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York blacksmith offers sizable award for return of apprentice


It is obvious that I find old newspapers fascinating. The items serve as snapshots of the time, giving a picture of what was then happening in the same spaces we occupy today. In addition, the incidents described and unfamiliar terms used are often springboards for further exploration.

The $30 reward offered for the return of this runaway blacksmith’s apprentice is a fairly high one for the period. That would be the equivalent of around $725 today. He also had a nice wardrobe for apprentices of the time, in comparison with similar ads for runaways. It is interesting that his companion isn’t sought, although it seems like he might also work for blacksmith Matson. Perhaps he is a paid worker, not a legally bound apprentice. Both young men seem to have more names than necessary.

See below for transcription of the March 1837 York Gazette ad and explanations of some of the terms used:


Ran away from the subscriber, residing in the borough of York, on the night of Monday the 6th inst., an indentured apprentice to the Blacksmithing business, bound under the name of THOMAS JAMES, but now calling himself ABSALOM JAMES. He is in his 18th year—stoutly built—dark complexion—surly look. He took with him a grey cassinet coat, a light brown cloth do., several pairs of cassinet pantaloons, one of them grey striped, a black fur hat, &c. Said runaway is a very good hand at wagon work.

The above reward will be paid for the delivery of the boy to the subscriber—or $25 for his apprehension and confinement in any jail so that the subscriber can recover him.

The above runaway is probably accompanied by a young man names Jeremiah Sanderson, alias Collins, who took with him an olive cloth suit, drab domestic cloth coat and cassinet pants.
March 14, 1837.

Inst. is an abbreviation for instant, in this case, meaning in the current month, do. stands for ditto.

Cassinette refers to a lightweight twill fabric of cotton and wool. Twill describes the diagonal weave of the fabric. Drab is a dull brownish or yellowish gray color.

York County tax records for the 18th and 19th century aren’t complete, but enough survive to give a good picture of the occupations. Volunteers and interns at York County Heritage Trust have indexed the records, by occupation, up to 1860.

William Matson appears as either a smith or blacksmith most years in York borough from 1831 to 1846. Thomas James may have finished his apprenticeship and learned his trade, as a Thomas A. James appears in the 1850s as a blacksmith in Wrightsville. The occupational tax records do not mention a Jeremiah Sanderson or Jeremiah Collins at all.

This link will take you to my previous post on another runaway blacksmith apprentice, this one in 1828. Wendel Kayler’s employer was only offering 10 cents reward for his return, probably with good reason.