Gendered Indenture

We can use visualizations to look at a number of different characteristics of the dataset created from the Record of Indentures. In this section, we examine gender. How did experiences of indentured servitude or apprenticeship differ between men and women?1

The Story of Henry Clemer

Click here to examine the record of Henry Clemer.

Henry Clemer was indentured to Jacob Bristol as an apprentice baker for four years beginning February 3, 1772. For the next 18 months Henry worked at a bakery located on Laetitia Court,2 run by Bristol and his wife Sarah. While we don't know much about Henry's life at the bakery, receipts for bread (“Fifteen Pounds 9 [shillings] in full for Bread”) found within the papers of Benjamin Chew, a prominent Philadelphia lawyer and Chief Justice, provide a glimpse into the clientele that he may have baked for and how much bread he would have been producing.3Chew was among the wealthiest 5% of taxpayers and one of the the top slaveholders in Philadelphia in 1772. Jacob Bristol, on the other hand, was barely in the top half of taxpayers in 1772 and did not own his house or the bakery where Henry Clemer worked.4

A map of Philadelphia highlighting Laetitia Court, where Henry Clemer worked as a baker.Map of Philadelphia highlighting Laetitia Court.

Henry, however, was not long for the baker's life. A second record from August 24, 1772, shows that his apprenticeship was transferred to a female master. As the graphs above indicate, this was a very unusual situation. Henry is one of only seven male apprentices indentured to a female master. It turns out that Henry's new master was in fact, his mother, Catherine Clemer.

Children were sometimes apprenticed to their relatives. As a young man, Benjamin Franklin was apprenticed to his brother, a printer, and later, in 1740, Franklin held the indenture for his own nephew, James. The indenture records data set shows this to be predominantly a male to male arrangement. Parents often gave consent for their children to take up apprenticeships in hope that learning a valuable trade would ensure success in later life. However, in Henry Clemer’s case, the situation remains unclear and we don't know why the transfer of his indenture contract to his mother occurred.

Interestingly, the reverse of Henry and Catherine’s indenture contract - those between male masters and female apprentices - also appears to be unusual. Two recent APS blog posts ‘Indenture Mining: Making Pre-Industrial Tradeswomen Visible: Part I' and 'Part II' shed light on the difficulties encountered by indentured women in Colonial America.