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Proceedings of the County Court of Charles County, 1658-1666
Volume 53, Preface 32   View pdf image (33K)
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           xxxii      Early Maryland County Courts.

           cially in the case of the unindentured class, were of frequent occurrence until
           the Assembly in 1654 passed an act requiring that all indentures be recorded
           and that masters bring all servants without indentures into open court to have
           determined in advance their age and remaining term of service, so that these
           facts be made a matter of record and the servant formally bound over by the
           court (Arch. Md. i, 352-353). Under this act servants brought into the Prov
           ince without indentures, if over twenty years of age, were to serve four years;
           those between twenty and sixteen, six years; those between sixteen and twelve,
           seven years; and those under twelve until they attained the age of twenty-one
           years. The acts of 1661 and 1662 made slight changes in the duration of service
           dependent upon age (Arch. Md. i, 409, 443-444, 453-454). In the case of ser
           vants who had entered the Province with indentures, the term of servitude was
           of course as provided in these contracts. Upon the expiration of servitude both
           classes were entitled to receive from their masters one complete outfit of clothes
           and a hat, an axe and a hoe, and three barrels of corn, as well as fifty acres
           of land; but by the terms of an act passed in 1663 the allowance of land ceased
           to be obligatory. The court proceedings, which record large numbers of ser
           vants brought before the court to determine the age and the duration of servi
           tude, are useful as a rough guide to the number of servants entering the
             Other entries to be found on the court proceedings are sales or assignments
           of servants from one master to another for the remainder of the term of servi
           tude. They seem to have been usually conveyed by a bill of sale similar to that
           used in the conveyance of livestock. The value of a good servant with several
           unexpired years of servitude was considerable. In a case before the Charles
           County Court in 1664 the figures varied between 3000 pounds of tobacco (about
           £20) and 2000 pounds (pp. 455-456). In one instance there is duly recorded
           the exchange of a servant for a boat, and in another a servant for a horse
           (pp. 84, 360).
             Although a small minority of indentured servants were upstanding, ambi
           tious, or even educated young people of the better class, who for their own
           protection had been bound over to relatives or friends in the new world, the great
           majority were recruited from the lower classes of society and required a tight
           rein. While most of the servants without indentures who were shipped to the
           colonies to be sold on their arrival there were of this latter class, a certain
           number of them were political prisoners, such as Irish Catholics deported
           by Cromwell and English Royalists, and not a few were boys and girls who had
           been kidnapped in English shipping ports and sold to captains for transporta
           tion to the colonies. Instances of cruelty and neglect by masters were only too
           frequent, but many of those who sought to gain their freedom for this reason
           in the courts had little legal grounds on which to ask it. The county courts
           had to watch their steps carefully in granting freedom to servants, for we will
           see in at least one case, that of the unfortunate Sarah Taylor, that a higher
           tribunal compelled the Kent County justices who had granted freedom on what
           was deemed insufficient grounds, to reimburse her master and mistress (Arch.
           Md. liv, 234).

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Proceedings of the County Court of Charles County, 1658-1666
Volume 53, Preface 32   View pdf image (33K)
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