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Washington D.C. Genealogy Trails
Apprentice and Indenture Documents
(Data Table/Index of Documents below)

District of Columbia

Apprenticeship Indentures and Related Documents.

Introduction: Apprentice indentures and related documents are genealogical gold mines. These important social documents provide family historians and genealogists considerable detail about the lives of ordinary people. The typical District of Columbia apprentice indenture lists the apprentice name, parents or guardian’s names if a minor, age of the apprentice, some others provide birthdates and place of birth etc. The documents also reflect the level of literacy of the apprentice, and parents. Where the individual was unable to write his or her name, the documents are marked with an X and witnessed by literate adults and the District Court Clerk.

In the District of Columbia, an apprenticeship indenture was for nearly one hundred and fifty years a legally binding enforceable contract. For an example of enforcement see the case of Archibald Fletcher and Master Boat Builder, William Easby April 27, 1841 http://www.genealogytrails.com/washdc/apprenticedocuments/appindfletchertoeasby.html

Apprenticeship Indentures, are in essence written contracts between a young apprentice seeking valuable trade or craft knowledge, and a master trade or craftsmen; who in return for a specified period of service, formally agreed to provide tutelage to the apprentice in his art or craft.. All of these indentures were notarized by the court clerk and dated. The District of Columbia court system required copies of all apprenticeships to be placed on file with the court clerk. In addition the Washington Navy Yard kept some apprentice listings and documents (WNY was the District’s largest employer of skilled craft labor) and developed its own regulations and pay scales for these apprentice workers.

In a typical District of Columbia apprentice indenture both parties signed binding promises. Each indenture stated the parties had entered into the indenture of their own free will. Each indenture further specified a start and an end date. Indentures typically lasted four to six years. Typical of the District of Columbia indentures such as the indenture between Master Blacksmith Benjamin King and Hamilton Perry dated August 4, 1807 http://www.genealogytrails.com/washdc/apprenticedocuments/appindperrytoking.html

 included language that :

  • Apprentice blacksmith ,Perry will “ faithfully” serve his Master Benjamin King

  • Keep the Benjamin King’s secrets and obey his commands

  • Hamilton Perry is also bound to do no “Damage” to his Master or allow others to damage his Master’s property

  • Apprentice Perry is not to waste the Master’s goods or lend them to others.

Both Hamilton Perry and his father Elisha Perry were unable to write their names and instead made their X which was duly witnessed by the court clerk. In return, for Perry’s service, Master Blacksmith King, promised to teach his young apprentice the skills of the blacksmith trade, provided “meat, drink, lodging, and washing.” Many (although not Perry’s) D.C. apprentice indentures provide at the end of the term, the apprentice was to receive a new suit of clothes or the equivalent amount of money. In some cases apprentices are promised a new set of trade tools. Some apprentice indentures especially for skilled trades have masters such William Easby Master Boat Builder to John P. Fardy dated May 4, 1836 http://www.genealogytrails.com/washdc/apprenticedocuments/appindmedcalf-mathews-fardy.html promising to allow his young apprentice formal schooling during the winter season when boat building work was slower.

Apprentices were typically expected to attend church services with the master’s family and abstain neither from drinking, frequenting taverns, and attending theatre or shows nor “absent” themselves day or night without the master’s permission. Most D.C. indentures prohibit the apprentice from marriage during the term of service. Once their term was completed, they could strike out on their own. Having a skill meant the ability to earn a decent wage.

Poor young women were also apprenticed, most commonly as house servants or lace makers; we have provided some transcribed examples of these documents as well see: Rachel Medcaff to Horatio Kingsbury dated October 29, 1818, as a house servant. http://www.genealogytrails.com/washdc/apprenticedocuments/appindmedcalf-mathews-fardy.html

African Americans enslaved and free were apprenticed to trades and crafts as well and we have included examples of both types:


The Apprentice Indenture at this site for the District of Columbia are arranged alphabetically and where possible we have linked them to other apprentice documents such as payrolls, letters, reward notices or court cases.

