How do we know that Alexander Magruder/McGruder was indentured in Maryland?

Duncan McGruther sends the following query:

From the Scottish Archives it does not appear that Alexander the Immigrant would be ‘a poor indentured servant’, so where in USA is this Indenture held, and can someone please post it online?
Alexander was captured in a Civil War battle against Cromwell – Dunbar (Sept 1650) in Scotland, or Preston (Aug 1648) or Worcester (Sep 1651) in England all fit date wise, though the latter date is very late (impossible?) to give time for Alexander to be transported across the Atlantic in time to start buying land in America in 1651. Alex’s family were the most senior officials in the Duke of Perth’s household, and in turn the Drummonds Of Perth were King Charles I particular favourite Dukes in Scotland. So if Alex did not have money directly he would have had access to it. I do not doubt as a Prisoner of War Alex would have been exiled and transported, but he would not have been poor, hence him buying up land on his arrival in Maryland.

These are important questions, that help to clarify the relationship between Scottish and American records; so I’ll respond point-by-point.

  • Prisoners of war who were transported and sold into indenture were not necessarily poor men to begin with.
  • No individual documents of indenture survive from Maryland’s early years. Entries regarding indenture do survive in Colonial records.
  • There is no evidence at all that Alexander was buying land by 1651 or even 1653. The colony offered “headrights” of land to anyone who brought settlers into Maryland, whether family members or servants. Indentured servants (whether prisoners or those who voluntarily indentured themselves) were also entitled to a headright at completion of their indenture.
  • Note that a headright existed only on paper. The recipient then needed to find his or her 50 acres, hire a surveyor, and pay the court clerk to record the details. Still to be done: find labor to clear the land and to build a house plus outbuildings, and then to plant the land in tobacco and corn. These details go far to explain why many former servants simply sold their headrights and went elsewhere to look for a life.
  • Speculation that Alexander was in Maryland as early as 1651 arises from a claim for land made by one John Ashcomb in reward for having brought several people into the colony, including “Alexander Mathoda.” It is important to note that a statement that so-and-so brought someone into the colony is not always literally true. Often it means that the claimant is entitled to a “headright” of 100 acres (1630s-1640s) or 50 acres (by Alexander’s time) in the name of that new person. Claiming in the name of an indentured servant is a common circumstance.
  • The reason some believe this record from 1651 refers to Alexander is that the same man, John Ashcomb, assigns land to “Alexander Macruder my servant” on 19 November 1653. That phrasing (“my servant”) indicates that this land is due to Alexander on completion of indenture. If that “Mathoda” entry is, indeed, our Alexander, then the commonly-held belief that he arrived with other prisoners on The Guinea in January 1652 is wrong.
  • The next definite trace in the land records is from 7 October 1653, when Charles Steward assigned 50 acres to “Alexander Macruder.” The 50 acres were due to Stewart for importing his wife “into the Patuxent.” (The Patuxent is the principle river in southern Maryland, which was, at the time, the center of the colony and included its capitol at St. Mary’s City.)
  • The question about Alexander’s indenture is how/why he got free so quickly. Money from home–from the Drummonds or directly from his own family–is the most obvious explanation. Early redemption was not common, but clearly occurred.
  • As well, men with skills were able to earn money on the side and purchase their freedom. Given his family of origin (described so clearly by Duncan) we have every reason to believe Alexander was fully literate, a rare skill in Maryland of the 1650s. Both Aschcomb and Steward signed those land assignments with “X.” That two men may have owned Alexander’s indenture jointly also suggests that he was initially sold at a very high price–possibly because of literacy, possibly because he came from a privileged class, or both.
  • In his book Economy and Society in Early Colonial Maryland, historian Russell A. Menard studied two groups of indentured men in early Maryland. His second group, which included Alexander, consisted of  “all of the 137 men identified as indentured servants in the headright entries found in the first 300 pages of liber AB&H of the patents series and who arrived in Maryland between 1648 and 1652.” Among other things, this puts the latest limit for Alexander’s arrival at 1652. It probably also indicates that Menard accepts the “Mathoda” entry as referring to Alexander  McGruder/Magruder.
  • 72 of those men later appear in the records as free men. Subtracting those who died, left the colony, or disappeared from the records without explanation, 56 remained in the study group whose economic lives Menard followed. About 75% of those 56 men acquired land in the colony, most holding between 50 and 400 acres. Alexander Magruder was one of three men (the others were John Bogue and Nicholas Gassaway) who owned more than 1000 acres when they died.
  • It is important to bear in mind that in this study Alexander was compared to other formerly indentured men. Most land in the colony was owned or otherwise controlled by a small number of wealthy and well-connected men who had never been indentured.
  • A related fact: Menard reports that 43 or 44 (around 75%) of those 56 men participated in local government in some way during their lifetimes–from serving on juries to holding minor offices such as constable or overseer of highways. We know from other sources that Alexander Magruder was one of the 25% who did not. Menard notes that formerly indentured men of his time largely were shut out of high office, those positions having been locked up by earlier arrivants and/or wealthier individuals. Interestingly, the two exceptions were Bogue and Gassaway, both of whom obtained relatively high military and/or civic positions.
  • For full info on Menard’s work, click the Bibliography tab on this site, then click Early Maryland. I have been quoting and paraphrasing from Chapter V: The Age of the Small Planter, pages 174-175 in the 1985 edition. His notes cite individual land patents.
  • Charles Kurz (also in the Bibliography) cites early entries for Alexander Magruder in the Maryland Archives’ Land Records as Liber AB&H, Folio 352 & following. I don’t have copies of them. Theoretically, they are available on line and I am seeking help from the Maryland Hall of Records to actually find them. (Those who have used the MSA site will need no explanation!)

