Provost Marshal at Annapolis, Maryland, to the Commander of the Post of Annapolis; Enclosing a Letter from the Judges of the Orphans Court of Anne Arundel County to the Provost Marshal

Annapolis. Md.  Nov. 23d 1864.

Colonel:  The accompanying papers explain themselves and it remains for me to say that I am fully convinced of the fact that since the adoption of the New Constitution by the State of Maryland that the Judges of the Orphans Court in and for the county of Anne Arundel. Md. have been binding out colored children to whoever might apply for them (but giving their former owners the prefference) against the express wish of their parents and in many cases said parents were entirely ignorant of the fact that their children were apprenticed untill they went to get them from their former owners.

It is to reach all of the above cases that I aim. and most respectfully ask for authority to annul indentures that have been made since the adoption of the New Constitution that are illegal as well as to stop further illegal proceedings of the court in this matter and it will be but an act of justice to a class of persons whose ignorance in regard to their rights is taken advantage of by men who in almost every case have always been known as sympathizers with (and to some extent) aiders of the rebels.  I am Colonel: Very Respectfully Your Obedient Servant

Geo. W. Curry



Court Room [Annapolis, Md.].  Nov. 22nd 1864

Dear Sir:  In the recess of the court yours of the 18th was left with the clerk of Register of Wills.  to-day being our regular session, it was opened & contents duly noted.  we thot it due to simply state the course we are pursuing in reference to minor children particularly those under 14 years of age, & also to refer you to the Law under which we are called upon to act–  the recent convention under which our new Constitution was framed in its deliberations deemed the existing Statutes, amply sufficient for any provision that might be required for negro children, leaving further Legislation, if necessary, to a future Legislature   in the applications for binding apprentices we have quite a numerous class above the age of 14 soliciting the court to bind them to persons of their own selection.  such selections, when known to the court to be a proper character, it has no hesitancy in granting–  we would further state there is a very large number of Orphan children whose ages ranging from infancy to 10 or 12 yrs require some immediate action in their behalf & when their previous owners are known to the court to be proper persons to care for & bring them up to habits of industry &c we invariably bind to them–  we have also applications from former masters to have negro children that they have raised. bound to them but when it is satisfactorily shown to the court that the parents of such children are in a condition to provide for them in NO INSTANCE does the court interfere–  we think it very probable our course has been misrepresented by some mothers. who think they can support themselves & family,  their previous antecedents being enquired into by the court it is made too apparent their utter inability to properly provide & teach habits of industry &c   in such cases the court regards it as an act of humanity when proper employers can be selected for them–  we would further observe that our regular term of court is on Tuesdays & will be in session to-morrow (Wednesday)   our proceedings are all open to the public & yourself or any one you may select can be present & take cogizance of our action–  You will please inform us in writing from the frankness of the above wether you consider it necessary to suspend further proceedings in binding apprentices–  the Law (which has invariably governed us in binding out of negro apprentices) we refer to, you will find on page 38 in the code of Public General Laws under the head of negro apprentices.1  Respectfully Your Obt. Servts.

Philip Pettebone
Chas S. Welch
J. W. Hunter

Capt. Geo. W. Curry to Col. Adrian R. Root, 23 Nov. 1864, enclosing Philip Pettebone et al. to Geo. W. Curry, Esq., 22 Nov. 1864, C-643 1864, Letters Received, series 2343, Middle Department & 8th Army Corps, U.S. Army Continental Commands, Record Group 393 Pt. 1, National Archives. Curry signed as a captain in the 4th Delaware Volunteers. Also enclosed is a copy of Curry's letter of November 18, in which he had informed the judges of complaints by “a large number” of freedpeople “that their children were being taken from them and apprenticed without their sanction and in direct opposition to their wishes.” Curry had provided the judges with a copy of General Order 112, issued by the commander of the Middle Department on November 9, 1864, calling their attention to the paragraph that placed former slaves under “special military protection” until the state legislature enacted laws rendering such protection unnecessary. “I am confident,” Curry had warned the judges, “that after you have been officially notified of . . . the above named Order that nothing will be done by your honorable body to counteract its provisions.” (Capt. Geo. W. Curry to the Honorable Judges of the Orphans Court for Anne Arundel Co. Md., 18 Nov. 1864; General Order 112 is printed in The Wartime Genesis of Free Labor: The Upper South, pp. 513–15.) A series of endorsements indicates that on November 24, Colonel Adrian R. Root, commander of the post of Annapolis, forwarded the correspondence to General Lew Wallace, commander of the Middle Department, who returned it with instructions to “inform the Judge of the Court that it will be for the interest of all parties, court, Masters, and apprentices, if the indenturing is delayed until further notification–” When Curry communicated that statement to the judges on November 29, their response ignored Wallace's request for indefinite suspension of their proceedings, but offered “not the slightest objection to suspend the apprenticing of Negro Children for a short period say until Tuesday next.” Defending the indentures as humanitarian acts that were required of them by law, the judges advised Curry “that there are quite a large number of applicants to have children bound to them & that there are very many cases in which the children can be provided for only in the way the court is now pursueing–” (Philip Pettebone and Chas. S. Welch to Geo. W. Curry Esq., 30 Nov. 1864, in the same file.) Outmaneuvered by the judges and unsure of how to respond, Colonel Root on December 3 dispatched Curry to General Wallace's headquarters to “obtain definite instructions in regard to the subject of Indenturing Negro Children as Apprentices in Anne Arundel Co.” It is not known what, if any, further action was taken by Wallace or his subordinates; no additional evidence has been found in the letters-sent volumes of the Middle Department, the post of Annapolis, or the provost marshal at Annapolis.

1. Article 6, sections 31–40, of the Maryland Code of Public General Laws, 1860, for a description of which see The Wartime Genesis of Free Labor: The Upper South, p. 494n.

Published in The Wartime Genesis of Free Labor: The Upper South, pp. 520–22.