Transcription Method: In transcribing these indentures I have striven to adhere as closely as possible to the original in spelling, capitalization, punctuation, and abbreviation, including the retention of dashes and underlining found in the original. Words and passages that were crossed out in the diary are transcribed either as overstrikes or in notes. When a spelling is so unusual as to be misleading or confusing, the correct spelling immediately follows the misspelled word in square brackets and italicized type or is discussed in a foot note. For the convenience of our Genealogy Trails.com readers the Apprenticeship Numbers in brackets that follow are those assigned by Dorothy S. Provine in her extremely important: District of Columbia Indentures of Apprenticeship 1801 -1893

John G. Sharp December 7, 2009

Concord, Ca.

MORE INFO:
In the early United States the formal apprenticing of children was the method used for nearly two hundred years to train the young for useful occupations. The apprenticeship system of the District of Columbia, provided for formal indentures or contracts, in which young people were legally bound to labor for a set number of years in given trade or occupation, and in return for their service they would receive trade or occupation instruction and tutelage from their master. While most apprentices entered into their apprenticeship voluntarily with the consent of their parents some other young people (orphans and poor children) were placed unwillingly while other from dislike of their chosen trade or more often disagreements with their master ran away. For more on fugitive apprentices see Runaway Apprentices at this site
http://www.genealogytrails.com/washdc/slavery/rewardnotices.html

Perhaps the most famous of these runaway was Benjamin Franklin who broke his indentures by running away from his brother James in 1723 for New York City. Since the apprenticeship was legal contract the law between the master and the apprentice the law gave the master the right to take action to recover errant apprentices and if necessary take the apprentice by force.

The Washington Navy Yard was for nearly two centuries the District of Columbia's largest employer and had has many as 50 apprentices working at the Navy Yard prior to 1814. Early naval regulations allowed Master Mechanics wide discretion as to the hiring and training of their apprentices. Naval regulations did specify the minimum age of apprentices, the specific number of apprentices each Master Mechanic might hire and the wage rates for apprentice labor. While indentured apprentices were paid by Department of the Navy they were in every sense the apprentice of a specific Master Mechanic. The District of Columbia like most major eastern cities required a signed indenture or contract specifying the duties and responsibilities of both parties in some detail. Originally both parties to such indentures received a signed copy of the document while another was made for the records of the District of Columbia. Today these apprentice indentures are part of the collection of the District of Columbia Archives. These indentures have great value to historians and genealogists since they also allow us to see reflected the social concerns of the era provisions made for schooling and admonitions against visiting playhouses and gambling.

These indentures are a fine picture in miniature of a world of trade and crafts which for the most part no longer exist. Maritime trades, like block maker, spar maker, ship caulker, sail maker and ship carpenter all of which prevailed in the early Washington Navy Yard, went into steep decline with the coming of steam propulsion. Two of the WNY Master Mechanics named in these indentures, John Davis of Abel and George McCauley are both listed on a WNY pay document dated May 1819 at
http://www.genealogytrails.com/washdc/WNY/wny1819payroll.html

 

The rapid building of iron ships during the American Civil War mean that many of maritime trades of the older wooden navy would never recover. This change is most dramatically reflected after the 1880's when the Washington Navy Yard became exclusively a builder of naval ordinance and was renamed the Naval Gun Factory and the principal trade is machinist.


Index to Documents

(Indexed by Apprentice Surname)
Apprentice Name/Who Indentured To Reference Number Locale Names Mentioned
William AMERICA
to
James TUCKER
#1619
Vol. V
169

 Year: 1838

Navy
Yard
AMERICA, Jane
AMERICA, Susanna E.
AMERICA, William
BRADY, Nathaniel
BROWN, William
FARRAR, John
MATTINGLY, EDHB
TUCKER, James
UPTON, Susan
WALL, Elizabeth
Thomas ASHING
to
William PARSONS
#402
VII, 5

 Years: 1811 - 1812

D C ASHING, Thomas,
OTT, W.
PARROTT, Richard
John BEAN
to
James OWNER
#381
Vol. I, 320-321

Year: 1811

Navy
Yard
CASSIN, Joseph
HARRISON, Mr.
McCAULEY, George
OWNER, James
ROBY, Mathias
RODGERS, John
SHINER, Michael
SMALLWOOD, Samuel N.
TINGEY, Thomas
George BELL
to
Alfred JONES
# 1929
Vol. V. 432-433
Year : 1845
  BELL, Emily
BELL, George
DRURY, Samuel
JONES, Alfred
WATERS, Walter
Walter BOETLER
to
William SMALL
#255
Vol. 212-213
Year: 1809
D C BOETLER, Thomas
BOETLER, Walter
SMALL, William
John BURDINE
to
Charles CASSELL
#1232
VIII, 245-246

