John Akley and Sarah Forbus
Updated: May 24
Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze
Who were John Akley and Sarah Forbus? They are pauper children from Boston whom Ensign Samuel Williams, son of Rev. Stephen Williams, indentured and brought to Longmeadow.
As our regular readers know, the Longmeadow Historical Society has recently been researching paupers and indentured servants as part of our Hidden Voices series. While our archives include indentures for 30 children, through our research dives, we have discovered additional indentures for pauper children, such as John and Sarah, in the online digital archives of the Boston Public Library (www.bpl.org).
We are indebted to The Eighteenth-Century Records of the Boston Overseers of the Poor for much of the information that we have on the Forbus and Akley families. Records of the Boston Overseers of the Poor show that on November 5, 1763, “Receivd, Into the house Margarett Forbush & 3 Children neare her time”. Digging deeper into these records, we can identify and learn more about the Forbus children, three of whom left the almshouse as indentured servants.
Sarah, who was born in 1757, was bound out to Samuel Williams in November, 1764 until October 27, 1775;
Peggy (or Margaret), who was bound out to Joshua Bently of Boston in 1765;
John, who was bound out to Edward Bacon Junr. of Barnstable in 1766; and
Thomas, who was born on November 29, soon after the family arrived in the almshouse (“Margaret Forbush brot. to bed with a Son Nam’d [Thomas]”) and died in the almshouse 20 months later (“Thomas Forbus Abt. 20 Months Old Obit Augst. 8th 1765”).
Two months later, on January 5, 1764, records of the Boston Overseers of the Poor show that the Akley family also entered the Boston almshouse: “Receivd. Into the house Tabitha Akley And 4 Children”. This was not the Akley family’s first visit to the Boston almshouse; sons Francis and Joseph had been indentured from the almshouse in 1762 and 1763. Like the Forbus children, all of Tabitha Akley’s children who entered the almshouse left it as indentured servants. Tabitha’s children under her care in 1764 included:
Thomas, who was bound in 1764 to Jason Haven of Dedham;
John, who was born in 1757, was bound in November 1764 to Samuel Williams until April 1, 1779;
Sarah, who was bound in 1768 to Joshua Clap of Scituate; and
Mary, who was bound to in 1768 to Dr. Edward Russell of North Yarmouth.
While the Boston Overseers of the Poor records give a November, 1764 indenture date for both Sarah Forbus and John Akley, the indentures in the digital collection are dated October 11, 1764. And, the October date correlates with Rev. Stephen Williams’s diary entry of October 23, 1764: “I found my family in Health – my Son was returned from Boston, Brot two children, with him from the Alms/ House…I beg he would help us to do our Duty to the children that are now committed to our care.“
Portion of Indenture of Sarah Forbus from files of the Boston Public Library
Why did the Boston Overseers of the Poor entrust two children in their care to Samuel Williams who lived in the Longmeadow precinct of far-away Springfield? They relied on recommendations from trusted citizens of Springfield. Below is the endorsement of Samuel Williams which is signed by the selectmen of Springfield.
Endorsement of Samuel Williams, from files of the Boston Public Library
Sarah Forbus does not appear again in Rev. Williams’s diary. Perhaps she died, but there is no record of her death. There is a good chance that she spent much of her indenture in Somers, CT on the farm of John Williams, the older brother of Samuel Williams. The Williams family shared their indentured servants and their enslaved servants, collaborating for the good of the greater family. Known indentured servants of John Williams (Betty and Joseph Bumstead) appear frequently in Rev. Stephen Williams’s diary when they are doing work in Longmeadow. Likewise, the diary references times when the Longmeadow Williams households sent their indentured and enslaved servants to Somers. John Williams had lost a daughter on September 22, 1764 (just weeks before Sarah's indenture) and it is likely that his wife needed assistance with household chores. Possibly Sarah Forbus was “lent” to the John Williams family and that she spent much of her time in Somers.
Portion of Indenture of John Ackley from files of the Boston Public Library
John (or Jack or Jacky) Akley (or Ackley or Akeley), on the other hand, appears frequently in Rev. Williams’s diary entries. In January 1776, John Akley enlisted as a drummer in the Continental Army. We do not know what motivated John to join the army but, by enlisting, he broke the terms of his indenture (set to last until 1779) and this caused great consternation in the Williams household. On February 20, 1776, Rev. Williams recorded, “amongst ye other calamities of ye present times is a very Great one – that children, Apprentices – do what they think best - engage in ye military service, without, yea contrary to ye minds, of their parents & masters, an evill this that has a very bad aspect – what shame & confusion is like to come of this – is easy to be seen – oh that it might wisely avert to…” Rev. Williams, who was living in the same household as the Samuel Williams family, was bemoaning the pecuniary loss that the family would experience without John's labors.
By breaking his indenture, John had decided to forego the items that he was to receive at the end of his indenture: “Two good Suits of Wearing Apparel fitting for all part of his Body the One for Lords Days & the other for Working days suitable to his Degree – Also pay or cause to be paid to the said Apprentice the Sum of Thirteen pounds Six Shillings & Eight pence Lawfull Money of the Province of the Massachusetts Bay when he arrives at the Age of Twenty One years.” The financial payment in the indenture was intended to provide the pauper with funds so that he could make his own way and not be a burden to society after he was free. I suspect that John felt the loss of this financial compensation in later years when he was ready to get married and start a family.