One Troubled Indentured Servant in Colonial Philadelphia

Dateline: Chester County, Pennsylvania, 1685-88: Samuel Rowland was most likely an indentured servant, and the court records show him either in trouble or more often the cause of it. Life wasn’t paradise in a growing and early Quaker community in Pennsylvania.

At a court in Chester County, Pennsylvania, outside Philadelphia

The beat-down of Samuel Rowland

2nd day, 12th month, 1685/6 (February 2, 1685/6)

Jury: George Price, James Brown, John Hulbert, Nathaniel Lamplue, William Hughes, Nathaniel Parker, John Child, John Worrell, Joshua Hastings, John Mendinghall (sic), Randall Maline, Richard Crosby

Plaintiff: George Foreman
Defendants: John Bristol, Thomas Powell, Thomas Jacobs

Modernized transcription begins

Anthony Weaver being attested declares that he saw John Bristol struggling with Samuel [Rowland] for the gun.

Thomas Whitehorne being attested declares for the plaintiff that he heard John Bristol say that he had nothing to say to Samuel Rowland for that he had not done him any harm, and that he saw Samuel Rowland bloody [and] that Samuel Rowland was an abettor.

Lydia Wade being attested for the plaintiff declares the same.

Mary Marten [sic] being attested for the defendant declares that she heard Wm. Taylor say that he would meet with Bristol another time and that he had seen better men than he come shorter by the pockets and called him Stoginge [sic].

William Clayton [probably William Jr., son of William Clayton Sr.] being attested declares that he heard John Bristol say that after he set up three posts, John Bristol and his men went towards Albert’s [and] met Taylor who bid John Bristol stand or he would fire at him and snapped [sic] the gun twice at him; John Bristol went towards Taylor and then Samuel Rowland had the gun in his hand and John Bristol forced the gun by the assistance of a carpenter from him, the carpenter wringing the said Samuel Rowland by the nose. [Who is the carpenter? Will Sr. and Will Jr. and Joseph Clayton were carpenters; there must have been a fourth one around, maybe an apprentice.]

John Symes being attested declares that he did see Samuel Rowland come into Robert’s Wade’s with his hair torn and face bloody and there Samuel Rowland asked John Bristol why he did stop him and head him.

The jury finds for the defendants with cost of suit and one penny damage; James Brown foreman.

Transcription ends.

Samuel Rowland was injured.

Samuel Rowland loses his counter-lawsuit

In the next court case, on the same date, Samuel Rowland sues the defendants in the previous case.

Plaintiff: Samuel Rowland
Defendants: John Bristol, Thomas Powell, and Thomas Jacobs

In an action of assault and battery

Jury: Joseph Richards, John Gibbons, John Bartrum (sic), Michael Blunstone, Thomas Worth, John Colborne, Randall Vernon, Walter Marten, Edward Beazer, Joseph Bushaell, Joseph Baker, Wm. Brainton

Modernized transcription begins:

Witnesses as in the case of George Foreman, plaintiff; John Bristol, Thomas Powell, and Th. Jacobs, defendants;

The jury’s verdict we find for the defendants with cost of suit and six pence damage; whereupon judgment is granted.

Transcription ends.

Rowland lost his case, even though he was injured. There must be more to the facts that the court minutes don’t record. Maybe he did not have good character or provoked his injury somehow.

Samuel Rowland beats Samuel Baker with an oar

3rd day, 7th month, 1687 (September 3, 1687)

Samuel Baker was probably an indentured servant, and Samuel Rowland beat him with an oar.

Modernized transcription begins:

Samuel Rowland by his surety George Foreman became bound to Francis Harrison to make his appearance at this court to answer his beating and abusing Samuel Baker and accordingly made his appearance and was indicted;

Thomas Usher was constituted, by the court, attorney to the King and Chief Proprietary [William Penn] in this case

The names of the Grand Inquest

Richard Parker, Edmund Cartledge, Thomas Bradshaw, John Kinsman, John Mendenhall. William Cloud Jr., Richard Thatcher, John Beales [married Mary Clayton, daughter of William Clayton], William Garrett, Thomas Fox, Albertus, Hendrickson, William Colborne, Edward Pritchard, Walter Marten, George Willard

The Bill is found.

