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Guide to New York City-Indentures
1718-1727, 1792-1915
  MS 1988

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
Phone: (212) 873-3400

@ 2011 New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Maurita Baldock

This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit on November 02, 2011
Description is in English.

Descriptive Summary

Creator: New York (N.Y.)
Title: New York City-Indentures
Dates: 1718-1727, 1792-1915
Abstract: Indentures in this collection include contracts binding small children and young people of both sexes to periods of domestic servitude, agricultural labor, or apprenticeship with practitioners of a wide variety of trades and occupations. The collection also consists of foundling records from the Alms House and later the Department of Public Charities as well as deeds of manumission and free papers for African American city residents.
Quantity: 10.75 Linear feet (41 volumes and 2 boxes)
Location note: Manuscript cage
Call Phrase: MS 1988

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Historical Summary for Indentured Children

Children in New York from the eighteenth through the twentieth century were often placed under the care of the state because of the sickness, mental illness, or the imprisonment of the parents, or because of the general poverty of the family. Commissioners of the Almshouse oversaw the city's charities concerning the care of "insane, feeble-minded, sick, infirm, and destitute persons" and were supposed to care for children until they could be indentured, adopted, given back to a parent or family member, or until they turned sixteen.

Many children under the state's care were placed in orphan homes or "baby farms." Although it differed with time and in each borough, when a child was found, the child was generally sent to a specific hospital or the city nurse for care. The child was then transferred to a private foundling home or orphan asylum, often one that corresponded to what was perceived as the child's religion. These asylums received public subsidies and relieved the state of the burden of the children. These children placed in orphan homes often faced serious health issues and many times death.

It was also common practice to relieve the city of the burden of caring for children by indenturing them out. Children in New York City had been apprenticed since colonial times as a way to receive training in a particular trade or skill. Although some indentured children were from stable families who wished their child to be indentured, other children apprenticed were under the care of the almshouses or public charities. These indentures were often made under the objection of parents.

Although the conditions of the indentures varied over time, most colonial and post-Revolutionary apprentices were provided with clothing, food, lodging, some schooling, and training in a trade in exchange for a promise not to "commit fornication nor contract matrimony" as well as refrain from "Alehouses, Taverns, or Playhouses" and vices such as cards and dice. At the end of their term, an apprentice was generally given a new set of clothing and a bible. Children were indentured at ages ranging from a few weeks old to their teenage years; boys were apprenticed until they were 21 years old and girls until they were 18 years old. While a boy apprentice was supposed to learn the trade of his master, a girl apprentice was expected to do mostly housekeeping and sewing and functioned as a servant. The children of New York City were apprenticed in New York City as well as to families in New Jersey and places elsewhere in the country.

While some apprentices were well cared for and perhaps even adopted by their masters, other apprentices faced cruel or lazy masters and ended up living the life of a slave. Although the indenture was a legal contract, many were cancelled due to a master's cruel treatment or his unhappiness with the child as well as for an apprentice running away or getting married. The Commissioners of the Almshouse were responsible for disputes between masters and apprentices as well as for the investigation of accusations of mistreatment and violation of agreement. In 1849 laws were passed giving parents the right to break an indenture and resume care of their child.

In 1860, the Department of Public Charities and Correction of the City of New-York took over the functions of the Governors of the Almshouse, and the Commissioner of Public Charities became responsible for the indenturing of children. The agency eventually became the Department of Welfare in 1936. Although an exact date is unclear, children in New York City were apprenticed until the beginning of the twentieth century.


Peterson, Arthur Evert and George William Edwards. New York as an Eighteenth Century Municipality. New York: Longmans, Green & Company, 1917.

Romanofsky, Peter. "Saving the Lives of the City's Foundlings" New-York Historical Society Quarterly v. 61 (January/April 1977), 49-68.

Klips, Stephen A., Institutionalizing the Poor : the New York City almshouses, 1825-1860. Ann Arbor, Michigan: University Microfilms International, 1981.

City Officials Responsible for Indenturing Orphans or Children of the Poor:

1792-1849 Commissioners of the Alms-House and Bridewell
1850-1860 Governors of the Alms-House
1860-1896 Commissioners of the Public Charities and Corrections
1897-1936 Commissioners of Public Charities

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Scope and Content Note

This collection includes diverse material related to indentured servants and orphans in New York City. It includes the indentures of boys and girls as well as foundling records and the papers of freed slaves. The majority of the material is indentures outlining the terms of apprenticeship for boys and girls in New York City. Although the colonial indentures do not indicate an age for the apprentice, the post-revolutionary apprentices are mainly children, particularly New York City orphans or children of the poor. Only one girl's indenture from 1807 is an indenture created in exchange for passage to America. The indentures indicate if the agreement was cancelled and often provide a reason for its cancellation. They also record if the apprentice was adopted.

