Colonial Apprentice Contract

Children would not go to school for very long and typically enter into an apprenticeship before their teenage years. A boy’s apprenticeship would typically end at the age of 21 and a girl’s at the age of 18. An apprentice contract, also called an indenture, was an agreement between a student and a teacher. It was a commitment from both, student and teacher. The teacher (called the Master) promised to teach the student his or her trade and writing or reading if necessary and provide for food and housing (yes, there were female tin smiths in the 18th century!). The student, or apprentice, promised to behave well, to follow directions and to finish his or her contract term. An apprentice who would run away would breach the contract and could be chased and brought back to his or her Master.

Although, apprentices were often treated similar to servants,  an apprenticeship must be distinguished from indentures servants and from slaves:

An apprenticeship was a contract between a student and a Master based on the free will and consent of the student. The master had the obligation to teach a trade to the student.

Colonial Apprenticeship Contract Challenge

Indentured Servants:

Indentured servants also served under a contract based on the free will of the servant. The contract would typically expire after 5-10 years. Indentured servants were poor individuals who received food, shelter and clothing, but typically no money, for their services. Many indentured servants owed money to their Master who had paid for their travel costs from England to the colonies. After finishing the contract term, the servant would be a free person. Poor people often indentured themselves in order to not be homeless. Servants in Connecticut typically would have been integrated in family lives. If a poor child would be indentured as a servant, the Master was expected to teach the child how to read and write.

Connecticut was a slave holding state until 1848. Any child, whose mother was an enslaved African-American or Native American* was born into slavery. Often slaves were also referred to as indentured servants. Some were referred to as “indentured for life”. However, they would not have been indentured under a contract (the literal meaning of indenture is contract). Slaves would be born into live long servitude and it happened against their will. A Master of a slave had to provide food, shelter and clothes for the slave but slaves had to follow strict laws (called the black code or slave code) and would receive harsh punishment if they broke these laws (for example, walking alone out of town or being away from home after 9 p.m.). There were only limited options for slaves to become free persons. One option was to be freed by the Master’s will or gain their freedom in exchange for serving in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War instead of their Masters. Children of slaves born after March 1, 1784 would be born into servitude and by law become free persons upon their 25th birthday. A freed slave could contract him- or herself to become a contracted indentured servant for a couple of years.


* Native Americans were sold into slavery in Connecticut since 1643. The Connecticut Superior Court ruled in 1787 that children whose mother was Native American were never slaves as they were “being born of a free woman, a native of the land, [who] was not a slave” (Wilson v. Hinckley, 1 Kirby 199 (Conn. Super. Ct. 1787)