A 1771 document from Sussex Co, Virginia states "Robert Sammons, orphan of John Sammons, dec'd, aged about 6, bound to John Hicks". What does "bound to" mean in that context?

  • What type of this document is this?
    – Luke_0
    Nov 12, 2013 at 22:13
  • It was from the Will of John Sammons along with a Deed Book showing some land purchase - also shows a Seat Sammons,aged 10 "bound to" John Ellis.
    – Jean Micek
    Nov 12, 2013 at 22:42
  • Could you link to the document if possible so we could see the context?
    – Luke_0
    Nov 13, 2013 at 20:11

4 Answers 4


If you search for the words "orphan" and "bound to" in Google Books, you will find extracts like the following from http://books.google.com.au/books?id=xxdZK9jPRdwC&pg=PA144&lpg=PA144

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The connection to apprenticeship is quite clear; although the notion of a legally binding obligation can exist in other settings.


I think it may possibly mean bound to John Hicks as an apprentice.

The term "bound to" is often used in relation to apprenticeships, and I don't recollect seeing it in any other fashion (which doesn't mean it isn't used in any other way) and that apprenticing orphans to someone was a typical thing to happen in this era to ensure they were looked after.

  • What makes you think it's referring to an apprenticeship (as opposed to adoption or such)?
    – Luke_0
    Nov 13, 2013 at 20:12
  • 1
    @American-Luke, I don't think it is one thing rather than another - that's why I wrote possibly! But I can say the term "bound to" is often used in relation to apprenticeships, that I don't recollect seeing it in any other fashion (which doesn't mean it isn't used in any other way) and that apprenticing orphans to someone was a typical thing to happen in this era to ensure they were looked after. But it is only a suggestion.
    – AdrianB38
    Nov 14, 2013 at 10:25

Searching the online edition of Black's Law Dictionary for the phrase "bound to" resulted in the definition for BOUND:

As an adjective, denotes the condition of being constrained by the obligations of a bond or a covenant.

On RootsWeb there is a transcript of a talk "What Genealogists should know about 18th Century Virginia Law" presented November 17, 1999 at the Library of Virginia by Mr. John P. Alcock, President, Friends of the Virginia State Archives. This gives an overview of several laws of the period, including nuances that will not be familiar to a modern audience. For instance, the word "orphan" did not have its current meaning of a child who has lost both parents. In a discussion of children who were taken away from their mothers and bound to serve strangers, Mr. Alcock says:

A child whose father had died was an orphan in that era, even if her mother was living. The father in his will could name a guardian or guardians for his infant children (infant was the legal term for under age) to manage their estates and arrange for their education. If he did not do so or if he died intestate, the court could name the guardian unless the child was 14 or older, in which case he or she could choose one. However, "where the estate of the orphan be so small value that no person will educate and maintain him for the profits thereof, such orphan shall be bound apprentice, every male to some tradesman, merchant, mariner, or other person approved by the court until the age of 21.". Females were similarly bound but to age 18. The master or mistress of every servant was to provide "diet, clothes, lodgings and accommodations and teach him to read and write and at the expiration of his apprenticeship to give him the same allowance appointed for servants of indenture".

In Transforming Childhood: Apprenticeship in American Law by Janet L. Dolgin, B.A., Ph.D, J.D., New England Law Review 31:1113, Summer 1997, Dolgin says:

Most colonial parents apprenticed their children soon after infancy ended (generally between the ages of seven and fourteen), to learn a trade and to be educated at least minimally in the home of a master. Master-apprentice relationships were usually the product of contractual negotiations that led to written agreements between a child's parent (generally father) and master....

A passage in a document like this is a clue that other records might exist. The FamilySearch Research Wiki article is only a stub, so there are no direct links to any historical records that might be on Family Search. But a search of the Family History Library catalog for records for Sussex County, Virginia shows that the FHL has court records, guardianship records, probate records, and poor law records, where a search might be fruitful. Bear in mind that not all records are listed under the subject you expect -- much useful information can be found in a court's "minute books" (basically a daily diary of what was going on in court that day).

Other resources:


The guesswork can be eliminated by using other sources. For example, the Bute County, North Carolina Minutes of the Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, 1767-1779 makes the meaning of the bond very clear:

13 February 1771
Ordered that Robert Sammons orphan of John Sammons be bound to John Hicks Sen'r untill he attain to the age of twenty one years, the said Orphan being now about Six years old the third day of this Instant, the said John Hicks to learn his said apprentice to read & write & the planters business.


15 February 1772
Ordered that Seat Sammonds orphan of John Sammonds be bound to John Ellis Jun'r untill he attain to lawfull age his master to learn him to read & Write & the planters business.

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