Indenture Appeals

A sketch of an iron worker drawing molted iron into pigs.
Hugh Brown’s rendering of an iron worker drawing molted iron into pigs.

NPS/Harpers Ferry Center

A single entry has been found in the Ridgely Account Books (of MdHS MS.691, Journal 1796-99) offering evidence that an appeal to the courts from an indentured servant at Northampton or Hampton succeeded. This was George Sweeny in 1796. The account reads ‘to George Sweeny for 2 ½ months service for Runaway Expenses as Adjudged by the Court 10/19/8, ditto for his freedom Dues 4/0/0’ for a total of L 14/19/8. Sweeny appears to have successfully appealed being held after his term expired and to have won payment for the extra period he was forced to work. Much more typical was the case of George Hartiner who, in the terse wording of an entry in the timebook of September 1774, ‘says free, went to town, told to serve 14 months.’ It was not impossible for the indentured servant to get some form of justice or payment from the courts, but the court system appears to have been heavily weighted against the indentured.

Last updated: July 10, 2020

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