A Bad Ending

One cent reward – runaway from the service of the subscriber on the 7th ult. An indented apprentice to the Potting Business by the name of Jason Merrills, about 17 years of age.  Rather large of his age, stocky built, has a large head, large blue eyes, and lightish hair.  Had on when he went away a blue surtout coat, a blue undercoat, blue mixt satinett pantaloons, and is supposed to have had some other clothes with him.  Whoever will return said apprentice shall be entitled to the above reward and no charges.  All persons are forbid harboring or trusting said apprentice on penalty of the law.
Absalom Day
Norwalk March 10, 1824.

“Apprenticeship” is a vague term.  Some believe swapping a few lessons in exchange for studio space counts.  Others consider an in-depth immersion into the daily grunt work of a shop for an extended time to be closer to the mark.  Today, of course, if you pay someone it’s called “employment” (withholding taxes, insurance, overtime, workman’s comp, etc.).

Two centuries ago being an apprentice meant more than just working for someone.  An apprentice became part of the family.  They slept with the kids – usually in the same bed.  They ate at the table.  They worked the farm.  They ‘kept the family secrets.’  They shared the entire life.

Such proximity resulted in all sorts of outcomes.  Some people hit it off.  Some tolerated the situation.  And some hated it.  A fair few of these later sorts, Jason Merrills evidently included, performed some variation of a ‘disappearing act.’

Reading the above Norwalk (CT) Gazette ad one can almost feel the anger Absalom Day felt toward the ‘large headed’ Merrills.  “All persons are forbid harboring or trusting said apprentice…”  This kid was rotten.  He was a lump.  He’ll probably turn out no good.  You’ll see.  As like as not spend all his time in ale houses and watching plays.  A sure sign of a bad character.

Despite Day’s threats, potters had few legal options when a badly needed apprentice disappeared, or disappeared at a badly needed time.  The ad was intended as much to malign Jason Merrills publically as anything.

So if Merrills was that bad, why would Day want him back?

Of course, Absalom Day gives us his answer in the first line of the ad.  Bounty hunters, think about it.

Readings:

Norwalk Potteries.  Andrew and Kate Winton.  Phoenix Publishing/Canaan, NH.  1981.

 

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5 Responses to “A Bad Ending”

  1. Steve Earp Says:

    At the end of the book “Norwalk Potteries” there is a daguerreotype photo taken some time during the early 1860’s of a group identified as “Norwalk potters.” Among this group there is a man with a perceptibly ‘larger head’ than the rest and with what appears to be blonde hair. He is identified as “Jason Merrill.” If this is Absalom Day’s “Jason Merrills,” then maybe the kid wasn’t that bad after all…

  2. sue skinner Says:

    We had an apprentice like him
    rotten and a lump
    not so much the big head….

  3. Reggie the potter Says:

    You make pottery history fun! thanks, it is fun!

  4. The Dutch and The Deacon « This Day in Pottery History Says:

    […] Apparently Abraham soaked up his lessons like a sponge.  As legend has it, early on in his apprenticeship young Abraham took advantage of a prolonged absence by his master to fire a kiln all by […]

  5. Letters From A Neutral Packet « This Day in Pottery History Says:

    […] have had high hopes for at least one of his sons to inherit the shop.  Isaac was, in fact, his apprentice.  As such Isaac shared the entire enterprise including selling clams, trading rags, logging, […]

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