The collection also consists of the records of the foundlings from the Alms House and later the Department of Public Charities. These records describe the infant, record its health, and sometimes recount the circumstances of the child being found or left at the hospital. One volume of the foundling records documents the orphans who were indentured out. The records generally indicate the high number of death among the orphans. The collection also contains the free papers of former slaves. These include documents granting a slave freedom and documents verifying that a particular African American is a free person.

This collection supports research on foundlings and the indentured servitude of children in the late eighteenth to early twentieth century. The free papers provide documentation of manumission and the necessary papers of free blacks.


The materials in this collection are organized according to format and then chronologically.

The materials are organized into three series:

  1. Series 1: Indentures (1718-1902)
  2. Series 2: Foundling Records (1838-1915)
  3. Series 3: Free Papers (1803-1814)

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Access Points

Document Type

  • Free papers
  • Indentures

Subject Organizations

  • New York (N.Y.). Commissioners of the Alms-House, Bridewell, and Penitentiary
  • New York (N.Y.). Dept. of Public Charities and Correction
  • New York (N.Y.). Dept. of Public Welfare
  • New York Foundling Hospital

Subject Topics

  • Abandoned children--New York (State)--New York
  • African Americans--New York (State)--New York
  • Apprentices--New York (State)--New York
  • Charities--New York (State)--New York
  • Child welfare--New York (State)--New York
  • Children--Institutional care--New York (State)--New York
  • Foster home care--New York (State)--New York
  • Foundlings--New York (State)--New York
  • Indentured servants--New York (State)--New York
  • Slaves--Emancipation--New York (State)--New York

Subject Places

  • New York (N.Y.)

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Administrative Information


Colonial indentures 1718-1727 (also called "Liber 29 of Conveyances") donation by Register's Office of the City, 1905.

Boys' Indentures from 1792-1794 donation by Isaak John Greenwood, date unclear.

Indentures dated 1815-1902 and Foundling Records, donation by the Department of Public Welfare, City of New York, and Department of Hospitals, Welfare Island, 1937.

The provenance of the loose boys' indentures 1801-1811, loose girls' indentures 1807-1814, and the Free Papers is unknown.

Access Restrictions

Open to qualified researchers.

Photocopying undertaken by staff only. Limited to twenty exposures of stable, unbound material per day. (Researchers may not accrue unused copy amounts from previous days.) Researchers on site may print out unlimited copies from microfilm reader-printer machines at per-exposure rates. See guidelines in Reading Room for details.

Use Restrictions

Permission to quote from this collection in a publication must be requested and granted in writing. Send permission requests, citing the name of the collection from which you wish to quote, to

Library Director
The New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024

Preferred Citation

This collection should be cited as New York City-Indentures, the New-York Historical Society.

Related Material at The New-York Historical Society

Colonial indentures for the years (1694-1707), which are not in this collection, are published in Collections of the New-York Historical Society for the Year 1885, p. 565-622. The Colonial indentures for the years (1718-1727), which are a part of this collection, are published in  Collections of the New-York Historical Society for the Year 1909, p. 113-199.

An index to the boys' indentures after 1828 and girls' indentures after 1822 is available at the reference desk and was published as Nineteenth Century Apprentices in New York Cityby Kenneth Scott, National Genealogical Society, 1986.

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Container List

Series I: Indentures (1718-1902)

Scope and Contents note

The series includes indentures of colonial and post-Revolutionary New York City. Only one volume in this series contains colonial indentures; the rest are post-revolutionary indentures that were kept separate in volumes for male and female apprentices. If a child or a master or mistress was black, it is noted by "B", only sometimes by "Colored." The residence of the master or mistress in New York City is given by street and number and in New Jersey by name of town and country and distance from the nearest post office. The indentures sometimes reveal the name of a parent or family member of the apprentice.

Many of the indentures indicate the cancellation of the agreement and the reason for its abrogation. Some of the indentures function as adoption papers with the terms master and apprentice crossed out to read parent and child. Although the apprenticed children were from New York City, many of their masters resided outside of the city.

Subseries 1: Colonial Indentures (1718-1727)

Scope and Contents note

This volume contains indentures of apprentices from colonial New York. It includes indentures for both male and female apprentices with little or no information on the ages of the apprentices. It includes an index to the indentures by the name of the master. The indentures were overseen by the Mayor, an Alderman and /or a Justice of the Peace.

This volume of indentures, originally known as "Liber 29 of Conveyances" is partly transcribed in the Collections of the New-York Historical Society for the Year 1909.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Volume: 1 Colonial Indentures
Box: 2 Folder : 5 Photos and Negatives taken of pages from volume of Colonial Indentures
Subseries 2: Indentures, Boys (1792-1902)

Scope and Contents note

The post-revolution indentures include the boys' ages and their term of indenture, which was generally until they became 21 years old. The apprentices' training includes a range of trades such as barber, wigmaker, hatter, carpenter, cordwainer (shoemaker), shipwright, blacksmith, confectioner, farmer, rope making, druggist, etc. Many times male apprentices were sent to do rural work.

