[Indenture of a German Immigrant Woman at the New Orleans Jail.]
[Indenture of a German Immigrant Woman at the New Orleans Jail.]
[Indenture of a German Immigrant Woman at the New Orleans Jail.]

[Indenture of a German Immigrant Woman at the New Orleans Jail.]

New Orleans, 26 November 1806. Partially printed 1 p. document filled out in manuscript, on wove paper, 27.5 x 43 cm.

An unusual indenture binding a young German immigrant woman to the chief warden of the New Orleans city jail, where she was employed for her “understanding of the household business.”

This remarkable indenture specifies the financial arrangement and terms of employment for one Annah David of Anspach, Germany—aged twenty-three and possibly Jewish, given her surname and the presence of a Jewish community in Anspach at the time—who had recently immigrated to New Orleans aboard the vessel Lewis William from Hamburgh. David’s immigration was likely precipitated by the turmoil besetting Bavaria during the Napoleonic Wars era.

This document notes that jailkeeper Blas Puche has paid on David’s behalf the “sum of one hundred and forty dollars of passage-money” to Benjamin Morgan, owner of the Lewis William. David is bound to Puche, whom she will serve for a guaranteed wage of $9 per month,“until her said master, by retaining a reasonable portion of the said salary shall be repaid fully and entirely of the above amount of the hundre[d] [and] forty dollars, and also of every other sum or sums he may from time to time advance to his said servant the said Annah David.” It is required that David “faithfully shall serve, and that honestly and obediently in all things, as a good and dutiful servant ought to do, and shall not employ her time or labor for any other person or persons, unless it be for his [read: her]] said master’s use and benefit, or by his consent, and not otherwise.” In return, Puche’s responsibilities were to “find and provide” for David “sufficient meat, drink, lodging and necessary clothing, and medical aid when wanted.” The document is signed by David (using her mark—a plus symbol); Blas Puche; New Orleans Mayor John Watkins, and two witnesses.

Having previously served under the final Spanish administration in New Orleans, Blas Puche was Corporal of the New Orleans’ Night Watchmen, a slave-owner, and served as warden of the city jail, where he kept quarters. As noted in Rashauna Johnson’s study of New Orleans’ penal institutions Slavery’s Metropolis, “[Puche’s] support staff included a network of watchmen and jailers whose salaries made employment in corrections and law enforcement in general an attractive option, especially for immigrants.” Working conditions, of course, would have been another matter. Johnson notes a case similar to the present one of an immigrant seeking employment at the New Orleans jail after fleeing his homeland in search of a better life:

In 1811, the French consul in New Orleans wrote to Mayor Mather on behalf of Louis Bainville, a migrant from Saint-Domingue who had been ‘displaced and ruined by the Catastrophes.’ He hoped to elevate his personal status by policing those more vulnerable than he.

Johnson further notes that the daily activities of Puche and his staff included inspecting, classifying, warehousing and exploiting runaway slaves, the insane, criminals, debtors and others accused of stepping out of line. Employed for her domestic skills, David was presumably tasked with cooking and cleaning in this milieu—beginning in the year preceding the enactment of the Regulations for the Police Prison of 1807, which standardized sanitation procedures. How much the regulations improved conditions is difficult to say, but the comments of Alexis de Tocqueville and Gustave de Beaumont following an 1832 visit to the jail perhaps provide a clue:

When, examining the prison of New Orleans, we found men together with hogs, in the midst of all odours and nuisances… The place for convicted criminals in New Orleans cannot be called a prison: it is a horrid sink, in which they are thronged together, and which is fit only for those dirty animals found here together with the prisoners.

A moving document evoking the trying circumstances endured by an immigrant woman in New Orleans in the opening years of the nineteenth century.

REFERENCES: Johnson, Rashauana. Slavery’s Metropolis: Unfree Labor in New Orleans during the Age of Revolutions (Cambridge University Press, 2016), pp. 125-161; Tocqueville, Alexis de and Gustave Auguste de Beaumont de la Bonnière. On the Penentiary System in the United States and it Application in France. (Edwardsville, IL, 1964), p. 13.

CONDITION: Old folds, chipping and minor losses to the margins, one letter missing, no other losses to the text.

Item #5294

Price: $2,500.00