Blog post by Randi Richardson
Deed books include property transactions and slaves were considered property. Occasionally, then, even in those states where slavery was banned by constitutional law, deed books include contracts of indentured servitude, one of the ways whites maneuvered to keep possession of their slaves in spite of the law.
John Sedwick, an early pioneer in Monroe County, Indiana, made such a contract with his “negro woman,” Anaca Johnson on June 1, 1820. (See Monroe County, Indiana, Deed Book A, p. 41.) According to that document, if Anaca promised to voluntarily and of her own free will make herself John’s indentured servant for a period of five years, he would give her $5.00 at the time she signed the document. As an indentured servant, she would be expected among other things to faithfully serve her “master’s’ lawful command,” “gladly obey,” and never absent herself day or night from his service without out permission. Alone in a unfamiliar place with hardly anyone she could turn to for support, Anaca surely felt she had little or no choice, so she dutifully placed an “X” beside her name in agreement.
John Sedwick came to Monroe County with his wife, Elizabeth, and several family members from Calvert County, Maryland. They began their journey on March 1, 1820, in the later months of winter. It was a journey, according to John’s estimate, of 1200 miles over land and water. During the course of the journey John kept a diary that was passed down through his daughter, Sarah (Sedwick) Akin, and her son Joseph Akin. A transcription of the manuscript is available online.
Toward the journey’s end, on Monday, April 2, as the family neared Salem, Indiana, in two wagons, John noted that the roads were quite bad with snow three inches deep. After traveling eighteen miles, a decision was made to stop for the day. They put up at a farm house that was not entirely welcoming to the family. John described the mistress of the house as a “cross old jade.”
The next day John wasn’t feeling too well, but the group took off anyway with John riding in one of the two wagons. Anica (sic), who John identified as “his negro girl,” took advantage of the situation by escaping. It was four or five miles before she was missed. Because John thought it likely that she taken the time to hide herself after the escape, which would make her difficult to find, the group forged ahead rather than immediately turning around in pursuit.
Travel during the next three days was almost impossible. The roads were so bad that they were practically impassable in places. But eventually, at sunset on April 6, they arrived in Ellettsville where the family settled until the death of John in 1849. How or why Anaca/Anica made it back to John Sedwick’s home sometime between April 6 and June 1 is not known, but clearly she did return.
Nothing is known of her after signing the indenture on June 1. She did not appear as a person of color in John’s household of six in the 1820 Monroe County census. Neither was she noted in his household in 1830, although the household that year did include a free colored male between 10 and 23. Was she released from her contract when it expired? Or was John forced to release her in 1821 when Indiana’s Supreme Court ruled that indentured servitude was illegal.
To learn more about the family of John Sedwick, check out the rich Sedwick family file at the Monroe County History Center, Bloomington, Indiana.