Wednesday, March 8, 2017


First of all, isn't indenture a funny word? Indenture means a formal contract between two parties for services, but the French root of the word means to notch or dent. So how does this word Indenture have this meaning?

"Such contracts (especially between master craftsmen and apprentices) were written in full identical versions on a sheet of parchment, which was then cut apart in a zigzag, or "notched" line. Each party took one, and the genuineness of a document of indenture could be proved by laying it beside its counterpart."

The subject of indenture has come to attention lately with my recent study of the PHL tax lists. The earlier tax lists (1767, 1769, and 1774) I've studied spell out the names of indentured servants as taxable assets! Don't ask me how this detail seems to have flown right by me in the past. The most shining example is with my ancestor, Georg Sommer. In both the 1767 and 1769 tax list of Lower Dublin, George Summers was taxed for 4 horses, 4 cows, and 10 sheep. Enough said, moving on. But wait! In the preceding entry we find Mary Ashton, who was taxed for 250 acres, a dwelling, several negros, horses, cows, and sheep, and she was also taxed on 25L for Geo. Summers. How can this be?

Georg Sommer arrived in PHL in 1752, so why was he indentured for so long? Typically, the term of service was 5-7 years, at least that's my understanding. But then I remembered Georg brought his family from Germany - a wife and 2 children (at least). So let's say the term was 5 years x 4 = 20 years that Georg was working off the passage. By 1772 he was a free man, and in 1774 tax lists, there was no George Summers in Lower Dublin any more, but there was one in Northern Liberties-East, which is where John Menge had his inn.  So I'm thinking George might have been with his son-in-law's family until he moved to NJ around 1775. I'm guessing the Sommer and Menge families removed to NJ together, for indeed, in 1776, Ernst Menge (also previously indentured, btw) was applying for a tavern license in Oxford, NJ. Interesting, eh?

All of which really changes my idea of my ancestor, Georg Sommer. I always thought he was well off after working for Mr. Kuckh in Freistett, but maybe not so much. It's hard to imagine how hard Georg worked for 20 years to pay off his family's passage AND to save enough to buy that 400 acres in NJ. At least that is the picture I imagine. As many as 50% to 70% of Germans coming to America in the 1700s came as redemptioners, and certainly several accounts exist telling of poor conditions suffered by them both during and after their voyages. But was indenture always miserable?

I think it may also be true that indenture could be a mutually agreeable form of employment, both for widowed landowners like Mary Ashton and for German newcomers who did't have many resources and didn't know the language. According to one source I found, you could continue to be indentured if you wanted to be. Depending on the contract, maybe it wasn't a bad deal. It appears in Georg Sommer's case, he had a place to live with his family, he could come and go and acquire his own things, like his own livestock for which he was taxed and presumably could pay for, while also working on Mary Ashton's 250 acres. Maybe this was America's first temp employment agency in action?

And finally, let me throw in my observations about the tax math pertaining to indentured servants. Mary Ashton was taxed on 25L for George Summers' service, which I assume was the amount she paid for the contract. The tax she owed was 60% of that contract amount, or 15L, annually! So if the contract was for 5 years, she paid a total of 75L tax on top of the 25L contract for Georg Sommer's services. Nevertheless, I bet she didn't need an instruction booklet to fill out 20 pages of cross-eyed forms before handing over her due to the tax collector.

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Northern Liberties - East Meets West

It's been a long while since I posted anything about the Mann family because it really seemed like we had that one "all sewn up." But other recent research has lead me to the Northern Liberties of Philadelphia, and in the back of my brain I remembered that's where the Mange (early American spelling of Mann) brothers lived. So I decided it was as good a time as any to review what I thought I knew. It seems there was a lot that I glossed over back when I started researching the Mann's. Finding them in Germany was pretty darned exciting back then (a whole 6 years ago), and didn't necessitate any understanding of their lives in Philadelphia. But now the time to understand better has come. You can read more about my updated understanding of the Mange family in the Northern Liberties here.

But here's one of the lessons learned in this round of research. The source I've been focused on has been the PHL tax lists, and for the Northern Liberties, residents were divided between Northern Liberties-East and Northern Liberties-West. It doesn't appear that the residents in the two areas were taxed differently, but I think the division was created because the area was so vast that one assessor could not handle it all. So they split the area, but what was the dividing line? I'm sure the answer to that question is written somewhere in plain sight, but I just haven't found it yet. Then to add to the fun, there was the Northern Liberties district, just northeast of the city, and the Northern Liberties township which was also north of the city, but vast in area, and which eventually saw other townships carved out of it. So how does any of this relate to the tax lists?

For the Mange brothers, they all started out in NL-E, at least up through 1769. Then suddenly Ernst was in NL-W while John remained in NL-E. Even after Ernst removed to New Jersey around 1776, he apparently leased his property in NL-W where his lessees were recorded paying the taxes on his property (in those days, the occupier, not the owner paid property tax!). After the war, Ernst finally sold his NL-W property to his brother, John, after which point John was recorded being taxed in both NL-E and NL-W!

The trick to this one was all about Howdy Neighbor! I made a careful list of the neighbors for each Mange property over the years, and one name appeared over and over next to Ernst's NL-W property: James Nevill, a tavernkeeper. The Nevell family persisted at the same location until at last PHL city directories were published. In 1793, Nevill's widow, a tavernkeeper, was recorded at 466 N. 2nd St. That got me wondering about the widow of John Mange, and sure enough she too appeared in the directory as a tavernkeeper at 219 N. 2nd St. That's interesting - same street, maybe a few blocks apart. And yet Ernst's property was always taxed in NL-W and John's in NL-E.

Finally I found a reference that said this:

"...when the first census was conducted, the numbering system was changed again. All of the buildings on the north or east sides of streets were given odd numbers and those on the south and west were given even numbers." 

And there you have it. John Mange had an odd number address on N. 2nd Street, and so was taxed in NL-E. Ernst Mange had an even number address, and so was taxed in NL-W. At least in the Northern Liberties district, it appears that the dividing line was N. 2nd St. My thought is that 2nd St. up to and then along Germantown Ave. constituted the dividing line for the Northern Liberties township, although I'll be honest and say I haven't verified that yet.

Now that I've come to this happy conclusion, I look it all over and wonder a little so what? I mean in the big scheme of things how does the Northern Liberties tax division boundary matter to a genealogist? In my case, and by some fluke, my family was living right on the line, and the fact that they were has helped me to locate them with some degree of accuracy. And frankly, what might matter more is how much I've learned about the history of the Northern Liberties in the last two weeks. I can still be curious, I can still expand my understanding, and I can still enjoy a better and more complete picture of my ancestors' lives.