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Wayne County History: Hannah Selby - The Four-Year Old Indentured Servant

by WayneTimes.com
June 4, 2022

 by Betsy Lewis

Hannah Selby was that little girl. She had achieved her fourth birthday on October 12, 1803. On that January day in 1804, her mother, Anne Selby, gave up custody of Hannah.

The early years of the settlements of Palmyra and surrounding towns would annually elect men to be the Overseers of the Poor for their community. In 1804, Palmyra’s overseers were Thomas Goldsmith and Noah Porter. The circumstances surrounding Hannah’s mother, Anne, are unknown but obviously, in 1804 her life was difficult enough to indenture her daughter to another family at the tender age of four. We cannot know the significant emotions mother and daughter must have felt at this life-altering event. Hannah Selby with her mother’s consent along with Palmyra Justices of the Peace, John Swift and William Rogers, “do put in place Hannah Selby a poor girl daughter to the above said Anne Selby of the town of Palmyra aforesaid aged four years…as a Servant to David Hooker of Palmyra and County aforesaid with him to dwell and serve from the day of the date of the present until the said Servant Girl shall accomplish the full age of eighteen years.”

Hannah the four-year-old servant girl would serve David Hooker “her Master faithfully,” and all his family. Hannah was expected to serve him, “according to her power wit and ability, and shall honestly, orderly and obediently in all things amean herself and [illegible] herself toward her said master and all his, during said terms.” David Hooker was expected to act responsibly for Hannah, consistently referred to as the “Servant Girl” in the Indenture papers. She was to conduct, “indoor business, such as housework, spinning, knitting, and sewing.” She was also to be taught to read and write and to do so with “the degree that is common for females.” Hooker would also “allow unto the said Servant Girl competent and sufficient meat, drink and apparel, washing, lodging, mending and all other things necessary and fit for a Servant Girl.” Hooker would not hold the town of Palmyra or its inhabitants liable for costs, harm or loss.   Additionally, “At the end of the said term [Hooker] shall and will allow, provide and deliver unto the said Servant Girl one good new set of Sabbath day clothes to the value of fifteen dollars and two other good suits for every day wear and one good new Bible.” 

It’s difficult to find records from this early time in Palmyra’s history about Anne, Hannah or David Hooker. There are some ancestry records that indicate there were perhaps two Hannah Selby’s in Palmyra during the 1800-1825 time period. Those two Hannah’s each married different men. One was William Rogers and one was Isaac Bills. There are no death records for Anne or Hannah Selby or David Hooker that have been found. Perhaps Anne Selby died and was buried in the plots for the poor. It’s not known whether Hannah lived to adulthood but she may have at least lived for some time in the Hooker household. Some records about David Hooker exist. He shows up on New York State Assessment records in 1802-1804 with his real estate of a house and farm having a value of about $55.  In 1809, Hooker was appointed as a “lieutenant light infantry” in the New York State military appointments. His appointment was noted along with several other Palmyra men.

He also appears on the 1810 census, but not after, for Palmyra. In 1810 there are four people in his home. Two are children, one male (under 10 years) and one female (10-15 years) and two adults, a male and female both in the 26-44 age range. Can we assume the female child is Hannah? She would be 10 or 11 years old at this time. 

From the Palmyra Town Minutes of April 6, 1810, David Hooker’s property is identified during a survey of roads for the town. His land appears south and east of Palmyra’s Main St. His neighborhood included land and dwellings belonging to Azel Ensworth, William Cuyler, Cyrus Foster, Joseph Colt, Silas Hart and Enoch Saunder.

No other records for David Hooker have been found that seem to relate to this man. It’s possible that David Hooker and his family along with Hannah left the area.  

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