Archive for the ‘Indentured Servants’ Category


Pondering George Washington’s letter (previous post) to ELIZABETH WILLING POWEL in regard to the sale of his coach horses to her, one wonders what Washington’s coach was like, who drove it, rode the horses or accompanied it. And so this digression.

It is known that while in Philadelphia Washington kept fourteen horses, twelve in a stable behind the mansion of Robert Morris that he occupied, and two at a nearby livery stable. A coachman and two grooms cared for the horses. There were three carriages for his use. On state occasions the President rode in a large, cream-colored, richly decorated London-made coach drawn by six matched horses “brilliantly caparisoned,” attended by coachmen and footmen who wore livery in Washington’s colors of white and red-orange. The carriage no longer exists but a commemorative print made of a procession in New York City in 1872 shows this equipage.

In Philadelphia there was also a lighter carriage made by David and F. Clark that Washington used for traveling. In addition there was a phaeton for his wife.

Two postilions, slaves Giles and Paris, wore the Washington livery. Enclosed in a letter the President penned from Mount Vernon to his secretary Tobias Lear in 1790 was a thin strip of paper described thus: “The whole length of this paper is the circumference of Giles cap measured at the bottom and on the inside . . . being the exact Band of the head. . . . To the black line drawn across the paper is the size of Paris’s cap.” Washington instructed Lear to commission two “handsome” new caps, “with fuller and richer tassels at top than the old ones have.”

In a letter to Lear dated June, 1791, Washington complained about Paris who

“has become so lazy, self willed & impudent, that John [the Coachman] had no sort of government of him; on the contrary, J[un]no. say’s it was a maxim with Paris to do nothing he was ordered, and every thing he was forbid. This conduct, added to the incapacity of Giles for a Pistilion, who I believe will never be able to mount a horse again for that purpose, has induced me to find Paris some other employment than in the Stable—of course I shall leave him at home. A boy, or two may be necessary there, to assist about the horses—Carriages—& harness. but these (dutch ones) it is possible may be had for their victuals & cloaths; especially if there are large importations from Germany (as some articles in the papers say there will be)—I mention the matter now, that in case arrivals should happen before I get back, of these kind of People, you may be apprised of my wishes—low & squat (well made) boys, would suit best. If emigrants are not to be had, there can be no doubt, but that some of the Dutch Servants in the family could easily procure such as are wanted from among the Citizens—& perhaps none readier, or better than by John himself when he arrives.

Giles had had an accident which incapacitated him. Washington was considering indentured servants to help out in the stables.

“From George Washington to Tobias Lear, 19 June 1791,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 29, 2017, [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 8, 22 March 1791 – 22 September 1791, ed. Mark A. Mastromarino. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1999, pp. 275–278.] Other sources and further information HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.

posted September 18th, 2017 by Janet, Comments Off on Postilions, CATEGORIES: Giles,Indentured Servants,Lear, Tobias,Paris,Powel, Elizabeth Willing,Washington, George

“. . . poor little Caty was dead . . .”

Continuing the story, from the previous post, of Sally Brant, a black indentured servant of Elizabeth Sandwith Drinker and her husband Henry, who had a child out of wedlock:

March 4 [1795] . . . About a mile on this side Clearfield my husband and Sister mett Joe [Gibbs], he had the impudence, as M Courtney told M[ary] S[andwith] to come up into her room, she ask’d him what he wanted, he reply’d, to see something you have got here, and then look’d into the Cradle—she ask’d him if he own’d it, he say’d No, and further this deponent sayeth not. If he had not seen the Child, he had all reason to belive it was his, but the colour was convincing, he had frequently boasted of it, but was fearful of the expences that might accrue. . . .

[April] 19 . . . Sally Johnson here this Afternoon, ask’d if SB could spend a day with her this week, to which I consented, told her of her daughters late conduct wish’d she would take her and Child off our hands, that she had a year to serve from this month, which would have been of more worth to us, had she been a virtuous girl, than any other two years of her time, a girl in her place would cost us 8 or 9/P week, that she is as capable, or perhaps more so, than any one we could hire; I was afraid of her bad example to our other little girl [Sally Dawson] &c—she appeard more angry than griv’d, said she should not care if the childs brains were beat out &c—she would never have anything to do with it—I told her we would make no account of the expences we had already been at of Sallys laying in and board, the childs nursing since &c. She said she would take her daughter provided they, nither of ’em, should ever have any thing to do with the Child—she went away rather out of humor—
When HD. come home we related the above to him, concluded were we to turn her off, upon her mothers terms, she would be in the high road to further ruin—he call’d her into the parlor this evening and talk’d closely to her, told her he had a right to send her to the work house and sell her for a servent, that it was in pity to her, and in hopes of her reformation that he did not send Joe to prision, she had always had a good example in our house, if she did not mend her conduct she should not stay much longer in it &c. she cry’d but said nothing—How it will end, or what we shall do with her, I know not, set aside this vile propensity, she is one of the most handy and best servants we have ever had—and a girl of very pritty manners.

[By the middle of the following month, the “poor little yallow one” was boarded with a “Negro woman in the Neighborhood ’till we can otherwise dispose of it.” On July 2, 1795, Elizabeth Drinker was informed “that poor little Caty was dead—Jacob Morris, a black boy, whose Mother had her to nurse brought the note, and came for a Shroud to bury her in.” Sally Brant, when told, “shed a few tears, but all, appeard to be got over in a little time after.”]

