Meet John Halfhead
Lesson 1 – Indentured Servant
John Halfhead, Indentured Servant is the first in a series of lessons and activities developed by Historic St. Mary’s City. John Halfhead, Plantation Master is about one of Maryland’s first settlers who observed and participated in the building of the colony from his arrival in 1634 until his death in 1675.
We encourage you to use these materials in your study of Maryland’s colonial beginnings. The lesson plan below provides educators with a quick guide.
4th & 5th-grade students studying Maryland history
- Students will be able to explain the system of indentured servitude as it was carried out in 17th-century Maryland.
- Students will identify skilled labor positions from the 17th century and will compare and contrast them with trades and skills today.
- Lesson 1, Indentured Servant
- John Halfhead, Indentured Servant (reading for students)
- Lord Baltimore’s Suggestions for Skilled Labor in the Colony
- Definitions of Skilled Labor Positions from the 17th-Century
- The Forme of Binding a Servant (indenture form)
Background Information for Teachers
John Halfhead was an actual colonist who sailed on the Ark from England and arrived in Maryland in 1634. Although Halfhead left no written documents in his own hand – he was illiterate – his name appears many times in the public records documenting Maryland’s early history. It is known that he was born in England and was Protestant. He was indentured to Leonard Calvert, brother to Cecil Calvert (the second Lord Baltimore and founder of the colony) and he apparently was skilled as a brick mason.
John Halfhead had the fortune of being present in the early days and years of Maryland and witnessed some of the most significant events as the colony struggled to become established. Subsequent lessons will follow John Halfhead through the 17th century as he finishes his indenture, becomes a member of the General Assembly, a successful plantation owner, a husband, and a father.
The student reading, John Halfhead, Indentured Servant, should be introduced by way of stating . . . if you could travel back in time to the 17th century and talk to John Halfhead, this is what he might say to you.
Most of the people who came to Maryland in the 17th century came as indentured servants. An indenture was an agreement between a person who was willing to work for another for an agreed-upon amount of time in exchange for passage to America, a place to live, and food and clothing -during the length of the indenture. In Maryland, a person served as an indentured servant on average four to five years. Although some women did come, most indentured servants were men who were often poor and had little chance to improve their lives if they stayed in England. Even though Lord Baltimore suggested various skilled labor positions for the colony, in reality, most indentured servants ended up working in the tobacco fields.
A servant’s life could be hard, especially if his master did not treat him fairly. At the end of his term, a servant was to receive a suit of clothing, one axe, two hoes, three barrels of corn, and the rights to fifty acres of land. The newly-freed servant was responsible for paying for the land to be surveyed and registered with the court.
The information for this lesson was taken from original documents such as Lord Baltimore’s Suggestions for Skilled Labor in the Maryland Colony and The forme of binding a servant [indenture form]. Both documents contain original spellings, punctuation, and grammar for which there was little consistency of use in the 17th century.