Indentured for Sure

Servitude of the poorer class of emigrants from England, Switzerland, Ireland and Germany was guaranteed from the early settlement of Pennsylvania.

"Ladies and gentlemen, view this strong, healthy German farmboy, a lad of 10 years. He will be your faithful servant for the next 11 years, guaranteed, with no family affiliation."

This scenario took place in Philadelphia, port of entry from Germany, Switzerland, England or Ireland of an untold number of families unable to afford passage aboard ship from their homeland to the New World during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Later, many of the surviving descendants would become avowed Abolitionists, thoroughly against the institution of slavery. They had eventually made their way to Saucon Valley, where they became active in the Underground Railroad prior to the War between the States between 1861 and 1865.

Often the only records still existing locally are stories told but not written by citizens solidly against racism. However, it needs research going back centuries.

Servitude of the poorer class of emigrants from England, Switzerland, Ireland and Germany was guaranteed from the early settlement of Pennsylvania. These "redemptioners" who could not afford passage were sold by those paying for their voyage to Penn's Woods. Families of the lower classes commonly were forever split apart. Parents watched as their child was sold away into servitude. Children above the age of five were compelled to be servants until the age of 21.

In 1683 the British Council in charge of these matters passed a bill "to hinder the selling of servants into other provinces and to prevent runaways." On Aug. 29 William Penn, Governor, "Put ye question whether a proclamation were not convenient to be put forth to empower masters to chastise their servants, and to punish any that shall inveigle any servant to go from his master." The object of this approved proclamation was to provide land owners with laborers, needed particularly to clear land of dense timber.

"Boys and girls had to serve from five to ten years, or until they attained the age of 21. Many parents were necessitated, as they had been want to do at home with their cattle, to sell their own children."

Joseph Lewis of West Chester wrote in 1828 about "soul-drivers" or the men that drove redemptioners through the countryside intent upon selling them to farmers. Often farmers bought them fifty or more at a time from ship captains.

In 1729 a shipper had advertised the following: "Lately imported, and to be sold cheap, a parcel of likely men and women servants." These were imported largely from the Palatinate region of Germany, as was recorded by Dr. B. Rush in his "Manners of the German Inhabitants in Pennsylvania" written in 1789.

The preceding quotations can be found in "Historic Homes and Institutions and Genealogical and Personal Memoirs of the Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania," recorded in 1905 by John W. Jordan of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Edgar Moore Green of Easton, Pa. and George T. Ettinger of Muhlenberg College, Allentown, Pa.


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