INFORMATION ON PERSONS NAMED IN INDENTURES
Apprentices ought to be protected against the cruelty of their masters, but the latter purchase, during the first years of the apprenticeship, by the labor and trouble they bestow on the instruction of youth, and the expenses of his maintenance, a right to his services during the last years of the apprenticeship.[Source: Martin's Reports (O.S.) *44, Eastern District, May Term, 1821, opinion of Judge F.X. Martin, in Lazarre Michel (sometimes cited as "Mitchell") vs. James Armitage, Supreme Court of Louisiana Collection, Docket no. 573, Department of Archives and Manuscripts, Earl K. Long Library, University of New Orleans.]
For further discussion of this and another court case dealing with alleged physical abuse of apprentices, click here.
Testimony in two parish court cases in 1819 and 1829 that were later appealed to the Supreme Court reveals, during the 1820s, a subtle shift in popular norms governing how far a master could go in correcting an apprentice. In the first case, the tailor James Armitage had punished his apprentice Alphonse Michel with twenty to thirty lashes of a cow-skin whip, cutting his back, for having stabbed a slave with a scissors in a quarrel. Armitage had no trouble finding witnesses to testify that the whipping was normal. Longbottam, the defendant's partner, testified that he "conceives the defendant might have chastised his own son in the same manner for the same fault; he would have done so himself." A journeyman by the name of Anderson, who had been working for Armitage for twelve years, declared:
That he has always corrected them [his apprentices] with a cow-hide, and never heard a complaint thereof. That he has been himself an apprentice and was ten times corrected so, and more than the plaintiff. That it happened sometimes that apprentices having been whipped, and having returned home, they [were] whipped by their parents and sent back.Notwithstanding these depositions, the parish and city court of New Orleans cancelled the indenture of Alphonse Michel on account of cruel treatment. The decision was based on Article 9 on page 38 of the 1808 Digest of the Civil Code giving the judge authority to release an apprentice from his engagement if the "master shall abuse or cruelly or evilly treat" him. Armitage appealed this decision to the Louisiana Supreme Court. The Eastern District of the Louisana Supreme Court heard his appeal in May 21 and reversed the judgment of the lower court. Judge Martin admitted:
I am ready to say, that the correction was a severe one; such as ought not to be countenanced. But it appears to me, that the case is not of so black a die as to deserve an absolute forfeiture of the defendant's right to the boy's services, during the rest of the apprenticeship.Judge Matthews concurred:
... the conduct of the plaintiff's son was certainly a gross violation, of the order which ought to prevail in the shop of a mechanic, and which, it is probable, cannot be supported without strict discipline and a full portion of correction, properly applied.[Source: Martin's Reports (O.S.) *44, Eastern District, May Term, 1821, opinion of Judge F.X. Martin, in Lazarre Michel [sometimes cited as "Mitchell"] vs. James Armitage, Supreme Court of Louisiana Collection, Docket no. 573, Department of Archives and Manuscripts, Earl K. Long Library, University of New Orleans. The Collection includes manuscripts of the testimony taken in original case before the parish court of New Orleans.]
The importance of the 1821 decision is reflected by the summary reference to it in the 1833 decision in the case of Versailles, f.w.c., v. Hall, in which one of the issues was again excessive corporal punishment of an apprentice. William Boyle defended Joshua Hall, accused of having flogged Jn Bte Demouille "with a cowskin, with his hands tied behind him and the rope passed over a Beam, with his pantaloons off," by pointing out that "The Rope with which the Boy was chastised, was not as thick as a person's little finger." Instead of rationalizing the whipping by claiming it was no worse than that administered to most apprentices, or children for that matter, he insisted on evidence of its moderation. Since the apprenticeship of Rose Versaille's son dated from before 1825, the Supreme Court ruled, "The question whether the master, under the provisions of the Louisiana Code can correct the indented servant with a whip, need not be decided in this case."
Although the plaintiffs failed to obtain satisfaction on this point, the 1833 decision did imply that youth bound by indentures after 1825 would enjoy greater protection against excessive corporal punishment. How much progress was actually made is unknown.
[Source: 5 Louisiana Reports 281, New Orleans, March, 1833, opinion of Judge J. Porter, in Rose Versailles, f.w.c., vs. J.J. Hall, Supreme Court of Louisiana Collection, Docket no. 1906, Department of Archives and Manuscripts, Earl K. Long Library, University of New Orleans.]
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Created 8/11/98 pfl