 Year : 1825

 

Navy
Yard
BURDINE, John
BURDINE, William
CASSELL, Charles
HIGDON, Gustav

James H. DAWSON
to
Thomas PERKINS

# 1588
Vol. V, 142

Year: 1838
D C DAWSON, James H.
PERKINS, Thomas
George L. Morgan DEMENT
to
John HEBRON
# 206
Vol. 1, 172-173

Year: 1808
Navy
Yard
DEMENT, Elizabeth
DEMENT, George M.
HEBRON, John
Thomas DUNLOP
to
Moses LIVERPOOL
#1443
Vol. V, I

Year: 1835
Navy
Yard
DUNLOP, Thomas
LIVERPOOL, Moses
Archibald FLETCHER
to
William EASBY
 
#1591
Vol V., 145-146

Year: 1838
D C EASBY, William
FLETCHER, Archibald 
FLETCHER, William
Henry William FRANKLAND
to
William SANDFORD
# 269
Vol. 1, 221-222

Year: 1809
D C FRANKLAND, Henry W.
FRANKLAND, Eleanor
FRANKLAND, Thomas
SANDFORD, William
John GOSS
to
Thomas LYNDALL
# 1230
Vol. III, 243-244

Year: 1814
D C GOSS JR., John
GOSS, John
LYNDALL, Thomas
John HOLROYD
to
John DAVIS of Abel
#1321
Vol. III, 364-365

Year: 1826
D C DAVIS, John
HOLROYD, John
HOLROYD, Joseph
Nathaniel HUGHES
to
Henry BURDICK
Year : 1814 D C BURDICK, Henry
HUGHES, Ann
HUGHES, Nathaniel
George HURLEY
to
John POTHERBRIDGE
# 176
Vol. 1, 147-148

Year: 1807
D C HURLEY, George
MIDDLETON, Isaac S.
POTHERBRIDGE, John
TOWNSEND, Lemuel
Casper JACOBS
to
John HARRISON
#57
Vol. 1, 47

Year:1803
D C JACOBS, Casper
JACOBS, George
HARRISON, John
HERTZ, Thomas
BUFORD, Henry
Michael JACOBS
to

John HARRISON
#49
Vol. 1, 39

Year: 1802
D C JACOBS, George
JACOBS, Michael
HARRISON, John
BROUDWELL, James
HERTY, Thomas
Tobias MATHEWS
to
John DEMPSIE (Release of)
# 270

Vol 1., 222

Year: 1809
D C DEMPSIE, Elizabeth
DEMPSIE, John
MATHEWS, Basal
MATHEWS, Tobias
Thomas MITCHELL
to
James TUCKER
# 1784


Vol. V, 296


Year: 1841
Navy
Yard
ADAMS, George
BROWN, William
FARRAR, John
MARSHALL, James
MITCHELL, Eleanor (nee HALL)
MITCHELL, Thomas
TUCKER, Emma
TUCKER, Genifer
TUCKER, James
John MOSS
to
James TUCKER
# 1620
Vol. V, 170
Year: 1838
D C MOSS, Jane
MOSS, John
TUCKER, James
Hamilton PERRY
to
Benjamin KING
#174
Vol. 1, 146

Year: 1807
D C KING, Benjamin
PERRY, Elisha
PERRY, Hamilton
PERRY, Zadock
 Isaac STEWART
to
Thomas MURRAY
#558
Vol. II, 101

Year:1814
Navy
Yard
MURRAY, Thomas
STEWART, Isaac
STEWART, Mary Ann
 Israel STEWART
To
Thomas MURRAY
#501
Vol. II, 67

Year: 1813
Navy
Yard
MURRAY, Thomas
STEWART, Israel
STEWART, Mary Ann
Samuel THOMPSON
to
George MCCAULEY
#400
Vol. II, 4

Year: 1812
Navy
Yard
CASSIN, Joseph
MCCAULEY, George
THOMPSON, Samuel
 John VERMILLION
to
George MCCAULEY
#401
Vol. II, 4-5

Year: 1812
Navy
Yard
CASSIN, Joseph
MCCAULEY, George
VERMILLION, John
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