Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Bound Out

Deed of indenture, Marth Eastman, 1846When you think “town records,” you may think of nothing more than mundane city information and tax records. But delving into 19th-century Hanover town records offers quite the surprise. We discovered a deed of indenture, signed by representatives of the town of Hanover, regarding the fate of a 4-year-old girl by the name of Martha Eastman. The town deemed her mother, Josephine, as “not employed in any lawful business” and unable to provide sufficiently for her daughter. During this era, it was not uncommon for the local government to contract the poor into work. Oftentimes, poor adults were provided with room and board, but were required to work off their debts, usually on a poor farm. There were no centralized child services; rather, the town would indenture children, such as Martha, with an individual or family who was willing to take them in.

Detail from Martha Eastman Deed of Indenture
Martha was “bound out” to be trained as a seamstress and spinster for 14 years (until the age of 18) and to “faithfully serve” Mr. Abraham Perkins, the leader of the Shaker community in Enfield, New Hampshire. According to the arrangement, in exchange for Martha’s servitude, the Shakers were responsible for ensuring Martha’s education and training until the age of 18 when they would provide her with nothing less than “comfortable and decent apparel” – and, we assume, a chance to join the community for life. The Shakers are now mostly known for their furniture, communistic culture, and their belief in celibacy, gender equality, and passivity. For young Martha’s sake, we do hope her upbringing was as wholesome as the Shakers advertised!

Detail from Martha Eastman Deed of Indenture
Sifting through the other contracts regarding the poor, we found another that involves a boy: Moses Eastman. Moses was another illegitimate child of Josephine, and he was 8 years old at the time he was taken from her to be contracted into service. Unfortunately, he was not sent to Enfield with his sister. Instead, Moses was indentured to Laban Chandler of Hanover, a local farmer, for 13 years (until age 21). We found no additional record of Moses Eastman, besides Chandler’s census information which reported Moses to be Canadian. Also in this census, we know Josephine passed away “as a county pauper” in 1846, the same year that her children were bound out, although there is no apparent record of the cause.

Detail from Moses Eastman Deed of Indenture, 1846
After exhausting several leads on Josephine, her children, and their “masters,” we came to a dead end. Further searching through the Hanover and Enfield records here in Rauner offered no more insight as to where her children grew up, or whom they became. Perhaps in the future, we may stumble upon more clues …  for now, all we can do is wonder whatever became of Martha and Moses Eastman?

To see the Deeds of Indenture for Martha and Moses, ask for the Hanover Town Records, DH-1, Box 10801, folder 18.

Posted for Regan Roberts '16 (congratulations!)

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