Wednesday, September 14, 2016


I discussed the system of indentured servitude in a couple of earlier posts. Today I am going to focus on apprenticeships.

An apprentice is contracted to a master craftsman for a set time to receive training in a craft.

The system developed during the Middle Ages. Master craftsmen employed and trained young boys and gave them food, lodging and formal training. In some cases, girls were apprenticed as well.

The system was brought to colonial America. Boys as young as 10, but generally 14 -17 were apprenticed for a term of up to seven years, or until age 21. The contract was signed by the Master, the parents and the child. The young apprentice would be instructed in the Master's trade and learn to read, write and "do sums." [arithmetic for those of you not familiar with the term] Less than 20% of apprentices were girls. They were usually contracted to seamstresses or taught the skills of the housewife.

The apprentice would work on increasingly difficult projects during his [or her] term and finally present the Master craftsman with a final project to demonstrate his mastery of the skills taught. Upon completion of his/her contract, the apprentice would be given a new suit of clothes, a set of tools and independence.

Some variations on the apprenticeship system:
[1] Orphans would be indentured to farms until their 21st birthday or end of the contract.
[2] Coveted apprenticeships with lawyers, merchants or other professionals involved the parents  paying the masters to take and train their children.
[3] Children might be indentured or apprenticed by their parents to pay off debts.
[4]  A farmer might apprentice his sons or daughters during the winter to learn a trade. This would allow the children to have a trade to fall back on during the winter months or if crops failed.

Parents were relieved of rearing their children and providing educational/occupational training.

One case in point for #4 above: My 3rd great-grandfather, Joseph Faucett, was apprenticed to a tailor. Joseph was a farmer, but had a trade to supplement his income or to fall back on during hard times.

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