master allowed a servant to exercise his trade at large through the colony, as in the case of Stephen Tinoe, a servant of one of the Virginia planters, who had dancing schools at Hampton, Yorktown, and Williamsburg, but who handed over to his master all the money which he received for his instruction. When the time named in the indenture expired, the servant became free, and the master was obliged to furnish him with a suit of clothes and to pay certain "freedom dues.” There are many instances of servants bringing suit in the courts and contending that their masters were keeping them beyond their lawful time or had failed to give them their perquisites.

Inevitably under such a system the lot of the servants became very hard as the years passed and their status for the period of their service grew to be little better than that of slaves. While in the North they were usually treated with kindness and their position was not as irksome as it was in the South, yet in Maryland, Virginia, and the West Indies they suffered much abuse and degradation. William Randal of Maryland said in 1755 that the colony was a hard one for servants to live in, and

Elizabeth Sprigs wrote of "toiling day and night, and then tied up and whipped to that degree you would not beat an animal, scarce anything but Indian corn and salt to eat and that even begrudged.” Governor Mathew of the Leeward Islands spoke of them as “poorly cladd, hard fedd, a worse state than a common soldier.” As early as 1716 these indentured servants were called runaway thieves, disorderly persons, renegadoes, a loose sort of people, cheap and useless, and were said to grow more and more lazy, indolent, and impudent. Even in the North the later arrivals were deemed greatly inferior to those of the earlier years -a falling off which one observer ascribed to the want of good land wherewith to attract the better sort who desired to become farmers after serving their time.

There is no doubt that indentured servants in general made very poor laborers. The Irish Roman Catholics especially were feared and disliked and were not bought if others could be obtained. It is not to be wondered at that indentured servants were continually running away. The newspapers, North and South, were full of advertisements for the fugitives, describing their features, their clothes, and whatever they carried,

for many of them made off with anything they could lay their hands on - horses, guns, household goods, clothing, and money. All sorts of laws were made, particularly in the South, to control these indentured servants. Should they absent themselves from service without permission, they had to remain so many days longer in bondage; should they run away, they were liable to be whipped and to have their time extended; should a female seryant have a child, she was punished and the master of the child's father was required to pay for the time lost by the mother. In Virginia a freed servant was obliged to have a ticket or certificate of freedom and if found without one was liable to arrest and imprisonment.

In addition to indentured servants there were also apprentices, usually children bound out to a master, until they were of age, byʻtheir poor parents to serve at some lawful employment or to learn a trade. There was nothing, however, to hinder a servant, or even a negro, from being bound out as an apprentice. Colonial apprenticeship, except in its educational features, was simply the system of England transferred to America, and the early indentures, of which there are copies extant for nearly all the colonies, were almost word for word

« PrécédentContinuer »