When researching one’s genealogy, an often neglected resource is a county’s apprenticeship bonds. At times, children apprenticed out were poor orphans. Many other times, the children being bound out simply had the misfortune of being born to non-white parents, or of having a father who died without specifying in a will that the children’s mother should be their guardian.
Here is what the laws of North Carolina had to say:
1762. C. 5.
Who to be bound apprentice.
I. §19. Where the estate of an orphan shall be of so small value that no person will educate and maintain him or her for the profits thereof, such orphan shall, by direction of the court, be bound apprentice, every male to some tradesman, merchant, mariner or other person approved by the court, until he shall attain to the age of twenty one years, and every female to some suitable employment, till her age of eighteen years; and also such court may, in like manner, bind apprentice all free base-born children, and every such female child, being a mulatto or mustee, until she shall atain the age of twenty one years: And the master or mistress of every such apprentice shall find and provide for him or her diet, clothes, lodging and accomodations, fit and necessary; and shall teach, or c ause him or her to be taught to read and write; and at the expiration of his or her apprenticeship, shall pay every such apprentice the like allowance as is by law appointed for servants by indenture or custom, and on refusal shall be compelled thereto in like manner; and if unpon complaint made to the inferior court of pleas and quarter sessions, it shall appear that any such apprentice is ill used, or not taught the trade, profession or employment to which he or she was bound, it shall be lawful for such court to remove and bind him or her to such other person or persons as they shall think fit.
Binding how to be.
II. §20. The binding of such apprentice, by order as aforesaid, shall be by indenture made in the name of the presiding acting justice of the court, and his successors, of the one part, and of the master or mistress to whom he or she shall be bound, of the other; which indenture shall be acknowledged or proved before such court, and recorded, and a counterpart thereof, shall remain and be kept in the clerk’s office, for the benefit of such apprentice; and that any person or persons injured may and shall, at his or her costs and charges, prosecute a suit thereon in the name of such justice or his successor, and recover all damages which he or she may have sustained by reason of the breach of the covenants therein contained; and if any verdict or judgment shall pass for such master or mistress, he or she shall recover costs.
1796. C. 28
Children deserted to be bound apprentice.
III. Where any person shall desert his family, leaving them without a sufficient support, and be absent from them for the term of one year, or where application may be made to the wardens of the poor for relief, and the said wardens shall certify the same to the court, the justices of the several courts of pleas and quarter sessions within this state shall have power and authority, and are hereby required, upon complaint being made to them of any family being so deserted, to bind out proper and fit persons the child or children which may be left or deserted.
Base Born – An “illegitimate” child. (A child whose parents are not married.)
Mulatto – Bi-racial, black and white, although at times may have indicated black and Indian.
Mustee – Bi-racial, Indian and white. (Short for “mestizo,” the Spanish term for children of one Indian and one white parent.)
Victor Jones, Jr. at the Craven Regional Library in New Bern has gone to the trouble of transcribing and posting to the library website most all of the apprenticeship bonds for Craven County from the mid-1700s all the way through 1910. Those records can be found by going to:
To begin researching apprenticeship records for your own ancestors in eastern North Carolina, you can start by looking for microfilms of the apprenticeship bonds for the counties in which your ancestors lived, and additionally, you should check out the minutes of the Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions for the relevant counties.