Understanding Maryland Records
The apprenticeship system came to Maryland from England during the colonial period. It was a form of servitude, but the apprentice, unlike the slave and indentured servant, could not be sold, assigned to another, or taken out of state. Nor was the individual listed as personal property in estate inventories. Until 1794 the county courts handled apprenticeship matters, after that the county orphans courts.
A master was obliged to give an apprentice good and sufficient clothing, meat, drink, washing, and lodging. Some contracts, called indentures, specified craft apprenticeships, where the apprentice was trained in a useful trade and usually given some schooling. Young men in their teens were quite willing to apprentice themselves under these terms. In non-craft apprenticeships there might be no education component, and the male apprentice performed farm work and the female housework. Males usually served to age twenty-one and females to age sixteen. Court justices would hear disputes concerning apprenticeships. An apprentice being cruelly treated might be assigned to a new master. A runaway apprentice could be required to serve additional time.
An orphan, a minor whose father had died, could be bound out if the income from his or her inherited estate was insufficient for maintenance, support, or education. Children who were destitute, beggars, illegitimate, or residents of the county poor house could be apprenticed. A father could bind out his child, and any manufacturer or mechanic could take a male child as an apprentice. In the early 19th century other children were identified as potential candidates for apprenticeships: child of a pauper or vagrant, child of an unemployed free negro, male convict whose sentence expired before age twenty-one, female convict whose sentence expired before age sixteen, and child born to a female convict.
In connection with apprenticeships, there are some terms for which explanations may be helpful. Rule of Three was part of the standard language in indentures to say that the apprentice was to learn to cast up accounts through the Rule of Three. To cast up accounts originally meant to reckon accounts, but came to mean learning basic arithmetic - addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, and decimals. After this came the study of ratios, which was called the Rule of Three because the student was given three facts and had to find the fourth. If a garrison consumes 25 barrels of flour in 4 weeks, how many barrels will be consumed in 52 weeks? This was solved by determining ratio, that is, 4 weeks is to 52 weeks as 25 barrels is to 325 barrels. The answer was written with colons and double colons as 4:52::25:325.
Art and mystery was used in indentures to describe the occupation to be taught, for instance, the art and mystery of shoemaking. The word mystery was unrelated to the word mysterious. A manufacturer made something to sell, such as a shoemaker or cabinetmaker. A mechanic repaired items, such as a blacksmith who fixed wagon wheels.
Where the term of apprenticeship is given in years and months, this usually indicated how long it would be until the apprentice reached full age, which makes it possible for the research to calculate a birth date.