We certainly owe a debt of gratitude to Ruth Herndon for her exemplary research and writing on the topic of pauper children in New England with particular focus on Massachusetts. Her books include Unwelcome Americans: Living on the Margin in Early New England, Children Bound to Labor: the Pauper Apprentice System in Early America and a work in progress Children of Misfortune: the Fates of Boston’s Poor Apprentices.
Herndon estimates that the Overseers of the Poor at the Boston Poorhouse bound-out at least 1,500 pauper apprentices throughout Massachusetts including what is now Maine. Some of the common reasons for children being bound-out by poorhouses were abandonment by parents, disability and or death of parents and illegitimacy.
According to Herndon’s research, the time children spend in the poorhouse before ‘Binding Out‘ was a mean stay of 14-months. The shortest stay was one day, and the longest was 10 years. Massachusetts law allowed for boys to be bound-out until the age of twenty-one, for girls, age eighteen.
Almost all girl apprentices were trained in “housewifery” (domestic service). Fifty percent of the boys’ apprenticeships were in marketable trades such as Tailor, Carpenter, and Cooper. Forty percent of these male apprenticeships were in Husbandry. The remaining 8% were in seafaring, navigation or other maritime skills.
Masters and Mistresses were required by contract to teach boys to read, write and cypher, and girls to read and write. Cyphering was permanently included in girls’ contracts by Massachusetts Law in 1795.