K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education


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Related pages

  • An orphan's apprenticeship: An indenture from Bertie County, North Carolina, 1759, apprenticing an orphan boy to a shipwright. Includes historical commentary.
  • Learning in colonial Carolina: During the late 1600s and early 1700s, education in Carolina was largely informal. Most children learned by watching and imitating parents and older community members. The sons of the wealthy were sent away to schools in other colonies or in England. The first efforts to provide formal education in Carolina were made by religious groups — the Quakers, the Baptists, and the Presbyterians.
  • Families in colonial North Carolina: In colonial families, the father had absolute authority over his family, and wives and children were expected to do as they were told. And everyone, even young children, worked to sustain the family.

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In this lesson students will examine primary and secondary sources in order to better understand the lives of colonial indentured servants and apprentices. They will compare and contrast the two forms of labor. Students will read and analyze an apprentice indenture and interpret a colonial ballad. Teachers should do this lesson before students read “Learning in Colonial Carolina” and “An Orphan’s Apprenticeship” in the North Carolina digital history textbook.

Learning outcomes

Students will:

  • use primary and secondary sources to understand life for apprentices and indentured servants in colonial North Carolina
  • work cooperatively in groups
  • use graphic organizers to logically arrange information
  • gain an understanding of colonial jobs and trades
  • experience historical empathy as they take on the role of an indentured servant and an apprentice
  • read and analyze an apprentice indenture
  • read and interpret a colonial ballad

Teacher planning

Materials needed

  • computer with internet access for each group of students
  • white or blackboard, transparency, or newsprint with marker

Student handouts

List of colonial trades
Can be copied as a handout or as a transparency.
Open as PDF (22 KB, 1 page)

Time required

one class period and optional homework assignment


Preview activity

  1. Ask students how people learn how to do their jobs or careers today. Most students will mention schools and college. Some may mention on-the-job training.
  2. Ask them how colonial children learned about their jobs. Some students will mention the same ways as today. Others may have some basic familiarity with apprenticeship.
  3. As a class, brainstorm the first column of a KL (what do you know, what did you learn) chart on a board, or chart paper: What do you know about colonial apprenticeship?

Activity one

  1. Put the class into small groups of three to four. Ask each group to construct a list of colonial jobs or trades. Allow them five minutes to complete this.
  2. You may choose to make copies or project the colonial jobs list on the board to let students see some of the many colonial jobs.
  3. Have the groups go through the lists (the ones that they made and/or the colonial job list) and indicate which of the jobs/trades would have most likely have used apprenticeships. Most of these would be artisans or craftsmen.
  4. Have each group choose two colonial jobs that would have used the apprenticeship system. Have groups turn in their choices and then, either randomly or by teacher choice, hand each group a list colonial of jobs.
  5. Allowing groups time to research online, have students investigate what the apprentices would have been expected to learn in each colonial job.
  6. Have each group share with the class what they have learned about colonial jobs and how colonial young people would have acquired the training to pursue that career.

Activity two

  1. If you have not done so already, have students read the article “Land and Work in Carolina.” Have students, in groups or individually, read the last section of that page (”Free and Unfree Labor”) and complete the graphic organizer from the lesson plan “‘Land in Work in Carolina’ Teaching Strategies.”
  2. Have students go to the page “An Orphan’s Apprenticeship” and read about the terms of the contract. Ask them to answer the questions from the sidebar — either on paper or as a class discussion.
  3. Then have the students read the broadside ballad “The Trappan’d Maiden” from the English Broadside Ballad Archive. The ballad tells the story of an indentured servant in Virginia in the late 1600s. (Note: this can also be printed from the website.)
  4. Finally, ask students what were the similarities and differences between apprentices and indentured servants based on what they have read from the primary sources and the secondary source they have just read.


Assign one of the following for homework:

  • Letter assignment: Assign the students to write two separate letters to their parents with the following criteria:
    • Each student must take the role of a teenage indentured servant who has recently come to colonial North Carolina and is working in the Albemarle area. He/she is to write to parents in England or Ireland telling them what life is like as an indentured servant. They should include feelings as well as factual information.
    • Each student must then take on the role of a teenage apprentice from colonial North Carolina who is now working for their master in the Albemarle area. He/she is to write to his/her parents telling them what life is like as an apprentice. They should include feelings as well as factual information.
    Besides grammar, spelling, and mechanics, the teacher should examine whether or not the student understands the similarities and differences between apprentices and indentured servants in the colonial period. Extra credit could be given to students for creativity in writing and word choice.
  • Contract assignment: Have students write their own apprenticeship contract for one of the colonial trades that they learned about.

  • Common Core State Standards
    • English Language Arts (2010)
      • History/Social Studies

        • Grades 6-8
          • 6-8.LH.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.

  • North Carolina Essential Standards
    • Social Studies (2010)
      • Grade 8

        • 8.H.1 Apply historical thinking to understand the creation and development of North Carolina and the United States. 8.H.1.1 Construct charts, graphs, and historical narratives to explain particular events or issues. 8.H.1.2 Summarize the literal meaning of...
        • 8.H.3 Understand the factors that contribute to change and continuity in North Carolina and the United States. 8.H.3.1 Explain how migration and immigration contributed to the development of North Carolina and the United States from colonization to contemporary...

North Carolina curriculum alignment

Social Studies (2003)

Grade 8

  • Goal 1: The learner will analyze important geographic, political, economic, and social aspects of life in the region prior to the Revolutionary Period.
    • Objective 1.05: Describe the factors that led to the founding and settlement of the American colonies including religious persecution, economic opportunity, adventure, and forced migration.
    • Objective 1.06: Identify geographic and political reasons for the creation of a distinct North Carolina colony and evaluate the effects on the government and economics of the colony.
    • Objective 1.07: Describe the roles and contributions of diverse groups, such as American Indians, African Americans, European immigrants, landed gentry, tradesmen, and small farmers to everyday life in colonial North Carolina, and compare them to the other colonies.