The folder of loose indentures dated 1801-1811, do not appear to be the indentures of orphans because the indentures were performed under the consent of the Special Justices for preserving the Peace and not the Commissioners of the Alms-House and Bridewell.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Volume: 2 Boys' Indentures, (includes handwritten index including boy's name, date of indenture, and name and occupation of master)
Volume: 3 Boys' Indentures
Volume: 4 Boys' Indentures
Volume: 5 Boys' Indentures
Volume: 6 Boys' Indentures
Volume: 7 Boys' Indentures
Volume: 8 Boys' Indentures
Volume: 9 Boys' Indentures
Volume: 10 Boys' Indentures
Volume: 11 Boys' Indentures
Volume: 12 Boys' Indentures
Volume: 13 Boys' Indentures (with index by name of apprentice)
Volume: 14 Boys' Indentures
Volume: 15 Boys' Indentures
Volume: 16 Boys' Indentures
Volume: 17 Boys' Indentures
Volume: 18 Boys' Indentures (with index by name of apprentice)
Volume: 19 Boys' Indentures (with index by name of apprentice)
Volume: 20 Boys' Indentures
Box: 1 Folder : 1 Boys' Indentures (Not bound)
Box: 1 Folder : 2 Boys' Indentures (Not bound)
Box: 1 Folder : 3 Boys' Indentures (Not bound)
Subseries 3: Indentures, Girls (1807-1902)

Scope and Contents note

The post-revolution female indentured servants were apprenticed to be servants and perform housekeeping, and sometimes sewing. The girls were apprenticed until they became 18 years old. A loose indenture dated 1807 appears to be the only indenture created in exchange for passage to America.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Volume: 21 Girls' Indentures
Volume: 22 Girls' Indentures
Volume: 23 Girls' Indentures
Volume: 24 Girls' Indentures
Volume: 25 Girls' Indentures
Volume: 26 Girls' Indentures
Volume: 27 Girls' Indentures
Volume: 28 Girls' Indentures (with index by name of apprentice)
Volume: 29 Girls' Indentures (with index by name of apprentice)
Volume: 30 Girls' Indentures
Volume: 31 Girls' Indentures
Volume: 32 Girls' Indentures
Volume: 33 Girls' Indentures
Volume: 34 Girls' Indentures (with index by name of apprentice)
Volume: 35 Girls' Indentures (with index by name of apprentice)
Volume: 36 Girls' Indentures (with index by name of apprentice)
Box: 1 Folder : 4 Girls' Indentures (Not bound)
Box: 1 Folder : 5 Girls' Indentures (Not bound)
Box: 1 Folder : 6 Girls' Indentures (Not bound)

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Series II: Foundling Records (1838-1915)

Scope and Contents note

The foundling records document information regarding orphans who were under the control of the state before they were to be transferred to an orphan asylum or else indentured. They are comprised of personal information of foundlings such as the sex, color, and religion of the infant as well as notes regarding his or her health, and the circumstances of the child's arrival and sometimes their death. All of these records include both boy and girl infants and some volumes contain newspaper articles and affidavits regarding the foundlings. Volume 37 contains personal information of the nurses.

Only volume 38 has records of indentured foundlings, and it does not include the actual indentures of the children. This volume has notes about visiting the indentured child and the child's condition, which was frequently not good. Often the child was declared dead or listed as simply "not found."

Container 1     Title Date
Volume: 37 Foundlings Records, includes name and age of the child, notes regarding child's health and/or circumstances of the parents, also name and nationality of nurse, occupation of nurse's husband
Volume: 38 Indentured Foundlings Records, includes name of foundling, to whom indentured, visits, address, and remarks
Volume: 39 Foundling Records, includes affidavit of person who discovered the child listing a description of child and where child was found
Volume: 40 Foundling Records, includes description of child and where child was found
Volume: 41 Foundling Records, includes description of child and where child was found

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Series III: Free Papers (1803-1814)

Scope and Contents note

This series contains documents relating to the freedom of former slaves. The documents of manumission are the documents granting both male and female slaves freedom. They include the former slave's name and age, and the signature of their former master with the signature of mayor DeWitt Clinton. The Certificates of Freedom are documents that verify a particular person is a free man or woman. They include the name and age of the person in question and the testimony and signature of a free person who can confirm that the person in question is free.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 2 Folder : 1 Documents of Manumission
Box: 2 Folder : 2 Certificates of Freedom
Box: 2 Folder : 3 Certificates of Freedom
Box: 2 Folder : 4 Certificates of Freedom

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