His GenBook91

Slave & Indentured Servant Records


  Slavery is a situation in which one person claims absolute ownership of another person for the duration of the slave’s life. To the ‘master’, the ‘slave’ exists as just another piece of property. In addition, in the situation in which slavery exists, the master assumes ownership of any offspring of the slave. Slavery has existed in the world ever since history began to be recorded. The cruelty of the slavery that was practiced in the Roman Empire is legendary. Even today, certain countries still practice slavery of one sort or another.

  Indentured servitude was, in some ways, similar to slavery, but it was certainly not as extreme as slavery. In the situation of indentured servitude, one person claims ownership of another person, but only for a brief period of time. Also, the period of indenture was often utilized by the ‘master’ for training a craft to the ‘servant.’ In essence, the indentured servant was often simply forced into an apprenticeship.

  The period of time that a person would remain in the situation of indentured servitude varied from one situation to another. The period of time might last for only a few years, or it might last nearly a decade. In some cases the time period was determined by the age of the indentured servant. If the person was in his/her teens, he/she might be held as an indentured servant until he/she reached the age of twenty-one. There were instances in which people of various ethnic backgrounds spent a portion of their lives as indentured servants in Old~Bedford County. It has been estimated that between one-third and one-half of the immigrants to settle in Pennsylvania served periods of indentured servitude. It was Germans who made up the greatest portion of indentured servants in Pennsylvania, but there also were Irish and English.

  An example of an indentured servant was the author’s ancestor, Johan Simon Clar. Johan Simon moved to the town of Bedford after the death of his first wife, Margaretha, in 1795. Johan Simon was born in the small German town of Mimbach in the duchy of Pfalz~Zweibrucken in December, 1732. His parents, Jacob and Anna Maria Clar, immigrated to America in the year 1740, when Johan Simon was eight years old. The parents died enroute to America. When the ship reached the port of Philadelphia, the Clar children were bound out as indentured servants.

  It was the customary practice, when parent immigrants died enroute on the ship, for the Master of the ship to take into his custody any children who survived. Although it seems like a heinous practice to modern-day viewers, it must be remembered that there were few welfare programs in effective operation in the early 1700s. It was far better for the children of deceased parents to be taken into possession by the Master of a ship than to be thrust out into the great unknown of the New World without any means to survive. Because the ship’s Master would not be able to raise and care for the children, he in turn, often sold them into servitude. Young children thusly sold, were often raised and treated as apprentices by the wealthy families that ‘acquired’ them. Far from being an atrocious practive, indentured servitude sometimes gave the child schooling and craftsman experience which he/she might not ever have been able to obtain otherwise.

  Our knowledge of Johan Simon Clar’s experience as an indentured servant, and in fact the inferred knowledge that his parents would have died on the passage to America comes from a single source. In the 16 May, 1747 issue of a newspaper published by Christopher Sauer in Germantown, Pennsylvania, Barbara Clar placed the following entry: "Simon Klaar arrived in this country ƒix years ago and was indentured as a ƒervant. His ƒiƒter Barbara became free years ago and ƒhe ƒeeks her brother." Not only did this advertisement provide information on the date that Johan Simon arrived, but it gave the information that he and his sister had been indentured, and in so doing hinted at the fact that his parents had died at sea. There is no way of knowing if Barbara ever found her brother.

  What we do know is that Johan Simon Clar resided in York County, married Anna Margaretha Klee and raised a family of twelve children. He served as a Captain of the First Company of the Seventh Battalion of the York County Militia during the American Revolutionary War. Later, in 1795 following the death of his wife, he moved to Bedford County. He purchased lot #6 in the town of Bedford, on which stood Bedford County’s original log courthouse and jail structure, which became the Clar family’s house. He remarried and lived his life out in Bedford. His estate inventory included the tools used by a combmaker; it might be assumed that he received his training in that craft while serving as an indentured servant. What the life story of Johan Simon Clar reveals to us is that the life of an indentured servant was not so bad. The indentured servant might learn a trade or craft which would provide a livelihood later in his life, and he was assured of eventually being set free from servitude.

