This Indenture Witnesseth

Artifact

Background Notes

This document shows the changing hands of the responsibility of care for Isaiah Thomas from his mother, Fidelity Thomas, to a Mr. Zechariah Fowle, a childless printer who was willing to take in a six year old to do chores around the shop and to peddle ballads in the streets. 1

His mother had been abandoned by their father, Moses, in November 1752. 2 At one point in time, she was able to send her fatherless children to the country while she was able to gain some income in a small shop.3 This situation did not last long and Isaiah was apprenticed to Mr. Fowle.

Apprenticeships were not common for a child so young, but most male children were apprenticed to learn a trade around 12 to 14 years of age. Many young males became apprentices, essentially exchanging seven years of increasingly skilled labor in exchange for room, board and training in their craft. The father of an apprentice typically paid a premium to a master craftsman at the start of the apprenticeship, thereby freeing himself from the burden of supporting the youth until the age of 21. The extent to which parents would enter such agreements to rid themselves of problem children cannot be calculated.4   

If you look at the details of the contract, you will see that there are many things the child Isaiah cannot do:

“At cards, dice or any other unlawful game or games, he shall not play. Matrimony during this said term he shall not contract. Taverns, alehouses or places of gaming he shall not haunt or frequent.”

The Fowles on their part agreed to provide the apprentice with board, room and clothing, to instruct him in reading, writing, and ciphering and to each him the art and mystery of a printer. Until he reached the age of twenty one, he was to be bound to them more closely than is the modern child to his own parents, except that the indenture provided that if at the age of 14 he did not wish to remain with them, he could choose another trade.5

 

  1. Clifford K. Shipton, Isaiah Thomas: Printer, Patriot & Philanthropist
    (New York: Leo Hart, 1948), 3
  2.  Clifford K. Shipton, Isaiah Thomas: Printer, Patriot & Philanthropist
    (New York: Leo Hart, 1948), 2
  3. Clifford K. Shipton, Isaiah Thomas: Printer, Patriot & Philanthropist
    (New York: Leo Hart, 1948), 2
  4. Randall Huff, The Revolutionary War Era (Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing, 2004), 22
  5. Clifford K. Shipton, Isaiah Thomas: Printer, Patriot & Philanthropist (New York: Leo Hart, 1948), 3

Transcription of Primary Source

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Curator Notes

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Exact Title: This Indenture Witnesseth
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Probable Date: June 4, 1756

Description: Isaiah Thomas's Contract of Indenture

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Place of Publication: Boston, Massachusetts

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