Sunday, January 3, 2021

Married by Indenture - What is This?

What Is Indenture / Indentured?

An indenture is a legal contract between two or more parties which reflects an obligation or covenant between those parties. An indenture may also be called a "secured contract." We see them in Europe, Africa, and the Americas repositories when researching our ancestors. Here are a few common types of indentures that we may come across in our genealogy research.  (

  • leases
  • bonds
  • apprenticeship agreements
  • marriage agreements

Indenture is not race based.  It is a legal binding contract.  So the term "indentured servants" which we are so familiar worth as it is commonly used in genealogy must be dissected. In this case we are talking about the legal work contract of servants. Note: slavery is not equivalent to indentured servitude, as it is not voluntary; thus not an agreement at all! 

"of his own free Will and Accord..."

I am not going to review indentured servant in the 17th and 18th centuries; but to again emphasize all indenture references do not imply "indentured servant" or labor contracts. In this case an indentured servant is contracted to labor for multi-years in exchange for passage or expenses of room and board. If the researcher is working in Colonial Courts contracts of indentured servants contracts were particularly harshly enforced. But, to summarize an indentured servant is essentially bound by a rather detailed labor contract. Again, race or nationality may be noted, but this was for the purpose of distinguishing physical, or personal detail.  

Indentures and Bonds
Other indentures are as common in our historical and in present day practices. Like the agreement of an indentured servant, these indentures may be tied to a bond contract with specifications outlined. Researchers will note that references of indenture often is associated with an issued "bond." A legal binding indenture governs all of the terms of a bond before a bond is issued. An indenture may include an obligated fee (or not).  It is a contracted agreement between a bond issuer and the bond holders or at minimum a court recognized contract. 
Irish Indenture 1766

What is most interesting is that many genealogists only appear to recognize the term "Indentured Servant." But, let's take a look at "married by indenture." Again, I want the genealogists to recognize that the word indenture is used in present day courts even in USA. And, it has nothing to do with servants, but again contractual agreements recognized by the courts. Take a look at this 1994 reference of "married by Indenture" in Burlington County, New Jersey (public notice: new Jersey Press Association: //

How does a Marriage Indenture Benefit?

British indenture, 1831

In today's world we know quite a bit about a pre-nuptial agreement. Yet, marriage by indenture has terminology is not as common in daily language. But, it too is a contract - financially or not - tied to the marital property or the marriage itself.  It is always a pleasure when a widow's assets does not translate to a "payment for marriage," as that described above in the British 1831 case. An indenture of marriage can assist the "wife."  Read on about Alice Thaw and her indenture of marriage that protected her dower ( 

Readers of the a3Genealogy blog know that topics explored are most often reader generated. A question initiated by a facebook post led a reader to write for clarification of what does "married by indenture" mean? As I am not a lawyer, I can only share with you the genealogical application of this topic (I did reference the a3G office's copy of Blacks Law Dictionary). For a legal explanation, consult an attorney. 

Happy 2021
Be Historically Correct  

Kathleen Brandt

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