The Apprentice

If you lived in one of the thirteen colonies during the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries, most of you wouldn't be in school. If you were from a wealthy family, you might have had teachers who came to your home. You were taught to do sums or to read the Bible by your mother or father. A few lucky children, mostly boys, did go to school at least to the age of ten. Then what did you do? Well you didn't get to play all day You went to work!

Most children began working by the age of three pulling weeds, picking worms or insects off plants, running errands, planting seeds, knitting, and gathering firewood. Colonial boys, and even some girls were apprenticed to a craftsman to learn a trade by age 10.. A contract was signed between the Master, the parents and the child. The child would live in the Masters house, learn the trade, and usually learn to read, write and do sums. The child also received food and clothing for as long as he lived with the master, which could be as long as ten years. The child promised to work hard, be obedient, dutiful, and loyal.

The apprenticed life went through three stages. First, they spent all their time learning the trade and doing routine chores. This usually took several years. It ended when the apprentice created a final project which they presented to the Master. If the apprentice had done a good job, while they continued to practice with the Master working on other projects of more and more difficulty. Finally, when the Master was satisfied, he give the apprenticed a suit of clothes, called a freeman suit, a set of tools, and their independence.

Indentured Servants

Many people could not afford the cost of the passage to America. Young men, widows, orphaned children and people who committed minor crimes, indentured themselves. This meant they sold themselves to the ship captain or merchants for a period of at least seven years. In the case of young children they were indentured till they reached the age of twenty-one. At the end of their indenture they would receive fifty acres of land, clothing, tools, and seed to begin a new life. The first Africans who came to Jamestown were indentured servants, not slaves.


As southern agriculture developed, the need for an increased labor force arose Slavery became big business for the colonies. There simply were not enough indentured people. Land Owners turned to slavery as a new way to get labor. More on this will be discussed under the section for Trade.

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