History of Delaware County Pennsylvania - Chapter 21

Created: Wednesday, 13 April 2011 Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 February 2014 Written by Nathan Zipfel Print Email



When the system of redemptive servitude first appeared in our history I fail to ascertain, but certain it is that it related in the first instance to English emigrants solely, and did not show itself until after the territory had been subjugated by the arms of Great Britain. I am aware that Professor Keen states that the only person, so far as known, who came to New Sweden on the "Griffin," on the first expedition in 1637, and remained in the colony, was Anthony, a bought slave, who served Governor Printz at Tinicum in 1644, making hay for the cattle, and accompanying the Governor on his pleasure yacht, and was still living there on March 1, 1648. But he was a slave (the first on our shore), and was not a redemptioner, who, to reimburse the owners and master of a ship for his passage and provender on the voyage, agreed that his services might be sold for a stipulated period. In the Duke of York’s Laws occurs the first notice of the system, which while it had many harsh and objectionable features, gave to the colonies great numbers of energetic and thrifty settlers, who, by reason of their poverty, never could have come to the New World had it not been for the redemptive system. The law mentioned provided that "no Christian shall be kept in Bondslavery, villenage, or Captivity, Except Such who shall be Judged thereunto by Authority or such as willingly have sould or shall sell themselves."*

The first record of the transfer of a redemption or indentured servant previous to the grant to Penn was at a court held at Upland, June 13, 1677, and is set forth in the quaint phraseology of that period:

     "Mr. John Test brought In Court a certaine man-servant named William Still, being a taylor by traede, whome hee the sd Test did acknowledge to have sold unto Capt’n Edmond Cantwell for the space and tearme of foure years, beginning from the first of Aprill Last past; The sd William Still declared in Court to bee willing to serve the said Capt’n Cantwell the aboved tearms of foure yeares."**

After Penn came to the province, in 1682, the subject of indentured servants received the immediate attention of the Governor, and among the laws enacted by the first and succeeding General Assemblies were those requiring a registration of persons so held to servitude; forbidding the assignment of servants to persons residing without the province; exempting them from being levied on in executions against their masters; forbidding the harboring of a servant for a longer period than twenty-four hours without giving notice to a justice of the peace of the whereabouts of such servant; interdicting bartering with a servant for goods belonging to his master, and limiting the period of servitude for all unindentured servants of seventeen years of age at five years, and those under that age until they should attain the age of twenty-one years. Masters were also required to bring such servants before the court within three months after their arrival in the province, that the term of service might be determined by the justices. The early records contain many cases growing out of this species of servitude, which for a century and a half maintained in this State, and gave to it many of its most respected families.

At the court held the 3d day of 1st week, Seventh month, 1686, Thomas Usher, the then sheriff, complained that William Collett was holding Thomas Cooper "in his service by an unlawful contract, upon which it was Ordered that William Collett doe forthwith Sett the said Thomas Cooper att Liberty, and allow him the Customs & Law of the Country in that case Provided for Servants."

This is the first case I have found in which the custom of the country is alluded to, although it is frequently mentioned thereafter. The act of March 10, 1683, provided that at the expiration of the term of servitude a bonded servant was entitled to receive "One new Sute of Apparell, ten bushels of Wheat or fourteen bushels of Indian corn, one Ax two howes, one broad and another narrow, and a Discharge from their Services." By the act of 1693 the custom was declared to be "two suits of apparell," together with the other articles named in the law of 1683, and by the act of 1700 the servant was to have "two compleat suits of apparel, whereof one shall be new, and shall also be furnished with one new axe, one grubbing hoe, and one weeding hoe, at the charge of their master or mistress." This continued to be the law until the act of March 9, 1771, repealed so much of the act of 1700 as related to the furnishing of a new axe, a grubbing- and a weeding hoe.

The great body of mechanics in the early colonial days originally came to the province as redemptioners, and the cases are frequent showing that this was the rule. The first instance, save that of William Still, heretofore mentioned, and the only one I shall cite, as to this statement, occurred at the court held 1st 3d day of First month, 1689-90, when "James Hayes Petitioned this Court to have his Toles (tools) from Jemmy Collett wch according was Ordered that the said Toles was to be delivered Imediately into the hands of James Sandelands for the use of the said Hayes. The said Hayes paying to Jeremy Collett what he Justly Owes him. The said James Hayes Promised Here in open Court to searve James Sandelands his Heirs, Exs., Adms. or Assigns the Residue of the Tyme of his Indenture Excepting Two Months and fifteen days wch James Sandelands gave him."