[April 12, 1796] . . . Sally Johnson came to day, she very willingly agree’d to Sallys staying with us two months longer as we shall be cleaning house &c—she is, I expect, sensible, that we might, if inclined so to do, oblidge her to serve us near a year longer for the expences we have been at on her and Childs account, instead of giving her freedom Cloaths &c—I wish the poor girl may do well when she leaves us. She has behaved herself better for a month or two past than for a long time before. Whether it is to get the more from us, or whether she is actualy better I know not, but must hope for the best.

Sally Brant did leave the Drinker family but stayed in touch with one of the other young servants—“S. Brant took tea with our Sally Dawson” noted Elizabeth Drinker tersely on May 17, 1803.

The passages in this post can be found on pages 212-213 of In the Words of Women.

posted August 28th, 2014 by Janet, Comments Off on “. . . poor little Caty was dead . . .”, CATEGORIES: Brant, Sally,Children,Daily life,Death,Drinker, Elizabeth Sandwith,Employment,Indentured Servants

“the Jaune pettet”

In 1794, Elizabeth Sandwith Drinker (see posts on Drinker here and here) and her husband Henry had to deal with a problem concerning a young black servant whose mother had arranged an indenture with the Drinkers.

[August 8, 1794] . . . I have been for a week past under great anxiety of mind on account of our poor little and I fear miserable S[ally] B[rant]—’tis possible I may be mistaken, ‘tho I great fear the reverse.
11. . . . it was late when I retir’d to my chamber, and later when I went to sleep—the thought of the unhappy Child that lay on the mattress at the foot of my bed, who does not appear to feel half so much for herself, as I do for her, keep’t me wakeing. . . . H[enry]. and E[lizabeth] D[rinker]. had a trying conversation, if a conversation it cold be call’d. with SB—poor poor Girl, who could have thought it? . . .

[October 31, 1794] . . . Sally Johnson and her daughter Franks came here before dinner, on a visit to her daughter SB. they stay’d an hour or two, eat dinner . . . she left herbs to make tea for SB. said it was good to procure an easy [labor]. . . .

[Nov.] 7 . . . I settled matters with Mary [Courtney at ‘Clearfield’, the Drinker farm 5 or 6 miles outside Philadelphia], concerning our poor Sall, who I intend leaving with her, ’till her grevious business is settld, I look on Mary as a well minded and well disposed woman, and who, with our help, will take the proper care of her. . . .

Decr. 2 . . . S.B. was this morning about 6 o’clock deliver’d of a daughter, the mother and Child both well. . . .

6 . . . Sister [Mary Sandwith] and William went this fore noon . . . found S.B. and her bantling well, Sally weep’d when she saw MS—and cover’d her head with the bed-cloaths—The Child is very Yallow for one so young. . . .

23 Decr. . . . S.B. is very well, and in rather too good spirits, everything considered, she had nam’d the Jaune pettet, [the little yellow one] Hannah G—bs [Gibbs], I disaprovd it, and chang’d it to Catharine Clearfield, with which she appear’d displeas’d. . . .

To be continued.

Diary entries are In the Words of Women, pages 211-212. The photograph is of a silhouette of Drinker at the Pennsylvania Historical Society.

posted August 25th, 2014 by Janet, Comments Off on “the Jaune pettet”, CATEGORIES: Brant, Sally,Childbirth,Drinker, Elizabeth Sandwith,Indentured Servants,Quakers

“refuseing to Let [her] have her freedom Dues”

The subject of earlier posts here and here was the frequent plight of indentured servants. In addition to ill treatment, many found it difficult to collect the “freedom dues” they were entitled to at the end of their terms of service. Ruth McGee went to court seeking redress.

The Humble Petition of Ruth McGee Humbly sheweth that your petitoner is poor and not Sufficient to Earn her living by reason of a child she hath to maintain, your Petitioners Master Josiah Hibberd refuseing to Let your Petitioner have her freedom Dues Which is mentioned in a pair of Indentures (Viz) A new Suit of Clothes for freedoms and five Pounds in Money and Eight months schooling of which schooling I received but four months and twenty two Days. Likewise your Petitioners Said Master Josiah Hibbard detains your Petitioners cloths that she had whilst she your Petitioner Lived with Said Master that is to say one quilted peticoat Short Gown and Apron. Likewise your Petitioner had seven years and six weeks to serve and your Petitioner had but two months to serve her Said Master Josiah Hibbard When your Petitioner was Sent to the Gaol of this county; furthermore your petitioner having Suffered the rigour of the Law your Petitioner apprehends that she should not be detained from her said freedom Dues but that your Petitioner should [have them] for her Support in this your Petitioner‘s Poor condition So your Petitioner Layeth this her Humble Petition before your worships for redress of said Grievances and your Petitioner in Duty bound Shall Ever Pray
May the 21st Anno Domini 1774

It is unlikely that Ruth McGee prevailed. She admitted to having a child out of wedlock (a crime in Pennsylvania), and had been jailed, and possibly whipped, as punishment. Quaker Josiah Hibberd was no doubt relieved to be rid of such a troublesome servant.

See In the Words of Women page 211 for the peitition.

posted August 18th, 2014 by Janet, Comments Off on “refuseing to Let [her] have her freedom Dues”, CATEGORIES: Indentured Servants,McGee, Ruth

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