  The situation of the slave in America was a different matter from that of the indentured servant. The only people who were subjected to slavery in the English colonies were Africans imported initially to the West Indies. Although great animosity is directed toward the light skinned European traders who engaged in the slave trade by transporting dark skinned Africans from Africa to the Carribean West Indies, the fact that it was certain tribes of black Africans who sold other black peoples to the European traders is often overlooked.

  People of African descent, whether or not they were slaves in the colony of Pennsylvania, prior to the Revolutionary War, were subject to many restrictions. They were not permitted to be idle. They could not travel beyond ten miles from their master’s house, and were subject to a nightly curfew. They were denied the right to a trial by jury. They could not purchase liquor. They were not permitted to congregate in groups of four or more.

  Pennsylvania being a northern state, traditionally was opposed to slavery. In fact she was the first state to ban slavery. (Vermont, not yet a state, passed a law to prohibit slavery in 1777, but did not go so far as to abolish it entirely.) On 01 March, 1780 an Act of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, titled An ACT For The Gradual Abolition Of Slavery, stated that:

"Be it enacted, and it is hereby enacted, That all perƒons, as well Negroes and Mulattoes as others, who ƒhall be born within this ƒtate from and after the paƒsing of this act, ƒhall not be deemed and conƒidered as ƒervants for life, or ƒlaves; and that all ƒervitude for life, or ƒlavery of children, in conƒequence of the ƒlavery of their mothers, in the caƒe of all children born within this ƒtate from and after the paƒsing of this act as aforeƒaid, ƒhall be, and hereby is, utterly taken away, extinguiƒhed, and for ever aboliƒhed."

  Prior to the Abolition Act of 1780, slavery did indeed exist in Pennsylvania. The larger, more metropolitan area of the eastern counties around Philadelphia was where the majority of slaves were to be found. There were also instances in which people of African descent were owned as slaves by Old~Bedford County residents. The slaves to be found in Pennsylvania were primarily owned by the English and ‘Scotch-Irish’ settlers; the Germans seldom owned slaves.

  Evidence of indentured servitude and slavery in Old~Bedford can be found in the tax assessment returns of the region from the Eighteenth Century. As early as 1768, three years prior to the erection of Bedford County out of Cumberland, Bernard Dougherty was recorded as owning 3 Negroes in the Bedford Township, Cumberland County tax assessment return. In that same return, George Armstrong was recorded as owning 1 servant and 1 Negro. Christopher Limes was listed with 2 bound servants. John Evolt and James McCashlin were each recorded as owning 1 servant. William Rose was recorded with 1 Negro. The tax assessment for 1768 for Barree Township did not reveal any servants or negroes, but in Colerain Township James Elliot was recorded with 1 servant, and Robert Moor was recorded with 1 Negro. In Cumberland Township, John Borrows was listed with 1 servant, and Lewis Davison and Charles Martin were each listed with 1 Negro. In Dublin Township, only one resident, John Burd, was recorded with 1 servant.

  The reader might have noticed that in the foregoing list, one of the ‘servants’ was noted as a bound servant. The primary difference between bound servants and servants was that if the immigrant enterred into indentured servitude of his or her own free will in order to pay for something for which he or she had no means to pay otherwise, he or she were simply considered to be a servant. If the person was sold into indentured servitude against his or her free will, he or she was considered to be bound out and was known as a bound servant.

  Additional evidence of indentured servants in Bedford County can be found in newspaper advertisements. An advertisement was placed in the Pittsburgh Gazette dated 14 February, 1795. It stated: "Five Dollars Reward. Ranaway from the ƒubƒcriber living in Bedford county, Bedford townƒhip, an apprentice boy named JAMES SHANNON, about 19 years of age, 5 feet 11 inches high, round face, ƒhort dark hair; had on when he went away a ƒailor’s jacket & overalls of ƒtriped cloth, he took with him a ƒet of ƒhoemaker’s tools being a ƒhoemaker by trade. Whoever takes up ƒaid fellow and ƒecures him in any jail ƒo that his maƒter may get him again, ƒhall have the above reward paid by GEORGE GRAHAM"

  For additional information and sources of records pertaining to slavery in the state of Pennsylvania, check the book, Black Genesis by James Rose and Alice Eichholz. This book is Volume I of the Gale Genealogy and Local History Series, published by the Gale Research Company.