Deciphering social class in colonial Maryland

+13 votes

For my ecstatic torture project of the month, I'm trying to figure out John Cain. He lived in Charles County, Province of Maryland.  Probably it was "they", not "he", as I'm convinced several people with the same name have all been conflated into a couple.  All the John Cains (and one "O'Caine) that Skordas reports entering Maryland in the 1600s were "servants" and/or "transported" (meaning someone else paid their way, usually in exchange for 5-7 years of labor).  But once they were in Maryland, many of the John Cains became landowners, mostly in St. Mary's and Charles Counties (while others rented).  Some appear in court records as "gentleman" -- a sign of being higher class.

One particular entry intrigues me:

Charles County Circuit Court, Liber A; 24 Nov 1658, Page 33 84. Mr. Symon Oversee and his mate John Cain, Plt,; Thomas Frissel Def,; plaintiffs claiming by indenture 4 years service from Thomas Fissel and 4 more from his wife Hanna Glossington; in case she will not serve, defendant to serve 8 years; with consent of Oversee; unless and until security given Frissel to continue to perform his service to Mr. Oversee and John Cain

From this record we know that Symon Oversee was a "gentleman" because he was addressed as "Mr."  John Cain was not.  This John Cain WAS referred to as Oversee's "mate".  That doesn't mean he was Oversee's "buddy" as they were in different classes, but I'm thinking it must have meant something like "senior assistant."  Can anyone else shed light on what this might have meant?

WikiTree profile: John Caine
in Genealogy Help by Jack Day G2G6 Pilot (346k points)
retagged by Ellen Smith

2 Answers

+5 votes
Best answer

Hi Jack,

Having a read of pp. 105-106 of The Human Tradition of Colonial America, edited by Nancy L Rhoden and Ian K Stelle and published by Rowman and Littlefield in 1999, it would suggest that a "mate" was a fellow former indentured servant with whom you teamed up in order to afford to lease a tract of land. Effectively, they were your business partner that helped you to get on the first rung of the property ladder.

Hope this helps,

Susie :-)

by Olivia McCabe G2G6 Pilot (234k points)
selected by William Foster
Thanks, Susie.  And the cited article in this book was actually written by Lois Green Carr, who was one of the top archivists in Maryland's state archives.
+5 votes
I have a book by Charles G. Steffen, "From Gentlemen to Townsmen, The Gentry of Baltimore County Maryland, 1660-1776." Very interesting read on the emergence of the social groups in the colonies, how they were defined over here as opposed to Europe. This book might shed some light in that complex social arena.
by Victoria English G2G6 Mach 3 (31.6k points)
I have to leave the house just at the same time I found a record in the MSA on "Mate's wages". So I'd say a "mate" was an employee. I'll follow up when I get back.

One last comment, as to the question of perhaps Symon Oversee owning a ship. In the Virginia Colonial Records, "High Court of Admiralty Records "dated October 5, 1652, examinations taken at Plymouth..."Cornelius Symons, skipper of the Rotterdam: carried a cargo of mixed goods for the account of his two sons, one of whom, Symon Overzee, lived in Virginia, and headed for New Netherland. (...)." The issue was in regards to the Acts of Parlement prohibiting the Dutch and others from trading with Virginia and not allowing foreign ships from bringing goods into England which were not of their own country.

That as a side note, perhaps John Caine was a mate aboard one of Symons' ships.

Library of Virginia; Richmond, Virginia; High Court of Admiralty. Examinations on Commission; Author: Public Record Office Class HCA 13/253 Part I.; Description: List of High Court of Admiralty Records. HCA 1-32, p. 60; Survey Report: SR 11335; Film Number: Not Filmed.

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