Children who were orphaned without a land inheritance, or children whose fathers could not provide them with means, were usually bound in servitude to learn a trade. A servitude contract came with requirements for both the parties, the minor being bound and the person he or she was bound to.
A typical servitude contract looked like this one from 1727 Somerset County, British Colonial Maryland:
“Thomas Fowler son of Thomas Fowler deceased is bound by the Court unto John Evans Senior until he arrives to the age of 21 years he being 16 years of age the 9th day of May last the said Thomas Fowler the younger to serve the said John Evans the full term of time aforesaid.
In consideration of which servitude the said John Evans promises and do by these presents oblige himself to learn the said Thomas Fowler the trade of a Shoemaker and to instruct him in tanning and to give him a three year old heifer at the expiration of his servitude and to learn him to read and write during his servitude and to find him such necessaries as may be met for such an apprentice to have and were during his servitude and whereupon it is ordered by the Court that the said John Evans give good security for to comply with the Covenants aforesaid.”
One hundred years later, servitude contracts were still used like this one from 1826 Ohio:
“This indenture made the 4th day of December in the year 1826 the the said Edward Argadine doth bind his son Robert Argadine aged 12 years 6 months and 13 days as an apprentice to Jonathan Pitman and Jane his wife of Sycamore Township, Hamilton County and state of Ohio to be taught in the mystery House Husbandry to wit education to shell and to read and write and the said Jonathan Pitman and Jane his wife to furnish said apprentice at the expiration of said term hereafter mentioned a good complete set of clothes suitable for a young man when free besides all such common every day clothes as necessary for him until he is free during such term the said Robert is to serve the master and mistress Jonathan Pitman and Jane Pitman and to keep their secrets obey their lawful command and obey them his said master and mistress.
He shall not do not willfully suffer to be done any other sort of same to the utmost of his power and shall forthwith give notice to his said master and mistress .... Jonathan Pitman is to pay unto said Robert Argadine $100 when he is free from this indenture and while completing this indenture is to give sufficient meat, drink, lodging and clothing sufficient for such an apprentice”