Henderson County, Kentucky


Most people think indentured servitude was abolished during colonial times, when in fact the institution existed in Henderson County as late as the 1870s. According to Deed Book records at the Henderson County Clerk's office, there were at least 125 children bound over as apprentices between the years 1805 and early 1874. Most of them were orphans or abandoned, sometimes their widowed mother simply couldn't support them or perhaps didn't want them in the way of a new marriage.

There was a dramatic increase in indentures "after" the Civil War, when slavery was abolished. Between 1805 and 1863, a total of 61 children were bound over in Henderson County.

By comparison, between 1866 and 1874 there were 64 children indentured -- and more than two-thirds of them were black. About one-third of those black children indentured in the years immediately following the Civil War bore the same last names as their masters, indicating that they had formerly been owned by the master as a slave. Indentured servitude at least provided food and shelter to an orphan who might otherwise have starved.

A telling detail is that only one of the masters in Henderson County following the Civil War was black. The remaining masters were white, and most of them had black apprentices learning such trades as farmer or house servant.

White apprentices as a rule got more favorable terms than did the black apprentices. For instance, the indentures of all apprentices required that the master provide adequate food, shelter, medical treatment and clothing during the term of apprenticeship, which usually ended at the age of 18 for girls and 21 for boys.

White apprentices, however, usually also got the rudiments of an education as part of their apprenticeship. The masters of black apprentices, on the other hand, usually had the option of either educating the apprentice or paying the apprentice a set amount at the end of the term of services. The terms of compensation varied widely for apprentices. The going rate before the Civil War was 3 pounds, 10 shillings and a new suit of clothes.

After the Civil War, apprentices who were white usually received $50 to $100 and a new suit of clothes at the end of their apprenticeship. Black apprentices usually received new clothes and if they had not been educated, $50 in cash.

A few received no compensation at all; merely room and board during the term of their indenture. A few others were paid better than normal.

Researched and compiled by Frank Boyett

Contributed by Netta Mullin, HCH&GS
Copyright 2002 HCH&GS