5 comments on “How do we know that Alexander Magruder/McGruder was indentured in Maryland?

  1. Duncan McGruther says:

    Thank you Susan, not being my side of the Atlantic I was not aware that the Menard work existed. It looks as if you have picked him up in America. I would be interested in the list of the other names on the indentures to see if I can identify more Scots and if they might fit into the Alexander story at the Scottish end. Is a list of these names available? Incidentally, I will be in New Orleans from 14 to 19 September 2016, so if anyone is interested in Alexanders Scottish origin I would be pleased to meet them.

    • Michelle L Start says:

      I am descended from Alexander Magruder and Ninian Beall and will be in Scotland this summer (June). I know how Ninian came to America as an indentured servant — prisoner of war at Dunbar in 1650 — but would love to know more about Alexander’s origins. I will be visiting Dunbar, Edinburgh and Durham in England for certain. The rest of my month’s stay is somewhat up in the air.

      • susantichy says:

        Hi Michelle. Have you looked at the pages here https://magruderslanding.com/scotland/the-mcgruthermagruder-heartland/ ?? Also see Liz O’Hara’s beautiful record of her cycling trip through McGruder country. Let me know if you want suggestions on where to go. Duncan McGruther, in Scotland, is also a wealth of advice.

      • susantichy says:

        Also: most of what is known about Alexander–both fact and reasonable supposition–is on this web site. Check all the entries under the Alexander & Scotland tabs. Also search blog posts for Alexander Magruder and McGruders in Scotland. Do you know about the Magruder/McGruder Facebook groups? See links on my Home and Blog pages. Good luck with your research and your trip. I will be in Scotland this summer, as well, but not in McGruder country

    • susantichy says:

      Hi Duncan. Somehow, I approved your comment last June, but missed your question. Just spotted it when I was approving Michelle’s comment. Menard’s sources for the passage I cited are well documented in his end-notes, but (at least at the time) unplublished. Recently, I received correspondence from one of the historians working on the recently discovered bodies believed to be prisoners from the Battle of Dunbar. They are trying to identify all taken prisoner and to trace survivors. So Menard’s sources might be useful there, as well. I’ll see what I can find out.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s