By the mid-1800s, the streets of New York City were home to an estimated 30,000 homeless, truant or orphaned children. These poor unfortunates were destined to commit petty crimes, be truant from school or home, or enter into prostitution, creating a tremendous drain on city resources and society in general. Magistrates committed the youthful offenders to asylums by the hundreds, one of which was the New York Juvenile Asylum, established in 1851.
Overcrowding became a problem almost immediately. For the New York Juvenile Asylum, relief came with the implementation of a western indenturing plan in which companies of children were sent west, at first in partnership with the New York Children’s Aid Society, later with Reverend Mr. Enoch Kingsbury of Danville, Illinois, and finally, independently by the Asylum itself.
At the time, the American West was in critical need of laborers in both agriculture and industry, and many families were eager to take in a child who was willing to work in exchange for food and lodging, or to learn a trade. Indenture papers were signed stipulating boys would stay until age twenty-one and girls until age eighteen. At the completion of their indenture each child received a cash payment, new clothing, and a bible.
The Asylum chose the state of Illinois to indenture the vast majority of its children in, later establishing a permanent western agent and agency house in the state. In 1861, the Illinois State Legislature passed a bill recognizing the indentures of the Asylum as legally binding documents.
The orphan trains of the New York Juvenile Asylum were sent west from 1854 until circa 1921. By the time the practice ended the Asylum had indentured over 6,600 children in Illinois and a few surrounding states—chiefly Iowa. Volume one of this set chronicles the history of the New York Juvenile Asylum (later named The Children’s Village) from its earliest history until circa 1923. Volumes Two through Volume Six are comprised of lists of all known names of children sent west from the Asylum, including dates, where sent, and with whom they were indentured.Volumes in this series:
- Volume One: Children in Need
- Volume Two: Companies Sent West (1854-1868)
- Volume Three: Companies Sent West (1869-1879)
- Volume Four: Companies Sent West (1880-1887)
- Volume Five: Companies Sent West (1888-1896)
- Volume Six: Companies Sent West (1897-1922)