Saturday, June 18, 2016

Source Saturday: Apprentice Bonds

Over the coming months, we will make occasional Saturday posts our "Source Saturday" and describe some sources that may be overlooked by researchers, historical or genealogical.

Today we will concentrate on Apprentice Bonds.

The earliest apprentice law on record in North Carolina is 1715 and it remained pretty much untouched until the early 1900s. See Colonial and State Records of North Carolina, volume 23, page 70-71 for Chapter XLIX. An Act Concerning Orphans.

Its purpose was to provide a method of equipping orphaned and/or poor children with skills to become a productive adult and not to become a burden to the county coffers. Males and black females were usually bound until they were 21 years of age; white females until 18 or married.

Besides teaching an occupation, the master provided food, clothing, lodging, and usually a rudimentary education to the apprentice. As time wore on, this last provision was denied to free black apprentices. Upon completion of the apprenticeship, the master was to provide a new suit of clothes, a new Bible, and some money.

Who was apprenticed?

  1. Orphans of small or no estates. Orphans in this sense means that at least the father had died, the mother could still be living.
  2. Children whose father had abandoned them and were gone for at least 1 year and without sufficient support.
  3. Children of unfit mothers.
  4. Children of free persons of color.
  5. Free baseborn chldren of color [i.e. illegitimate children of color]

When using apprentice bonds, be sure to read the entire bond. Since the child was apprenticed to a certain age, often the current age and sometimes the actual birth date is written on the bond, as in the example below.

The apprentice did not necessarily have to be an orphan, as a parent could consent to having a child apprenticed to learn a trade.

The procedure for apprenticeship was as follows:

  1. The Justices of the County Court were made aware there were orphans in the county, usually through the grand jury. 
  2. The Justices summoned the orphan to court. 
  3. The court appointed a Master for the orphan.
  4. The master posted a bond stating he would perform his duties as outlined above.
  5. If for some reason, the master failed to perform his duties or ill-treated the apprentice, the master could be called in to justify his actions. If neglect or ill-treatment was found, the justices could appoint another master and additional paperwork was created.
While reading the actual court minutes, you may find an indication of apprenticeship, as in this 1817 court minutes record. 
You should seek to find the original bonds and records concerning apprenticeships, though, as more information may be available there, as indicated in this record concerning the same individual.

The Kellenberger Room staff have abstracted many of the Craven County Apprentice Bonds that are located on microfilm from the North Carolina State Archives. Again, additional information may be located in the originals, but most genealogical information has been abstracted.

For further reading on apprentices, see Roy M. Brown's Public Poor Relief in North Carolina and Karin L. Zipf's Labor of Innocents: Forces Apprenticeships in North Carolina, 1715-1919.