Whereupon he [Samuel Rowland] is called to the bar and pleads not guilty and refers himself to God and the Country [possibly still refers to England, but the reference is likely being changed to Pennsylvania now]

The Petty Jury …. Thomas Worth, James Brown, William Branton [replacing Thomas Rawlinson] , Thomas Smith, Samuel Bradshaw, Adam Rhodes, Thomas Coates, Nathaniel Evans, Geo. Churchman, Randall Vernon, Edward Waters.

Samuel Noys being attested declares that he being about his business in the King’s Highway near George Foreman’s where Samuel Baker meeting him on their occasions, the prisoner Samuel Rowland came forth of George Foreman’s with half a bowl of punch in his hand and spying them did swear by God these be rogues that did abuse me at New Castle; and thereupon did strike this deponent several blows, but he making his escape the prisoner fell upon Samuel Baker and took a paddle out of his hand and did beat him upon the head, back, and shoulders and several other parts of his body therewith, which caused him to bleed at the mouth and nose for twelve or fourteen hours after.

Richard Buffington being attested declares that Samuel Baker lived with him more than two years and in that time he never knew that he did bleed.

Isaac Warner being attested declares that he being sitting upon pipe staves near George Foreman’s barn, Samuel Baker and Samuel Noys came together and stood near this deponent; and Samuel Rowland spying them asked them what they did there at that time of night, but he does not remember that he did hear any blows.

Edward Jennings being attested declares that he coming out of George Foreman’s house with Samuel Rowland, the said Samuel spying Samuel Noys and Samuel Baker near George Foreman’s house asked them what they did there at that time of night and told them he would set them further, but this deponent going his way did think Samuel Baker cried out to Samuel Rowland not to strike him anymore, telling him he broke his head already;

William White being attested declares that he did see Samuel Baker in the night near James Brown’s and asked him what he did there at that time of night, who told him he stayed for the tide; then he asked the said Samuel where he lay all night; he told him in his canoe and inviting him the said Samuel to lie at this house, he answered he would first call his mate; this deponent asked him where he was, he answered that Samuel Rowland had beat them both and almost killed him.

Lydia Wade being attested declares that Samuel Noyes borrowed a canoe of her husband to carry a calf to Thomas Wither, and Samuel Baker going with him; when he came back again complained that Samuel Rowland had knocked him down with the flat side of the paddle and beat him upon the stomach, but the said Samuel Baker told this deponent he know not what he did to him when he was down; and further this deponent says that the said Samuel Baker did often say in her hearing that if he did die the blows he received of Samuel Rowland would be the cause of his death.

Robert Stephens being attested declares that Samuel Rowland and Samuel Baker did drink together at John Hodskin’s where they shook hands together in way of friendship as he does suppose; and after he did see the said Samuel Baker drunk at Philadelphia;

William Goforth being attested declares that Samuel Rowland came into John Hodskin’s, where meeting with Samuel Baker he was desired to drink to Samuel Rowland and be friends which the said Baker did some time after.

The petty jury’s verdict

We find Samuel Rowland guilty of the indictment charged against him; likewise that Samuel Rowland be kept safe [guarded] until Samuel Baker be thoroughly recovered again; likewise that Samuel Rowland shall pay the damage that Samuel Baker shall suffer through his abuse with cost of suit.

Hereupon judgment is granted and that the defendant finds security for his good behavior and appearance at next county court or goes to prison;

George Forman and James Brown became bound for the prisoner’s good behavior and appearance at the next court.

Samuel Rowland again loses in court

3rd day of the 8th month, 1687 (October 3, 1687)

This is the next court date.

Modernized transcription begins:

Samuel Baker, plaintiff
Samuel Rowland, defendant

In action of assault and battery

Witnesses upon summons: Samuel Noys, Thomas Green: ordered to be referred unto Caleb Pusie, George Foreman and Joshua Hastings.

