Certificate of Indenture for Henry Barr

views updated

Certificate of Indenture for Henry Barr

Legal document

By: Anonymous

Date: May 8, 1837

Source: Jewish Women's Archive. "Certificate of Indenture for Henry Barr." 〈http://www.jwa.org/teach/primarysources/artifacts_01.pdf//〉 (accessed July 22, 2006).

About the Author: Founded in 1995, the Jewish Women's Archive exists to locate and disseminate stories about Jewish women and their accomplishments.


While formal schooling is required by law in most countries today, the need for education and training has existed since before recorded history. Although much of today's primary education curriculum focuses on academic subjects such as history and literature, the earliest forms of education focused on vocational skills, and in many cultures the most common manner in which to learn a skill was by working for several years with an expert in that field. Such an arrangement was known as an indenture.

Indentures were legally binding contracts. Though the form varied throughout the centuries and between cultures, an indenture commonly consisted of a contract specifying how long the learner would work for the master, what his compensation would be, and how he would behave during the term of the contract. The contract was normally written in multiple copies; small matching tears, or indentures, were made in the sides of the pages to signify that the copies were legally binding and making any forgery easier to detect.

In practice, indentured servanthood resembled a modern-day adoption. The student, often a young man in his early teens, generally agreed to live in the household of the master during his indenture. While training he received little or no pay and agreed to follow certain behavioral requirements; indentured servants were frequently forbidden to marry during their period of training. In exchange, the master craftsman was generally responsible for providing food, shelter, and clothing for the student during his years of training. The student also typically received some small compensation upon his graduation, in an amount specified by the original contract. Masters of indentured servants had many of the same legal rights as parents.

Upon completing his indenture, the student was not recognized as a master of the craft until he had been examined by other members of his craft guild. This process frequently took the form of a test piece, sometimes called a masterpiece, which the student would create and submit for evaluation. Following the acceptance of this work, the craftsman would be recognized as a master in his field. Many early Americans, including Benjamin Franklin, learned their crafts through the process of indentured servanthood.


This Indenture witnesseth, that Henry Barr—with the consent of the Manager of the Orphan Society, by their Binding Committee, Eliza, Otto Sullagard Leitman—hath put himself, and by these present, and for other good causes, doth voluntarily, and of his own free will and accord, put himself apprentice to Alexander Harper—to learn the art, trade and mystery of a Druggist and after the manner of an apprentice, to serve the said Alexander Harper from the day of the date hereof, for and during, and to the full end and term of nine years, three monthes and four days—next ensuing. During all which term, the said apprentice doth covenent and promise his said master faithfully to service, his secrets to keep, and his lawful commands every where readily to obey. He shall not waste his said master's goods, nor lend them unlawfully to any. He shall not contract matrimony within the said term. At cards, dice, or any other unlawful game he shall not play, whereby his said master may have damage. With his own goods nor the goods of others, without lisence from his said master, he shall neither buy nor sell. He shall not absent himself, day nor night, from his said master's service, without his leave; nor haunt ale-houses, taverns or play-houses; but in all things behave himself as a faithful apprentice ought to do, during the said terms. And the said master on his part doth covenant and promise to use the utmost endeavors to teach, or cause to be taught or instructed the said apprentice, in the trade or mystery of a Druggist and produce and provide for him sufficient meat, drink, clothing—lodging and washing, fitting for an apprentice, during the said term; and give him nine quarters half-day schooling; and when free, give him two complete suits of clothes, one of which to be new and shall, at the expiration of this child's time, come forward and satisfy the said Managers, that the terms of this Indenture have been complied with. And for the true performance of all and singular covenants and agreements aforesaid, the said parties bind themselves, each unto the other, firmly by these presents.

In witness whereof, the said parties have interchangeabley set their hands and seals hereunto. Dated the Eight day of May Anno Domini one thousand eight hundred and thirty seven.

Sealed, delivered and acknowledged before me,

R. Colustron

Alex Harper

Eliza Otto

Mary Loitman

Henry Barr

It is earnestly recommend to Masters and Mistresses, to give every opportunity to their Apprentices, to attend Public Worship and Sabbath School.


The indenture system worked well in many cases but also created the opportunity for abuse. In the American colonies, poor parents sometimes indentured children younger than ten to a craftsman so that the child might learn a trade. Such practices relieved the family of the cost of the child's support and could potentially provide the child with the skills to earn a living, though in return the parents largely surrendered their role as parents. In other cases, impoverished Europeans seeking passage to North America signed indentures requiring them to work for many years on plantations. Such arrangements, which provided no skill training, were actually just a form of exploitation, providing little benefit to the servant. Such abuses gave the entire practice of indentured servanthood a checkered reputation, and eventually led to legal protections for workers.

As industrialization changed the nature of production, craftsmen no longer needed to be skilled in all aspects of a craft; consequently training a student no longer required many years of education. In many fields, experienced workers began training beginners in a period known as an apprenticeship. While some apprenticeship arrangements were virtually identical to indentured servanthood, most were far less encompassing, dealing with workplace training and little else. Whereas the indentured servant moved in with the master's family and was supported by him, the apprentice normally came to work and returned to his home each day, often earning a reduced wage during his period of training. During the 1800s, most skilled laborers learned their crafts by serving apprenticeships.

While some employers dealt fairly with apprentices, others exploited their lack of experience, forcing them to work long hours for little or no pay. In 1911, the state of Wisconsin passed the first laws regulating apprenticeships, placing them under the oversight of a state-appointed commission and requiring that all apprentices attend a minimum amount of school each week. Similar laws were soon passed in other states, and in 1934 the U.S. Secretary of Labor appointed a commission to set and enforce fair labor practices for employers with apprentices.

In 1937, Congress passed the Fitzgerald Act, creating the Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training within the Department of Labor. This board, which included representatives of labor, industry, and education, regulates apprenticeships in the United States; it currently oversees more than eight hundred licensed apprenticeship programs concentrated primarily in the construction, manufacturing, and service industries. Apprenticeships today are often funded and administered by labor unions in order to ensure that union members are fully trained and competent to carry out their trade.



Alderman, Clifford. Colonists for Sale: The Story of Indentured Servants in America. New York: Macmillan, 1975.

Klepp, Susan, et al. The Infortunate: The Voyage and Adventures of William Moraley, An Indentured Servant. University Park, Penn.: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2005.

Salinger, Sharon V. 'To Serve Well and Faithfully': Labor and Indentured Servants in Pennsylvania, 1682–1800. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987.


"The Institution of Slavery in New York." New York Amsterdam News 96 (2005): 11.

Silverman, David J. "The Impact of Indentured Servitude on the Society and Culture of Southern New England Indians." New England Quarterly 74 (2001): 622-666.

Teicher, Stacy A. "Door-to-door Sales Crews or Indentured Servants?" Christian Science Monitor. 91 (1999): 89-90.

Web sites

National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee. "Apprenticeship Training." 〈http://www.njatc.org/apprentice.htm〉 (accessed July 22, 2006).

Robert E. Lee Memorial Association. "Indentured Servants and Transported Convicts." 〈http://www.stratfordhall.org/ed-servants.html〉 (accessed July 22, 2006).

U.S. Department of Labor. "Apprenticeship." 〈http://www.dol.gov/dol/topic/training/apprenticeship.htm〉 (accessed July 22, 2006).