A. W. Cissel
If you were an adolescent male 200 years ago, your future was arranged by your parents. There were few choices — you could either be a farmer or learn a trade. Since the family farm could not always be divided
to give each son a share, the younger sons were apprenticed to learn a skill that would provide them with a livelihood.
Apprenticeship was a binding contract, signed and witnessed, It called for the local stonemason, chairmaker or miller to provide food and lodging while teaching the "art and mysteries" of his trade to the
young man. In return, the apprentice agreed to live, work and leant for a certain number of years with the employer. Boys were usually 14 or 15 years when apprenticed until the age of 21. The contract usually forbade "sinful" pursuits such as
fornication, dice/card playing and visiting ale-houses. At the end of the contract period the apprentice would receive $20 to $30, a new suit of clothes called a "freedom suit" and perhaps a set of tools if a carpenter oran anvil and hammer
if a blacksmith.
Some fathers insisted that the contract provisions including the teaching of letters and counting or two months of schooling a year. Jacob Blessing's contract in Frederick demanded that his son be sent "to the
English School". illegitimate or fatherless boys were considered to be orphans and would be "bound out" by the Justice of the Peace, with the consent of the mother.
Likewise orphan girls were apprenticed too, though usually for a shorter period to age 16. Eight year old Elizabeth Fox was described as an indigent whose father had "eloped" (deserted the family) some years
since. She was bound to learn the business of housekeeping and spinning. Adam Gemmel, a local weaver took in another orphan girl to learn to sew and knit.
The great variety of tradesmen supplying goods and services is reflected in these records of indentures. Some trades like silversmiths, wig makers, and printers were only found in the cities, but local
families were involved in many different pursuits. Frederick Lohr, tailor, took orphan Thomas Rodman as apprentice in 1799. Jonas Eyler put his son George with Henry Fierer, weaver. William Plummer, a chairmaker, and Samuel Moyers,
saddlemaker, had apprentices.
Jacob Fleagle bound one son to learn to make spinning wheels in 1803 and another to learn tanning the following year. Daniel Router. whose tannery on Owens Creek began in 1796, took a succession of apprentices
over the years, including his own orphaned grandson.
The apprenticeship system, which had lasted for hundred of years since the Middle Ages in Europe, gradually disappeared with the rise of industry and manufacturing. Mass produced items replaced the hand-made,
one-of-a kind product. In addition, the lure of the newly opened western lands offered
unlimited opportunity for the small farmer to have a place of his own. Today the faint vestiges of this system remain in the labor unions training programs where apprentice-ship status must be server before
becoming a skilled printer, electrician or steel worker.
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