Monday, July 17, 2017

British Indenture: Around The World From 80 Countries

My interest was piqued when I saw the listing for this document in the museum's database for it said “indenture” and the date of 1691.  As one who taught American economic history, I was thinking I'd find a document in which an English man or woman agreed to provide labor services for four to seven years in return for passage to the American colonies and room, board, and some “freedom dues.” These contracts of voluntary servitude were one method business owners then used to recruit labor. Not being a lawyer, I was surprised to learn that the term indenture also applied to real estate transactions.

With the help of fellow Benton County Museum volunteer, Walter Frankel, who had had experience reading old documents as a librarian at the Free Library in Philadelphia, we were able to translate enough of the old-style writing and spelling to determine that this is a contract in which John Morgan agreed to sell a fulling mill and the surrounding lands (known as White Mill Farms) to his brother, Christopher Morgan for three hundred British pounds.  The mill was located in the Frome-Selwood parish of Somerset county.

I did some research on the area 's history and discovered that Frome was a center of wool manufacturing as early as the 15th century. The River Frome provided power to drive the fulling mills in which the water wheel drove wooden hammers which pounded the wool cloth to clean it and make it thicker. Wool remained an important industry in the area until the 20th century but has been replaced by metal working and printing and other industries.  The last mill closed in 1965.  White Mill Farm is now the site of vacation cottages.

By Martha Fraundorf, Volunteer for Benton County Historical Society, Philomath, Oregon

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