The freeman who was unfortunate to contract debts in those days, when the body could be taken in execution in a civil suit, to save himself constant trouble, frequently sold himself to liquidate the claims against him. The case of George Chandler at the court held first 3d day of 1st week, First month, 1689/90, shows how debts were discharged by personal service. Thomas Rawlins complained that Chandler was indebted to him in 34s 8 1/2d., and the creditor was clamorous for payment. The court thereupon liquidated all Chandler’s obligations in this wise:

     "Ordered that the said George Chandler by his Consent doo sell himself a servant for Two years and five Months wth Edward Beazer, the said Edward Beazer paying to the said Rawlins the said sum of 34s. 8 1/2d. and the Remainder wch would make up the Sume of Ten pounds wch was £8 5s. 3 1/2d. to be paid to his ffather in Law, William Hawkes."

In the court held Feb. 6, 1739/40, James Reynolds informed the justices, "by his petition that being indebted to sevll psons, as by a list pducd appears To the sum of Eight pounds, thirteen shill. and five pence with Costs and having no other way to satesfy these Debts prays to be Admitted to pay by Servitude which is allowed, And ordered to Serve his Creditors Two Years in full satisfaction for ye said Debts and Costs." Indeed, in satisfaction of court charges, sale of the defendant’s services has been ordered.

The court records often show that when a question of more than ordinary importance was to be presented to the justices, the latter would call into their counsel those persons whose position seemingly gave them peculiar opportunities for information on the matter under consideration. Hence we find at an Orphans’ Court held at Chester, Nov. 29, 1705, Peter Evans, register-general of the province, was present, occupying a place on the bench, when Richard Adams presented a petition "Concerning the estate of Thomas Clayton, dec’d," as followeth, in these words:

     "CHESTER - To the Worshipful Commissioners & Register General now sitting in the Orphan’s Court held for the County of Chester, the humble petition of Richard Adams, of Edgmont, of this County, Carpenter, shewest,
     "That whereas Thomas Clayton, a bond servant unto your petitioner, about 6 years ago, on his voyage from England unto this province, died at sea, leaving behind him Elinor, a child of about the age of seven years, and a boy of about 5 years of age, named Richard, for which children’s passage your petitioner paid in England, & hath ever since maintained them with meat, drink, and apparill.
     "May it, therefore, please your Worship to consider the premises, and to make such order thereupon as to your Worship may seem most convenient, and your petitioner shall ever pray, etc.

Nov. 2, 1705

"Upon reading of which petition the Court orders the said Richard Adams to bring an inventory of the estate of the said Thomas Clayton, which he was sworn to do and return to next Orphans’ Court, and the Court appointed Thomas Barnsley and William Pickle to appraise the said goods, and make return to the said court.

"The Court having considered Richard Adam’s charge against the two orphans, Richard & Elinor Clayton, does allow 26 pounds to Richard Adams, Pennsylvania money, for their passage & diet in England, and diet on board ship, diet in Maryland, and bringing them up in Pennsylvania.

"Ordered that Elinor Clayton, an orphan, of the age of 14 years shall serve Daniel Hoopes for the term of 7 years from this day, on condition that the said Daniel teach her to read, knit, and sowe, and pay 12 pounds according to the order of this Court. Richard Clayton, an Orphan, being brought to this Court, is ordered by said Court to serve Edward Danger, of Chester, Cooper, for a term of 9 years from this day, on consideration that the said Edward teach, or cause to be taught, the said Richard the trade of a cooper, and find and allow sufficient meat, drink, lodging, and apparill during the said term, and also to teach him to read & write, & pay 14 pounds 5 shillings to the order of this Court."***

As the provinces increased in population and wealth the trading in redemptioners became a business. A few men speculated in these emigrants as they would cattle. They would purchase the redemptioners from the master of the vessel, or the merchants to whom they were consigned, at wholesale, and then drive them through the country to be sold at retail at an enormous profit. The men engaged in this trade were known as soul-drivers. But finally the business became precarious, so many of the redemptioners escaping from their owners while traveling through the country to find a market, that about the year 1785 the trade was absolutely discontinued. One of these dealers, named McCullough, became noted in the trade in Chester County, and prospered so that he would go to Europe and gather a drove of redemptioners, which he would sell at a greater profit than he could make by buying of the intermediate dealer. The late Joseph J. Lewis has recorded an amusing incident of the trade, in which McCullough, instead of selling, was sold by one of his herd, as follows:

     "The fellow, by a little management, contrived to be the last of the flock that remained unsold, and traveled about with his master without companions. One night they lodged at a tavern, and in the morning the young fellow, who was an Irishman, rose early and sold his master to the landlord, pocketed the money, and marched off. Previously, however, to his going he used the precaution to tell the purchaser that his servant, although tolerably clever in other respects, was rather saucy and a little given to lying-that he had even presumption enough at times to endeavor to pass for master, and that lie might possibly represent himself as such to him. By the time mine host was undeceived the son of Erin had gained such a start as rendered pursuit hopeless."(4*)

The last reference to the sale of redemptioners in Delaware County is related in a sketch of Abraham Peters, of Lancaster County, written by the late Col. John W. Forney, which was published in Progress in 1879. The colonel stated that in 1811 Peters was hauling grain from Lancaster County to the mills on the Brandywine, and was requested by his sister to buy a small German girl from a vessel for her.

"The vessels stopped at Chester. So, after he had disposed of his grain, he mounted one of his horses and rode to Chester. He went on board an emigrant vessel, and as he spoke German, he was soon surrounded by a crowd, each one requesting to be bought, as they preferred to get into families where German was spoken. He called the captain and made known his errand. The captain told him he had two small orphan girls on board, their mother having died on the voyage. He asked forty dollars for the two, but as Mr. Peters only wanted one, and could take but one on horseback with him, the captain said he would charge him twenty-five dollars for one, and if he sent him a purchaser for the other, he would give her for fifteen dollars. . . . Before parting the girls were going to divide their dead mother’s effects, but Mr. Peters would not allow this, as he assured them that Katy, the girl he was taking with him, would find plenty, and therefore insisted on the other keeping all except the clothes that Katy was wearing. Again assuring the captain that he would try and find another purchaser, be started for Wilmington, and was soon on his way home. Katy was a bright and lovely girl, and soon forgot her sorrow as she stood at the front of the wagon looking at and admiring the horses. He had proceeded but a short distance from Wilmington when he met a fine old Quaker gentleman and his wife driving to town. The lady saw the little girl, and admiring her, stopped and wanted to buy her. But Mr. Peters told her that he had bought the girl for his sister, and therefore could not sell her, but told her of the little sister that was left behind on the vessel, and requested them to go to Chester and buy her. He gave a few lines to the captain, and reminded him of the fifteen dollars he had agreed to take.

"The Quaker promised to go and buy the sister. They gave each other their addresses, and promised to write and keep the girls in communication with each other. Katy was installed in her new home, and under the kind, motherly treatment of Mrs. Bausman grew up to be a fine woman. Her sister also found a good home with the Quaker family. Correspondence was kept up between the families, and yearly visits were made alternately with the girls, and very friendly relations sprung up between the families, which were kept up long after the girls were free. When Katy had served out her time and arrived at a proper age, she was married to a worthy German baker in Philadelphia. She esteemed it a great pleasure to visit her former mistress, to whom she was ever thankful for the good, religious training she received from her."

Slaves - When slavery of the negro and Indian races first showed itself in the annals of Pennsylvania is difficult of ascertainment, for it is well known that previous to the grant of the province to William Penn the Swedes and Dutch settlers had the pernicious system of servile labor implanted in the territory. In 1677, James Sandelands was the only person on the Delaware River from Upland northward who owned a slave. The wrong, however, did not go long unchallenged after the English power had acquired ownership of the soil, for as early as 1688 the Friend settlers at Germantown issued their now famous protest against the holding of their fellow-men in bondage. Although the movement was purely addressed to the conscience of the public, and did not prevent the importation of negroes to the colony, it was the corner-stone on which the principles of emancipation of slaves in every Christianized nation of the earth were subsequently erected. In 1696 the Yearly Meeting of Quakers put themselves broadly on record as follows: "Friends are advised not to encourage the bringing in any more negroes." From these small beginnings the sentiment adverse to slavery extended, and when Penn made his second visit to this province in 1700, he was instrumental in incorporating in the discipline of the society provisions regulating the treatment of slaves among those members of that religious order who, at that time, did not regard the holding of bondsmen as a moral wrong. Not only did the proprietary take that step, but he proposed to the Assembly two bills, one regulating marriage among negroes and the other establishing trials of slaves before magistrates, instead of leaving them as theretofore entirely under the control of their masters. The latter bill only became the subject of legislative enactment.

