Clock Tower

Out of the Clock Tower



Hello and welcome to the Greene County Archives' blog, "Out of the Clock Tower".  Please join us as we share information on archival issues, news, special events, and highlights from our collection.

Before the archives program began in Greene County in 1996, permanent records were stored in every conceivable space, in basements, garages, and closets. Usually they were in boxes of various shapes and sizes, although seldom adequately labeled, but occasionally they were just in loose piles of books and papers. Most notable were the old records stuffed into the clock tower of the County Courthouse, where they shared their home with pigeon droppings.

Now, there is a clean, environmentally controlled, well appointed location for the county archives, where our historical records are housed in standard sized boxes on steel shelves. We have taken note of their journey in the name for our blog.

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Mar 09

The Indentured Children of Bath Township

Posted on March 9, 2018 at 4:19 PM by Melissa Dalton

While researching the children of Jesse and Fanny Ransbottom, we learned that one of their children, David, was living with another family, most likely as a farmhand. This sparked a conversation in the office about what it meant to be an indentured child in Greene County in the early/mid-1800s.

When one thinks of apprenticeship today, we think of someone learning a particular trade or craft, usually under the supervision of a labor union or organization. Most apprenticeships include classroom instruction, along with hands-on training, usually over the course of several years. However, hundreds of years ago, an apprenticeship was much different. More times than not, an apprenticeship was a form of indentured servitude.

Indentured servants were common when our country formed. The employ of indentured servants was seen as a convenient solution. The indentured person was given free passage to the colonies, room and board, and at the end of their service, many times they were given a small tract of land and money. The master gained an assistant, someone who could help with the business or act as a farm hand. However, there was a dark side to the practice as well. Children, many poor and/or orphaned, were contracted and bound as indentured servants because parents could not afford to care for them or the children were destitute. These children were forced to work until they reached legal age (dependent on the state), at which time, they were to be released from service. Some children were treated well and welcomed as part of the family; others were not.

Ohio law stated that it was the responsibility of the township to care for the poor of their districts. Greene County had a poor house, which during this particular time period (1830-1850), housed children and adults alike. However, it also was the duty of the township to obtain contracts for indentured servitude and apprenticeships for children. This was an act that many did reluctantly. Here at the Greene County Archives, we have records from Bath Township that document these type of contracts. These were contracts signed by the parties involved (township trustees, parents, and masters), there was a defined time frame of the apprenticeship, and it was stated in each what was expected of the master. All the contracts I have read in our records indicate that the master was responsible for the indentured person and would provide them food, drink, lodging, and apparel, as well as minimal education (reading, writing, and basic arithmetic). At the end of the term, the master would provide the indentured person with clothing, usually a new bible, and sometimes a small amount of money or some personal items such as bedding or trunks (Fig 1).

Excerpt of Indenture record of David Osborn, January 1838
Fig 1. Excerpt from David Osborn Indenture record illustrating responsibility of master to indentured servant (Greene County Archives)

Ages ranged, but records indicate that at least one child, Daniel Shingledecker, was as young as 2 years old when he was contracted as an indentured servant (Fig 2). In August 1839, young Daniel was bound to Jacob Synip to “learn the art or occupation of a farmer” and the term period for the contract was supposed to be 18 years. However, in April 1840, the contract was dissolved and Daniel was returned to his father, Nathaniel Shingledecker (Fig 3).

Indenture record of Daniel Shingledecker, August 1839Indenture record of Daniel Shingledecker, August 1839
Fig 2. Indenture record of Daniel Shingledecker in August 1839

Dissolution of Indenture contract of Daniel Shingledecker, August 1840
Fig 3. Dissolution of indenture contract of Daniel Shingledecker in April 1840

In June 1841, at the age of 4, Daniel Shingledecker again was indentured to learn the art of a farmer, but this time he was bound to Jonathan Cost. This contract also was dissolved and Daniel again was returned to his father in February 1842 (Figs 4 & 5).

Indenture record of Daniel Shingledecker, June 1841Indenture record of Daniel Shingledecker, June 1841Indenture record of Daniel Shingledecker, June 1841
Fig 4. Indenture record of Daniel Shingledecker in June 1841

Dissolution of Indenture contract of Daniel Shingledecker, February 1842
Fig 5. Dissolution of indenture contract of Daniel Shingledecker in February 1842

Temperance Young, age 10, was another child for whom we found several indenture contracts. Her parents, Ruth and Benjamin Young, were unable to support her and she was considered “destitute.” Her first contract was to David Mayer in April 1839, as a “spinster” (i.e. spin wool) and she was to be bound to him until she was 18 (Fig 6). However, her contract was ended, although I was unable to find the dissolution of the contract in the records. In September 1840, she was bound to Madison Brake to learn “the art and craft of a spinster and also the occupation of sewing, knitting, and all kinds of house work” (Fig 7). Madison Brake, her master, was “removed” from Bath Township, so in January 1841, Temperance was bound to George Brake (Figs 8 & 9).

Indenture record of Temperance Young, April 1839Indenture record of Temperance Young, April 1839
Fig 6. Indenture record of Temperance Young in April 1839

Indenture record of Temperance Young, September 1840Indenture record of Temperance Young, September 1840
Fig 7. Indenture record of Temperance Young in September 1840

Indenture record of Temperance Young, January 1841
Fig 8. Dissolution of Indenture contract of Temperance Young to Madison Brake, in January 1841

Indenture record of Temperance Young, January 1841Indenture record of Temperance Young, January 1841
Fig 9. Indenture contract of Temperance Young in January 1841

There are many more indenture records, but these two give one an idea of what we found. Reading these records can be heartbreaking, but at the same time, one can glean that the parents were doing what they thought was best for their children – providing them an opportunity to learn a trade, and hopefully, lead them down a better path in life.

Until Next Time…

Sources:
Greene County Archives, Bath Township Records, April 16, 1934 to December 15, 1948

Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center,
https://www.rbhayes.org/clientuploads/pdfs/Paper trails/Feb.2003_Indentured Servants and Apprenticeships of Green Creek Twp2.pdf

Washington State Department of Labor & Industries,
http://www.lni.wa.gov/TradesLicensing/Apprenticeship/About/History/

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