New acquisition: Will providing for indentured children of color

Written by Forrest Moyer on April 19, 2021

Recently, Univest Bank and Trust Co. donated an old wooden box of papers labeled “S. G. Schwenk, Schwenksville, Pa.” Presumably, it was found in the Schwenksville bank building when Union National Bank took ownership in 1962.

Inside the box were papers of the Schwenk family (for whom the borough was named) — Jacob Schwenk (1789-1852) who operated the store and post office there, his father Abraham Schwenk (1759-1843) of Skippack & Perkiomen Township, and Jacob’s sons, Abraham G. Schwenk (1826-1899) and Dr. Samuel G. Schwenk (1830-1863). The bulk is estate papers of relatives and neighbors — Krouss/Krause, Wald/Walt, Croll, Hunsberger, Landis, Kolb, Favinger, and Pannebecker.

Will of Henry Krouss, Frederick, 1794

Perhaps the most interesting item in the collection is a copy of the will of Henry Krouss of Frederick Township (d. 1794), which provides for two indentured children of color in his household.

Henry & Molly Krouss had no children of their own, but held in servitude a “mullato” girl named Dolly and a “negro” boy named James (only four years old). Slavery was in the process of being abolished gradually in Pennsylvania during this time, and children born to enslaved people after March 1, 1780 were not enslaved for life, but indentured until adulthood. So we know that at least the boy James was indentured; Dolly was also treated as indentured, with terms given for her eventual freedom.

It appears that Krouss and his wife cared for Dolly and James, and did not view them simply as servants or slaves. A surprising amount of the text deals with providing for the children’s development and outfitting at time of freedom. Still, these were not adopted children; and the realities of racial and class discrimination are evident. No money from Krouss’ estate was to be inherited by the servants. All financial assets were divided between his widow, sisters, nephews and nieces.


[spelling corrected]

In the name of God, Amen.

I, Henry Krouss Junior, of Frederick Township in Montgomery County, yeoman, do at present find myself in a sickly and weak condition within my body [but] of sound mind, memory and understanding, thanks be to God. But in considering the uncertainty of this our natural life, I was moved within myself to make, ordain and publish this my last will and testament, this twelfth day of July in the year of our Lord one thousand, seven hundred and ninety-four.

That is to say:
First, I recommend my soul in the hand of the almighty God, who did give [it], and my body unto the earth to be buried in a Christian-like manner, in the hopes of a joyful resurrection through the merits of my Savior, Jesus Christ; and concerning my worldly estate, wherewith it did please God to bless me, I do dispose of the same in the following manner. I will and order that all my just and lawful debts, with any funeral charges, shall be just and fully paid by my hereafter named executors; and then I give and devise to my well-beloved wife Molly, two beds with the bedsteads and all thereunto belonging, and all her clothes, the corner cupboard or closet with all and everything in the same, two iron pots and an iron kettle, two small walnut tables; two cows, to choose which she will; all the linen shall be for her and the [indentured] children’s use. She shall have two pails and six spoons and twenty dollars in money, and six chairs which she will; and further [it] is my will and order that my executors shall find for my wife and the mulatto girl for one year, out of my estate, sufficient bread and meat, and five bushels buckwheat.

Item, I give and devise the mulatto girl Dolly to my wife, till she is at her lawful age, and she shall find her sufficient apparel, washing and lodging, meat and drink, and give her sufficient learning, and send her to the minister to be instructed in the way of Godlings, and to receive the Lord’s Supper at the usual time; and when she is at lawful age, then my wife shall give her a good bed with bedstead and all thereunto belonging, a cow and a spinning wheel, with a good freedom suit, beside her other clothes; but nevertheless it is my will, if my wife should marry and the said girl should not be kept in a Christian-like manner, that my executors shall have the full power to take the child and keep it themselves or find a master to keep the child and give the reservens [reservations?] aforesaid.

Item, it is further my will and order that my land and plantation whereon I dwell, with all the remaining effects of my moveable estate, shall be sold on public sale; and the purchaser of my land and plantation shall pay three hundred pounds down, or else it may stand on interest on my place, if the purchaser gives good and sufficient security to my executors; on paying one hundred pounds yearly payments to my executors till the full purchase money is paid; and the interest yearly of the said first three hundred pounds to my wife, so long as she remains my widow; but in case she doth marry again, then she shall receive the interest of one hundred pounds yearly during her natural life; and further it is my will and order that all my estate, both real and personal, with bonds, notes and interest and what is to become due and payable to my executors, shall be shared and divided, on reason we have no children of our own, as follows:

First, I give and devise to George Swenk (a child of George Swenk Jr.) the sum of fifteen pounds to be paid to him with the interest at his lawful age; and the sum of ten pounds to Henry Swenk (a son of the said George Swenk Jr.) to be paid as aforesaid; and to Mary Swenk (a daughter of the said George Swenk) the sum of ten pounds; it is my will that my executors shall put the said money on interest and the money with interest paid to them at their lawful age; but in case one or more of the said children should die underage, then his or their share here given shall devolve to my hereafter named sisters or their heirs equally to be divided among them; and further I order and will that all the residue of all my estate left shall be divided into four equal shares, to be shared and divided as the same shall become due and payable of the sale of my estate; and the three hundred pounds, two hundred when my wife marry again, and the one hundred remaining after my wife’s decease; one equal fourth part thereof to my sister Molly’s children in equal share among them; and one equal fourth part to my sister Eva wife to Jacob Swenk; and one equal fourth part thereof to my sister Regina wife to John Swenk; and one equal fourth part thereof to my sister Margaret wife to Peter Frederick; to have and to hold the said shares or fourth parts to my said sisters or their heirs forever.

Item, it is further my will that my Negro boy James shall be and stay with Martin Boger till he is nineteen years of age, as he is now four years and one month and three weeks; and the said Martin Boger shall give in the said time good and sufficient meat, washing, lodging and apparel to the said boy, and send him to school to learn him to read and write, and send him to the minister and sacraments; and at the expiration of the time, [give him] a good freedom [suit] beside his other clothes, and give him a new ax, grubbing hoe, maul and wedges; but in case the said Boger shall refuse the offer of the said boy, then my Executors may keep the boy on the said terms, or find him a good and sufficient master on the same condition, and when he is at that age, then my executors shall bind him to such a trade as he shall choose, but not to bind him longer than four years, and then he shall be free for himself.

It is thus my will that my wife shall have a spinning wheel and the reel of her choosing, with all the other articles given to her as her own forever.

Lastly, I do nominate John Swenk, my brother-in-law, and George Swenk, my brother-in-law, to be my sole executors of this my last will and testament, and give them full power to execute this my last will and testament to the true intent, and to make and execute a good and lawful deed to the purchaser of my land and plantation, as good as I personally could do myself.

In witness whereof, I, the said Henry Krouss, set my hand and seal hereunto, the day and year above written.
Henry Krouss

Signed, sealed and declared as his last will and testament in the presence of us:
George Swenk Sr.
Daniel Krauss
John Berkey Sr.

Grave of Henry Krouss at Leidich’s Burial Ground, Upper Frederick Township. Photo from (credit: Tom Myers).