The Quarterly Meeting held at Chester for the county of Chester, Sixth month 1, 1700, prohibited the members of the meeting from purchasing Indians as slaves, and in 1711 the same meeting declared that it was "dissatisfied with Friends buying and encouraging the bringing in of negroes." Four years after Chester Monthly Meeting again brought this matter prominently before the society, and determined to press it at the Yearly Meeting. That this was done is evidenced by a letter of Isaac Norris in 1715, quoted by Watson, wherein the writer says, "Our business would have been very well were it not for the warm pushing by some Friends of Chester, chiefly in the business of negroes. The aim was to obtain a minute that none should buy them for the future."

The agitation of the subject had so attracted public attention to the evil of slavery that the Assembly as early as 1705 levied an impost duty on slaves brought within the province, and in 1710 again enacted a similar law. In 1711 an act was passed absolutely forbidding the importation of slaves, but the English ship-owners, at that time largely interested in the traffic in negroes, influenced the crown to declare the colonial law nugatory. The Assembly in the following year imposed a duty of twenty pounds a head on every slave brought into Pennsylvania, and again Queen Anne crushed the provincial statute at the instance of those who were growing wealthy in the trade.

The opponents of the system of slavery were not dismayed into silence by the royal mandate, but in 1716, 1728, and 1730 Chester Quarterly Meeting, with no uncertain sound, pressed the matter on the attention of the Society of Friends, and in 1761, Dr. Smith tells us a member of Chester meeting was dealt with by that body for having bought and sold a negro, but having made a proper acknowledgment he was not disowned.

That slaves were generally owned and kept by persons of wealth and by farmers in Chester County at an early date is fully established by an examination of the records, which show in settling estates frequent mention of negro slaves. The first case in this county where slaves were manumitted that I have found is in the will of Lydia Wade, widow of Robert Wade, dated the 30th day of Fourth month, 1701. Lydia Wade, in all probability, died in July, and her will, probated Aug. 8, 1801, before Register-General Moore, at Philadelphia, has the following clauses respecting her slaves:

"16ly. My will is that my negroes John and Jane his wife shall be sett free one month after my decease.

"17ly. My will is that my negro child called Jane shall be sett free after it have lived with my negro John twelve years and after that with my kinsman John Wade five years."

As the spirit of liberty spread abroad among the people during the colonial difficulties with Europe, the impression that it was unjust to keep mankind in bondage became so general that it caused many persons in the colony, whose principles were more dear to them than money, to manumit their slaves. In the year 1776 a number of slaves were so made free. William Peters, of Aston, in that year manumitted four bond-servants, -- a man, woman, and two children. The document relating to the two last I copy in full:

"To all people to whom these presents shall come: I, William Peters, of Ashtown, in the County of Chester and Province of Pennsylvania, having a certain malattoe boy named Jack, aged about four years under my care and in my service and also a Mulatto Gerl named Grace aged about two years Likewise under my care. Now Know Ye, that for and in Consideration that all mankind have an Equal, Natural and Just Right to Liberty I do by these Presents promise and Declair that the said Jack and Grace, he when he shall arive at the age of twenty-one that is to say on the first day of the Eighth month in the year of our Lord one thousand Seven Hundred and Ninety-three and She when she shall arrive at the age of Eighteen, that is to say on the first Day of the Eighth month in the year one thousand Seven Hundred and Ninety-two, they shall be and is hereby Declared, Discharged, Manumitted and at full Liberty and for myself, my Heirs, Executors, Administrators and Assigns and all other persons Claiming under me or any of them do quit all Claim after that time to the said Jack and Grace which by the Laws or Customs of this province or any other Government might have subjected them to Slavery or Deprived them of the full Enjoyment of Liberty. In witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seal the Seventh Day of the Eighth month in the year of our Lord one thousand Seven Hundred and Seventy-Six.


Signed and Sealed in the presence of

In 1777 the public sentiment among Friends against slavery had become so general that the ownership of a bondsman for life was regarded as a sufficient cause in itself for the meeting to disown members thus offending. As stated before, the conviction of the wrong and evil of slavery made permanent lodgment in the opinion of the people, when the struggle between the colonists and England began, increasing as the spirit of liberty increased until, March 1, 1780, the Assembly enacted a law providing for the gradual abolition of the entire system of servile labor in the commonwealth. Its provisions required a registration of all slaves to be made prior to the 1st day of November following in the office of the clerk of the Court of Quarter Sessions in the several counties, and declared that all persons born after that date in Pennsylvania should be free, excepting the children of registered slaves, who should be servants to their parents’ masters until they had attained twenty-eight years, after which age they also became freemen. Under this law a registry of the slaves of Chester County, giving the name, age, sex, and time of service of each person held as a slave, as also the name of the owners and the township where they resided, was carefully made. The record shows the following slaves, the number