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The History of Apprenticeships in North Carolina (part 1)

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Apprentice and master

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Some of my favorite records to research, often neglected by researchers, are the apprentice bonds filed in the State Archives of North Carolina.  Many children served as apprentices  and some were bound out even as infants.  Laws in North Carolina remained relatively consistent regarding apprenticeships and for those who were bound out as apprentices, these were usually the first records left. They often named at least one parent and their age at the time of the bond.  During the colonial era up through 1913, these are very valuable for obtaining at least an estimated birth date for an ancestor.

This is the first post in a three part series.  Today I’ll talk about background information regarding apprentice records. The next post in this series will highlight past laws regulating the apprentice system, and the final post will explore the specifics of the records, what information you can find in them, and examples and sources of abstracts located at the Government & Heritage Library.

One group that apprentice records are particularly valuable for are free African Americans before the Civil War. Many, but not all, free African American children were bound out as apprentices.  Some were voluntarily bound as a means for their children to receive an education and learn a skilled job that would benefit them as an adult.  Some were forced into apprenticeships because their families were poor and the courts saw the apprentice system as a way to keep children from becoming a ward of the state or needing welfare as an adult by teaching them a skilled occupation.  White children were often bound for the same reasons.  It is also very common to see white and African American orphans being bound out.

It’s also common for male relatives (fathers, if not in the same household, or uncles or grandfathers) as the apprentice master, especially with free African Americans before 1865.  I have seen male relatives as apprentice masters less commonly with white children.  Neighbors could also be apprentice masters.  Researching the apprentice masters if they are not previously known can help with family connections.

Apprentice bonds are a separate records series in the State Archives of North Carolina, but the bonds often leave a paper trail in court records as well.  Often, apprentices appeared in court before a judge when assigned an apprentice master and there is a record in the Civil Action Papers in the Superior Court records for many counties.

Apprentice bonds may also lead a researcher to the bastardy bonds records. If the child is listed as the child of a female, there is a chance the individual may also be included in the bastardy bonds records. These records are also in the State Archives of North Carolina.

Yet another record type that apprentice bonds can lead to are records from the Orphan’s Court and guardianship records.  The Orphan’s Court were specific days set aside each quarter that specifically dealt with orphans.  Orphan’s  Court records are filed in the State Archives of North Carolina under Guardian Dockets, but in addition to that, there are also the following series where the orphaned child may appear:  Guardian Accounts, Guardian Bonds, Guardian Records.  These are all located at the State Archives of North Carolina.

Do yourself a favor and next time you are looking for an ancestor, do not overlook the Apprentice Bonds.  They might just be another type of record without your ancestor, but if your ancestor is there, it can open the door to many other records.

Look for the next installment in this series in two weeks. It will cover specific laws relating to apprentice bonds.  Two weeks after that post we will cover sources to use in your research for apprentice bonds.


  1. […] the GHL blog has run a three part series on NC Appentice bonds.  Included was discussion on the history of apprentice bonds, the laws surrounding the bonds and […]

  2. C’est éternellement une joie de passer sur ce blog

  3. […] after researching these Newsoms for over a year, I stumbled upon a Pasquotank County apprentice bond for Andrew Newsom, son of Penny Newsom*, to Ambrose McPherson. The year was not legible on the bond […]

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