The arbitrators award that Samuel Rowland shall pay the lawful charges of this court and give the said Samuel Baker a hat and so to discharge each other of all manner of differences from the beginning of the world to this present day.

Hereupon judgment is granted.

James Brown required his bail bond to be delivered up, Samuel Rowland appearing according to recognizance.

Transcription ends.

Incidentally, in a Grand Inquest at the same court, Robert Moulder was accused of allowing Thomas Clifton and Samuel Baker to be drunk at his house. And he abused John Simcocke, according to a court held at Chester County on the 7th day, 4th month, 1687. So Samuel Baker was not without his flaws, either. Robert Moulder was acquitted, because nothing was proved, and John Simcock was a prominent Councilor and judge.

It looks like James Brown took Samuel Rowland in and taught him to behave himself.

Maybe he experienced redemption in some way because under Brown’s watchful eye, there are no court records about Rowland.

James Brown offered the thief John Martin some redemption, but it’s not clear Martin took it.

Samuel Rowland’s redemption, if he experienced any, is interrupted by more troubles.

Rowland is at it again

3rd day, 8th month, 1688 (October 3, 1688)

Modernized transcription begins:

Chester 1 The jurors for the King and Governor [Penn] do present that Samuel Rowland of Marcus Hook in the said county of Chester and Andrew Friend yeoman, the 27th day of the 4th month, last past 1688 were drunk against the public peace and against the law in that case provided.

Wolle Rawson prosecutor and witness: a true bill.

2 The said jurors also present that the said Samuel Rowland that day, year and place aforesaid [did abuse Wolle Rawson’s wife] against the public peace and against the law, in that case made and provided—a true bill

3 the said Jurors also present that the said Samuel Rowland the day and time aforesaid and with force assaulted, beat, and evil entreat the said Wolle Rawson so that of his life in thast case made and provided etc., a true bill

Upon which he was called to the bar and pleads not guilty and refers himself to God and the country.


William Brown [probably the brother of  James Brown] was called three times to give his evidence, but made no appearance.

The petty jury’s verdict

To the first and second presentments against him we find him not guilty.

To the third by his own confession we find him guilty of taking Wolle Rawson by the throat.

Whereupon judgment is granted that Samuel Rowland pay 50 shillings for a fine to the Governor’s use and fifty shillings to Wolle Rawson the party wronged and to remain in the sheriff’s custody without bail till payment be made and that Wolle Rawson pay all court charges.

The said jurors also present that Breeta [Britta] the wife of Wolle Rawson the day and year and place aforesaid [did act improperly with Samuel Rowland]

Ordered that Breeta Rawson be summoned to appear before some justice of the pace of this county in order to give in security to appear the next county court at Chester to answer the premises.

Transcription ends.

I can’t find where Breeta Rawson appeared at the next court.

9th and 10th days of the 4th month, 1696 (June 9 and 10, 1696)

Rowland is the plaintiff in a case against William Freeman over a debt of three pounds, two shillings, and ten pence; the defendant didn’t show up, so Rowland won.

9th day, 7th month, 1696 (September 9, 1696)

Just three months later “the sheriff made [a] return of execution against William Freeman granted at the suit of Samuel Rowland: that it was fully satisfied.”

The debt was fully paid, and Rowland didn’t use violence. He must have experienced some level of grace and redemption in his heart.

Let’s finish up with an aside: William Brown’s nonappearance: on the same day as the last trial the court ordered that “William Brown be summoned to the next county court to answer his contempt for not appearing at this court when lawfully summoned. “ But no record (that I can find) says what happened. It was probably dropped.

Alcohol and bad character don’t mix. But I still believe in redemption, even when people refuse it at first and later accept it.


Record of the Courts of Chester County, Pennsylvania, begun the 13th day of September, 1681, ending the 10th day of March 1696-7, pp. 65-67; 97-99; 105-06; 134-35; 385; 396.

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